True Bypass vs Buffers

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that true bypass pedals are superior to buffered counterparts. The fact is it’s not always true, both have their uses, here’s my take on it.

Buffers Are Essential For Long Cable Runs To Your Amp

I’m sure you’re already aware of the inherent signal loss in cables. The longer the cable, the more it sucks the top end out of your tone making it feel dull and lifeless. The trouble is, we don’t often A/B these things, we just accept it. The simple action of placing a buffered pedal (like a Boss or MXR pedal last in the chain will ensure your signal is restored from that point onwards on it’s journey to the amp. A true bypass pedal just aint gonna do it. There are of course exceptions where a true bypass pedal may be more desirable. Some guitarists, especially those perhaps with very ‘top-heavy’, trebley tones may opt for an unbuffered signal to the amp. Brian May, so I’ve heard, prefers this method as he plugs his guitar into a treble booster. The unbuffered cable is used to tame the top end.

Benefits Of Using A Buffered Pedal At The Beginning Of The Chain

There’s a reason many tuner pedals use buffers. They sit at the beginning of the pedal chain and ensure a consistent signal throughout your rig. Strymon has taken this concept a step further by allowing the user to switch between buffered and true bypass mode. Again, there are notable exceptions where buffers just don’t do well. For example, germanium based fuzzes sound odd with buffers before them. Better to place the buffer afterwards.¬†Consider this, a true bypass pedal is only bypassing when it’s off. Buffers on the other hand are operating all the time, whether on or off.

Boss pedals typically contain buffers and are therefore not true bypass.

Do I Need A Buffer?

If you are using only one pedal with a long cable run, you’d be surprised how a buffered pedal can improve your tone. If you are running more than 18.5 ft of cable in your guitar chain (from guitar to amp), you will benefit from a buffer. Many use a dedicated, high-end buffer pedal on their boards, some make do with regular Boss and/or MXR pedals with their inbuilt buffers.
Worth mentioning is that many guitarists are using buffers without knowing it. For years I’ve been using a Palmer Y-Splitter in the front of my chain. I had no idea it was buffered until recently-when I unplugged it. The tone was gone.
Do you need a buffer pedal? Where do you put it? It depends of course on the application.

I’ve compiled a few links below, and a Youtube clip should you wish to delve deeper into the subject.

As Pete Thorn says.: The misconception is that it’s the pedals altering your tone when in fact it’s the cable. Buffers are a bonus allowing you to run long cable runs and keep your tone.

Links

True Bypass vs Buffered Effects Pedals – From Roland Boss
The Mystery Of True Bypass Vs Buffers – From JHS Pedals
When Is True Bypass Appropriate? – From Neunaber-Audio-Blog
The Truth About True Bypass And Buffered Guitar Pedals – From Roland

Conclusion

In closing I’d like to say that for me, buffered pedals in the right place are of great benefit to guitarists. I’ve had great results using Boss pedal buffers in my signal chain. I use them at both ends when the need arises. I don’t get too hung up on whether pedals are buffered or true bypass, I adjust things accordingly and listen to what my ears are telling me. Other times I just¬† let it go and don’t even give it a second thought.

Other mooselander links:

Peavey Classic Series 60/60 – Under The Hood

Pedalboard Build – For Studios

How To Connect A Guitar Preamp To An FX Return Loop