ProGuitarShop

The Myth About True Bypass

December 21, 2013

“Is this pedal true bypass?” That’s a question we are literally asked daily from the 500+ stompbox demos we’ve put on the interwebs.  However, we find that few people actually know why they’re compelled to ask the question in the first place. No doubt, the importance of true bypass to the common guitarist has reached mythic proportions these days. It’s always touted as an improvement over buffered pedals which are the often described like Chupacabras of tone. So in this issue, I feel it’s necessary to explore the mystique of true bypass.

True Bypass Diagram

Image Credit beavisaudio.com

 

It’s been said many ways but to boil it down, the warped school of thought is if you want the purist tone, every pedal needs to be true bypass. Well, there is some truth in that your signal isn’t being ‘colored’ by extra circuitry because the guitar’s signal is routed straight to the output jack of the pedal. Certain pedals like the original MXR Phase 90 and vintage wahs are known for adding a ‘special’ quality to your tone because they are neither buffered nor true bypass.

MXR Phase 90

You can clearly notice some change in high end from these units which is why people mod them. I think this and cheaper made 80’s pedals are what spawned a lot of hype about true bypass being the ultimate way to go. But the myth of true bypass gets busted hard when you talk about true bypass pedals and signal integrity over the length of stage sized cables. Without getting into capacitance and low/high impedance explanations, your signal goes through changes which will affect your tone and that’s one reason buffers were placed in pedals to begin with.

The buffered solution is still in use by big names like Boss, TC Electronic and EHX. By using an input and output buffer (a series of components like transistors) it allows your pickups to squeeze out their full range without the common high end roll off that’s the result of extra load on your pickups, a.k.a. “tone sucking”.

 

Buffers can also be used alone like the MI Audio Boost N’ Buff which allows for long cables to your guitar because of its high input impedance. So why isn’t everyone sticking to the buffered method? In short, the quality of components used for the buffer may affect the bypass sound, especially with a string of pedals. Since they affect the signal whether on or off, you’re basically adding extra components between the guitar and amp.  Personally, I had a cheap buffered tuner that clearly affected the high end of my amp. I recorded a quick A/B test to make sure and ended up with a true bypass tuner in its place.

Gilmour's Rig

Photo Courtesy of effectsbay.com

 

Pedalboard Guru Pete Cornish, who does not use true bypass in any of his world famous systems, would be a good example of buffers done right. You’ve seen his custom creations used by David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Andy Summers and more. Check out his website here.

 

Alan Durham, maker of the Sex Drive pedal says, “We tried true bypass, and we didn’t like it.” What’s important is that he let his ears decide, rather than worrying about a true bypass craze.

Durham Sex Drive

Image Credit durhamelectronics.com

In the end it didn’t stop Charlie Sexton from using it or others like Eric Johnson who stated the buffered Sex Drive was “very transparent, hi-fi sounding, didn’t color my sound at all.” Other pedal makers give you the best of both worlds, true bypass and buffered modes. The analog delays from Malekko offer a switch for a high quality buffer or true bypass. When we demoed many of the delays at PGS, I almost always used the buffered mode because it brought the guitar signal back to life and gave a contrast between the sparkling clean tone and warm repeats. Plus, in the delay world if you want trails after you switch off the pedal, buffered is the only option for now. 

Is your head spinning yet? Well, I can tell you after researching for this article I felt the same way but I had to step back and remember the most important part, does it sound good to you?  Ideally, a buffered pedal in the mix is a good idea to combat cable issues but If you like the way 10 boss pedals sound in line, go for it! If you need to have every pedal separated by a switcher to get your tube amp to respond a certain way, that’s a great way too. I certainly enjoy the boutique companies that wire exclusively in true bypass but even they know the importance of a buffer.  Look at the Line Driver from Lovepedal who is known for his silent true bypass switching(very smooth, by the way).

 

Lovepedal Line Driver

Image Credit lovepedal.com

But it’s important to lose the mantra that the best tone comes from having all true bypass pedals because you’re just limiting yourself to new sounds in the end. Modeling pedals aren’t going to be true bypass nor are most loopers. Keep in mind that the ‘tone coloring’ of vintage wired pedals might be the secret ingredient to replicating sounds like in ‘Eruption.’ It only reminds me that none of my guitar heroes were fixated on this idea of true bypass so I won’t start either. Also, few pedals these days actually suck tone like back in the day because technology has come a long, long way. With my job, I see and play new products everyday and they all seem to deliver great tone with minimal noise and suckage.


DO experiment by taking boxes in and out of your signal chain, that’s how I discovered the weak signal coming from my old tuner. Also, I found that my personal needs require at least one buffer (FoxRox Wah Retrofit) so I can enjoy my fuzz face clones in conjunction with a wah. Plus it’s always a good idea to use good quality cables no matter what, to avoid capacitance and interference. Again, trust your ears and don’t let the idea of true bypass boss you around.


See you next time in the corner,
Andy

Comments

  1. Charles Catlow says:

    Andy nails it again!

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 1:52 am
  2. mark says:

    what you need is all your fx pedals to go through one bypass switch, so you can compare the signal loss when the pedals are engaged and have a booster last in your chain to bring the signal to the same level as bypassed level.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 1:57 am
  3. CBJ says:

    “What’s important is that he let his ears decide. . .”

    That is what I’ve been advocating on nearly every comment I’ve posted.
    I remember reading an article about Ray Charles a number of years ago. and the author had asked him how he was able to mix so well without being able to see the overload/peak lights flash and according to the author Ray was sort of exasperated and questioned needing to see verification of what your ears should already be hearing. Whether or not it’s true . . . I don’t care but it makes sense to me and I’ve always held that as a mantra.
    NOTHING matters but how it sounds to YOU.
    Of course, this is meaningless if all you want to do is sound like someone else. In that case find a slick producer and become the next (fill in the blank)_______ clone.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 2:05 am
  4. max says:

    I use both true bypass pedals and buffered pedals. In the end what matter is the balance to achieve a very good tone. Heck, even that isn’t what matters, in ht end making music and enjoying the process to do so is what really matters!

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 2:36 am
  5. BassDude says:

    depends on the pedal, your setup and your ears. sometimes a little tone suck can add warmth to the sound. it can take the shrillness out of a bright Strat.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 2:36 am
  6. Leejon says:

    I agree a buffer could improve your sound, but if you are using f.e. 5 buffered pedals in a row, that that would be the Way to go.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 2:39 am
  7. Max Lightfoot says:

    Thanks for explaining this. There is so much myth-understanding (sorry) about guitar tone that it’s way beyond ridiculous - it’s somewhere in the ludicrous zone, right up there with cryonically frozen wood screws.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 2:47 am
  8. Daniele says:

    Andy, listen to my idea:
    we submit our questions and you will answer us with an article!
    Let us interview you! :D

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 2:58 am
  9. m says:

    “It’s been said many ways but to boil it down, the warped school of thought is if you want the purist tone, every pedal needs to be true bypass.”
    —————————————————————————————
    I haven’t heard anyone say that in a long time.  This article is mainly a rehash of what other articles by reasonable people have said for years now.  I see nothing wrong with publishing it, but the implied idea that tons of people think that every one of their pedals must absolutely be true bypass is kind of goofy.

    There may be fewer pedals out there these days that really muck up your tone when bypassed, but there are still plenty that detract from one’s tone to a small degree (especially the high end).  Also, there are so many good pedals out there these days, that it the vast majority of cases, you’re not going to run into a situation where for a given “type” of pedal, there is one single buffered pedal that is way better-sounding than all similar true-bypass pedals.  It’s hardly strange, then, for people to want to buy true bypass pedals when possible (at least unless they’re specifically looking for a pedal with a nice buffer to run in their chain).

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 3:38 am
  10. bob says:

    Two questions come to mind after reading this:
    Is the buffer always “engaged/buffering”, whether the effect is on or not?
    If you use a buffering pedal to restore you signal, does it go at the front of the chain of pedals or after to get the most tone restoration?
    Maybe I’m missing something about understanding the process but, those two questions popped into my head after I read the article.
    Thanks!

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 3:49 am
  11. Morgan says:

    To answer bob’s questions, with your typical “buffered-bypass” pedal, your signal is always going through the buffer circuit, whether the effect is engaged or not.

      As to buffer placement in your chain, it is rig dependent and can have different effects at the beginning, middle or end. It’s rig-dependent because it depends on where the signal loss is happening. 

    Also, something not touched on in the article is the principle that your signal gets buffered when you engage just about any effect. Most modulation pedals, most dirt pedals, and many fuzz pedals have sections within their circuits that are buffering your signal when the effect is engaged. All it takes is a section within the circuit that has a high input impedance and a low output impedance.  Often times, the need for a buffer will show itself plainly when you have a string of true bypass pedals, all off, and then you engage, say, your delay pedal, and all of a sudden a bunch of highs jump back into your tone. That typically inidcates that your signal is being loaded down by too long a cable run, and the mixing amplifiers in the delay circuit (acting as buffers), restore your signal and seem to add high end. However, you wouldn’t get that same effect by engaging the delay is you had another pedal already on, because the signal is already being buffered.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 5:57 am
  12. bob says:

    Great! Thanks, Morgan!

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 5:59 am
  13. mattyboy says:

    everybody knows that im the best guitar player on earth..and my opinion is more valid then yours..so buy lots of pedals from pgs..even if they are buffered..just buy pedals…then practice..you might have a chance of me letting you clean the sweat off my strings one day..if you buy lots of pedals…and buy expensive ones…my friend andy needs a new g/l legacy..and sombody has to pay for it

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 6:52 am
  14. mattyboy says:

    oh yeah..almost forgot…rebecca dirks is awesome..nobody better say any different…hope she still works at premier guitar..i just got a subscription

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 6:57 am
  15. Jonny says:

    Here it comes:
    How about an article that would let us all know what manufactures are doing with their “true bypass” and “Buffers” electronically.

    So as an example:
    ” TC offers an option in their pedals for both but comments like “TC’s circuits for true bypass and buffered are “would be a good example of buffers done right. “
    or
    soso and so is using well designed circuits that offer very little if any coloration
    or
    their buffers are not acurate byt the true bypass works well

    So I have read this article three times now.

    I have to read it again

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 7:45 am
  16. Ron Grande says:

    if you have all true bypass, the couldn’t you just add buffers appropriately . . . otherwise you have to mod pedals, which no one likes.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 8:00 am
  17. Jonny says:

    Yeah so I am not sure this is of any help but I have all true bypass and use the Boss
    TU-3: Chromatic Tuner first so I think that tuner has the buffer going for it

    Of course i cannot be sure of anything these days…...?

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 8:12 am
  18. Marcos M. says:

    I use a MXR Micro Amp for the signal boost. Is that considered correct. Should it be used guitar>Micro Amp>pedals>amp?

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 10:11 am
  19. Daniele says:

    Marcos, it depends.
    If you want to increase the volume in a “clean” way, you should put the micro amp after the preamp or after your drive/distortion pedals if you use them instead of a dirty channel on the amplifier.
    If you want a tone with more drive/dirt, a boosted tone, you should put the micro amp before your preamp or your drive/distortion pedals.

    Just always before modulation fx.
    (sorry for my english)

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 10:25 am
  20. Dennis DeWinter says:

    Andy,
    What cables do you personally use or recommend?

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 10:26 am
  21. Mike says:

    Angus Young has the best solution to any by-pass problems. Just plug into your amp and turn it up. (No pedals) Hard to get a better sound than that…period!

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm
  22. Tim Mungenast says:

    Why does every article on “the myth of true bypass” (and there are dozens) ALWAYS forget to mention the best reason to use true-bypass pedals? Main reason? PEDAL FAILURE. If you’ve ever had one of those FET-bypass pedals crap out in the middle of a song you know what I mean. I was in the middle of a quiet fingerpicked song when my Boss Super Overdrive decided to leak some distortion into the signal. I had to cover my ass by making some lame pun about how I was “playing the heavy metal version.” I cannot believe a professional of Andy’‘s caliber did not even mention this.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 1:46 pm
  23. cbj says:

    To Marcos M.
    What do YOUR ears tell you?
    Thats the great thing about pedals and cables . . . they aren’t glued together.
    If you can’t hear a difference then either there is no difference or your hearing is so bad that you probably should move on to other things.
    If you DO hear a difference than which do YOU prefer? If all you are going to do is defer to the opinion of others or ‘authority’ then just get a modeling amp with all of the top guitarslingers effects setups pre loaded in the software. It will save you alot of time and you wont have the bother and tedium of learning to trust your ears.

    You know, there was a huge discussion of Hendrix and his placement of fuzz. It seems he sometimes had it before and sometimes after his vibe. The order of effects should be based on how it sounds to YOU. If you can’t trust your own ears why trust the opinion of someone who hasn’t even heard your rig?
    A very wise man once said
    “There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 2:51 pm
  24. Jesse says:

    Upon receiving an older ‘79 TS-808 in trade for a Zoom 505 back in ‘98, I really thought I got the less of the deal.  Anyhow the one thing I noticed right off was that in the off mode it had a curiously semi bright sound that other pedals didn’t have. I grew accustomed to using it with Strats and at times boosted while in the off mode creating a middier tone and cables used by length or type to sweeten or darken. I used this with my LP jr’s P-90 nk pickup as well. All these years later I see the worth of my experiences and realize the ears can tell you more than science can predict. Being I used the TS-808 in tandem with a Boss OD-1 to gauge the use of different cables in the bypassed mode., and using say a Hiwatt combo or Marshall1987 Bright channel to capture the altered harmonics or tone of the guitars used it gave me all the tones of the 70s- to very core of todays vintage, if I had used bypassed technology I would have missed a lifetime of treasures and enjoyment of playing experiences at home,studio or the best gigs I could ever hope to be a part of!

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 6:28 pm
  25. Marcos M. says:

    My configuration is what sounds really great to me, I thought someone may be using the Micro amp for a boost. The pedal board is kicking since 1980’s, with several improvements through the years. Mono in and stereo out is my sound. Keep rocking.

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm
  26. Tony says:

    http://www.bossus.com/boss_users_group/article.php?ArticleId=1633

    posted on December 23, 2013 at 9:32 pm
  27. Nick says:

    I don’t understand why every electric guitar isn’t built with a unity gain buffer onboard. ALL cables and switches have capacitance, they ALL suck tone unless they’re buffered themselves, and just sticking a little op amp in the guitar would make confusion like this completely unnecessary and provide jobs in the music tech industry. I use a Fryette V1 Valvulator on my board, which is a big, clunky tube-powered buffer, and my tone actually sounds better with the buffer and all my pedals than with no pedals (or buffer) at all. Also, what nobody ever talks about is that a unity gain buffer also helps your guitar sound less “interfered with” when effects are ON, not just off, so that it sounds like YOUR guitar going through an effect, not just like an effect: usually a much clearer and organic kind of sound.

    posted on December 24, 2013 at 3:31 am
  28. Joe says:

    I do like true bypass in front of my Fuzz Faces (Ge and Si), but besides that, I have tons of DOD and Boss and even an Ethos OD that are all buffered bypass. I find no tone suck that I can hear. Sounds great to me.

    posted on December 24, 2013 at 3:42 am
  29. Jonny says:

    the bottom line is if you have a problem with thre rig move on…...it is all about the way you want it to sound and hopefully the best presentation of your music….so if there is some issue don’t do it that way try something else.


    I really baby all of my stuff and be very careful with it, banging any thing that is electronic doe not does anything any good.
    I do a lot of research and I am not the norm in that I will spend whatever it takes to get it right and if it is something that you rely on a lot have a backup


    But once again we all have opinion and different circumstance so it is really personal preference

    posted on December 24, 2013 at 5:24 am
  30. Matt C says:

    On my main live pedalboard, all my pedals are true bypass save for my Keeley-modded SD-1. Any other combination of buffers, non-true bypass, etc. just doesn’t sound right to me.

    posted on December 24, 2013 at 4:44 pm
  31. Jeff T says:

    The buffer in my Visual Sound Jeckyl and Hyde pedal improves my overall tone with or without other pedals or engaging the unit itself. Best buffer I’ve ever used.

    posted on December 25, 2013 at 11:40 am
  32. Smokey in MN says:

    If it sounds good, it is good; (this is a highly subjective and somewhat personal observation) . What may sound good to you or me will sound like crap to someone with different sensibilities. Often, I merely plug straight into the amp and forget about the stomp pedals. I say, the fewer devices in your signal chain; (active or not), and the shorter your cable-run, the better your rig will sound. Your results may vary. Good luck, all. Many of the newer modeling devices make this discussion even more complicated and esoteric.

    posted on December 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm
  33. Matt C says:

    Jeff T, how would you say your Jeckyl and Hyde compares to a Boss SD-1 or a TS-9? I ask, because these days my plexi RI is set up clean and I get my OD/ distortion sounds from pedals. Anyway, my Keeley-modded SD-1 is the best sounding OD pedal I’ve used for this setup but I’m always looking for something better!

    posted on December 29, 2013 at 9:28 pm
  34. Keith M says:

    I have around 50 pedals in my collection and all but 2 or 3 are buffered.  There are a few with internal switches to allow ‘true bypass’ but I don’t use that option.  The non-buffered pedals seem to be old school dirt pedals like Big Muff Pi (70’s era) and some boutique germanium dirt pedals that I don’t use often.  The stuff that’s on my board routinely is all buffered and sounds fine to me.  Heck, if it’s good enough for Cornish/Gilmour, I think that says it all.  ;-)  Peace!!

    Great article as always Andy

    posted on January 8, 2014 at 9:11 am
  35. Smokey in MN says:

    My every-day pedalboard consists of , (in order);  Ernie Ball Wah, Boss OD-2 Turbo Overdrive, Boss CH-1 Super Chorus, and Boss RV-3 Digital Reverb/ Delay. These get the job done for me about 90% of the time. Whether or not these stomps are buffered and/or true-bypass, I haven’t a clue. The tone muddies out a bit, the more stomps that I have in the chain, but it also gets louder, as well, so it all will all work out, most of the time. That’s why they put the knobs on these things. It’s great fun, mucking about with our instruments and playing with our compatriots, don’t you think?

    posted on January 8, 2014 at 4:46 pm
  36. Michael Buffer says:

    When turned off, every “true bypass” pedal ever built degrades the tone - if there’s not at least one buffered pedal or a separate buffer in the signal chain. The longer the total cable length of your guitar cables, the more your tone will degrade.

    Shouldn’t be rocket science to understand, but with guitarists, it seems it is.

    posted on February 15, 2014 at 12:50 pm

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