August 3, 2019

Effects Pedals

True Bypass VS Buffered Pedals And How To Avoid The "Tone-Sucking" Effect

I wish I could have all these pedals...

If you take a look at some of the most popular guitar pedals, you will see that this feature is included in a lot of them, no matter the price range. This very detail should make you wonder if this true bypass thing has really something to do with the product quality.

Could it be that it is just used as a marketing technique? Let’s find out!

First Off, What Is True Bypass?

Every effects pedal has a switch to turn it on or off, right? We would expect that when the pedal is turned off, it really acted like it is turned off bypassing the input signal right to its output, completely unprocessed.

This is really self-evident, isn’t it? Unfortunately, this concept has not been always that easy to implement due to the high costs that this technology represented, I guess (we are talking about the 70’s, 80’s era).

The Seymour Duncan Vise Grip, one of the best compressor pedals (True Bypass)

We could say then, that back in the day when a pedal was switched off, bypassing the input signal, it wasn’t really bypassing it. Far from that, the effect that this false bypass can cause is what we call “tone-sucking”, which means that the pedal has a noticeable impact on the instrument sound, reducing the treble and reducing the tone.

And here’s when the TRUE bypass comes into play. A true bypass can be achieved by simply having a direct route between that pedal input and output, so the signal doesn’t go through the effect’s circuitry.

So, in theory, if you used true bypass effects pedals, the signal would cleanly travel from your instrument to the amp, completely unaffected. Unfortunately, this is only true under certain circumstances such as the pickups type or the total cable length you are using in your setup.

Summarizing, the features that you should keep in mind are:

  • Provides the shortest, most direct signal path, avoiding the tone sucking of “false” bypassing pedals
  • Because guitars are high impedance devices, using a cable over about 18.5 feet will degrade the guitar tone on its way the amp (active pickups with low impedance are less affected)
  • Can be noisy when switched on or off

If you want to build a medium or large pedalboard, you will surely get your tone affected by the cable length limitation. So, how can you overcome this? Say hello to Buffered effects pedals.

Buffered Pedals? Never Heard About That

Buffered pedals come in handy when we want to build serious pedalboards with feets and feets of cable.

This type of pedals takes a different approach that has two clear objectives in mind: avoiding the tone sucking effect and overcome the true-bypass cable length limitation.

Some good examples of buffered pedals are the Ibanez Tube Screamers or any pedal of the Boss line.

This is achieved by adding input and output buffers to the pedal’s electronic circuit, coupling the impedances in both points, which results in a clean and consistent tone.

Using a buffered pedal, like the very well known Boss TU-3, at the front of a pedalboard buffers the signal to the subsequent pedals, and eliminates the negative effect on tone that is caused by turning true bypass pedals on/off in a high-impedance signal path.

True Bypass VS Buffered Pedals

If you never read about these two concepts, you may be now a little bit confused. What should you use: buffered or true bypass pedals? In what situations should you use each type?

Luckily for all of us, this is easier than you may think. You can get the benefits from both true bypass and buffered pedals if you know how to combine them!

As I said earlier, you only need one buffered pedal at the beginning of your signal path (that is, right after your instrument) to solve the true bypass cable limitation.

The legendary Boss TU-3. a buffered tuner pedal

Then you can add up whatever pedal you want to the line, as long as it’s not a tone-sucker on its own (that is, not true-bypass nor buffered).

Remember: the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So if you add a crappy effects pedal to your line, you WILL have noise and signal loss no matter what other pedals you are using after or before it.

Now that you know what true bypass and buffered pedals are, their differences, and how to use them accordingly, you can keep looking for your next acquisition. Just keep in mind all what you've learnt here!