Buffered vs True Bypass Tuner: Which You Should Get?

Guitar pedals. The first one was invented in 1948 and, in the 1960s, they started to become more integrated into guitarists’ rigs.

It wasn’t until 1998 when BOSS invented the first compact pedal tuner known as the TU-2. Ever since then, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guitarist’s pedalboard that doesn’t have a pedal tuner.

Tuner pedals can be considered to come in two different ways: buffered and true bypassed.

In a nutshell, if you only use a couple of pedals with a fairly short cable, true bypass is a good choice since signal degradation would be negligible. If you’re using a lot of pedals and you have a long cable, a buffered might be the better choice to boost your degraded signal.

There are a few more specifics that are worth going into and I’ll break those down in this article, including what each option is, examples of each, and reasons to get them.

What is a buffered pedal?

A buffered pedal is a pedal that allows the guitar signal to still travel through the circuit of the pedal when it is off. 

This can often color the tone of the signal, which may or may not be desirable, depending on the situation and setup you have.

The thing is, buffered pedals do a little something extra when letting the signal pass through them at all times: They boost it!

That boost in signal level is incredibly useful when you play with very long cables and/or go through many pedals and different pieces of gear.

More on this later.

What is a true bypass pedal?

A true bypass pedal says it all in the name. When the pedal is off, the signal of the guitar runs straight through as is unaffected by the pedal. 

It does the opposite of a buffered pedal and doesn’t add any coloration to the tone.

You can think of it as if when you turn off a true bypass pedal a small patch cable connects the input with its output and the signal just flows through.

Reasons to get a buffered tuner pedal

In addition to having a tuner, another popular reason to get a buffered tuner pedal is to add a “boost” to your signal.

When playing a show on stage, it’s not uncommon to use long cables. Combine that with a lot of pedals with patch cables between them, signal loss is a very strong possibility.

To combat this, some guitarists will place a buffered tuner pedal at the beginning of their pedal chain to somewhat compensate for the signal loss.

The deprecation of the signal is commonly perceived as a slight loss in high-end.

A buffer will help you regain those frequencies and will let you cut better through the mix.

Examples of buffered tuner pedals

Here are some popular buffered tuner pedals:

  • BOSS TU-3
  • TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir Mini Polyphonic Tuning Pedal (buffered bypass is optional)
  • Boss TU-3W Waza Craft Chromatic Tuner with Bypass (buffered bypass is optional)
  • Peterson StrobooStomp HD Pedal Tuner (buffered bypass is optional)
  • Behringer TU300 Chromatic Tuner Pedal
  • D’Addario Chromatic Pedal Tuner+ Tuner Pedal
  • Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner / Volume Pedal

Reasons to get a true bypass tuner pedal

If you don’t have a lot of guitar pedals and you play with a rather short cable, then using a true bypass tuner would be a fine choice. 

A boost to your signal wouldn’t be necessary, and not even perceivable.

Simpler rigs go hand in hand with true bypass pedals.

Examples of true bypass tuner pedals

Here are some popular true bypass tuner pedals:

  • TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Polyphonic LED Guitar Tuner Pedal (true bypass is optional)
  • Boss TU-3W Waza Craft Chromatic Tuner with Bypass (true bypass is optional)
  • Peterson StroboStomp HD Pedal Tuner
  • Korg Pitchblack Advance Tuner Pedal
  • Vox VXT1 Strobe Pedal Tuner
  • Ibanez BigMini Tuner Pedal
  • D’Addario CT-20 Chromatic Tuner Pedal
  • On-Stage Stands Mini Pedal Tuner

Alternatives to a buffered tuner pedal

The good thing is that if you really need a buffer on your rig, but you already own a decent tuner, there are other kinds of pedals that could help you solve that problem.

Mostly you will be looking for pedals that are used at the very start of the signal chain such as wahs, overdrives, distortions, EQs, etc.

BOSS is known to be the gold standard for buffered pedals. Here are some popular ones:

  • DS-1 Distortion
  • DS-2 Turbo Distortion
  • MT-2 Metal Zone
  • OD-3 OverDrive
  • DD-3T Digital Delay
  • RV-6 Reverb
  • CP-1X Compressor
  • GE-7 Graphic Equalizer
  • BF-3 Flanger
  • CE-2W Chorus

Here are some non-BOSS buffered pedals:

  • MXR M101 Phase 90 Phaser
  • Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Standard Wah Pedal
  • Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Overdrive

Standalone buffer pedals are also a thing and are often placed at the beginning of some guitarists’ rigs. Here are a few popular ones:

  • JHS Little Black Buffer Micro Buffer Pedal
  • Xotic Super Clean Buffer Mini Buffer Pedal
  • Fender Level Set Buffer Pedal
  • Mesa/Boogie High-Wire Dual Buffer Pedal

Where should you place your tuner pedal in your signal chain?

The most popular place to put any pedal tuner, buffered or true bypass, is at the very beginning of your rig. The thought behind this is that you’ll get the purest tone going into the tuner and you’ll be able to tune your guitar more accurately.

Having said that, if you have a buffered pedal, placing that first is often preferred because of the boost it adds to the signal.

There are some guitarists who prefer to place their tuner at the end of their rigs. This is because it can act as a killswitch and mute the whole board at once.

Final Thoughts

Tuner pedals are an integral part of many guitarists’ pedalboards. They can often serve multiple purposes: tune, mute, and sometimes boost.

If you’re looking to buy one and you don’t mind whether your pedal is buffered or not, I’d recommend the classic BOSS TU-3. It’s a tried and true pedal that many players use and have used for a while now.

And if you’re not sure if you even want to get a pedal tuner, a clip-on tuner is always a good alternative, as long as you don’t need to use it as your designated buffer.