Every week I’ll present a little tip that’ll hopefully help improve your tone and technique. Please feel to comment and share your experience on the topic.
Buffers VS true bypass
Setting up a pedal board require that you pay some attention to how and why you’re combining certain pedals. Which pedal goes where and why do some pedals sound different at one place in the chain compared to another. Tone isn’t just about tracking down the ultimate distortion but also knowing how to use it both alone and with other pedals. The design and construction of one pedal can seriously alter the tone of another and having some basic knowledge of how this all works will help you improve your overall tone and each pedal’s performance.
True bypass means that the signal from your guitar travels on a separate line inside the pedal when the effect is off. The idea is to avoid any colouring from the pedal’s cirquit but but with many true bypass pedals on your board you’ll get many more feet with cable, which will drain signal and again cut treble. As a result one increases the treble on the amp and the tone get’s too bright.
Buffered pedals lets the signal travel straight through the effect and small buffers or preamps inside the pedal makes sure that the signal is balanced and strong enough to travel through long instrument cables. However, cheaper pedals feature low quality buffers that often are tweaked to overcompensate for any signal loss. This often results in a noticeably brighter tone that especially makes vintage fuzz and overdrive pedals sound harsh and thin.
It’s not easy to explain the differences or the pros and cons but here’s how I see it. If your board consists of classics like a Cry Baby, Fuzz Face, Colorsound and a Big Muff you will experience a slight alteration in your tone when you introduce say a Boss DD-3 delay, which is buffered. Some people don’t mind while others think that it completely messes up the signal. On the other hand, if your board includes a lot of Boss, Ibanez, Digitech etc pedals you should be aware that you’re using all buffered pedals and that buying the fuzz you always wanted might turn out to be a huge disappointment because fuzz units simply can’t stand buffered pedals.
My best advice is to use mostly true bypass pedals and have one or two buffered in the chain, – ideally a compressor first in line that buffers your signal through the board and perhaps a delay at the end buffering the signal to the amp. If you’re uncertain of how this affects your rig then unhook everything, listen to the signal from your guitar to the amp and add one pedal at the time. Stop when the signal is dramatically altered and see how the pedal causing the problem is affecting the other pedals. Be sure to use the same cable brand and lenght to/from each side of the pedal board or you’ll might have different colouring from the cables!