Seems like I have this conversation about once a month with new guitarists I meet. When I start talking about buffers in the signal chain, I usually get a questioned look. There are a lot of people that understand the importance of buffers, but there are a ton that don’t, and they should. I’ve posted about this topic in the past, and I think it’s time again.
Normally, the thing you get hammered into your soul when discussing pedals is … True Bypass. True Bypass is good right? Well, yes.. and no. But before I get into that, let’s talk about the problem first. Cable capacitance. When you’re generating a guitar signal from your pickups, that signal needs to go a long way through cabling and circuits before it gets to the amp. Let’s say you have a 20′ cable from guitar to board, 20′ cable from board to amp, we’re talking 40′ that signal would have to travel, but also don’t forget it needs to travel through the circuits in the pedal as well. During this journey, the copper becomes capacitor basically, and it starts to rob some of the high end of the signal. Loss of high end equals muddy tone, or lifeless tone. You know, when that guitar doesn’t have that ‘snap’ that you want.
Try plugging in your guitar with a short 10′ cable straight to the amp (no pedals), then plug it in through your set up with all your true bypass off (bypassed) and see if you hear a difference going the 40′ length. Usually, with cables 20′ is the max length you can go before starting to notice significant treble bleed. So the solution is buffers. Buffers basically beef up your signal (matches input to output with all the frequencies). Buffers can be stand alone units or included in certain pedals. But aren’t non-true-bypass pedals bad? Here is what I’ve come to find out via experience. Some buffered pedals are bad and can impact tone. Dunlop Wah, don’t have great buffers and are known for tone-suck (why I like to do true-bypass mods to them). Ibanez Tubescreamer can be bad too, but that’s a matter of opinion. Now, Boss pedals on the other hand are all buffered, and are very transparent. I personally like to use my Boss TU-2 tuner first in line (buffers my signal from 20′ run from guitar to board). I also like to include a buffer at the end of my pedal chain to help the 20′ run from board to amp. Again, I’ve used a Boss DD-7 at the end.. I’ve also used stand alone inline buffers too. Whatever works for you.
Now, sometimes buffers don’t play nice with certain pedals. Old school fuzz circuits is a perfect example. Some sound bad, some sound great, you need to experiment. If you don’t like the sound of the fuzz within the buffer, you could put the fuzz before the TU-2/TU-3 tuner, so the buffering happens after the fuzz.
I just recently found this GREAT video by Pete Thorn talking about buffers.
Do you use buffers? What’s your thoughts/experiences? Comment below. Have more questions about buffers? Please comment below!