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I use a buffer pedal for my signal chain. The buffer pedal, when used correctly, improves the high frequency response of your overall pedal chain. Everyone knows what it does. Where should it be used ? At the beginning or the end? I read an article somewhere that said that high end signal chains include buffer at the beginning and at the end too. Should it be used on both sides then? Also a guitar buffer is used these days. Is it necessary even after using a buffer pedal?

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The buffer pedal, when used correctly, improves the high frequency response of your overall pedal chain. Everyone knows what it does.

Unfortunately, this is totally not the case – most guitarists don't know what a buffer does, and I'm afraid both you and Qweevs are among them.

A buffer does not boost the treble, and it's also not something necessary before any cable longer than 15 ft.

Actually, the only reason a buffer makes sense is because the electric guitars aren't well-designed. Namely, the pickups have a very high impedance. As a result, the sound is strongly affected if you connect a cable – the longer the cable, the higher its capacitance, and that together with the built-in inductance (a pickup is essentially just an inductor) creates a high-cut effect.

The correct way to tackle this problem is to redesign the guitar to offer low output impedance. This is most sensibly done with active circuitry – essentially a buffer built into the guitar. With a (properly implemented) active guitar, you should never need any buffer pedals, unless perhaps you're feeding a kilometre-long cable.

Unfortunately, active guitars have never took hold on the market (rather unlike active bass gutars). This is perhaps in some part to blame on the manufacturers not giving the active circuits proper thought. For one thing, if you simply put a buffer right after the pickups, then these will be able to resonate so strongly that the treble range sounds outright annoying – although tastes vary, for example Brian May's guitar sound makes use of this particular effect. But most pickups actually need a few nanofarads of capacitance to sound good in the usual sense.

Just, they can't bear too much load. In particular,

  • If you use really long cables. It depends on the guitar what is too much; try a couple of cables and choose the one that sounds best for your taste. That cable should always go before the buffer, if any.
  • If you drive low-impedance inputs. This includes the microphone/line-level inputs on mixing consoles, but also some guitar effect pedals. Unlike a cable, these impedances are resistive, not capacitive, which also results in treble loss, but in a different way. For some effects this can actually be desirable, for example the Fuzz Face can make sense to be used unbuffered.

Anyway, as topo morto says, after any effects pedal (active, which almost all are), the impedance is decoupled, so using another buffer shouldn't make much difference.

  • In your 2nd paragraph (after the quote), you say not needed when longer than 15ft. Based on what I think I read later on, you may have meant to say "shorter?" – Yorik Sep 30 '16 at 19:41
  • @Yorik: no, I meant a buffer is not something that always becomes necessary as soon as the cable length exceeds 15' – it is just necessary when the signal source is very weak (i.e. high-impedance), like a passive electric guitar. – leftaroundabout Oct 1 '16 at 10:11
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If you are using a signal chain that includes other pedals, and your cable from the guitar to those pedals is fairly short, then you probably don't need a dedicated buffer at all, because any other effect pedal that is on (or is not true bypass) also acts as a buffer.

If you are not using other effects, or you regularly have all your effects off (and they are all true bypass), or if you have a long cable run to your effects, it might make sense to have a buffer as close to your guitar's output jack as possible.


Edit: The page at http://screaminfx.com/tech/why-and-when-to-use-a-guitar-buffer-pedal.htm is often suggested as a good place to go and learn about this stuff - but I think it could be slightly misleading. Let's have a look at what they suggest as "Main Places to use a Buffer Pedal":

1) Before Really long cable: Before Really long cable

Here, they are basically correct. Having said that, This 'buffer' could actually be something like a (non-true bypass) Boss tuner, or something like that. So you still may not need to buy a dedicated buffer.

2) Many Effects in a Row with True Bypass:

Many Effects in a Row with True Bypass

This could be sensible - but only if all the pedals are true bypass, and only if you frequently have all of them off.

3) A pedal with low input impedance or one which exhibits tone sucking: A pedal with low input impedance or one which exhibits tone sucking

This is a case where you should really try it and see. Many pedals of the type they are referring to (wahs, and 'old-school' fuzzes) really don't perform as well (subjectively) when they aren't coupled directly to the guitar's pickup. ScreaminFX's own buffer claims to have a 'fuzz-safe' facility, but a more reliable (and cheaper) solution might be to put the pedal in a true-bypass looper.

To be fair, screaminFX also say on another page:

"If you are not sure about a buffer, please email me. I will try to talk you out of buying one unless I really think it will help you out. I can usually talk half of the people out of buying one. Many pedals already have buffers in them, some are always on"

This is a commendable statement.


One final point - in a lot of these discussions, people suggest "try it and see" (as I have above, in one case) - but remember that expectation bias can be strong. Don't expect a buffer to improve your sound, because in many situations there is no reason to think that it will make much difference. Even when it does, some people may still prefer the unbuffered scenario!

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