What Is a Buffer Pedal?
On a technical level, a buffer pedal is a tiny amplifier that isolates the incoming high impedance signal sent from the guitar into a unity level. Put simply, it preserves the strength of the signal running through your setup.
A buffer isn’t a particularly exciting pedal, but it plays an important role in maintaining the tone you’ve put so much effort into crafting. This utility stompbox could improve your general guitar tone sevenfold if you run long cables and lots of guitar pedals.
Why Do I Need a Buffer Pedal?
The guitar is not a perfect instrument. Pedals, unfortunately, are not perfectly designed and cables are far from an ideal method of transferring the signal. All of these impedance imperfections mean you lose a lot of high-end guitar frequencies the longer your cables are and the more pedals in your chain.
A buffer is a great addition to your pedalboard just before the signal dips in strength. In the business this is called ‘tone sucking’. As a guitar signal loses power to complete the circuit, clarity and bright tone may fade.
It’s like putting a low pass or high cut filter on your guitar signal. The more you add, the more high end you lose, leaving your tone dull and void of attack. This means you are missing out on important frequencies that are essential to your mix in a band setting and general tone quality.
How Do I use a Buffer Pedal?
The only way to work out the best place to put a buffer is with a bit of experimentation. A general guideline would be to insert the buffer between the guitar and first pedal, and no further forward in than the last overdrive pedal.
If you use several true bypass pedals, there’s a good chance your ensuing signal will weaker as they don’t have any effect on incoming signal. Fuzz effects don’t sound very good following the buffer so keep these earlier in the chain.
Your signal will be at full strength immediately following a buffer. Once you have a buffer in place, only the length of cable preceding the buffer and any pedals before it will cause degradation to the tone. Even if you don’t use guitar pedals, a buffer can still be of huge help. Really long cables can do just as much damage as a massive pedalboard.
What is The Best Buffer Pedal?
In a perfect world, a buffer shouldn’t alter your guitar tone, but sadly it’s not always the case.
Any part; a resistor, capacitor or op amp will have some effect on the signal because of the nature of electronics. Some buffer pedals are more transparent than others. Even the worst offenders will cause minor changes at most, so any decent quality buffer should make your tone better, not worse.
Varying buffers also pack in different features. Some may be smaller, others will have boost functions and a few even have extra connectivity for tuners and effects loops. Let’s take a look at three popular ranges.
Our friend Dan Steinhardt founded The GigRig with players in mind. These guys specialise in pedalboard and amp connectivity, making your guitar playing experience as seamless as possible.
The GigRig make super affordable buffers with simple combo functionality. Not only do they have buffers covered, but you could get yourself a ground loop isolator to eliminate unwanted noise when running two clashing outputs.
American behemoths Mesa Boogie might be more famous for their amps, but they’ve expanded into a range of pedals and buffers to our benefit.
The Clearlink comes in a variety of specifications to suit a simple one in one out setup, ground lift to kill unwanted hum and send and return model with line boost potential. These cover a lot of ground in regular stompbox size footprints.
Empress Effects are a boutique pedal brand known for their expansive workstation stompboxes and quality tone. They also have a range of buffers too so you can get the most out of your effects.
Their intro buffer is as impressive as the high-end stereo model. It’s a simple no-dial buffer with two lots of ins and out to cover buffer capability at the beginning and end of a signal chain. From there, you have the choice of boosting your line level on the Plus and a selection of filter on the Stereo.
What Buffer Pedal Should I buy?
Okay, so a buffer isn't the most exciting addition you could make to your pedalboard. Nevertheless -it's an essential tool for a gigging musician and anyone who takes their tone seriously.
After all you've spent all that time choosing the perfect amp and the perfect guitar to create "your sound". Why waste that effort by losing your true tone to cable runs and pedals?
Buffers have a huge price scope, varying from pedals with lots of functions and controls to none at all. If you simply need a buffer, pick a more affordable model. If you like the idea of an in-built ground loop isolator or multiple ins and outs to run a more complex rig, have a browse for these features.