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Saturday, 22 November 2014 00:00

True bypass pedals are great, but buffered pedals are great too!

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True bypass and Buffered pedals True bypass and Buffered pedals
The new trend to want true bypass guitar effects pedals is well known and the reasons are sound (see what I did there? sound...). As a guitar player you want to eliminate anything that will alter or ruin the truest sound you can get. So the obvious go-to's are pedals that are true bypass.

What is true bypass and what is buffered? 
For those who do not know what true bypass is, it is when the signal passes straight through your effects or foot pedal without going through any 'electronics' that might boost or alter the sound when the pedal effect is NOT engaged or on. Older pedals and some commercial pedals are buffered like BOSS etc. Buffered means that the sound coming into the pedal goes through a stage where the signal is cleaned/amplified. The buffer also turns the signal from 'high-impedance' to 'low-impedance' as a signal from all electric guitar pickups other than 'active' pickups are high-impedance.

"Impedance is a measure of electronic resistance: the longer the signal path, the more resistance there is in it. With a high-impedance guitar output, the more distance there is between your guitar and your amp, the more your tone will be affected by the resistance in the cable connecting the two together." - BOSS Website

Rule of thumb, if your stompbox or effects pedal lets you play through it when the battery is dead, out and the unit is not connected to a power source it is true-bypass, that is when the effect is off. When the effect is engaged and not powered it should let no signal through, if it does it must be made by Harry Potter. To know if your pickup is high- or low-impedance, just check if the guitar is powered by a 9v battery or not. If not it is a high-impedance signal.

Most people will agree that you want a clean line from guitar to amp. The problem is that guitar cables and un-buffered pedals deteriorate the high-impedance signal over distance due to resistance. It is generally accepted that this deterioration becomes audible at around 18ft/6m. Most guitar cables are around that length to the pedal board and again the same distance from the pedal board. The Signal loses tone especially in the high or treble range of the signal.

A good buffer or buffered pedal turns the signal from high- to low-impedance and does NOT alter the tone. 

A Low-impedance signal can carry across many meter, 30m or so with good cables without signal loss.

It is therefor obvious that long distance cables and large pedal boards need some way of solving the deterioration problem and this is best achieved with a good buffer. One option is to buy a good buffer and implement it onto your pedal boards and keep the distance from you guitar to the buffer as short as possible to keep that signal at optimum condition. Another well known option is to add a pedal with a good buffer into the chain. In my opinion and experience BOSS pedal buffers do not later the tone in any way so try one of their tuners or other pedals at the front of the chain to condition the signal before the rest of the pedals.

One exception is some fuzz pedals and some WAH pedals. The WAH's especially like the high-impedance signals so could be placed in front of the buffer or buffered pedal. 

If you have many pedals on your pedal board you might have noticed how some of these do not like to be next to one another. Something in the signal between them does not gel. These are also places where a buffer between them can possibly help the situation.

This blog is not about what gives the best tone, it is about the setup and what happens. If you run short leads with few pedals you could argue you are better off with true-bypass stompboxes, if you run long leads with many pedals you are most likely better off with a buffer or at least a few buffered pedals.

In my experience BOSS pedals and some old Rocktek pedals (of mine) did not alter the tone in any way going through the buffer. This is obviously another factor... don't use pedals with shit buffers. 

Example: I purchased a Behringer Overdrive/Distortion to test. It sounded awesome, it is a really great sounding pedal... BUT, with the effect off it sucked tone and made it dull and I am sure I heard a hum (I won't accuse all Behringer pedals to have crappy buffer stages because I can only vouch for the one I had and it might have been faulty). I have heard this from many people though that Behringer has a tone sucking problem with the effect off, ie the buffer (I stand corrected but I think all Behringer pedals are buffered). This is a pity because although they are made of plastic and are cheap  the effects are usually really great sounding.

If you want to use a pedal that has a buffer and you feel it is sucking your tone while the effect is off you have the possibility to loop the pedal. This means looping it out of the chain with a looper pedal and leaving the effect on. When engaging the loop it brings the pedal into the chain but always in the on state. In fact, loopers are a great way to keep the pedalboard signal chains short.

Also see this article about Pedal order on your pedalboard

Buy good pedals, buffered or not :-)

Benefit of the buffering in most cases is that it allows you to connect your high-impedance guitar into a low-impedance ¼-inch input on a mixing console and retain good tone. When you plug your guitar directly to a mixer, the tone is typically going to be thin and brittle because of the impedance mismatch; by patching a BOSS pedal in-between, you give the mixer a signal it likes much better, and your tone is preserved. Good buffers retain tone quality and signal but allow it to travel longer and more stable.

True Bypass:
Probably the ideal world for recording or short lead scenarions. Too long leads and large pedal boards and you will probably have to make a plan to 'low-impedance' your signal.
Last modified on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 14:21

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