All those great pedals that you own, designed to improve your sound, can actually end up sucking all the tone right out of your sound.
Are you using long cables and / or lots of effects pedals?
Long cables can cause a loss of high frequencies and general signal degradation.
The more pedals we have the more patch cables we’ll be using – all of this adds up and introduces more signal loss, high end roll off and more capacitance. None of which are our friends.
This is where buffer pedals come in.
- Empress buffer plus Boost
- Fender Level Set
- tc electronic BonaFide Buffer
- JHS Little Black Buffer
- tc electronic Polytune 3
Note: There’s a lot more information below but clicking the above links will take you to current prices, further information and customer reviews on Amazon.
Table of Contents
Buffer Pedal Reviews
Below we’ve compiled a list of what are, in our opinion, the top six contenders for the title of the best buffer pedals available today.
1. Empress Buffer Plus
- Well made
- -3/0/+3dB switch to adjust for different pickups quickly
- Effects loop in/out and tuner out are a bit crowded
Empress effects are known for their quality gear and this analog buffer is no exception.
This is a high quality and versatile buffer pedal that any gigging guitarist both amateur and professional alike could sit proudly on their board.
The footswitch in addition to triggering the clean boost will also act as a mute switch with a long push for silent tuning.
Put the empress buffer plus into your chain and the high end clarity will be restored.
2. Fender Level Set
- Makes swapping single coil and humbucker guitars a breeze.
- Tuner Output
- Extra EQ
- That super-bright LED.
I am a big fan of the look of these Fender pedals and they are certainly well-built.
Unlike some buffer pedals with just one output, the Level Set also has a separate tuner output allowing for always on tuning. The footswitch allows you to mute everything for silent tuning – plus this is obviously useful for guitar swaps and avoiding that annoying cable pop.
The LED backlit knobs are nice and clear under any light. But, like the other pedals in this series from Fender, the main jewel light is brighter than the sun. Seriously, it is really bright. However, most people solve this easy with some tape placed over it.
Lastly the load switch increases capacitance much like plugging into a tube amp might do.
The extra features of this buffer pedal make it an excellent choice.
3. tc electronic BonaFide Buffer
- Simple – just plug and play
- Can be mounted under your board
- Cost effective
- No way to adjust levels when you change from single coil to humbuckers and vice versa.
Well, it doesn’t get much simpler than this. There is an input jack and an output jack and that’s it – not even an on / off switch. Because it is so simple, without any controls, it can be mounted under your board out of the way.
It has a power failure mode so the unit automatically switch to true bypass should this happen.
If you want to keep things simple and have a limited budget then the BonaFide Buffer is a good choice.
4. JHS Little Black Buffer
- Compact size
- Another one with a blindingly bright LED
Another simple design that is basically a buffer circuit in a compact black box that’s small enough to put under a pedalboard.
The little Black Buffer is another unit with a crazy bright LED that certainly gives the Fender unit a run for its money. Obviously not so much of a problem if you are tucking it under your board.
Although it does the job well enough some might find mounting more difficult because the input and output sockets are on the same side.
5. tc electronic Polytune 3
- Tuner and buffer in one
- Well made
- The True Bypass / buffer switch is internal
Here’s something that some of you won’t expect. Why is a tuner in a roundup of the best buffer pedals? Well, tc electronic have squeezed in their BonaFide Buffer circuit into the Polytune 3.
The fact that this pedal is a high-quality tuner and buffer in one is great. I just with the True bypass / buffer switch wasn’t internal requiring the back to come of to change it over. The chances are you are going have the tuner positioned at the front of the signal chain, so if you want to run fuzz it would have been nice to be able to quickly switch the buffer off.
That being said is a minor point and if you aren’t likely to want to switch between the modes it is a non issue.
What is a Guitar Buffer Pedal?
Many guitarists, hearing that true bypass pedals are better because they allow the signal to pass through your pedals unaffected when the effect is off, opt for all true bypass. It makes sense because some guitar pedals can introduce unwanted noise, tone coloration, or even signal degradation when they are in the signal chain, even when not engaged.
So, this is a good thing, right? Not necessarily!
What they don’t always realise is that a long chain of true bypass pedals can lead to your guitar signal level dropping. As a consequence, your sound quality and overall tone can drop significantly.
A buffer pedal can help preserve your tone by adding some gain to the signal level to compensate for any loss that might occur as the signal travels through your pedals and cables.
Those with a level control can prove very handy when switching between single coil and humbucker guitars allowing you to deal with the volume difference easily. In fact, some buffer pedals will handle this difference automatically – brilliant if you change guitars during a gig.
How Do I Know if I Need One?
Is your guitar tone lacking high-end frequencies? Do you notice a difference when you plug your guitar straight into your amplifier compared to running through all of your pedals with them all off?
Plug everything in but leave all pedals off and play your guitar. Then plug your guitar lead straight into the amp – does it sound different? i.e. was the tone sucked out when the effects pedals were all in line?
If you do then you could well be suffering from tone sucking and could well benefit from adding one or more buffer pedals to your board to restore the tonal character.
Some guitarists have ended up adding a treble booster into their signal chain when, in fact, a decent buffer pedal was probably the answer.
You should place a buffer towards the start of your signal path, ideally at the very beginning of your pedal board.
Note: One thing to bear in mind is that if you are using a Fuzz pedal then the buffer should be placed AFTER it. They don’t respond very well to buffers placed in front of them.
In fact, many will prefer the sound after any drive pedals they may have so it’s worth experimenting to see which position you prefer.
Really large pedal boards are likely to need a buffer at both the beginning and the end. Do the experiment above to see if your tone is affected.
Always question if you need such long cables as this certainly won’t be helping. Using decent, high-quality cables is important and can make quite a difference on their own.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a decent power supply. They are not all created equally and a bad one certainly won’t be helping your signal remain clean.
If you feel that your guitar signal has degraded and your tone isn’t as good when you are running through your pedal board then a buffer pedal is likely to be your answer.
Luckily it is a fairly cost-effective solution to bring your signal clarity back up to where it should be.
While it might not seem like the most exciting purchase, a buffer
While any of these high quality buffers will do a good job at improving your guitar tone, I do feel that the empress buffer plus leads the pack. Following closely is the Fender Level Set buffer which does a commendable job.