Let me tell you a little story, dear reader. Once upon a time in the land of rock and roll, there were hundreds of happy little elves wailing away on twelve-bars in garages to their hearts’ content. They were perfectly happy with the volume they got out of their tweed covered amps and when those tubes started to warm and break up, you could hear their excited squeals ring out across the land. These were simpler times. Then, one day, an evil genius decided to throw a spanner in the works. He had invented a number of small devices designed to situate between the guitar and its electrical destination, changing the sound in many and varied ways. This opened up a Pandora’s box of questions, options and problems for the happy little elves, and not all of them were so easy to resolve.
The main problem that came about with the rise of the effects pedal is signal loss over the increased cable length between instrument and sound source. Engineers quickly solved the issue by adding buffers to the output stages of their designs. These act like tiny repeaters, polishing and amplifying the effected signal before sending it on its merry way. Problem solved, right? That is until the ceaseless tide of tastes belched forth the true bypass school of thought. The answer here for many is to strategically place a few units in the chain alongside the boutique 808 clones and one knob fuzzes to give the sound the nudge it needs to get to the nosebleeds.
Fender’s riff on the buffer theme is a particularly handy tool to have in any shed. Rather than just peddle out a sleek, slim-line box of extra rock, they’ve added a few simple controls that open up some really handy functionality. In addition to a particularly clean, silent footswitch, the Level knob allows you to control the peak of the push this box affords you. Simply put, you could use the Level Set as an incredibly clean boost if you were so inclined. The one-two punch of Hi-Freq dial and two-way Load switch allow you to adjust the colour and power ratio according to the guitar you’re shredding on at any given time. This is where Fender’s dedication to the professional musician is on display. With this anodized aluminium box at the start of your chain, you can go from high output guitars like a hotted-up Les Paul to a more jangly affair like a Tele or an old gold foil pickup as your mood changes. I can see this being totally useful for session or covers musos whose audience demands dozens of different eggs in the same basket. There is a tuner out on the side and that childishly fun rat trap battery cover that goes a long way to making it slide seamlessly into any existing rig.
Call me superficial, but one thing that I particularly like about Fender’s new line of pedals is the way they look. They proudly sit a little bit taller than the rest of the cabinet and wear their rolled edges and switchable jewel LEDs like badges of honour. The Level Set Buffer is a little bit more than your average signal gym – less like a personal trainer and more like a sonic life coach that your riffs see before they venture out into the real world.
Hits and Misses
More than just your average buffer, with looks to kill