Covering three main categories in the thought-process of choosing a delay pedal, Dan and Mick break down the fundamentals of an effect that can be hard to master but will return the favor tenfold.
Let’s face it: there are some pedals and effects that can leave us scratching our heads. We know and understand that these sounds have been used to make some of the most iconic tones, yet when we start turning knobs it sounds like the physical embodiment of annoyance and frustration. Predominately modulation pedals, effects such as phasers, flangers, and delay can leave us spinning around in circles. However, with the nature of delay in particular, it can be even more frustrating because of the skill and knowledge it takes to use it effectively. If you’ve been wondering how you can use a delay for a while, or maybe you bought one months ago and threw the manual out in a fit of “I know what I’m doing,” you might be stuck on where to pick up the signal.
This week on TPS, the guys take an hour out of their days to discuss the very basics of delays for the uneducated, the beginners, and the ones who refuse to look at the paperwork that comes in the box. Covering three main categories in the thought-process of choosing a delay pedal, Dan and Mick break down the fundamentals of an effect that can be hard to master but will return the favor tenfold.
What Do You Want Your Delay To Do?
So you’ve decided to look into a delay. Congratulations! You’ve consciously decided to watch dozens of YouTube demos and product reviews relentlessly to end up with ten choices and even more questions. There is hope, however: the first question you should ask yourself is what do you actually want your delay to do? Before the guys get into that topic, they want to cover what a delay actually does, you know, so we’re all on the same page. “Essentially” Dan explains, “a sound gets recorded, then fed back on the signal after a period of time.” The basic delay pedal has two primary controls: repeats and duration. With these two knobs, you can choose the amount of times the sound is repeated, as well as how long the sound is delayed for.
With that said, Dan and Mick decide to run through a few examples of what a delay is commonly used for. There is the ever popular “always on” setting, where the delay creates a texture that is consistently filling space after the original sound. This is good for chorus-type situations rather than for solo sounds or to make a large difference. For example, the most famous “always on” delay sound is commonly referred to as slapback. Popular in country music, a short delay that is always on adds a twang to notes.
When you drag out the repeat time a little longer than a slapback, a delay almost reacts like a reverb when used as an “always on” effect. This can be effective mainly for creating ambience when you’re using other effects as well in the signal chain. When you lengthen the delay time even more and keep the pedal consistently on, it’s much harder to use and deal with. “It can be useful to fill out a song sonically,” Mick adds “but it is a progressive ambient noise. It isn’t for everyone.” The thing to note with delays is that if you want to experiment with longer delay effects, you will need to get a digital delay rather than an analog. Most analog pedals only go up to 350ms in delay, while digital can climb upwards from 600 to 1,000ms.
What Kind Of Sound Do You Want?
Now that we have an understanding of how delays work and how longer delay times can alter the sound and the utilization they have, it’s time to discuss the four types of delay sounds out there. From the earliest drum delays (sometimes referred to as oil cans), to tape, analog, and finally digital, all four of these effects sound and react quite differently than each other. The first is the drum delay, commonly called the “Echorec-style” delay. The Echorec was a design that was popular in the early 60’s to the late ‘70s. Using a four-playback head drum concept, the Echorec allowed the four heads to provide different rhythmic patterns. This creates a plethora of unique sounds combining the firing of the four heads, as well as the metal drum creating the motion. However, for modern purposes, with a short delay it sounds similar to a bright reverb. With a slow delay, sounds like multiple delays being used at once bouncing off of each other. This creates a much different texture to construct a compressed, chaotic sound.
Following on the trails of the drum delay was the ever-popular tape delay system. The most famous example of this effect was the Echo-Plex. The reason the Echo-Plex was so popular with players and is so familiar in tone is because it used its own preamp. This preamp powered the delay system, but it could be turned off and solely used as a booster/overdrive pedal. While the larger units are quite expensive, there are smaller, modernized versions of the Echo-Plex idea like the Catalinbread Belle Epoch. All Echo-Plex renditions come with a dedicated preamp circuit to replicate that iconic drive tone.
Quick on the heels of tape delays came analog delays. The most popular of the three, analog delays fill in an interesting space tonally. They are much darker than both drum and tape delays, and starkly different than digital delays. This darkness isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it does have its place. “Analog delay is a great texture-thickening thing that doesn’t get in the way of what you’re doing,” Dan adds. It sits below your main tone, differentiating the repeats and gives it more dimension. It is most commonly used as an “always on” sound like we talked about earlier, however it can be used to add texture to solo sounds by darkening it. One of the best things about analog delays is that they can create oscillation, a unique sound feature that allows the tone to fold in on itself.
Lastly, the more recent iteration of delay is the digital delay. Often referred to as “precise yet sterile,” digital delays are good for mainly studio work. “Digital delays are my least favorite,” Mick decides. “There is no character, no preamp love; it’s something you’d associate with studio production.” It creates a super clean, digital representation of the original signal, which can be a great thing, if that’s what you’re looking for. However, that pristine signal can be a hard thing to play along with because it lacks depth and movement.
So, Should I Get The Multi-Tool of Delay Pedals??
Unfortunately, most of us at this point know what sound we’re looking for, however we have dozens of choices. While that much chaotic energy might be exhilarating for some, for others its enough to stop playing guitar altogether, which is the last thing we want. To combat that, the guys recommend not diving right in. “The temptation is to get the most complex, ‘can-do-it-all’ pedal,” Mick concludes, “but it can lead you to option paralysis.” Having too many options and too many delay modulations can lead you down a tumultuous rabbit hole you may not be prepared for. What you should do, however, is ask yourself: why do you want a delay? Asking this and really getting down to why and how you would use it can help in decided on what sort of pedal you want to add to your arsenal.
That’s it for this week’s TPS! Is there a delay pedal that you love? One you despise? Maybe even one you feel both for? Let me know in the comments!
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Collings 290 DC S, ’63 Fender Custom Shop Telecaster
Pedals: TheGigRig Three2One, Echo Fix EF-X2 Tape Echo, Strymon Timeline, Walrus Audio ARP-87, Boss DD-200, MXR Carbon Copy, Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe, JAM Pedals Delay Llama Xtreme, J Rockett Touch OD, Venuram Shanks ODS-1, ZVEX Wah Probe, Peterson StroboStomp HD Tuner, TheGigRig G2