Who ever thought a boost pedal would become an essential part of my signal chain?
How It Works & Final Score: 9.2
When I first cracked the Z-TONE Buffer Boost out of the box my first thought was eh, how am I going to make a boost pedal sound exciting. But I was so wrong it wasn’t even funny, this is so much more than a boost. Really, this is a swiss army knife for your pedal board, helping preserve and shape your tone. First off, the Z-TONE Buffer Boost has a built-in buffer to help preserve your tone through long signal chains and complicated pedal wiring schematics. Meant to go at the front of your board, you can then also choose between a plethora of boost sounds that make this a versatile preamp in a box.
You can choose between a pure clean boost tone or a warmer, JFET-inspired boost to add a bit more gain and dirt. Both of these options are shaped by pretty straightforward level and gain controls as well. Where it starts to get interesting is that you can set the preamp pedal to work with either active or passive pickups, meaning you simply flip a switch for either option going into your rig. For active pickups, this switch cuts out any unnecessary gain stages that would cloud your already boosted signal. Lastly, you get a flexible Z-TONE knob, which controls the impedance running into your amp, especially useful if you change guitars often during a setlist. Turn it to one side for a sharper, more defined and precise signal or crank it the other way for a rounder, fatter, and bolder tone.
There is a ton of tone packed into this little pedal, as you’ll see in my quick and dirty demo below featuring the stunning Howl Sirena 3! Just from switching the buffer on, my signal got a little boost and was instantly clearer and brighter than before. However when you mess with the two boost voicing options you can really have some fun. The “PURE” setting can really act as a clean signal boost when you roll the gain knob all the way back, but can also take on an almost overdrive or rangemaster-type sound with the gain cranked into this humbucker.
The “JFET” setting is all over the place, in a good way. From a slight dirty boost that just makes your guitar cut through the mix, to a full on overdrive sound with the level and gain cranked. Adding the Z-TONE knob turned all the way towards the sharp end also helped clean up some muddiness in the humbucker. The buffer itself is now going to be an always-on effect for me, but the two boosts are fun, and I think I’m going to be using the “JFET” sounds a lot going forward. I’m not always looking for a clean boost so the added dirt and crunch really appeals to me. At the end, you can really hearing it pushing my amp into all natural tube overdrive that is not too saturated but very gritty.
I really love the way this Z-TONE Buffer Boost was built and designed. It is pedal board friendly for what is basically two pedals in one and has some cool connectivity features. There are alternate outs for mixers and PA system on the Buffer Boost, meaning you can really use it as preamp for recording or direct in playing. When you add all these functions and uses into a tough as nails enclosure, it makes me feel like the Z-TONE is a pedal board mainstay. There are no signs of buzzing and it just feels rock solid even when I slam my weight down on it. This is no cheap, plastic import copy of a JFET circuit. Overall, I have no concerns about the durability of this Z-TONE Buffer Boost and plan to use it quite a bit.
$169.99 feels pretty fair to me for how versatile this pedal is. It isn’t the sexiest pedal, in appearance or brand name, but it is workhorse that will not leave my board. I could certainly see more boutique brands making a pedal like this and charging $300+ for one. The sound quality is there, the functionality is there, I’m just delighted with how this Z-TONE pedal fits my needs. Certainly, this isn’t a pedal for everyone. If you don’t have a long signal chain to suck tone, if you don’t care for boosts in general, this just isn’t a pedal you’ll be excited about. But if you love to mess around with a big pedalboard like I do, and like to have a “lead tone” to instantly switch on for solos, this is a tone shaping monster. As of now, this is probably the most used pedal of all the ones I have reviewed this year, as in I never will take this out of my signal chain for something else. IK Multimedia’s Z-TONE is just killer and worth a long look for gigging and recording musicians.
Good for: Gigging Musicians, Players With A Busy Pedal Board, Players Looking For A Flexible Boost Pedal, Tone Shapers