What Does True Bypass Do?


What Is True Bypass?

Whether you're a tone connoisseur or have a casual interest in tone, you've likely seen the term "True Bypass". So what is it? The short answer is that True Bypass allows a guitar's signal to pass through an effect pedal that is turned off without the signal being affected. In other words, if you are running your signal through a pedal with True Bypass, and the pedal is turned off, it's as if there's no pedal there at all.

What Happens If There Is No True Bypass?

If a pedal does not have True Bypass, disengaging the pedal means that the signal does not bypass or "skip" the wiring in the pedal. Rather, the signal goes through the pedal's wiring, but the effect is just turned off. 

Why Does This Matter?

We know that the difference between pedals with true bypass and pedals without it means that the signal travels differently, but how does this affect tone? It helps to think about the signal flow. A cardinal rule of an analog signal is that over distance and through processing that doesn't "amplify" the signal, it will naturally get weaker. If you have ten pedals turned off between you and your amp, and they don't have True Bypass, the signal traveling through every pedal's wiring will degrade the signal. If those ten pedals have True Bypass, now you're only factoring in the total length of the cable.

To sum it up simply: True Bypass preserves your tone across pedals, because the signal is "truly" being bypassed.

Are There Downsides to True Bypass?

So far, this explanation seems to suggest that every pedal you buy should have True Bypass. However, it's not that simple. Remember the principle that a signal degrades over length? Well if one is "truly bypassing" an effects pedal, it's as if there's one long guitar cable from guitar to amp. Therefore, long cables (typically over 25 feet), can start to lose some high end tone if run through these effects pedals. Pedals without True Bypass often have a "buffer" (called "Buffered Bypass"). This means that the signal is effectively "reset" when the cable reaches the pedal.

Picture a 15 foot cable going from guitar to a pedal on one end, and another 15 foot cable from pedal to amp. If the pedal is disengaged and does not have True Bypass, you are getting the signal of two 15 foot long cables. With True Bypass, you are practically getting the signal of one 30 foot long cable.

Additionally, the design of True Bypass means that electricity is built up and disengaged in input and output coupling capacitors. The simple explanation: this can cause a "pop" sometimes when engaging and disengaging the pedal. It also means that certain effects, like trailing reverb, can come to a hard stop.

Finally, True Bypass pedals tend to cost a bit more, as it is a premium element of design. 

So Do I Want True Bypass?

Ultimately, the desire to have True Bypass in your latest pedal purchase is up to your specific needs. Consider your signal chain and your uses. If you've got a short signal chain, and you need an effect that will be off most of the time in your live show, consider True Bypass. If you love the sound of an effect pedal without it, and you don't have a ton of pedals in your rig, don't overthink it! If you're scratching your head about this (and as gear geeks, we've ALL been there), you can always talk to us, online or in store, and we'll help you out.

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