When we choose for what guitar pedal to buy we often stumble upon some dark and obscure terms – a fancy name including 30 letters and numbers (ok, that does usually apply with guitar models though), lots of technical information such as voltage and other stuff – but in this article we’ll only talk about the terms “True Bypass” and “Buffered Bypass“.
In particular we’ll see how do they work and how the sound is affected by choosing either the first or the second: so, without further ado, let’s dive into it!
HOW DOES A PEDAL WORK
This may not be a new concept for someone, but every time we plug our guitar cable in the input of a stompbox we create a new road for the signal of our guitar: in this road (the insides of the pedal) we find a lot of electronical componets, such as resistors, capacitors, transistors, diodes and potentiometers on a circuit board, as well as switches that are used for switching the pedal ON and OFF (as the name says).
WHY DOES THAT MATTER
The more “road” your signal have to go through, the more the signal can be influenced (more often than not it can de deteriorated).
The reason behind this is the capacitance: it’s the “resistance” that every solid part makes when electricity (our electric guitar’s signal basically) goes through them.
That does happen with every part of our signal chain, with cables as well as guitar pedals, and can make the sound worse because one of the main effect of the capacitance is the deterioration of high frequencies, so if we have lots of cables and pedals we can hear worse trebles and a darker and a bit duller sound.
That’s why both true bypass and buffered bypass were invented though, as they can both improve the sound in their own way.
WHAT IS TRUE BIPASS AND WHY YOU SHOULD USE IT
A true bypass in a pedal is simply a “shortcut” for the signal: this enters into the Input and then, when the stompox is off, it takes the signal straight to the output, without making it go through all the components of the pedal.
When the pedal is on it simply works as usual, doing all the sound-work it has to do.
benefits of true bypass
- Less road for the signal: electricity doesn’t pass through all the circuits, so there’s not capacitance degrading the sound;
- less noise: some pedals generate hum and other background noises when turned on, but in this case the electronical parts aren’t used;
- good sound with lots of pedals: you don’t have to worry about a worse sound if you have a lot of stompoboxes in the signal chain, because the ones that you’re not using are just like if they weren’t even there for the electricty (beyond a trascurable amount in the “shortcut” inside the pedal)
Despite al those benefits, though, even with all true bypass effects you still have the consequences of the cables and the other electronical components, so if you have lots of cables in between those distortions and all your effect boxes you should still expect a loss in the sound’s quality.
For this reason, you may find useful a buffer, or also some pedals with buffered bypass: let’s see how that works.
WHAT IS BUFFERED BYPASS AND WHY YOU SHOULD USE IT
Buffered bypass means that when the switch is off the signal still goes through a (usually small) part of the circuits and inner electronics: this gives a bit more of road for the signal, but still has some benefits.
Before we talked about the capacitance degrading the signal, but another thing to consider is the output impedance, that we can see as the “strenght” of the signal.
When we run through true bypass we don’t have a degradation of the signal but, after some pedals with this design, the signal can weaken because the impedance is reduced: with a buffer (like in the buffered bypass) we can keep that impedance consistent through all the chain of our effects even when those pedals are off.
benefits of buffered bypass
- Improved signal strenght: improving the impedance you get a stronger final sound compared to a true bypass;
- You can have long cable runs and therefore lots of pedals: the buffer actually works as a “recharge station” for the signal, that comes weakened into the input (especially if the buffered pedal comes after many other effects and more importanty after lots of cables) and exit with a renewed and restored signal;
- It doesn’t degrade the sound like normal effects: despite having a part of circuit where the signal travels, the benefits of a buffer still outweigh the little degradation having place in that small part of the circuit
The downsides of those, though, is that they can cause problems with other effects, because they are designed to work with a normal signal and not a buffered one (because of the different impedance): in general, you can solve this simply by switching the position of those buffered boxes (in general a distortion with buffer works better as the final distortion pedal in the chain, as well as overdrives).
They can also generate background noises, but with well-crafted pedals this problem is heavily reduced; beyond that, the noise can be caused by lots of factors, not only by the bypass.
If you’re unsure, you might also want to consider a separated buffer pedal as well.
SO WHAT SHOULD I CHOOSE?
|TRUE BYPASS||BUFFERED BYPASS|
|SIGNAL GOES THROUGH CIRCUITS||❌||✔|
|MAIN BENEFIT||LESS ROAD FOR THE SIGNAL – LESS DETERIORATION||RESTORING IMPEDANCE – YOU GET A STRONGER SIGNAL|
|OTHER BENEFITS||LESS NOISE||YOU CAN USE MORE CABLE AND PEDALS THANKS TO RESTORED IMPEDANCE|
|DOWNSIDES||USING ONLY THESE WITH LOTS OF CABLES CAN WEAKEN THE SOUND||THEY MAY NEED SOME TRY FOR THE CORRECT POSITION IN THE SIGNAL CHAIN|