True bypass myths debunked

Ever since I saw a video by a company claiming to bust the true bypass myth (but really only trying to sell their product), I’ve wanted to write a page to kill off a few myths about true bypass. I had a few on the main ”True bypass?” page, but decided to move them to their own page, only leaving the one that dealt with how to (or how not to) determine if a pedal is true bypass or not (repeated here as well, for good measure).

So here goes:

True bypass actually degrades the signal, rather than help it.

No, it does not. This is a myth propagated by people who are trying to sell their own (buffered) pedals, or by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Like the guy I just saw on YouTube claiming that ”true bypass is shit” and if you buy true bypass pedals ”you’re a moron”. I beg to differ. A true bypass connection does not do anything to the signal – it simply leaves it alone. But since it doesn’t do anything to the signal, it means that when a pedal is off, the cable following it will be part of the chain. So if you have all true bypass pedals, when all pedals are off the guitar will ”see” the entire cable length to the amp. This will shave off some treble – which was clearly demonstrated in the video I mentioned at the top of the page, where they used a normal length guitar -> pedal cable and a hugely long pedal -> amp cable to make the true bypass connection appear to steal lots of treble, while accentuating their buffer system’s capacity to drive long cables. And you will lose treble if you run only true bypass pedals (turned off) with long cables. So far, YouTube guy was correct. But it is not the true bypass that is ”degrading” the signal – it’s the cables.

But if having all true bypass pedals on your board will lose signal, the opposite (having all buffered pedals) must then be true, right? Well, no. The key to not being ”a moron” (as the YouTube guy, who will remain nameless, so eloquently put it), is to have one or two buffers/buffered pedals in the chain, while keeping the rest true bypass (to avoid having multiple buffer stages in the chain). That way, you get the best of both worlds. But that doesn’t mean that ”true bypass is shit”, nor that it degrades the signal – claims like that are stupid, and just show that the people making them doesn’t know what’s what.

No, technically we don’t use true bypass. But in bypass mode, the circuit is electrically invisible, so therefore it is, in effect, true bypass.

Sorry… there’s no such thing as ”in effect, it’s true bypass”. It either is or it isn’t. If the pedal has the ”hardwire” bypass type, the input impedance of its circuit will matter (the higher it is, the less impact it will have on the tone in bypass). But it will never be invisible – that input impedance will end up in parallel to the input impedance of the next pedal, not matter how high it is. And if the combined impedance ends up being too low for the source, the tone will suffer. And the guitar pickups are far more sensitive to this than the output of an active pedal, so you’ll notice it the most if the ”hardwire” pedal is the first thing the guitar ”sees”.

My MXR pedal sucks tone because it has a bad buffer.

It seems that many people think that true bypass and buffered bypass are the only two systems out there, and if the pedal steals tone, it’s because of a (bad) buffer. The truth is that most pedals that appear to ”suck tone” are actually NOT buffered at all – they are ”hardwire” (mechanical output switching). There are three basic types of bypass systems, people, and one of them is the bad guy… Buffered bypass has certain benefits, while true bypass has others. ”Hardwire bypass” has none of them…

When you mod a pedal to true bypass, it causes volume loss in the pedal.

I hear this a lot, most often in discussion threads or instruction pages about modifying old ”hardwire” pedals to true bypass. Again, like most other myths, there’s a speck of truth in there. When modifying an old Vox or Crybaby (pre 1990) wah pedal to true bypass, you often have to increase the effect level a little. It is as if the true bypass conversion somehow makes the effect quieter. But in reality, it’s the other way around… Old-style pedals – with the hardwire system and no input buffer in the circuit – caused so much signal loss in bypass that the effect output level needed to be slightly lowered, to match the dry signal. When you modify such a pedal to true bypass, you’re suddenly letting the bypass signal through at full strength, meaning the effect suddenly becomes too quiet. In those cases, you will have to increase the output volume a little. But once again, it’s not the true bypass wiring that is the problem…

You need a 3PDT switch if you want true bypass and a status LED. Therefore, pedal X (which has an LED, but only a DPDT switch) can’t be true bypass.

Again, there’s a speck of truth to the myth. You do need a DPDT for true bypass switching, and the easiest way to add an LED to that is to simply go up one size on the switch (to a 3PDT). But there are other ways to do it. The ”Millennium” style LED control lets you use a DPDT and still get true bypass. Basically, it is a small circuit that runs the LED separately from the switch. On its own, the LED is lit, and when you go to bypass, the Millennium circuit uses the effect’s output (which isn’t being used at that time) to make the LED turn off. It’s a neat solution, although the 3PDT route is probably easier for most people to do. So while many of the pedals with a DPDT and LED are not true bypass, there are those that are. Case in point: most MXR pedals are ”hardwire” bypass (using a DPDT), while a few of the newer ones are proper true bypass (Dunlop calls them ”true hardwire bypass”), using the same DPDT switch… And then there’s Voodoo Lab, who uses a different way to achieve true bypass + LED with a DPDT.

Take the power away from the pedal – if it still passes signal, it is true bypass.

No. If it still passes signal, it could be true bypass, but it might as well be ”hardwire” bypass. The only thing that test will tell you for sure is whether there are any active circuits (buffer stages etc) in the direct signal path. Those will obviously not run without power. But any passive connection from input to output jack will still work, regardless of if there’s a (powerless) circuit still connected to the input or not.

More to come…