True Bypass vs Buffered Bypass vs Hardwire Bypass – What’s The Difference?

Guitar players have long debated the advantages and disadvantages of both true bypass switching and buffered bypass. They have also downtrodden the third switching option available to us, hardwire switching.

In this post, we’ll take a look at each of these three options, what they are, how to achieve them, what makes it a good switching system as well as what makes it a bad switching system.

Thankfully, with things like this, there are no right or wrong answers and it really comes down to personal preference.

Hardwire Bypass Pedal Switching

Hardwire bypass or traditional bypass if the first style of switching we’ll take a look at.

What Is Hardwire Bypass Switching?

Hardwire bypass switching is the way guitar effects pedals were traditionally wired back in the 1970s. Using hardwire switching, pedals are engaged by pressing the standard footswitch and allowing the guitar signal to pass through the circuit to produce the desired effect. However, when disengaged, a part of the signal of the guitar is still passing through the circuit and the sound is still slightly affected. The most often complaint of this type of switching is that there is a loss of high end frequencies.

How To Make A Pedal Hardwire Bypass? 

To make your pedal use this type of bypass, you will need to use an SPDT (Single Pole, Dual Throw) footswitch like this:

Hot Rox UK – SPDT Footswitch

Amplified Parts – SPDT Footswitch

The wiring guide for this style of footswitch can be found here:

What Are The Benefits Of Hardwire Bypass Switching?

There are very few benefits of this style of switching except for the below:

  • True vintage sound

What Are The Disadvantages Of Hardwire Bypass Switching?

The main disadvantage of this switching method is that the circuit is never truly bypassed. 

  • The circuit continues to affect guitar tone even when bypassed
  • Loss in high end frequencies

True Bypass Pedal Switching

True bypass switching is the switching style that most guitarists claim to prefer. This is a highly discussed topic and is a gap that modern boutique builders have been all to happy to fill.

What Is True Bypass?

We all know that your guitar tone is affected by a huge number of things. A few of these are strings, pickups, cables, the way in which you pick, your amplifier and effects pedals.

True-bypass means that when the pedal is disengaged, the circuit has no impact on the tone of the guitar signal. When you spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds sculpting your guitar tone, the last thing you want is for your pedalboard to suck the high ends out of your tone. It is, after all, these high end frequencies that will help you stand out in a full band mix.

How To Make A Pedal True Bypass?

The easiest way to make a pedal true bypass is to use a 3PDT footswitch and a PCB that attaches directly to the footswitch. You can find these here:

Fuzz Dog – 3PDT PCB Daughterboard

Pedal PCB – 3PDT PCB Daughterboard

Musikding – 3PDT PCB Daughterboard

If you would prefer to wire this up yourself without the use of any additional printed circuit boards, you can find a simple wiring diagram here:

What Are The Benefits Of True Bypass Switching?

The main benefit of true bypass switching is that your guitar effects pedals will have no impact on your tone when your pedals are switched off. 

  • No additional processing or colouration of guitar tone

What Are The Disadvantages Of True Bypass Switching?

Whilst true bypass pedals do not alter the tone of your guitar, there is nothing in the circuit to drive the signal through your cable to the amplifier. This results in a signal loss and the larger the pedalboard, the greater the signal loss.

  • Signal degradation with larger boards

Buffered Bypass Pedal Switching

The largest pedal companies in the world utilise bypass switching so why shouldn’t you with your builds?

What Is Buffered Bypass?

A buffered bypass pedal is essentially a pedal with a built-in preamp to boost and enhance the signal of the guitar. Buffers are essential when you have large pedalboards or long lengths of cable between your guitar and amplifier. These buffers remain engaged whether the pedal is turned on or off. Therefore, simply having a buffered pedal in your chain will help ensure your signal remains strong throughout your entire signal path.

The main argument against using buffered pedals is that buffers alter your tone. This is simply not true as a buffer will actually help restore the true sound of the guitar. With a buffer in place, you will notice your guitar sounds much more dynamic and responsive. Especially with the higher frequency ranges.

All Boss pedals utilise buffered bypass switching and after shipping 17 million pedals worldwide, you’d like to think these guys know what they’re doing. 

How To Make A Pedal Buffered Bypass?

There are two main ways to add a buffer to your pedal. One way is via 3PDT daughterboard and the other is through a dedicated buffer that sits between the footswitch and the pedal circuit.

Here are a few 3PDT daughterboard PCB’s with built-in buffers:

Fuzz Dog – Klon Style Buffered Bypass Daughterboard

Pedal PCB – Pete Cornish Style Buffered Bypass Daughterboard

Musikding – 3PDT Buffered Bypass Daughterboard

Here are a few dedicated buffers that you can have in between your footswitch and pedal circuit:

Fuzz Dog – Klon Style Buffer PCB

Musikding – Transistor Buffer PCB

Pedal PCB – Simple JFET Buffer PCB

Here are links to my build guides for a few different types of buffer circuits:

How To Build An Op-Amp Buffer

How To Build A JFET Buffer

How To Build A BJT Transistor Buffer

What Are The Benefits Of Buffered Bypass Switching?

The main benefit of a buffered bypass pedal is that it will help drive your signal through a large pedalboard without colouring the signal.

  • Low output impedance to drive signal through long cables
  • No colouration of signal

What Are The Disadvantages Of Buffered Bypass Switching?

There are very few disadvantages to using buffered pedals as long as the buffer is high quality. A low-quality buffer could alter the signal and therefore, the tone, of your guitar. 

  • Potential tone suck with low-quality buffer.

There you have it, a rundown on the different types of bypass you can use in your guitar pedals along with pros and cons for each of them. As always, happy building and if you have any questions on anything in here, please let me know.

Hi, I'm Pete!

I have been a guitar and effects pedal enthusiast since 2005 and electronics tinkerer since 2017.

I’m here to help you begin your journey with building DIY guitar effects pedals. Get in touch with me if you have any questions.

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