Random TONE post: George L nightmare, TB wonderings and Buffers–

Yeah, so this is less of a “post” and more of a complaint/musing/random thoughts. You ever have the experience where you have some thoughts, you think it would be good advice, but aren’t sure who to tell? Yep. That’s this post. Its gonna be interesting to see where the creative spontaneity leads us!

This whole note was spurned out of a quest for tone, aka: NO TONE SUCK!

So when I rigged up my new board, I only had cheap patch cables laying around. The clean tone  from my rig was obviously lacking. Good news was I had ordered some George L’s ten days earlier. Now– like typical guitarists- the fad in cables now is Lava cables. And they are NIIICE. As a guitar snob, I wanted them. OH, I WANTED THEM. But everywhere that sells them online charges out the “Wazoo” for “International” shipping to Puerto Rico. Just so you guys know- priority mail is priority mail just like anywhere else in the US Territories. I’m not paying $40 bucks for shipping!!!
Then, I remembered– the studio standard in Nashville is George L. If all my studio-player buddies swear by them, then I will give them a try. And thus where I am now. (BTW, Analogman had the best deal overall on these things. I love that guy.)

Well now that I have these George L’s, I set up my board, cut the length of cable and attached the connectors. I set up the whole board, strummed a great FAT chord— ABSOLUTE SILENCE. Even the amp hummmmmm was gone. But I strummed a chord! I went back and tested the chords by plugging them one by one into the amp and touching the other end. When the “buzz” was heard, I figured it was fine. Two out of 10 cables were fine. The morale of the story is this- the George L’s are easy to assemble, but you have to TIGHTEN them. The directions make out that you can damage them if you over tighten. But if you do not tighten enough then they will not work. When tightening the right angles, tighten by hand until it becomes difficult, then give another half twist with pliers. After I gave the half twist on ALL the chords, they all worked perfect. But you will not find that info anywhere else on the internet other than here, faithful reader!

After getting setup, my bypass sound is free of hums, and the tone does not suck. The bypass is clean, very little change to my signal. Turned up at concert levels, I cannot tell at all. Perfect! Which leads me to the next section-

What is so great about True Bypass?

True bypass as it applies to guitar-dom refers to the switches we click to turn the effects on and off. When the effect is clicked on, our signal goes through all the transistors, diodes, monkey bladder, LED’s and the eye of the newt that makes our pretty toys oh-so magical. When clicked off, the signal goes from one patch cable straight to the other. This bypasses the entire circuit so your tone is not effected. (well, thats the theory anyway!)

So what is this buffer thing?  (AKA: Why are Boss effects bad?)

History states that sometime in late 60s people were noticing that their signals were weak when going into some effects and back to the amp. I mean, you have to have a wah and a fuzz to be at least kinda cool, right? But still the signal to the amp was below what would be desirable. Lets think about this: I have a guitar with a 10 foot cable (i like to move around, get bored easily), I have 10 effects. Each effect is connected with a 6 inch patch cable. Then I have about a 20 foot cable from my last effect to the amp. When true bypassed, that is equal to… give me a sec…. that’s 9 patch cables… a total of: 34 1/2 feet of “virtual” cable. You are guaranteed signal loss!

Thus the buffer was invented. When you turn the effect off, it still goes through the circuitry. The innards of the pedal spank your signal on the rear and say “get on with it” as it gets a boost to the next effect. This is what the players in the 60s-70s did to keep their signal strong through all those cables. Now to modern day—

Sometime in the late 80s, early 90s people noticed that if you chain all 100 of your Boss effects together, each with their own buffer, then your tone really really sucks after going through all those buffers. Each buffer/circuit adds its own flavor to your signal. Some are less noticeable than others. Think about it like this- line up 10 of your best friends and have each one of them spank you as you walk by. If your friends are like mine, then you will probably not be the exact same going in as you are going out. This same principle applies to your guitar signal. Thus the rebirth of the true bypass fad.

So where does that put us?

In my own humble opinion, everyone needs 1 good buffer in their chain to keep their signal going through all their gear. I do not believe in 100% TB all the time. I do believe in picking good buffers though! One buffer that I have had several gear-freak pros tell me they use all the time is the Boss SD1 overdrive. Its a decent effect stock, has a pretty clean buffer signal, is under 50 bucks and can be modded easily. Which brings this discussion to my solution- modding. Sometimes just a simple changing of cheap components can give you a quality, audiophile buffer. On my Analogman Mods I cannot tell a difference in the bypass signal vs amp only signal. Its that good.

I mean, no one wants their tone to sound, or look like this....

I mean, no one wants their tone to sound, or look like this....

So, if you have a noticeable signal drop, get a buffer, or try to add a clean boost to your chain with it set at the “clean volume unity.” Buffers are not your enemy! In fact some quality companies make a special buffer pedal. All it does is shoot your signal through it.
This may be just me, but I would rather have an actual EFFECT with a buffer- kind of a dual purpose there; you can USE the buffer!

edit: The rule of thumb on buffer usage is “4”. Most pros agree that through a good amp, one cannot distinguish buffers in the chain, UNTIL THE 5TH IS ADDED. So stick to no more than 4, and everything will be fine!
Of course there are exceptions (IMHO, the Boss CS-3) that mess with your tone, but generally 4 will do it!

The other item of interest is a special Looper system in which you can plug your pedals, but you signal only goes into the pedals you want when you need them. The looper can even have its own buffer to keep you signal going. My favorite for the beginner is the Carl Martin Octa-Switch. You can also set these up for a certain program of effects- one click can give  you your delay, OD, and some chorus.
I would love this, but don’t have a “need” at the moment.

So what I am trying to say: do not worry about True Bypass or buffers in your signal chain if your patch cables are cheap. Their admission alone has the biggest effect (good or bad) on your signal’s purity! My favorite quote regarding this issue is from DIY great Monte Allums: “To the few critics that have asked why my pedals are not true bypass, but then complain about spending $10 on a quality patch cable- if you do not use quality cables, any effect will sound bad.”

And thats how I see it 🙂


8 Responses

  1. Great post. Good cables are absolutely essential. And great pic!

  2. this has been “well-documented” in the internet. this is one of the issue why i didn’t go for solder-less cables (george-l or lava). you have to have that perfect tightness or go crazy tracing what is wrong.

    btw, good point with having a nice buffer. i am actually thinking of putting my TU-2 back in-line for that purpose. for some reason, i’ve also become obsessed with True-bypass only 🙂

    its good that everything works out for you now!

  3. ANOTHER helpful post! Are you telling me that a BOSS pedal has a buffer in it that’s as effective as a dedicated buffer? So if my TU-2 is first in my signal chain, I don’t need to be running through my Doobtone Micro Buffer as well?

  4. Rhoy and Blogs—
    Yes, Boss does make SOME quality buffers (my opinion). You have to look for them- alot rely on the effect. The SD1 is a decent sounding overdrive, so if any flavor is added, its “amp like.” IMO, Its pretty clean. The cleanest two buffers I have are the Analogman TS9 and DS1. I cannot tell any difference between them and the clean signal! So, if that is my goal (100% shall we say) I bet my TU-2 is around 90-95% of that. I think it loses some highs, but… somedays I hear it, others (like now with the new cables) I cannot hear it. So try it. In answer to the question, yeah I think it is as good as a dedicated buffer.
    The Plus to the TU-2 is that I use it as “mute” switch for fast quiet action on songs that build and stop, or to “mute” when finished with the set (turn off amp etc… no ‘pops’).
    So for the micro buffer- you may not need it. Looking right now, I have 4 buffers. DS1, TS9, DD20 and Verbzilla. I think the Verbzilla buffer is on key with the Analogman’s. Even with cheap cables, no difference.
    Rule of thumb ALWAYS— no more than 4 buffers in your chain. Every pro I know says that they cannot distinguish buffers when played through a good amp, UNTIL THE 5TH IS ADDED. So 4 is the magic number!

    Important to check. Also- I swear I hear stuff in my “bedroom”, but at concert settings, it is always gone. Which is the important thing.

    Karl- love the tubes. Its cool that the stuff I know least about you are posting. Bravo!

  5. Thanks for the great info – especially the 4-buffer limit. According to that theory, shouldn’t this Visual Sound demo have serious tone-suck? They’ve got about 11 buffered pedals on their board!

    Check it out:

  6. Heh, good ‘ol Visual Sound. They are kinda Nashville’s underground secret. Most pros I know have the Route 66 comp and OD combo. It works great. And yeah, it should suck tone but I really believe they have quality products. That, and they are using their own power supply and everything!

  7. i have always put my tu-2 first in my chain and didn’t really noticed any tone-loss or even if I did, I might have just compensated with my amp tone control. only when i bought the VPjr that I moved it there. and that was just because it has a tuner out 🙂

  8. Just a thought on making up George L cables. I was a A.V.
    installer for 7 yrs.(cable t.v.,dss,phone,data etc.). Make sure
    when cutting the G.L. cable, that you use the sharpest cut-
    ters possible, no ‘squashing’ of the cut end. One stray
    wire of the negative touching(shorting) the positive will re-
    sult in a “NO WORKY” cable. I’ve made 15-20 cables for
    my P’board with no problems at all. Also, check your screw
    caps on the plugs from time to time as they can loosen.

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