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FAQ: What does ‘true bypass’ mean?

FAQ: What does ‘true bypass’ mean?

No musician today will casually browse the current stomp boxes on the market without being periodically assaulted by a certain phrase: true bypass. More and more pedal manufacturers actively advertise that their products have this feature, so if you’re new to true-bypass and keen to have all the information before taking the plunge on a new pedal-board addition, we’ve put together a concise guide to explain what it does, the pros and cons, and how you can check your own gear for the true-bypass feature.

Before we get bogged down with the electrician jargon, let’s first look at a non-true bypass pedal, for example: the Boss RV-5. The pedal provides a great selection of reverb effects, but when the effect is turned off, the tone of your guitar from the amp will still be ever so slightly different compared to the sound of your guitar and amp alone.

Guitar effects -true bypass and otherwise- at Red Dog Music

True bypass those buffers!

Non-true bypass pedals feature something called a buffer, which is a form of preamplifier driving the sound from the pedal’s input to its output. This is a job that they do very well. Unfortunately, as the buffer is always present in the chain, the tone is subject to some change along the way. Once you have several pedals -each with their own buffer- in your chain, we’ll, you can see where we’re going with this!

True bypass pedals differ in that they have a direct route from the input to the output, which completely avoids (or bypasses) the buffer and preserves the tone from instrument to amplifier without any variation.

So let’s look at the positives:

  • No interference
  • No loading sounds
  • No buffering effects
  • Hear your original tone
  • Get the most natural sound and best feel

All of the above points are true. However, (inevitably) there are just a couple of drawbacks to consider.

Imagine that you play in a particularly prolific band with material spanning all sorts of genres. Often you’ll require a multitude of different effects to cater for every song both on stage and in the studio. In this case true-bypass in excess can cause a problem. Whilst the signal of your guitar is reaching the amps unaffected in theory, the usual buffers present in non-true bypass pedals are not driving it.

A lack of any buffers means that the signal has to pass through an assembly of pedals as well as their connecting patch leads without a break, and unfortunately high impedance instruments like the electric guitar suffer a mild signal loss after around 20 feet of cabling, slightly undermining all of the hard work that true bypass has been designed to do.

Switch that true bypass!

Another issue is switching noise. Non true bypass pedals can bring effects in and out almost seamlessly as they use only one route for the signal. When the switch of a true bypass pedal is hit, the signal is transferred to an entirely different route. This causes a transient to occur which can be audible as a slight pop when the pedal is turned off (mainly a problem for musicians using higher-gain amps).

To sum up: true bypass is a great invention with the right application. If you’re keeping your pedals to a moderate number and love the tone of your guitar, true bypass units are a great way to keep your sound as natural as possible. However, if you’re planning a pedal board with similar architecture to that of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez or The Edge, or if you can’t stand switching noise when you change sounds, then it may be worth including some or using all non-true-bypass boxes to ensure your signal doesn’t get lost!

If you’re unsure whether or not your pedal features true bypass then here’s a simple test:

Simply connect the stomp box inline with your guitar and amp as normal. When the effect is inactive, pull out the pedal’s battery or 9V power adapter. If sound still travels from the guitar to amp, then you have yourself a true bypass unit!

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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