Before we get to buffers and buffer pedals, we need to start with the True Bypass - a term you have probably seen highlighted on virtually every single pedal that features it. With so many pedals featuring it, you’d think it was hands down the best way to go. Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. In fact, they might be causing you tone problems.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
A pedal that features true bypass essentially allows a signal to travel through the pedal when switched off as if it wasn't there to begin with. In other words, the pedal is bypassed. While that might seem like a great way of keeping your tone from getting colored by unneeded pedals, having too many true bypass pedals in your signal chain can drain your tone. You can read more about the pros and cons of true bypass in our True Bypass - What It Is And What It Does For You article.
Even though your signal can travel through a true bypass pedal without being colored, it still has to travel through it. While a couple of true bypass pedals might not do much, making your signal go through a dozen or more of these would be like using a very long guitar cable, causing your tone to lose its high-end and clarity. This is where guitar buffer pedals come in. They are a type of preamp made to strengthen your signal as if you were connected directly to your amp. By placing a buffer and the beginning and end of your chain, you can help maintain your signal.
How To Tell If You Need A Buffer Pedal
Here’s a quick test you can do to check if you might benefit from a buffer pedal. All you need is a short cable, about a foot long or so if you have one, or as close as you can to that. Using a short cable, play your guitar while being connected directly to your amplifier. Note the sound. Now, try playing using the same settings, only now with your pedalboard (with all of the effects off) as part of the chain. If there is a noticeable difference, specifically the loss of treble when playing through the board, you definitely need a buffer. You can try the same test with your gig cables to see if they might be too long and causing drain. If the cable you use for shows makes your guitar tone lose some treble when compared to using the short cable, a buffer will help maintain your sound.
Your Turn to Sound Off!
Do you use a buffer pedal on your signal chain?