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Thread: Buffers, true bypass, cable runs... are the old rules out?

  1. #1
    Senior Member andy474x's Avatar
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    Buffers, true bypass, cable runs... are the old rules out?

    So, when I first started playing about 12 years ago, true bypass was THE thing as far as pedals went, and buffered pedals had a bad rap. It seemed like it was the first thing people wanted to know about a new pedal. Effects loops on amps were notorious tone suckers, and long cable runs were a no-no.

    Have times changed, or is it just me? I feel like a decent amount of pedals are buffered now, and it's not a huge deal. People use effects loops on their amps as well, and a lot of times it necessitates long cable runs back and forth to their amp. If you're going to use the loop and have long cable runs, from what I've heard, it's
    actually better to have buffered pedals, because they change the impedance of the signal and keep it from degrading over the long cables. On the other hand, cables, effects loops, buffers, that's a lot of stuff toying with a signal.

    All that being said, I was thinking about my setup today, and I have tons of pedals, miles and kilometers of cable... and I like it. Well, technically, I don't love the concept of all the in-betweens, but I've A/B'ed between my full setup, and one cable into the amp, and I honestly can't hear a difference. So either I'm doing pretty well, or just can't hear!

    So, what say the masses, is it OK to do loops and buffers now, or am I crazy?
    -I'm no expert, but it seems to work and I haven't electrocuted myself yet. Which is pretty much the standard I live by.

    SE Custom 24 25th Anniversary - SE Akesson+57/08's - SE 30 Head/Cab

  2. #2
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    I think it was always ok to use them, it was just a clever advertising gimic by the pedal companies to push the true bypass gear. I think that its important to have a buffer pedal in a long signal chain for exactly the reason that you listed; it keeps the signal from degrading over long runs.

    But tone is subjective, and, what do I know. I've been accused of being tone deaf on more than one occasion and I can't even begin to wrap my head around all the electronics and effects and how they affect each other.

  3. #3
    Well, there's science behind buffers, but like any other piece of gear, there are great sounding buffers and poor sounding buffers, and everything in between.

    I think true bypass was, and is, much more than an advertising gimmick, as it certainly has its uses and important qualities. You have to understand that both approaches have certain benefits, and use those benefits to your own advantage.

    What a buffer does is convert your guitar's signal to a low impedance one that allows longer cable runs without sonic degradation. At 15-20 feet or so, most people know that there is a noticeable loss of high frequency content if a guitar signal isn't buffered. But if you plug your guitar into your amp with a five foot cable, and then do it with a ten foot cable, you will hear some small HF loss with just the additional 5 feet (depending on your ears and equipment, etc.).

    The problem has been that some buffers are notorious for altering the tone in a bad way, especially the ones on certain older mass market pedals. This is even true of such higher end pedals as the old TC Chorus/Flanger, a pedal that tended to suck out the bottom end if it was in the chain whether on or off, despite its beautiful sound.

    So the solution was to bypass the buffers, and if one was to use a buffer, use a high quality one.

    I had an Axess buffer in the early 00s that solved the cable length problem, sounded great, and allowed me to use true bypass pedals that didn't alter the tone. It was an excellent solution, and is typical of what many players who came into my studio were doing at the time. At that time I also discovered true bypass switchers that allowed me to, for example, put a pedal like the TC chorus in a bypass loop.

    In addition, some pedals don't sound very good coming after a buffered signal. Vintage style fuzzes are notorious for this, as are vintage style wahs. So having true bypass does give the player the flexibility to arrange pedals as needed, and to determine where (if necessary) a buffer should be placed in the signal chain. If you like to use a vintage style germanium fuzz, say, with your guitar's volume control, you want everything ahead of it to be unbuffered.

    The old saw about cheap buffered pedals is still true, to an extent, although I've noticed that the buffer in something like my TU-3 is actually pretty good sounding, and far better IMHO than the old TU-2's buffer. So it's obvious that manufacturers are starting to pay attention to this issue.

    I do get the best tone from my ODs and fuzzes when they aren't seeing a buffered signal, for some reason, but everything else I have likes to be after the buffer. In addition, there are times I want a signal with less high end! So I have my buffered pedal in a true bypass loop. I can switch the buffer in and out of the chain depending on what I want to hear. There's something about a buttery warm signal without involving an ice-pick!

    Obviously, there are no rules for this stuff, nor should there be. It's nice to have both options.
    Last edited by LSchefman; 01-30-2014 at 09:20 PM.
    If something is too hard to do, then it's not worth doing. You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your short-wave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle and we'll go inside and watch TV.
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  4. #4
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    Ahh, good read, Les. Learn something new everyday. I did know that some buffers were better than others but didn't know why.

  5. #5
    Senior Member andy474x's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    Well, there's science behind buffers, but like any other piece of gear, there are great sounding buffers and poor sounding buffers, and everything in between.

    I think true bypass was, and is, much more than an advertising gimmick, as it certainly has its uses and important qualities. You have to understand that both approaches have certain benefits, and use those benefits to your own advantage.

    What a buffer does is convert your guitar's signal to a low impedance one that allows longer cable runs without sonic degradation. At 15-20 feet or so, most people know that there is a noticeable loss of high frequency content if a guitar signal isn't buffered. But if you plug your guitar into your amp with a five foot cable, and then do it with a ten foot cable, you will hear some small HF loss with just the additional 5 feet (depending on your ears and equipment, etc.).

    The problem has been that some buffers are notorious for altering the tone in a bad way, especially the ones on certain older mass market pedals. This is even true of such higher end pedals as the old TC Chorus/Flanger, a pedal that tended to suck out the bottom end if it was in the chain whether on or off, despite its beautiful sound.

    So the solution was to bypass the buffers, and if one was to use a buffer, use a high quality one.

    I had an Axess buffer in the early 00s that solved the cable length problem, sounded great, and allowed me to use true bypass pedals that didn't alter the tone. It was an excellent solution, and is typical of what many players who came into my studio were doing at the time. At that time I also discovered true bypass switchers that allowed me to, for example, put a pedal like the TC chorus in a bypass loop.

    In addition, some pedals don't sound very good coming after a buffered signal. Vintage style fuzzes are notorious for this, as are vintage style wahs. So having true bypass does give the player the flexibility to arrange pedals as needed, and to determine where (if necessary) a buffer should be placed in the signal chain. If you like to use a vintage style germanium fuzz, say, with your guitar's volume control, you want everything ahead of it to be unbuffered.

    The old saw about cheap buffered pedals is still true, to an extent, although I've noticed that the buffer in something like my TU-3 is actually pretty good sounding, and far better IMHO than the old TU-2's buffer. So it's obvious that manufacturers are starting to pay attention to this issue.

    I do get the best tone from my ODs and fuzzes when they aren't seeing a buffered signal, for some reason, but everything else I have likes to be after the buffer. In addition, there are times I want a signal with less high end! So I have my buffered pedal in a true bypass loop. I can switch the buffer in and out of the chain depending on what I want to hear. There's something about a buttery warm signal without involving an ice-pick!

    Obviously, there are no rules for this stuff, nor should there be. It's nice to have both options.
    As always, a nice piece of insight Les. I wasn't aware of the interaction with fuzz pedals. I've never owned one but recently have gotten an interest, listening to Gary Clark Jr and the new Tommy Castro album, both have a decent amount of fuzz parts that come through really nicely. Thinking about picking up a Wampler Velvet Fuzz sometime, so I'll have to look into that. I have some buffered pedals and some true bypass, but all the buffers are good ones, IMO. Some are Visual Sound pedals with the Puretone buffer, which I've not detected any tonal change with, and a couple of Boss pedals. One is an older chorus ensemble, but I do have that in a pedal controlled loop, as you described, the other newer Boss pedals I have seem fine anywhere.

    This is the latest iteration of my board, though I usually don't have the 2 Jekyll and Hyde's on it at one time. Hopefully that slot will have the Velvet Fuzz, and possibly the Euphoria sometime soon. Anyways, I haven't counted it out exactly, but between the board and back and forth from the amp, I think there's 80-90 feet of cable there. Which I never thought I would do, but it sounds fine to me, or better in some cases when I use the tone shaping pedals. Never thought I would see the day that I had this much going on, but it works. I figure if I can't detect much change playing alone, no one is gonna be the wiser when the whole band is with me.



    Edit: I also am digging the TU3... the buffer change doesn't make much difference to me, since I run it in the tuner out from my VP, but it's a nice upgrade in many ways, including the ultra-visible LED's.
    Last edited by andy474x; 01-31-2014 at 12:51 AM.
    -I'm no expert, but it seems to work and I haven't electrocuted myself yet. Which is pretty much the standard I live by.

    SE Custom 24 25th Anniversary - SE Akesson+57/08's - SE 30 Head/Cab

  6. #6
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    Although I'm not usually a pedal-stomper, I'm okay with buffers. I personally think true bypasses work for recording. In live situations, buffers are needed when cables are long. That said, the tonal difference wouldn't be that drastic at all when everything is in the mix/live. I mean, seriously, how is it even humanly possible for the audience to hear a difference and go, "Hey that guy's using a pedal with a buffer, therefore his tone blows." It's all in the musician's own preference, whether he/she can really hear the (perceived) tonal difference or not.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by maxtuna26 View Post
    Although I'm not usually a pedal-stomper, I'm okay with buffers. I personally think true bypasses work for recording. In live situations, buffers are needed when cables are long. That said, the tonal difference wouldn't be that drastic at all when everything is in the mix/live. I mean, seriously, how is it even humanly possible for the audience to hear a difference and go, "Hey that guy's using a pedal with a buffer, therefore his tone blows." It's all in the musician's own preference, whether he/she can really hear the (perceived) tonal difference or not.
    Absolutely, it's preference.

    And you're right, in a live situation, it's difficult to hear subtle differences, though a lot depends on the quality of the buffer; a crappy buffer will alter the attack of notes somewhat, and that's pretty easy to hear.

    My gigs are all recording gigs, so I guess I get into these little nuances more than some players.

    Note that only one buffer is needed for long cable runs; once the signal is buffered, it stays strong thereafter.

    As for whether the audience cares, I'm sure most of them hardly notice how the guitar player sounds in the first place. But I don't know about you, I play for myself. If anyone else digs it, great, party, bonus.
    If something is too hard to do, then it's not worth doing. You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your short-wave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle and we'll go inside and watch TV.
    -- Homer J. Simpson

  8. #8
    Senior Member garrett's Avatar
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    One thing that I feel gets sorely overlooked is cable capacitance. Knowing the capacitance of a cable will give you an idea of what it will do to your tone. The higher the capacitance, the more mid emphasis. Long runs of typical, high-capacitance cable will affect your tone more than the same runs of low-capacitance cable. For some odd reason, that's a really hard spec to get for most cables.

    I've also read that the cable from guitar to the first pedal is the most important, and that keeping the length below 12ft will help deliver the most balanced signal to the pedals. I run a 10ft from guitar to board, and then 12ft to the amp. That's plenty of length nearly any gig I play, but I keep a 20ft around just in case the amps are unusually far back.

    True-bypass or buffers definitely make a difference. I recently replace my final non-buffered/true bypass pedal on my board and there was so much high end added back in that I had to redo my EQ's. It was also noticeable when I converted my old Vox V846 to true bypass.

    I'm definitely a believer in keeping capacitance as low as possible. It's easy to take some of the high end out and it's a lot tougher to add it back. But it all depends on your goals. Part of Hendrix's ballsy Strat tone was due to the high-capacitance curly cue cables he used. I've seen Derek Trucks use insanely long cables from his SG into his Super Reverb. I'm guessing that gives him the tone he wants, because it's not like he wanders far from the amp when he plays!
    --Garrett--

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