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Klaim

Buffer pedals + Helix ?

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Context: I'm still learning about music, only started a few years ago (though I compose a lot, for bands, games, movies).
I have a Helix floor since the end of last year that I use as my main pedalboard+amp like many. Most of my time using it is for production, I had plans to use it live but you know the situation.

I watched a lot of videos explaining stuffs about pedalboards and one thing that I still have a hard time to understand is:
Is there a situation where I would need a buffer pedal when I use the Helix?
(this question is rised also because I intend to get a Polytune3 - I don't like the Helix tuner :/ - and they act like buffers apparently, so I need to know what'I'm getting into...)

I can see different categories of situations:

1. I use the Helix alone. In this case I think it's not useful, but I don't understand enough to be absolutely sure. Would adding a buffer in front of the Helix (for example the Polytune3) actually impact the sounds?

2. I use the Helix + a few pedals in front: mostly effects that I can't find in the helix. Assuming I will not have too many pedals (maybe 3 to 5 big max) in front of the helix, would a buffer help somewehre? Does it depends on the pedal?

3. I use the Helix + pedals in front + pedals in send-returns: mostly effects that are unusual + a (non-trivial) looper. Not sure if I will actually get there but it's one of the situations I was considering trying for a project. Same question about any need for a buffer?

So far I assumed that I'll never need a bufffer as long as signals go through the helix, but as said, it's not completely clear to me.

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1) Guitar amps typically have a 1meg input impedance. This "loads" the pickups and causes them to sound a certain way. Some effects are designed with a lower input impedance, which loads the pickups differently, and is part of their sound. The TS808 for instance, has 230k input impedance. The first non True Bypass effect in the chain determines the pickup loading. If your tuner comes first and it's 1meg, then that's the Input impedance that determines the pickup load. That's one reason why some tuners allow you to run them in parallel to the signal chain. Pickup loading in Helix is determined by the Impedance setting on the Input Block. If it's set to AUTO, then the first effect, regardless of it's ON/OFF status, determines the Input Impedance and pickup loading. If you have, say, a Wah with 1meg impedance first in the chain, followed by a TS808, you'd want the ON/OFF switch of the TS808 to also change the Input Impedance to 230k when ON.

 

2) Maybe. The longer the total cable run the more likely you are to need a buffer. All cables have capacitance. Buffers overcome capacitance. Pedals that are not True Bypass can color a signal, but often have built-in buffers. I believe that most BOSS pedals are like this. True Bypass pedals are a simple point to point connection between IN and OUT, so their circuitry doesn't color the sound, but the more TB pedals you string together the longer the cable run which adds capacitance to the signal chain and affects the tone (attenuates high frequencies).

 

3) See 2. I believe that the Sends/Returns are buffered, as you can increase/decrease the gain on them.

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For category 1), you would typically not need an external buffer, unless you use a very long cable from guitar to Helix. rd2rk has explained thoroughly how input buffering works in the Helix.

 

For 2) (which is what I use) you should be careful where you put the buffer. If at all possible, buffers should be placed after wah and fuzz, if you intend to have any on your external board. In my experience, a buffer slightly alters the wah tone and significantly alters the fuzz tone. Those pedals benefit from a direct (or true bypass) connection to the guitar.

 

For 3) (which I use, too) you already have buffers in the Helix.

 

Also, keep in mind that other pedals on your board will act as buffers if they are not true bypass pedals. And if are using a wireless system, that's already buffering your signal.

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Thank you very much @rd2rk and @emagli for these answers, very helpful.

 

I got a complementary explanation from a friend guitarist+electrician because I had trouble understanding what is actually impedance (in particular why I need a bigger number on the receiving side than on the source side).

He then proceed to clarify your statements and I found the setting in the input block, we checked the specs of the pickups my main guitar have (Ibanez TAM10) and relied on your information to think about these setup.

 

If I understand correctly then (please correct me if I'm wrong):
- If I set the Guitar-Z setting to 1M OMhs, whatever I have plugged before the Helix should work. If in Auto, the first block gives the actual impedance at input at least, so that's best if I have no pedal before.
- for pedals in send/returns loops, I should never have to change anything;
- I will probably not need buffer pedals in these setup except if long cables are involved or if I have a lot of pedals before the input plug of the helix (or if none of these pedals have any buffer).

Turns out almost all of my current physical pedals are true-bypass (I have no Boss pedal...yet) which basically means that having them all off is like having a longer cable (if they were all before the input or in the same send/return loop). My friend told me if the length is under 3 meters (12foot) it should be ok. I think that will always be the case but it's good to know (if you can confirm). The most complex situation I can think of for my projects is if I use the 4 send/returns + pedals in front, all on the same pedalboard, next to the helix (like an extension to the helix) in which case the cables shouldn't big longer than 1.5meters. Also if the polytune3 buffer is in the front of that complex setup, that should help keeping the signal right (if my understanding is correct).

I was wondering: why isn't the default in presets to have 1M Omhs in the input block? Is it to be more true to the actual sound you would get with the pedals being simulated?

Also @emagli could you clarify what you mean by "wah" and "fuzz"? Are you talking about physical pedals (in send/return loops?) or blocks (simulations)? Are you talking about specific models or do you mean "any wah" and "any fuzz"? 
 

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18 hours ago, Klaim said:

Would adding a buffer in front of the Helix (for example the Polytune3) actually impact the sounds?

 

To address a part of the question that may have been missed......The PolyTune 3 has a circuit to where you can switch it to buffered or true bypass.  You should not have to worry about the PolyTune affecting your signal.

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2 hours ago, Klaim said:

If I understand correctly then (please correct me if I'm wrong):
- If I set the Guitar-Z setting to 1M OMhs, whatever I have plugged before the Helix should work. If in Auto, the first block gives the actual impedance at input at least, so that's best if I have no pedal before.
- for pedals in send/returns loops, I should never have to change anything;
- I will probably not need buffer pedals in these setup except if long cables are involved or if I have a lot of pedals before the input plug of the helix (or if none of these pedals have any buffer).

 

This sounds correct to me. Personally, I avoid using the blocks that set the input impedance to a value different from 1 MOhm in Auto mode. These are relatively few and there's a list somewhere on the Internet (I think in a TGP post). It's a couple of wah's, the Dallas Rangemaster, and several fuzzes, if my memory serves.

 

2 hours ago, Klaim said:

Also @emagli could you clarify what you mean by "wah" and "fuzz"? Are you talking about physical pedals (in send/return loops?) or blocks (simulations)? Are you talking about specific models or do you mean "any wah" and "any fuzz"? 

 

I am referring to physical wah and fuzz stompboxes. Typically the chain would be guitar --> wah --> fuzz --> Helix input. If you put those in an effects loop they will have a buffer in front of them from the Helix. Note that also a few wah blocks and several fuzz blocks may sound differently with a physical buffer before them; they model the corresponding hardware pedals and will react in the same way.

 

There are a few physical fuzzes that, as far as I understand, take buffers well; however, most do not. I have a Wampler velvet fuzz and in the "big" (fuzzface-style) mode it sounds a lot muddier and does not clean well with volume pot when it has a buffer before it. The difference for wah pedals is smaller and easier to live with (at least for me); my Clyde wah is a bit more trebly with a buffer in front, but still usable. I am not aware of wah's that are friendly with an input buffer (though some of them have a specific output buffer that works well with fuzz after the wah), but I did not research extensively.

 

Regarding whether you can live without a buffer with less than 3-meter cable, I think it depends on the number and quality of pedals, your ear and the intended use. Before Helix, when I was using analog amps and pedals, I had my Mesa Mark V 25 with 8-9 high quality and strictly true bypass pedals. I could hear a small but clear improvement if I used a buffer early in the chain (I was using guitar --> wah --> fuzz --> buffer --> other pedals). In a mix or live with the band? I do not think the difference would be very noticeable. Live, it's more like you need to *tame* the highs. Now I am using wireless, so I have a high-quality buffer very early in the chain and there is no loss of high end at all. The only problem I have is that the fuzz does not sound very good. The KWB model works very well for fuzzy distortion and I can get away with that, but I am not very big on fuzz anyway. Your mileage may vary.

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I don't know if the floor unit has it but the rack has a buffered dry out so you can hook up your tuner to that as well, thats is where my Boss non true bypass is connected to.

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5 hours ago, Klaim said:

I was wondering: why isn't the default in presets to have 1M Omhs in the input block? Is it to be more true to the actual sound you would get with the pedals being simulated?

 

Yes.

 

Over on TGP there have been endless discussions about this. Ideally, Helix's Input Impedance would be set by the first ACTIVE effect, or the amp sim (1meg).

 

Here's a link to a thread with a Model List including Impedance, attached to my first post therein.

 

 

Oh, yeah, if you're using a wireless, all bets are off, the pickups are loaded by the wireless at 1meg.

 

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3 minutes ago, rd2rk said:

 

 

.....

Oh, yeah, if you're using a wireless, all bets are off, the pickups are loaded by the wireless at 1meg.

 


Also the Input-Z parameter is irrelevant if you are using the Variax VDI I put.

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3 hours ago, lungho said:

 

To address a part of the question that may have been missed......The PolyTune 3 has a circuit to where you can switch it to buffered or true bypass.  You should not have to worry about the PolyTune affecting your signal.

 

Thanks for clarifying!

 

Also thanks @emagli for the clarifications and @rd2rk, @SmackedActor and @silverhead for these info! 
I copied the list to refer to it later. 


I feel much more enlighted now XD

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