Guitar Impedance Loading/Buffering etc for Pedalboards

Discussion in 'Guitars' started by dynomike, May 24, 2005.

  1. dynomike

    dynomike Guest

    I had a most disturbing revelation today. My guitar tone sounded kind of wooly and lacked the dynamics that it used to, so I thought to myself "new strings"? But.. just to be safe, I tried unplugging from my pedalboard and straight into the amp. Lo and behold, the sound was brighter, LOUDER, and had a much greater dynamic range. I'm trying to figure out why this is...

    I am running:
    washburn bt-02 gtr (stock pu's) or godin lgxt (seymour humbuckers) into the pedalboard with Canare cable throughout, total around 30'.

    gtrs -> mxr supercomp (true bypass) -> voodoo lab sparkle drive (true bypass) -> radial tonebone hot british (true bypass) -> danelectro danecho -> seiko chromatic tuner -> musicman 210hd130 (ss pre/tube power combo amp w/trem+verb).

    I figured at first.. it must be the danelectro pedal, which isn't true bypass. But wait! I unplugged the tuner and delay from the setup and I had the same problem... so I figure it must be something in the chaining of pedals which I don't fully understand, since they're true bypass.

    Point is, I want to fix it. I was thinking about getting a A/B switch for effects/straight to amp, but I want to use my delay, chorus (in the future) with cleans too so I need a better solution. I see a lot of devices on the market which are supposed to correct these problems by providing the correct impedance load to the pickups/providing a buffer/converting the signal to low z to run through the pedals more effeciently. I am looking for suggestions, particulary around the following devices, which I'm interested in:

    VHT Valvulator (what a dumb name)
    Radial Tonebone Dragster

    Its driving me nuts, as I'm really unhappy playing clean with this current setup.. how can I fix it? If any of you have experience with these problems please share! Thanks

  2. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    Feb 10, 2001
    Your setup is not basic enough to say it is "this" or it is "that". It could be anything from a cable going bad, to something really technical. I'm sure if you ask the right questions on here and try what is suggested you will figure it out.
    I like the idea of an A/B pedal. And I have met guitarist's who had different problems that were in many ways simular to your issue.
    What else have you figured out about this change in dynamics, between the 2 different sounds? Can you try and narrow it down to one pedal? Or one instance?
  3. karbomusic

    karbomusic Active Member

    Apr 19, 2005
    Charlotte, NC
    30' feet is a huge distance for a hiZ unbalanced gtr signal. Its basically a crossover where the cable and its insulation act as a capacitor and its length a resistor. Hence the reason for "low capacitance" marketing of cables.

    For the most part you just cant get something for nothing. Add lots-o-stuff between gtr and its pre and the sound changes even with true bypass.

    I would probably try to get the total signal path from gtr to amp under 15 feet. Thats about the length that the crossover frequency (rolling off highs) starts becoming low enough to hear. On shorter distances it is still a crossover but the rolloff is at a much higher frequency so your safe... There are other methods to compensate for the length but a shorter signal path is the simplest and most natural sounding remedy.

    Also, swap cables around. Even the best cables occassionally go bad. Length and total number of pedals is a big one where guitar cables and tone are concerned. You might try connecting a 30 or 35' cable directly from your guitar to the amp then compare with a 6' cable direct just to hear the difference.

    Best regards-

  4. dynomike

    dynomike Guest

    Thanks Karbo.

    I'm actually using a 20' guitar cable to get to the pedalboard - tiny little 6" or less interconnects between pedals and a 6' to the amp.

    I a/b'd between the 20' cable and the 6' cable .. couldn't hear the difference. Not the difference I'm talking about anyway, which is hugely audible and rounds off the highs a LOT.

    In fact, in response to Stu, I checked every pedal - they are all doing this, to a lesser extent. Its very strange. I tried just the true bypass pedals (chained together) and I still found it to be true. It is much worse, though, with the delay and tuner in the circuit. But its distinctly noticeable running through the comp-overdrive-distortion all on bypass, with under 7' of extra cable.

    Even with only one pedal, nothing sounds quite like the guitar plugged straight into the amp. Does anyone know a good way or device to correct this? I figure it must be this pickup loading business. Its just no fun to play with the dampened clean sound.
  5. dynomike

    dynomike Guest

    btw, I tried a 10' cable into the pedalboard too... same thing.

    I'm pretty sure its not the cables. I just made them myself and tested them all two weeks ago with Canare L2T2S and Neutrik connectors.
  6. tmcconnell

    tmcconnell Guest

    Standard solution for your problem is....

    A unity gain buffer. Custom Audio Electronics in LA makes 'em for the pros. Its basically an op amp that drops the impedance on your signal way down and drives the signal properly through the long and winding road of your gear. They are magic. Good ones have two outputs so you can drive multiple loads with no loss.

    I have all players in my studio use mine in all cases. It always sounds better and mostly nullifies cord and signal path length issues.
  7. dynomike

    dynomike Guest

    Re: Standard solution for your problem is....

    Cool. I guess this is what the vht is... albit a more complicated (2 output, with power supply,tube driven) version of the same. I don't see anything on CAE's web site about selling the buffers individually.. its all hella-expensive rack switching stuff. Did you just buy them directly from him and build your own enclosure? Glad to hear you have a good experience with it.
  8. tmcconnell

    tmcconnell Guest

    CAE buffer splitter

    I just called them and they made me one. It was like 100 dollars (can't remember exactly). I see them in rigs all the time. Its built like a tank. You could drive over it with a truck. No tubes or high voltage to worry about. transparant sound. excellent jacks (switchcraft, I suspect). 9V power.
  9. dynomike

    dynomike Guest

    Re: CAE buffer splitter

    Good stuff. I'm kind of confused though... there's and

    Do you remember which you dealt with? seems to sell a unity gain buffer pcb for $50.. same thing?
  10. tmcconnell

    tmcconnell Guest

    Custom Audio Electronics

    The one at the caesound site does not look anything like mine. However, it probably does the same thing. If they made one for Garcia, hey, whose gonna argue?

    Mine says Custom Audio Electronics right on it - so I don't think it was CAESOUND - but its confusing. They might be related. Mine is about 6 years old. As I recall they make it from scratch, just for you. Mine has my name written on the bottom of the unit.

    I'd call Custom Audio Electronics in the morning and ask them if they make a little silver floor box unity gain buffer/splitter.

    btw, the splitter function is worth paying for if only to send a strong signal to (not through) your tuner. It keeps the tuner out of the signal path, and assures that even on a low output guitar its getting a good signal. This can be a life saver.

    Last year in was in the studio of an extremely famous guitar player. I told him about my unity gain buffer at some random moment in the conversation and he reached behind a plexi and pulled one out exactly like mine. So much for impressing the rich and famous. :).
  11. dynomike

    dynomike Guest

    I think I'm gonna go with the VHT. I did call custom audio electronics, but in theory the Valvulator should have a much better dynamic range, since it operates on 120VAC and a tube-based circuit rather than the 9V opamp.

    I finally finished putting together my pedalboard, btw... and I wrote a quick article on its construction. Its kind of a neat design, I think - which focuses on comfort when singing and playing guitar.


  12. tmcconnell

    tmcconnell Guest

    Great box

    I just checked out the valvulator. Great box. I wish they had those when I used pedalboards. ... now if only it had a tuner in it. :).

    btw, I had a pedalboard made that was amazing, and I don't use it anymore. It was a TIG aluminium welded flight case in which the Lid was the pedalboard. It is light and amazingly strong. I used the deep part, wich came off (in practice, the lid of the pedalboard) top put amps on to get them up 5 inches, or, since it was filled with foam, as a baffle, or rear absorber if I was getting bad overtones from a wall reflection.
  13. CoyoteTrax

    CoyoteTrax Well-Known Member

    May 25, 2005
    Home Page:
    Hi Mike!!

    You're on the right track IMO to buy a guitar pre like the ToneBone or something similar. Personally, I like the idea of something with a 12AX7 in it. "True Bypass" in a stompbox multiplied 3, 4 or 5 times still adds up to a weaker signal in my experience. Even when pushing your signal with great pickups.

    I've heard your tone plenty and love the guitar sounds you craft. Your EP work is very inspirational. But a live rig can just be so disappointing with a chain of boxes like what you've got going. I've been in the same place and what saved me was a locally built pre in the form of another stomp box with a nice 12AX7 in it. A ToneBone or something similar will give you your tone back though and give you the extra push you need, whether your effects are On or Off.

    ...and as guitarists, are we constantly evolving our tone anyway? I think it's healthy to continually seek ultimate tone. Usually it comes back to plugging straight into the amp but effects are so expressive and colorful. We be fussy mate. It's the nature of the instrument.

  14. dynomike

    dynomike Guest

    Thanks for the nice comments Ken.. another refugee from the tapeop board? I already have the tonebone (hot british) but its too dirty to leave on all the time, and its true bypass. I think I might try that CAE sound 9v buffer PCB and wire it up myself under my pedalboard (since its only $50).. I'll definately post again when I get it worked out. I have to call them today to see if they think this is a viable solution (usually their preamp is installed straight into the guitar).

  15. CoyoteTrax

    CoyoteTrax Well-Known Member

    May 25, 2005
    Home Page:
    You're welcome for the comments Mike. Just this weekend I was listening to your tracks from "All Grow" again. The material is awesome and I just love the way you tracked it.

    Yup, I'm another refugee from the TO board. I haven't heard the CAE buffer in action (that I'm aware of) except for on Garcia's guitar. And Garcia always had such beautiful tone. As long as you're happy with the tone from your amp it actually sounds like a wise investment.

    It's too bad the Tone Bone doesn't provide a really Clean Boost for you.

    It's so much easier in the studio. If you're not happy with what's going on just insert a nice tube driven line amp to beef things up or thicken things up without adding Crunch. It's the live rig that becomes inconvenient sometimes.

    Please let us know how that buffer does for you. I'd love to know. And personally, I don't see anything wrong with installing it on the guitar itself. It would be nice to have it mounted in a pedal though because then it becomes a tool you can use for all your guitars. Some guys don't like modifying the guitar itself to those kinds of extremes because it can hurt resale value, but who cares. And You love your guitars too much to ever sell them anyway. I know you love that Washburn and will probably never sell your Godin either.
  16. tmcconnell

    tmcconnell Guest

    Hey Gibson, Hey Fender......

    Absolutely. and I'd go one step further. Guitar outputs should be low impedance AND balanced.

    Ask any guitar player - the plague is hum and noise. There's not much you can do about it beyond humbucking pickups. The entire sound industry uses low impedance balanced for an interconnection technology except in some line level gear - but they forgot about guitars. Power was a problem, so they invented phantom power. You can buy the parts to make a phantom powered line balancing output for ,likely, one dollar, in scale. It would be a change to the industry - but isn't that why we have boards like this one...? To influence the industry?

    Hey Gibson, Hey Fender, Hey BC RICH, Hey marshall. Why can't you guys act like you care about the audio that's coming out of guitars?

    What? Its not as important as the output from microphones?

    There's you see, I said it. :)
  17. dynomike

    dynomike Guest


    I just ordered the CB1 Unity Gain Buffer for $56.75 including shipping from

    They recommend installing it right IN the guitar so you don't lose any signal on the first guitar cord run to the pedalboard.. but I use multiple guitars so I'll just install it in the pedalboard and let you know how it goes! Thanks for all the input..

  18. dynomike

    dynomike Guest


    I got my unity gain buffer in the mail today, so I thought I'd share the results! Cross-posted at

    I posted a link to my pedalboard building article a little while ago. When I chained all my pedals together I realized that even though many of them were "true bypass", they still managed to suck out my clean tone. I plugged straight into the amp and voila! - it was like a veil was lifted. Louder, brighter, more dynamic - and certainly more fun to play.

    I wanted to get this tone all the time, even when connected through a long chain of pedals, so based on the recommendations of someone at (this board was down) I started looking at unity gain buffers - which maintain the same voltage but drive a mad current through all your pedals and cables to the amp, thus lowering the impedance, correctly loading your pickups, and improving the performance of most guitar effects. I had read some reviews of the VHT Valvulator, most noting that the difference was subtle. Well, when I installed my CAE Sound CB1 (9v powered unity gain buffer pcb) on the input of my pedalboard this morning the difference was anything but subtle.

    Here's a clip of me hacking the chorus of Sister Hazel's "So Long" - first without the buffer (but through some bypassed effects) then with the buffer (before same bypassed effects).

    I totally recommend this device as its only $50 and makes a massive improvement in tone for guitarists using lots of pedals (and I don't even have that many!) - so if you don't all have them already, buy some for your studio, mount them in a box and have guitarists plug in to it before their massive chain of effects. Or put it in your guitar, like Jerry Garcia. Or mount it in your pedalboard, like me. Great device.

  19. CoyoteTrax

    CoyoteTrax Well-Known Member

    May 25, 2005
    Home Page:
    Right on Mike. Glad that worked out for you.

    I hear Behringer is coming out with one of those by christmas.

    Just kidding.

    I like the demo. Huge difference, man. Huge.
  20. overlookfran

    overlookfran Guest


    wow. im sold.

Share This Page