The Buffer/True Bypass Compromise
By Scott Carr, Jr.
Buffer or true bypass? This question has been debated about on Internet forums for
years. Both sides have their valid arguments, but they both have their flaws. Is there
any answer to the problem? To figure that out, we must review both sides.
It is a well known fact that the longer cable you have between your guitar and your amp, the less tone that will make it to the end. If you like a lot of pedals, then this will be a big problem. So to fix this, pedal companies installed buffers. The concept of these buffers was to give the tone a bit of a boost to make it to the end of cable. It sounds like a good concept. The problem is that many buffers can be a bit noisy and many times, they pedal still affects your tone.
To fix this problem, true bypass was invented. The concept was that when you turn your pedal off, your guitar signal never goes through the circuit of the pedal, but instead goes right through a line of cable and into the next pedal. The only problem with this design is that it doesn’t fix the problem of your tone not making it to the end of the cable and to make this design work, it requires extra cable length inside the pedal itself, making the problem worse.
So how is this problem fixed? How do we get the best of both worlds? First of all, let me start out by pointing out that buffering technology has come a long way. There are buffered pedals that work as if they are true bypass while giving your tone a boost. Do not shy away from these pedals just because they are not true bypass.
Now that I have said that, let me get to the actual compromise. Buffer focuses on the big picture of your overall tone. True bypass focusing on the smaller picture of the tone of the individual pedal. Now when you are looking for an individual pedal, you are looking at the small picture of the individual pedal. In the context of an individual pedal, true bypass is the way to go. You do not want your pedal affecting your tone while it is off. Now if you followed the above piece of advice and do get buffered pedals that work like a true bypass pedal, then you have the big picture taken care of. They are giving your tone the boost it needs to get to the end of the chain. If you stick with just true bypass, which is usually the best way to go, your tone still isn’t making it to the end of your chain. There are individual buffers that are not a part of any pedal that you can put at the front of your chain and give your tone a boost. These are quiet and since they are not a part of your pedal, they do not color your tone when you don’t want it to. This is the best system out there for getting the best of both buffered and true bypass.
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