Ask the Dude: True Bypass vs. Buffer

Ask the Dude“True bypass” – I guess, there is no term that is mentioned more frequently relating to the presentation of a new pedal. What does “true bypass” mean and does it have any advantages?

First I would like to tell you something about the history: The footswitch of the first pedals by MXR and DOD was built-in in a way that causes a constant connection from the active electronics to the input of the pedal. Only the output of the pedal was switchable. This causes the deviation of the input-impedance of the pedal so the treble of the signal was swallowed (tone suck).

The pedals by Boss  and Ibanez had an integrated buffer. This also influenced the sound of the guitar-signal.

The first boutique-effects (f.e. Fulltone or Analogman) used true bypass. With this technique the signal of the guitar was lead straight to the output when the pedal is switched off. Many pedals have been (and of course still are) modified to true bypass.

But this might even cause some disadvantages:

When one use only a few number of pedals, a pedal with true bypass makes sense because the cable that connects the guitar to the amp is pretty short. But if one has got a pedalboard with 8-10 true-bypass-pedals, this might produce substantially loss of sound and dynamic. The weak signal of the guitar has to run through the guitar-cable, through the cables and jacks of maybe 10 pedals and finally through a cable into the amplifier.
In this case it makes sense to use a buffer at the beginning (and maybe even at the end) of the effect-chain. By having a high input-impedance and a low output-impedance the buffer relieves the guitar-signal and strengthens the signal on its way to the amp. Now the guitar acts as if the signal goes right into the amp.

After strengthening the signal by using a buffer, there will not be a problem in using pedals with true bypass.

Effect-gurus like, for example Pete Cornish or Roger Mayer (who was building pedals even for Jimi Hendrix) are addicted to a good buffer.

Finally I think that it is important to evaluate the way in which the own pedalboard is stocked and not to follow the hype of “true bypass or buffered” without keeping in mind your very special needs.