True Bypass vs. Buffered Bypass
It’s impossible to shop around for effects pedals without noticing claims of “true bypass” coming from a wide range of manufacturers. Like many things in the guitar effects world, there is some disagreement about the benefits of true bypass, with some players preferring a buffered bypass to preserve their original tone. So should you only go for “true bypass” or is there something to be said for the buffered approach?
The Difference Between True and Buffered Bypass
The aim of the game is to preserve your tone. Simply, the more stuff you run your signal through (cables and effects pedals alike), the more your tone will degrade. For older effects pedals, even when the effect is switched off, your signal still runs through the circuitry and your tone degrades in the process, taking away from your high-end.
A “true bypass” is a mechanical switch that means your signal doesn’t travel through the circuitry when the effect is off – it just runs straight from input to output with limited impact on your tone. A buffered bypass, on the other hand, looks at which parts of your original signal are being lost in the process and boosts it accordingly, aiming to amplify the lost parts to preserve your original signal as closely as possible.
True Bypass: Pros and Cons
The good thing about true bypass is that very little happens to your tone. There is no alteration and no meddling. The only problem is that even with a true bypass, you’re adding cable length (by the very nature of connecting to a pedal) and thereby suffering degradation in tone.
Buffered Bypass: Pros and Cons
Buffered bypass actually attempts to correct the tone issues resulting from cable length. However, since we’re used to this degradation, many players think this buffering colors their tone. Each buffer does alter your tone, and even though it may be for the better with one or two pedals, having several (especially lower-quality ones) can take away from the presence and feel of your playing. The Wally Looper is an example of a pedal using a buffered bypass.
Which is Best?
The choice does come down to preference, but the core point is that buffering tries to rectify signal degradation whereas true bypass merely aims to avoid making it worse. If you don’t have many effects, either can work, but if you have a lot (and therefore more cable) you should seriously consider adding a buffering pedal to your chain.