Buffers are a big part of pedal design and pedal boards, so we want to give you a general guide to understanding how they work and where and when to use them.
Simply put, a buffer takes a high impedance signal and converts it to a low impedance signal. By changing the impedance from high to low, the buffer is restoring your signal flow to be the strongest it can be. Think of your signal like water running through a hose and a buffer is what keeps the water from getting caught in the “kinks.” Buffers help strengthen your guitar’s signal so they stay strong throughout the “hose” all the way to your amp!
Our Little Black Buffer is only one of many great buffers out there. It has a 1 megaohm input (high impedance) and 100 ohm output (low impedance). If you’re experiencing signal loss from a long cable run or from too many true-bypass pedals on your board, place one of our Little Black Buffers either at the beginning of your board (after vintage fuzzes like Tonebenders and Fuzz Faces) or at the end of your board. This should restore your signal to full strength.
Depending on how many pedals you have, you may need more than one buffer, but this is generally only for rigs with 10+ pedals that are true-bypass. It all comes down to listening to your rig. Does your clean tone sound weak through your pedal board compared to going directly into your amp? Then you need to find the right combination of buffers and buffered-bypass pedals to get your signal back to full strength.
A lot of pedals are designed with “buffered-bypass” switching. This means that they have a buffer that is always on even when the pedal is bypassed. This is the opposite of “true-bypass” switching, operating as if the pedal isn’t present when it's bypassed. Buffered-bypass pedals buffer your signal at all times, even when they’re disengaged. If you are using several true-bypass pedals, you will likely experience some tone loss. For this reason, it’s helpful to have a mixture of true-bypass pedals and buffered-bypass pedals on your board. Some common buffered-bypass pedals are Boss and Eventide pedals. A lot of pedals come with switchable buffered or true-bypass options, like Strymon and TC Electronic. Currently, some JHS Pedals have buffered-bypass (Colour Box, Morning Glory, Bonsai, Pulp N Peel V4, Clover, and Spring Tank), though most at this time are true-bypass.**
**If you’re concerned about putting buffered-bypass on your board at all, because you’ve been told that true-bypass is superior, I’d watch the “Top 6 Pedal Myths” episode of the JHS show. Spoiler: Josh gives a pretty solid argument that both pedal styles are great, it just depends on the musician and the board.
Buffers and buffered pedals can also affect how certain pedals sound, most commonly fuzz. In general, placing a buffer before a fuzz pedal will cause the fuzz to sound thin or weak. This is because fuzzes need to see a high impedance signal at the input in order to sound correct. For this reason, it’s generally best to place buffers or buffered-bypass pedals after fuzz pedals in your signal chain.
I also have a video on buffers, called, “Why You Need A Buffer.” For more info on pedal chain order and where to place a buffer, check out How To Order Pedals.
Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!