These days, delays are as diverse as any other pedal you might put on your board. Some come stock with brilliant plug-and-play capabilities. Others offer endless expeditions into the outer echo reaches of parameter tweaking. Of course, there are also countless types of delays to choose from. Tape, analog, digital, some combination of modern and vintage, you name it. No matter your preference for delay sounds or threshold for parameter tweaking, at the end of the day a successful echo effect is one that is wielded well and fits in both your rig and gig.
This week on TPS, Dan & Mick offered a masterclass of strategies for understanding and using delay. With a blend of new takes and old territory, their insights are sure to benefit any player in their journey with echo. Whether you’re new to delay or looking to get fresh sounds from an old echo stompbox, here’s some tips and tools to help you along the way.
1. Understand time and why it matters.
This one seems simple enough, but if you don’t get it down from the get-go your delay experience might be frustrating. Dan offered the most basic yet brilliant pro tip, “most often you’ll want to set up your delay time so it matches the tempo of the song you’re playing.” As Mick added, “this is why a tap tempo function on a pedal is so handy, because you can just tap it in with your foot.” Of course, you shouldn’t feel a tap tempo slave to the time measure, don’t be afraid to tread off the beaten beats. Sometimes an out of step echo can add body and dynamics to a song in the most unexpected but perfect way.
2. Try dotted-eight note delay subdivisions.
Even if you’re not up on your music theory, you know this delay. Arguably, The Edge of U2 is most famous for this sound. So what is it? As Dan described, “the dotted eighth note is one-and-a-half times my eight note…but it’s a really great use of subdivisions that lets the delay pedal do a lot of the work.” With the sound being so sought after and famous, many modern delay pedals, such as the TC Electronic Flashback II, MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe, Fender Mirror Image, or Walrus ARP-87, have options to throw you right into the world of dotted eighth echoes.
3. Dial in some short delays for new sounds.
“When you think of a delay,” began Mick, “you always think about a delay and a repeat and quite often that’s quite a long repeat.” Yet shrinking the space between your initial sound and the repeat boomeranged back can add an entirely new flavor and body to your sound. By shortening things right back to a slap back delay—generally an echo of less than 100 milliseconds—your guitar sound gets a bit of company to sound thicker, fuller, and more present in the mix. So where and when could you use this? “That slap back delay is such a distinctive sound, especially in country and rockabilly” commented Dan, “but you can literally use it anywhere.”
4. Stack multiple delays for sonic textures and swells.
You’re probably used to the concept of stacking drive pedals. You dial in two gain sources to get a signature overdrive sound that’s more than the sum of its parts. Yet have you tried this with delays? As Dan described, “if you can imagine you’ve got this really short delay and then that is hitting a long delay, that means the short delay is also getting delayed.” The resulting sound, then, is expressive and expansive. To take things up a notch, using a pedal, like the Ernie Ball MVP or Dunlop DVP X Mini volume pedals, to roll on the volume after the attack will offer up instant and otherworldly ambience to the expanding delay sound.
5. Change the sound of your repeats.
Where this tactic becomes really important is when your delay sounds need some tidying up because the echoes are muddied by other effects. With pedals that have the options to change the frequency character of your delay—either rolling off some high end or adding in some lower frequencies for body—your delay sound can take on an entirely new tone…literally. As Mick commented after some pedal tweaking, “it can have an absolutely radical effect on the sound of your delay.”
6. Mess with the modulation.
Similar to experimenting with the EQ of echoes, it’s a genius move to modulate the repeats. As Dan noted here, the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man series of pedals are famous for this innovation, since they have a chorus type of effect tucked into the repeats. These days, you can find some of these historic sounds in the Electro-Harmonix Canyon and Grand Canyon pedals. What makes these sounds so special is that, “you can have a chorus without having a chorus,” and the effect comes through in a more subtle yet sophisticated way.
7. Go faux harmony with long delays.
As Mick commented, this is the opposite of the short delay strategy as now “you’re creating a harmony with the note that is being delayed.” This, however, is an art and a science. As Dan summed up, the delays are of passages you’ve just played and sometimes you get lucky with the overlapping sounds! So crank your delay speed to around a second, put yourself on the brink of looping, and see what happens when your playing from a bar ago pings back into the track.
8. Try various combos of wet/dry.
The idea behind this one is just as the name suggests: rather than having your dry sound and the repeats hitting a single amp, separate the two so one amp stays crisp and clean while another receives all the delay goodness of the echo effect. One of the unexpected advantages here was, as Mick noted, “you can afford to set the delay much wetter because the dry amp stays clear and the delayed sound doesn’t get confusing.” It might be that the best strategy for extending the range of your pedalboard isn’t a pedal at all—it’s adding another amp to get the job done.
9. Play with false octaves.
This little trick involves starting with the delay time at its maximum, hitting a single note and letting it ring out. Then pause and half the delay time. This will put you into the territory of where the delay pedal’s echo will sample the sound for the delay but in an artificial octave up. With your pedal set for this attack, get some crazy feedback going, and then when things are out of control, crank the delay time back to its max and the sound will dive bomb and octave! As Dan noted, this is a great way to end a set with a huge crashing crush of oscillation. Speaking of which…
10. Oscillate yourself into oblivion!
As Dan described, oscillation is simply what happens when “the repeats are set at maximum the pedal will feedback onto itself and it creates oscillation. Then you can manipulate the delay time to change the pitch of that oscillation.” As our TPS anchormen demoed, you can do this manually by ramping up a pedals feedback or delay time knobs. Alternatively, some pedals, like the Chase Bliss Tonal Recall have a footswitch that engages a tornado of oscillation. Others, such as the TC Electronic Flashback II, are enabled for oscillation-expression thanks to the “Mash” technology of the footswitch. So if you need a torrent of sound at any point in the gig or simply need to make yourself heard, try this little trick and your audience won’t soon forget it!
With a selection of delay offerings second to none, come check out our echo aisle at Riff City for some gear to help you forge into new repeat territory with your playing!
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars:Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster.
Pedals: Sonic Research ST-300 Turbo Tuner Mini, Keeley D&M Drive, Kingsley Page Tube Boost V2, Maxon AD9 Pro Analog Delay, Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe CB-3, Free The Tone Flight Time, Walrus Audio ARP-87, Lovepedal Hall Mod Reverb.
Amps: Sovtek MIG-50 and Marshall 1960A cabinet, Roland JC40.