the an­swers

Guitarist - - Pedalboard -

01 A buf­fer is a 1:1 am­pli­fier that changes the im­ped­ance of your sig­nal. It’s there to coun­ter­act what hap­pens with the in­ter­ac­tion of var­i­ous phys­i­cal fac­tors: in­duc­tance in your pick­ups, plus ca­pac­i­tance and re­sis­tance in ca­bles, ped­als, switches etc. The com­mon ter­mi­nol­ogy is that they ‘drive’ the sig­nal, min­imis­ing sig­nal loss. Now, all ped­als are buffered when they’re on. How­ever it’s when they’re off that the prin­ci­ple is­sues arise (leav­ing aside fuzz which we’ll come to in a bit). True by­pass is when there is no buf­fer in the pedal’s off state. Buffered by­pass is when a buf­fer is in op­er­a­tion even when the pedal is off. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing at all – the Klon Cen­taur, for ex­am­ple, is a buffered by­pass pedal.

02 Some trial and er­ror is needed to de­ter­mine if you need a buf­fer. Plug ev­ery­thing in, leave all the ped­als off and just play for a bit. Now, change noth­ing ex­cept for un­plug­ging the cable from the ’board to the amp and plug your gui­tar straight in in­stead. If there’s a dif­fer­ence then you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some sig­nal loss. This varies with ca­bles, gui­tars etc, but is most no­tice­able with vin­tage-style pick­ups that tend to suf­fer when try­ing to ‘drive’ a lot of ca­pac­i­tance. A buf­fer could help, but so could clean­ing up your sig­nal path with a loop switcher, and/or im­prov­ing your power so­lu­tion.

Now re­peat that process us­ing one pedal at a time, and then us­ing com­bi­na­tions of two ped­als. It’s la­bo­ri­ous, but it should help you un­der­stand if and where the tone is be­ing changed. The most ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence will be in the na­ture of the high-end; a strongly buffered sig­nal will have no­tice­able fi­delity, edge and pres­ence that’s nei­ther a good nor bad thing. That said, a buf­fer can be a key part in some­body’s tone, such as An­gus Young’s.

The gen­eral ad­vice is: 1) If you want to add a buf­fer, it’s usu­ally best placed af­ter your drive ped­als. 2) Vin­tage-style fuzzes (Ger­ma­nium fuzzes es­pe­cially) tend not to like buf­fers in front of them. 3) Buf­fers af­ter over­drive and fuzz can have an ef­fect too, so be aware of that. 4) Once you un­der­stand what the buf­fer is do­ing to the sound, you can use it to your ad­van­tage: there is no good, bad, right or wrong!

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