Being a guitar player, I know that sometimes we can be a funny and complicated bunch. While you will rarely hear a singer complain about his/her mic and the microphone’s tone, we electric guitarists on the other hand are always making a big deal about everything. From the cables, to the amp, all the way to the appropriate volume. When it comes down to it we will always have something to work on. Today I would like to discuss with you a myth that has long haunted worship guitar players and the rigs they own; True bypass vs. buffered pedals and which of the two is better for you.
Before we dive into a lot of technical terms, I’d like to clear up that this article is intended to enlighten people who have had issues with both. I will not be getting too deep in technical terminology but I’d like to prepare you for a real life situation where theory and practice meet. OK, now that I’ve made my disclaimer, on to the article.
Boutique pedal manufacturers will often advertise pedals being ‘true bypass’. What this means is that the on/off footswitch physically connects the input jack socket to the output socket in bypass mode. This means that everything in-between that would normally affect the clean signal is in essence “bypassed”.
The benefit? When the pedal is off, the ‘hard-wired’ input-to-output connection assures you that your tone will be exactly the same as if you were plugged directly into your amp. It’s neat huh? Well when you have just one pedal or two in the rig it seems very useful but is not a good solution for guitarists that run a lot of pedals. The main reason it is not a good option is that when you have a lot of pedals in your rig there are a ton of cables that connect each pedal together. In electrical terms these cables serve a capacitors, which means that the longer your total cable length is, the weaker your signal will be.
For example: a 15 ft guitar cable linked to ten or so pedals, each linked by a 1 ft cable, and then onto the amp by a 40 ft cable. If all pedals have true bypass, and are off, then the total cable length added to the guitar output will be 63 ft. This results in a huge loss of tone (and not to mention signal level) especially if the guitar is a vintage single coil guitar with low output and high impedance. The usual solution you’d go to is turning up the amp and the treble control to compensate for the losses. This would actually result in the background noise increasing. In my opinion, not the way to go.
Another thing that can be an issue is with trails. Most true bypass delay pedals will kill the effect completely when turned off. This can feel weird if you are expecting the natural decay of the delay or even the reverb. So all true bypass can be an issue, so lets move on to the other kinda of pedal.
Buffered bypass effects pedals keep you in the circuit and process your signal even if the pedal is off. They have a buffer inside that works in ways like a small amplifier that takes your low impedance signal and converting it to a high impedance signal.
Now just like any amp, the design of this amp is important because this right here is what can change your tone for better or for worse. The best buffers are the ones that operate in a way where they stay transparent in the signal chain. The reason people look for the true bypass option is because they feel that the buffer will suck their tone or alter it too much. While this can be true its often seen in the multi-effects pedals that serve as an all-in-1 solution.
Lots of big manufactures can and will cut corners with the quality of the buffer to save money. Also a lot of the multi-effects depend unites on “Analog to Digital/Digital to Analog” converters and in a lot of cases the big tone loss can happen here too.
Most high end digital pedals like the Eventide Factor’s/H9 or the Strymon Timeline/Mobius/BigSky incorporate a high quality buffer. They also offer the option to operate in true bypass mode (via a neat relay) if you think that you don’t need the extra buffer. They also offer the option to add trials to the signal. this means that when you turn off the effect the decay will conclude naturally. The AD/DA Converters are also very high quality where you’ll see in the spec’s that they operate at 24bit/96hz which is higher that most producers record and mix a whole record. There are even other high end analog pedals such as the Klon that have awesome buffers in them. I personally loved what an original Ibanez TS-808 did for my signal.
Why no one can win this battle?
The best way to get your signal as best as possible is to have a nice balance of both kinds of pedals in your chain. If your not sure if your having problems with your signal, try this:
- Plug your guitar into your board and out to your amp. Play a few notes and if you can make a small recording of the sound. All pedals should be in the off position.
- Next do the same but just with your guitar directly the amp. Record and compare.
If you can’t tell the difference than you are good to go. Even if you have a slight change there’s little you can do for a small change in signal. Truth is that if you are ok with how things sound then its not really an issue. On the other hand, if its a big change then you’ll feel unhappy and your gonna need to address the issue. Take a look at what pedals you have and start to one by one take one out of the chain. After you do this long and painful process you’ll discover whats wrong. So here is a list of things you can do in possible scenarios.
- If the pedal is digital, check the manual to see if there’s an option to toggle the bypass mode. Swap the two modes and find the one that works the best for you.
- If you think you have too many true bypass options, you can buy a dedicated buffer. My personal favorites are the ones JHS and Emerson Custom makes. Both are seriously good. For an inexpensive buffer/drive option look at the EHX Soulfood. Its a great drive and has a buffer that works as well as the original Klon. (You can listen to demos here)
- You can buy a true-bypass looper to bypass the pedals that need that option. This also helps activate your pedals in a much easier way. Disaster Area Designs makes a looper that incorporates a high quality buffer in the input to compensate for the in and out cables. Most definitely an awesome option to get the best of both.
- Volume Pedals can also be a big tone sucker. Try taking it out to see what it does. You can also send yours to get modded. This1sMine does a really nice mod at a great price. Also Daniel (the owner) is a great worship guitar player and an awesome guy.
So I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions I’d love to answer them as best as I can. Comment below and I’ll get to you as soon as I can. Thanks and Godspeed!!