These useful boxes can solve all kinds of problems for guitarists
By Phil O'Keefe
Do you have a vintage pedal that causes extra noise in your signal path, even when it's bypassed? How about a cool sounding pedal that you really like, but that suffers from a poor sounding bypass or buffer? Have you ever wanted to switch on two or three different pedals simultaneously in mid-song for a lead sound, but came up short on enough feet to hit all of their switches at once? Maybe you'd like to blend multiple pedals together. If so, then a true-bypass loop pedal could be the ideal solution to your problems.
HOW THEY WORK
True-bypass loops come in a variety of styles, some with multiple loops, blend or mix controls, LED indicators, and other useful features, but at the most basic level, a true-bypass loop pedal is a simple, passive switching device with an input and output jack to connect your guitar and amp, as well as a send and return jack to connect your pedals. (Fig. 1) When bypassed, the signal runs straight through the loop pedal, from the input to output. When you engage the footswitch, the signal is routed through the effects loop first, then out to your amp. How can this be useful? Let's take a look at a few specific examples.
Fig. 1: Keeley Electronics true bypass loop pedal is extremely small and pedalboard friendly
Pedal with poor bypass or bad bypass switch / noisy pedals: By putting a pedal with a less than great sounding buffer or switch into the loop, you effectively substitute the true-bypass of the loop pedal in place of the one in the effect itself. Even when bypassed, some pedals add noise. Put those into a loop to get them completely out of your signal path when you're not using them.
Parallel effects: By using a true-bypass loop that includes a mix or blend function (Fig. 2), you can mix some of your dry signal in with the effected signal. This can be done in any ratio you desire simply by turning the blend or mix knob. This can be useful for guitar and bass players who want to retain some of their clean / dry signal along with a fuzz tone, or to add "just a touch" of a modulation pedal that lacks a mix or blend control of its own, such as a Phase 90 or Small Stone. If you have pedals placed in front of the loop, you can blend whatever effects are in the loop with those other pedals too, instead of with your dry (completely clean and unprocessed) signal.
Figure 2: Some true bypass loop pedals, like this Carl Martin Paraloop, feature blend controls that allow you to adjust the amount of signal from the loop that is mixed into your signal path
Tuner bypass for silent tuning; While many tuners have thru jacks so you can use them inline, and others offer true-bypass switching and silent operation no matter where they are in the signal path, this isn't true of all tuners. Some tuners lack these features, and others can cause noise and signal loss. If your tuner causes noise, you can connect it to a true bypass loop pedal's send jack. If the tuner has a thru jack, leave it disconnected. This way, when you switch over to the tuner by clicking on the true bypass loop's footswitch, the signal to the amp is broken, allowing you to tune silently, and without noise interference.
Switching multiple pedals into and out of the signal path simultaneously: This is where things get fun and creative. By putting several pedals into the loop, you can switch them in and out simultaneously with the press of a single footswitch. If the true-bypass loop pedal has more than one loop, you can insert two separate chains of pedals - one in each loop - and then quickly switch between them. (Fig. 3) For example, you might have a fuzz and delay in one loop, and an overdrive and chorus in the second one. This allows you to instantly switch between complex, multi-pedal sounds.
Figure 3: Some pedals have multiple loops, such as the two found on the Radial Engineering Bigshot EFX. This allows you to quickly switch between multiple pedals simultaneously
A SAMPLE OF WHAT'S AVAILABLE
There are many different true-bypass loop pedals on the market. Here's a list of a few of them for you to check out, broken down by their features.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.