Tone suck, the invisible enemy

What is tone suck? In this blog we’ll learn you the basics of it and how to avoid.
You may not have heard of “tone suck” before, but reading about what it is and how to avoid it, may solve some of the problems with your tone.

First, let start with a test

  • Connect your guitar with a short guitar cable directly into your amp and play. Does this sound great?
    • Now include your effects pedal board in the chain including all stomp boxes in “off” mode and play. Again, how does it sound now?

Did you hear differences in terms of volume and brightness?

If the answer is “Yes”, you are losing tone. And that is what they call “tone suck”.
In scientific terms, tone suck is a result of the accumulated capacitance in the signal path.

The reason

The reason for this may be the length of the whole chain (cable – effects – cable) between your guitar and your amp.

Guitar cables (jack-jack) are so called “unbalanced” cables. When the whole chain will be more than (let’s say) 20 feet (6 meter), you may notice tone suck, unless you have buffered pedals in the chain.

Now we’re talking about buffered pedals, we also have to mention the “true bypass” pedals.

Buffered pedals

A buffer is some kind of pre-amp, built into the circuit.

If you add pedals and pedal connecting cables into the chain without buffered pedals, more noise gets into the signal.
Noise can come from a lot of sources: lighting, power cables and more.
Don’t confuse this kinds of noise with pick noise, which is completely different.

Test, how do you know if a pedal is buffered or not

If you don’t know if a pedal whether is true bypass or buffered, you can test that.

Remove the power source (9V battery or adapter cable) and play, with the pedal in line of the chain.
When the signal is dead, this pedal has a buffer.
When you still hear your played tone, this is a bypass pedal.

True bypass pedals

True bypass pedals do not provide a buffer into them, which means that the pedal in the (off) mode treats the signal like it’s even not going through the pedal.

At a first glance these pedal seem not to color your guitar sound, but there’s more.
These pedals ensure, that with longer cables runs, (chain) tone suck may appear, because they have no buffer.

Actually, a true bypass pedal won’t color your sound, but in longer chains these pedals need to be accompanied by one or more buffered pedals.

Where to place buffered and bypass pedals in your chain

Well, when you have decided to use both bypass- and buffered pedals, you have to try different set-ups.
Usually starting with a buffered pedal in the front, like a buffered tuning pedal would be a good starting point.
But always keep in mind the length of your cables before entering the (buffered) pedals.

Do the test, we mentioned earlier again and check how the sound is now.

Use a pedal switcher

If you use lots of pedals, a dedicated switcher can help to ensure the effect of bypassed pedals on your tone is set to a minimum. And always be sure to use good‑quality-, short patch cables, to minimize capacitance. What is tone suck

Wireless guitar systems

Now we know the cable’s length influences the capacitance and so the guitar tone. Guitarists who use wireless radio systems will generally plug into the transmitter using a very short cable.
Cables used here will inevitably have much less capacitance than a full‑length guitar cable. This may brighten the sound and prevent from tone suck.

What is tone suck

Manage your sound

There are many ways to improve your sound, like the type or brand of guitar and amp we use. Besides that, the pedals you’re using may have a lot of impact on your sound as well.
But also think about what guitar pick you are used to play with, as different guitar picks deliver different sounds to your playing.
Thinner guitar picks create a thinner sound, where heavier guitar picks deliver a fuller sound with more mids- and bottom-end tone.

Guitar essentials

In guitar essentials we write about interesting things every guitarist should know a bit of. Especially when you’re new to (electric) guitar.
We definitely don’t dig deep into theories or technical aspects. We are a guitar pick company making and selling boutique picks.
You will find many scientific documents about anything somewhere on the internet.