As an electric guitar player you have probably collected a large amount of effects pedals.
Since buying all these guitar pedals, you may have noticed that your guitar has lost all of its high frequency shimmer.
Should you get rid of all of your pedals and plug straight into your amp, or should you carry on with all your effects but no lovely high end.
All you need is a simple, but well built buffer.
This is our list of the best buffer pedals for all you sound (or dare I say pedal) junkies out there.
Snapshot: Best Buffer Pedals In 2021
- Boss DD-8 Digital Delay – Best for End of Chain
- TC Electronic Polytune 3 – Best for Beginning of Chain
- JHS Little Black Buffer – Best Budget Option/Best Overall
- Fender Level Set Buffer
- Friedman Buffer Bay 6
- Empress Buffer + Boost – Best High End Option
Choosing a Great Buffer Pedal for Your Guitar Rig
Buffer pedals often confuse guitarists. Commonly asked questions include:
- How do Buffers effect my tone?
- Do I really need a buffer pedal?
- Are expensive buffer pedals better than cheap ones?
The reality is that buffers have a very simple purpose in the world of guitar: to preserver your original signal strength and, therefore, your original guitar tone.
They don’t change your guitar tone, but rather make sure that your original guitar tone is always present. Because of this, all the great buffer pedals don’t really sound like anything. They should just make your clean guitar signal sound like its plugged straight into your amp, no matter how many feet of cable or how many pedals you are running.
Because all well-built buffer pedals sound the same, I focused on picking the most reliable options on the market. The only thing that varies are the features, build quality, and price.
I also wanted to include options that offered different signal routing options. The idea of “sandwiching” buffers at the beginning and end of your chain, with true bypass pedals in the middle, is a good rule of thumb.
Some buffer pedals allow for this kind of wiring to be done easily and I’ll break down my choices within the pedal reviews below.
Speaking of which, let’s move on to the reviews!
Here is my list of the six best buffer pedals you can buy online today.
The Best Buffer Pedals On The Market
1. Boss DD-8 Digital Delay – Best for End of Chain
Wait… Isn’t this article about buffer pedals?
If you didn’t know, ALL Boss pedals come with high quality buffers built into them. So, if you own a Boss pedal of any kind, you already own a buffer!
I specifically chose the Boss DD-8 for this list because delays are often placed at the end of signal chains, making this a great buffer to sandwich the end of your signal. However, you could take any Boss pedal, turn the effect off (this is called Buffered Bypass) and place it wherever you want your buffer in your chain.
In addition to having a benchmark buffer, the DD-8 is a fantastic sounding delay pedal, with 10 different delay voices and a looper. It features stereo In/Out, as well as tap tempo and a jack for external tap tempo or an expression pedal.
The buffer in this pedal doesn’t have any controls and is hardwired into the effect. The delay pedal itself has four knobs that control E. Level (volume of the delayed signal), Feedback (number of repeats), Time (time between repeats) and the Mode switch.
The mode switch allows you to choose between the looper or one of the ten different delay voices. These include Analog, Standard, Tape, Warm, Reverse, +RV (+ Reverb), Shim (Shimmer), Mod, Warp, and GLT (Glitch). The footswitch can be used to turn the pedal on or off (buffered bypass), tap tempo, or a self-oscillating hold.
All Boss pedals have the same buffer circuit, so they all affect your signal the same. The buffer inside this pedal sounds great, in that it doesn’t color your sound. When turned off, the buffer simply retains your signal clarity.
The delay sounds are famous and are what have made the DD series from Boss legendary. Even though the pedal is digital, it does a convincing job of sounding like an analog or tape delay with its eroding repeats.
The +RV setting has a great plate reverb added to the standard delay tone (effectively giving you a reverb pedal in addition to a great buffer, delay, and looper). This pedal is a shoegaze guitarists’ dream, with long delay times, tap tempo, and modulated delays for days.
- Effect Type: Delay/Looper
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 2.87 x 5”
- Features: Buffered Bypass, 10 Delay Types, Tap Tempo, Expression Out
Final Thoughts on the Boss DD-8 Digital Delay
The DD-8 is not only a staple digital delay, it is also a great example of what Boss buffer pedals can do. Save yourself the cash if you already own a Boss pedal and utilize the built in buffer with some creative pedal placement.
2. TC Electronic Polytune 3 – Best for Beginning of Chain
- Ultra-compact polyphonic tuner gives you fast, accurate tuning and a high-quality tone tool in a single unit Quickly get in tune with polyphonic, chromatic and strobe tuning modes Built-in all-analog...
Another kind of pedal that you may already own with a buffer in it is your guitar tuner. The standard Boss TU-3 has one, but my favorite is the TC Electronic Polytune 3. I place my tuner at the beginning of my signal, so this is a perfect opportunity to squeeze in a buffer at the beginning of your signal.
TC Electronic updated their already successful Polytuner lineup to include their industry leading Bonafide Buffer (a great option on its own if you already own a tuner you like). It’s a high quality, all analog buffer circuit with a power failure mode that automatically kicks the effect to true bypass, should power fail.
The Polytune 3 tuner offers the same polyphonic, chromatic, or strobe tuning modes of previous polytune models, with up to 0.5 cent accuracy in poly mode and an incredible .02 cent accuracy in strobe. The LED display is easy to read no matter what kind of lighting you are dealing with.
The Polytune 3 has dipswitches that allow you to decide whether you want the pedal to work in Buffered or True bypass modes. This is a good way for beginners to hear what a difference a buffer pedal can make in your signal.
It also features an “Always On” mode for the tuner that constantly shows your tuning. Most useful is that the pedal automatically switches between poly and monophonic tuning modes based on how many strings you are playing.
The Bonifide buffer within the Polytune 3 is ideal in that there is no sound degradation. There’s honestly not much more to say here; it’s a tuner. It tunes accurately without getting in the way of your sound. In fact is does the opposite of getting in the way, it buffers.
- Effect Type: Tuner/Buffer
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 4.76 x 1.77 x 2.87
- Features: Bonafide Buffer, Switchable True Bypass, Polyphonic tuning
Final Thoughts on the TC Electronic Polytune 3
A Buffer/Tuner combination is a great idea because of the typical placement of tuners in most players’ boards: the front or the end. Having a buffer within your tuner not only saves you space compared to buying a standalone buffer pedal, but they are ready to be placed in the optimal spot. TC Electronic makes some of the best tuners, but if you already have one you like, the Bonafide buffer found here is small and of a high quality. You can’t go wrong.
3. JHS Little Black Buffer Pedal – Best Budget Option & Best Overall
- Restores the high end detail, output level, and tonal character that involved pedal chains and long cable runs steal away
I recommend adding high quality buffers to your chain in ways that take up minimal space and don’t cost much. The first two options on this list do this through pedals that have buffers as a secondary function or feature. However, if you want a pedal that’s sole function is to be a reliable buffer pedal, the Little Black Box is the way to go.
The name of this pedal sums up its design concept: it’s a little, black, buffer pedal and that’s it. This pedal doesn’t have any frills, controls, or added features. It is essentially a buffer circuit with a housing around it so you can mount it under just about any pedalboard in as discrete a way as possible. Of the buffers of this class, it is the most compact, sturdy, high quality buffer pedal and it comes in at an incredibly competitive price point.
No controls here; just an input and an output jack. There is a single LED to let you know that the pedal is working. The pedal defaults to true bypass should the power to the pedal fail. Just plug this little pedal in, and your signal is restored!
This pedal does a great job of restoring your high end clarity without changing your original tone. It’s as if you just swapped out the strings on your guitar. You’ll know immediately whether or not you like the effect this circuit has on your signal, considering that there are no ways to modify it. That being said, you’re going to like the way it sounds.
- Effect Type: Buffer
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 3.6 x 1.5 x 1”
- Features: Low Profile and Rugged design.
Final Thoughts on the JHS Little Black Box Buffer
There is such a thing as buying too cheap of a buffer pedal. Thankfully, JHS has created a high quality, reliable buffer at a price point cheaper than most regular guitar pedals. They even have a version of this that works for stereo rigs called the Buffered Splitter. This pedal has just about everything that makes up the ideal buffer in terms of price, quality, and size.
4. Fender Level Set Buffer Pedal
Ever go to switch guitars at a gig and notice there are changes in level from one set of pickups to the next? Fender has developed a buffer pedal with a few simple controls to help you conquer this annoying, but simple problem on stage.
The Level Set Buffer pedal takes the idea of buffers a step forward with Fender’s newest design. This pedal has both a built in buffer as well as an EQ and a load switch.
It is the size of a traditional pedal enclosure, has sleek, rounded edges, and also comes with a magnetic latch for the battery door. Even though the pedal is slightly larger than most buffers, Fender tried to accommodate for this through the use of offset input and output jacks.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Level Set Buffer is its LED backlit knobs, which not only look cool but also make identifying your settings on a dark stage easier. This is ideal because the whole point of the Level Set Buffer is to switch guitars without having to change settings on your other pedals or amplifier, but rather the trim controls instead.
Both the Level and Hi-Freq controls have a range of plus/minus 12db. It also has a Load switch and a tuner out jack for silent tuning that doesn’t degrade your tone. You can also do traditional, silent tuning using the Mute switch.
Unlike most buffer pedals that don’t change your tone at all (besides revealing how it should sound normally), this pedal actually starts to sound like a boost at higher level settings (even a treble booster with the Hi-Freq set past 3). It is a pretty cool design that allows you to even out the differences in volume between single coil and humbucker guitars, without taking away their character.
This is a really flexible, but simple pedal, that can be set as an always-on buffer, or as a situational level control or even a boost.
- Effect Type: Buffer
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 5.45 x 4.85 x 3.25”
- Features: Tuner Out, magnetic battery latch, load switch, 12 db boost
Final Thoughts on the Fender Level Set Buffer
Fender has solved a long, tedious problem for working guitarists with this simple and versatile buffer pedal. I would argue that it is too large and too expensive for some people’s buffer needs, but for those that do frequent guitar changes on stage, this may just be the way to go for you.
5. Friedman Buffer Bay 6
- Ultra transparent, natural and musical sounding buffer
Buffer pedals don’t just have to be an addition to your board – they can also be the central Input/Output interface (I/O Interface) for your board. If you have a complicated rig or wiring setup, a piece of gear like the Friedman Buffer Bay 6 may be the best option for you.
The Buffer Bay 6 is a patch bay with a built in buffer to make for easy and clean signal routing, no matter what your setup is. With 5 TRS (Tip, Ring, Sleeve) and 1 buffered RS (Ring Sleeve) connection, you have six total connections for every signal routing combination possible, including stereo and amp channel switching.
This allows for all of your cables to be located in one convenient spot on your board, which saves you time in load in/out, but also adds to your cable life. All of this comes in a small, easy to mount package as well.
The Buffer Bay 6 has few controls and is really only designed to allow you to use the bay in any way you see fit. There is a single button for activating the buffer, so you do have the choice to turn the buffer off if you already have one built in somewhere else in your chain.
There is a built in MIDI jack for you to control rack systems or amp presets. It also accepts amp channel switching devices too, so every single switching device you may have can be integrated into the Friedman Buffer Bay 6. I use this on my board, and I have my pedals routed in such a way that I can place my board in front of any amp with or without an effects loop.
All I need is a jumper cable for whichever setup is required, and I’m guaranteed a clean and buffered chain.
This is as transparent as any buffer can get. There is zero hum or signal loss, no matter how many feet of cable you are running in even your most complex guitar rig. The buffer doesn’t color your sound in any way. It preserves your fidelity, volume, and tone, making your rig sound as if you’ve plugged straight into an amplifier.
- Effect Type: Buffer/Patch Bay
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 3.5″ x 4.75″ x 1.75″
- Features: Buffer, 7 pin MIDI, 6 inputs
Final Thoughts on the Friedman Buffer Bay 6
The more pedals and gear you integrate into your rig, the more cables and signal routing you’re going to encounter. Therefore, your need for a buffer is only going to increase. With a product like the Friedman Buffer Bay 6, you get simplification in your routing as well as a properly buffered signal. This is a must have for professional musicians.
6. Empress Effects Buffer+ Boost – Best High End Option
- complete I/O interface for the pedal board, while maintaining the highest fidelity to your guitar's signal.
Empress took the top spot on our list of best tremolo pedals with controls that really pushed the effect forward, so it was no surprise to find that they did the same for the world of buffer pedals. While the Empress Buffer pedal is the best high end option, it may come as a surprise that it isn’t the most expensive.
It’s not the cheapest either, but rather the most well-built and well put together product for professionals to consider.
The Empress Buffer + works similarly to the Friedman Buffer Bay 6 in that it is designed to work as a complete IO interface. This is a much simpler and limited design compared to the Friedman but may be perfectly suitable for those you don’t use effects loops.
In this way, the Buffer + works as a buffer for the beginning and end of your chain, integrated with a 30 db boost. It includes a tuner output for silent, always on tuning and comes in a small enclosure considering all of its features.
The Empress Buffer + comes with a selectable boost with a bypass switch. This can be held down for silent tuning. There is a switch for an Input Pad that cuts or boosts your signal 3db. This can come in handy for balancing guitar changes with different pickups.
The pedal also has a Noise Filter that eliminates unwanted noise from your effects loop. Finally, there is an Input loading trim pot that adjusts your impedance level. Turning to the left will round off high end, while turning to the right creates full fidelity and an increase in high end response.
The Empress Buffer pedal has the greatest ability of any pedal on this list (save the Boss delay pedal) to alter the sound of your guitar. This can be seen as a good, or bad thing depending on how you intend to use your buffer. The boost can add a great deal of volume and gain to your signal if that is needed.
The Input Loading pot is also a powerful EQ tool that can help you shape your overall sound to match guitars and amplifiers. This would be a great tool for a touring guitarists that anticipates using backline amps but may be too much technology if you’re using the same amp and guitar on a daily basis.
Whatever your setting, the Empress is designed to help you maintain the highest fidelity guitar tone under any circumstance.
- Effect Type: Buffer, Boost, IO Interface
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 4.25 x 2.5 x 1.5
- Features: Complete IO, Tuner Out, Buffer, Input pad, Input loading
Final Thoughts on the Empress Effects Buffer+ Boost
This pedal does what every other pedal on this list does and then some. It was a close call for “Best Overall” between this and the JHS Little Black Box, but I found that the price point and controls of this pedal, while a major positive to professionals, may be overwhelming for some. For this reason, I decided this was best suited as the “Best High End” option. This is a fantastic pedal that may just be your next secret weapon on your large pedal board.
When In Doubt, Integrate Your Buffer Pedal
I can understand why many guitarists are confused by how Buffer pedals work, or what they are actually supposed to do. The fact is buffer pedals aren’t necessary (they are a subtle effect after all), however, once you have one and you understand how much they contribute to your signal’s clarity and strength you will never go back.
Choosing the best buffer pedal for your board doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, unless you are a touring, professional musician I would recommend that you don’t spend a bunch of money on a buffer. Just dig up an old Boss pedal you don’t use often, turn the effect off, and place it at the beginning or end of your board.
If you don’t have an extra Boss pedal laying around, I hope this article cleared up some of the confusion surrounding buffer pedals so you can make the right choice for you. No matter what approach you take, any of the pedals on this list will guarantee you a perfectly buffered signal.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.