Buffer pedals aren’t flashy or overly talked about. Many guitarist and bassists don’t even know what a buffer is nor do they require a buffer pedal in their rig. However, for those of us that do need a buffer, having a well-designed unit is key to maintaining our hard-fought tone!
In this article, we’ll go over the 5 best dedicated buffer pedals for guitar and bass to help you decide which is best for you (if you even need one).
The top 5 best buffer pedals for guitar and bass are:
- Empress Buffer+
- TC Electronic Bonafide
- Fender Level Set Buffer
- Mesa/Boogie High-Wire Dual Buffer
- JHS Pedals Little Black Buffer
Let’s discuss each pedal on this list and the reasons why they are the best.
What Are Buffer Pedals & How Do They Work?
Buffer pedals are designed to mitigate tone suck (a loss of high-end clarity due to capacitance and impedance mismatching in the signal path).
Buffering, in the context of electric guitar signals and pedals, has to do with impedance and proper signal transfer. Long, unbalanced patch cords/cables and pedals with high output impedance can significantly degrade signal quality. A buffer drops the signal impedance to help preserve the signal.
Guitar and bass guitar signals are carried through unbalanced patch cables. These cables are susceptible to noise, interference, distributed capacitance and low-pass filtering.
The longer the cable, the worse the tone suck.
Buffer pedals help to reduce/reverse this signal degradation.
Buffer pedals also help to adjust impedance if we happen to be using vintage pedals or pedals with otherwise mismatched impedance ratings.
So, in short, buffer pedals help us to maintain our tone through our pedalboards. They aren’t always necessary but will make a big difference when they are required.
Note that all buffered bypass pedals (as opposed to true bypass pedals) will act as buffers in a signal chain. However, dedicated buffer pedals will typically yield better results since they are designed specifically to buffer the signal.
Buffer pedals often go at the very beginning or very end of a pedalboard to ensure the guitar or bass signal properly drives the board or the amp properly, respectively.
Buffer pedals can also go immediately before or after problematic pedals with poor impedance ratings or tone issues. That being said, it’s likely a better bet to fix, modify or replace a problematic pedal that to rely on a buffer.
Related article: How To Order Guitar/Bass Pedals (Ultimate Signal Flow Guide)
With that being said, let’s talk about some buffer pedals!
First up is the Empress Buffer+ (link to check the price on Amazon): a very versatile buffer pedal with some nice added features.
The Empress buffer+ was conceived to be a complete I/O interface for a pedalboard while maintaining the highest fidelity in the guitar signal.
The all-analog Buffer+ succeeds in its design but eliminating signal loss from distributed capacitance in patch cables, ensuring no quality loss or tonal changes to the audio signal. This alone makes it a superb buffer pedal.
Empress Effects put extra functionality in their Buffer+ pedal. This includes:
- Noise filter switch: little, none or lots.
- Input level switch: –3, 0 or +3 dB.
- Boost knob: up to 30dB of clean boost.
The small input loading knob is a powerful tool that varies the load that the Buffer+ presents to the input signal. This control can vary the input impedance between 10kΩ and 1MΩ to best suit the guitar pickups (or the pedal that comes before the Buffer.
The pedal offers a tuner out in order to keep the tuner outside of the main signal chain. The Buffer+ amp output can be muted so that tuning can be done silently.
In addition to the tuner jack, the Buffer+ has a loop send and return, allowing us to insert and effects loop within the buffer circuit. This helps to further improve our signal clarity.
This all comes in a small pedal that fits nicely on any pedalboard, making the Empress Effects Buffer+ one of the best buffer pedals in the world!
Empress Effects is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Boutique Guitar/Bass Pedal Brands To Know & Use.
TC Electronic Bonafide
Second on the list is the TC Electronic Bonafide (link to check the price on Amazon): a strong buffer circuit that excels at retaining the purity of the audio signal.
There’s not a whole lot to this pedal. It’s simply one of the best, most quality analog buffers on the market.
The Bonafide buffer from TC Electronic has a 1 MΩ input impedance and 100 Ω output impedance to maintain signal quality and eliminate any degradation from long cable runs.
TC’s known for their true bypass circuits. For this buffer, which by default is not true bypass, they include a Power Failure mode that will automatically switch to True Bypass if power gets cut. This allows the pedal to continue passing signal even if it’s unplugged.
With a signal-to-noise ratio over 112 dB a Total Harmonic Distortion rating of 0.001%, this compact buffer keeps us sounding the way we’re supposed to!
TC Electronic is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.
Fender Level Set Buffer
The Fender Level Set Buffer (link to check the price on Amazon) is another terrific buffer, this time from one of the most legendary guitar brands to have ever existed.
The Level Set Buffer is a single buffer pedal designed to easily balance mismatched guitar outputs. Adjust the settings on the pedal rather than on the new guitar or amplifier during guitar swaps.
Unfortunately the Level Set Buffer doesn’t have presets. However, as a buffer, it works great. It sounds great on a single instrument and makes level adjustments easy if we do happen to swap instruments.
The buffer features 3 controls:
- Level knob: controls the level within a range of ±12 dB.
- Hi-Freq (High Frequency) knob: adjusts high-frequency output, again by ±12 dB.
- Load toggle switch: applies a capacitive load that is very similar to load provided by a tube amp.
The pedal also has a mute switch and a dedicated tuner output. Simply mute the pedal and tune without having a tuner in the signal path.
So whether we use it to its full potential or not, the Fender Level Set Buffer is one of the best buffer pedals out there.
Fender is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.
Mesa/Boogie High-Wire Dual Buffer
The Mesa/Boogie High-Wire Dual Buffer (link to check the price at Sweetwater) is a wonderful choice for any pedalboard requiring a buffer.
The Mesa/Boogie High-Wire Dual Buffer is actually quite similar in design to the aforementioned Empress Buffer+.
This 100% discrete Class-A buffer offers plenty of goodies, including:
- A fixed +3dB boost toggle.
- A variable, foot-switchable boost up to +22dB.
- An effects loop.
- A dedicated tuner jack to remove the tuner from the main signal chain.
The High-Wire’s footswitch serves a dual function, engaging the variable Boost when hit once and muting the pedal when held for a second.
The pedal works like a charm and sounds great. If you’re looking for a buffer with a few extra routing capabilities, be sure to check out the Mesa/Boogie High-Wire Dual Buffer!
JHS Pedals Little Black Buffer
Last but not least is the JHS Pedals Little Black Buffer (link to check the price on Amazon). This pedal is dead simple and offers a very small footprint.
One input and one output. It doesn’t get much simple than the Little Black Buffer. Sure it’s not fancy. However, it works amazingly well; sounds great; has a small footprint, and is very affordable.
Give it a shot and restore all the high-end detail, output level, and tonal character to your signal. Go ahead and use longer cable runs and big pedalboards. The JHS Little Black Box has you covered!
JHS Pedals is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Boutique Guitar/Bass Pedal Brands To Know & Use.