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Stupid question - what's a buffer and why?

john b

Silver Supporting Member
Just curious. I've never had any issues setting up a pedal board. Maybe I got lucky following the conventional wisdom of wah/comp/od/modulation/delay? What does a buffer do, where do you need it, and why? thanks.


This explains OK.
They're generally used to drive long cables. The reason some people complain about them is that they can have a detrimental effect on some pedal's sound. Many fuzzes only sound good when the input signal is low inpedance (from lower output pickups), thus placing a pedal that has a built in buffer in front of the fuzz may result in a higher impedance signal entering the fuzz circuit. Many complain that this makes the fuzz sound "muddy".
Remember not all buffers are born equal. Don't disregard a pedal just because it isn't true bypass.


Basically, a buffer is a 1:1 gain (equal input and output level) amplifier. The idea is to let the buffer's input deal with the guitar pickups, and have its output drive the cables etc that follows. It is used to isolate things from each other, handling the connection rather than letting the source (guitar pickups, for instance) deal directly with the circuit.

Regular passive guitar pickups have a high output impedance, which makes the signal vulnerable to long cable runs, bad bypass systems (Dunlop/MXR, for instance) and such. An active circuit (like the buffer in a Boss pedal, or a dedicated buffer unit) is designed to accept the high impedance signal from the pickups, while providing a low impedance output. A low impedance signal is much less vulnerable to long cable runs etc.

Some fuzz circuits (especially simple fuzz face-derived designs) rely on "seeing" a high impedance signal (their input impedance is so low that the guitar signal loses quite a bit of treble, which is part of their sound). If you feed them a low impedance signal (which is not as affected by the fuzz's input impedance), such as the output from a Boss-type pedal or buffer unit, it will not sound right.

As the above poster said, buffer amplifiers come in all varieties, from great to downright awful. Some fully buffered pedals (Boss, Ibanez etc) will sound great in bypass, while others can make the sound flat and lifeless. True bypass has its own set of problems, but it will at least let you use the buffer you like. Then there's the third type of bypass - MXR, Marshall, most wahs etc use a passive mechanical system that is neither buffered nor true bypass. That's like getting the worst from both worlds, and if you have one of those first in line, sticking a buffer in front of them will usually help quite a bit.



Silver Supporting Member
ah! This makes sense now. I was told to always put my Fuzz first in line

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