Before you plug it in, it’s musical. Then when you start playing, it’s magical. The Memory Man delay by Electro-Harmonix has cut across genres and time, inspiring both musicians and pedal builders alike to explore the expansive potential of a humble bucket-brigade analog delay. Tracing the family tree of this icon, however, is no small feat.
Part of the challenge of nailing down the heritage of the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man is that the story is ongoing and spreads in several directions. To get a sense of the waypoints in this journey, there are at least three Memory Man iterations that set new standards and fresh directions for delay sounds.
This first offering was deceptively simple with an understated visual design. Debuting in 1976, the Memory Man Solid State Echo came with just three knobs (blend, feedback, and delay) and had no hint of the modulation that became an essential part of the sound in models shortly thereafter. One bonus feature this pedal did include that was innovative in its own right was an optional boost switch on the back of the pedal to enable a bit of top end kick for your echo sound. In retrospect this pedal might seem pretty basic. Yet when you keep in mind that the standard technology for delay at the time was variations on tape sounds, distilling an echo into an analog circuit was an absolute game changer.
The second pedal that really turned heads emerged in the early 1980s, the Memory Man Deluxe. Perhaps most famously, this pedal inspired early U2 riffs engineered by The Edge. So what made it so brilliant? The controls on this stompbox included four knobs for the delay parameters (blend, feedback, delay, and level) and an additional knob for modulation (labelled, chorus-vibrato). This meant that the pedal was a tag-team, hybrid, three-in-one, whatever you want to call it, masterpiece that upped the game of analog effects by a massive leap. Because the modulation effect overlaid the darkening bucket-brigade delay with warm swells of chorus-vibrato the resulting riffs were instantly multi-textured and complex.
The third pedal to make our highlight reel has to be the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Tap Tempo 1100. This is arguably the peak of Memory Man evolution. Part of the magic of this version is that it channeled all the analog goodness of previous editions by new old stock Panasonic chips resulting in a lo-fi vintage yet modern delay. But this is not your grandparents delay pedal. This version is chalked full of modern appointments that are simply mind-blowing in the all analog realm. These include: stereo outs, sub-divisions, an effects loop, rate and depth controls for modulation, and, as the name suggests, tap tempo. In between and after these models are several other variations that comprise the standing army of Electro-Harmonix Memory Man designs. Altogether, these echo effects span more than 40 years of pushing the bounds of the possible one pulse at a time.