How I Use Buffer Pedals

If you are using a passive instrument, such as a guitar or passive bass, a buffer is arguably one of the most important pedals to get a good sound.

Passive instruments typically provide a high-impedance output. This means that; as the length of the cable(s) between your guitar & amp increases, your tone quality decreases. Typically; if you have a very long cable or run a lot of true-bypass pedals, you lose some of your high frequencies and get a warmer sound; losing your brightness.

This may be desirable for some musicians targeting a vintage tone. However; most of us would like to preserve the original tone of the guitar and make purposeful adjustments on the amp.

It is easy to test if you have such a problem.

  1. Insert your guitar directly into your amp with a short cable, and listen.
  2. Run your guitar through your pedals (turned off), and listen.

If you hear audio degradation, your signal path is sucking your tone off.

That’s where the buffer steps in. A typical buffer will transform your high-impedance signal to a low-impedance signal; which travels relatively effortless among pedals and long cables, reaching the amp without dramatic losses. Thus, you end up hearing the original tone of your guitar; preserving the high frequencies.

Playing passive basses, I put the buffer at the beginning of my signal chain. That way, my tone doesn’t get dimed by following pedals. Typical active instruments provide low-impedance signals and don’t really need an “opener” buffer.

If I have a long pedal chain, I might also place a buffer at the end of the chain to re-vitalize my tone before it hits the (long) cable reaching to the amp/desk.

A buffer will typically have a high impedance input (1MΩ) and a low impedance output (<1KΩ). If you have an always-on pedal (such as a compressor) or a pedal with buffered bypass with similar values, that pedal would be buffering your signal anyway. Using an additional buffer could be obsolete at that point.

Be warned though: “Too much buffer” is as real as “signal degradation”. Using too many true-bypass pedals or long cables can make your tone muddy, that’s true. On the other hand; using too many buffers or buffered pedals can make your tone harsh and thin – which is equally undesirable for many.

Therefore, you need to pick your pedals mindfully – keeping your signal impedance in mind as much as your creative tonality.

  • For small boards, one buffer should be enough.
  • For medium boards, one buffer towards the beginning and one towards the end should be enough.
  • For large boards, you might need additional buffer(s) in-between.

Mind you that a buffer is only one of usung hero effect pedals, and using a buffer is one of many steps to get a good bass tone.


3 thoughts on “How I Use Buffer Pedals

  1. Pingback: Bass FAQ
  2. Pingback: How I EQ my Basses

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