Since David Gilmour washed his sound in succeeding waves of delays, delay has become an integral and unavoidable part of a guitarists rig. No guitarist does or should go without this vital effect. Now call me biased, but I love delays; messing with them and coming up with new sounds to make my playing sound way better than it actually is. Ok seriously, it’s bad, but whether you are completely new to the guitar or you can play anything by Guthrie Govan in your sleep, a delay effect could really help streamline and hone your sound to get it up there with the best. In this column we’ll look at various usages and importance of delay from a guitarist’s point of view. Now this isn’t a sermon. If you find you have your sound without a single echoing note, then good for you. As the prime lobbyist for delay pedals and units, however, it is my duty to tell you that not using delay will at some point be a punishable crime in various courts across the world. No seriously, go buy one.
First, let’s look at some styles of playing guitar and the ways in which delay is commonly used while playing such styles. This is just to tell you how delay is usually used. But don’t get that in your head. Feel free to play around with your sound until it pleases you.
The Bluesy Soloist:
For this kind of guitarist, delay is an effect that is permanently on but not in a huge quantity. Just enough to fill up a little more space than a single guitar’s overdriven tone. Even with overdriven tones, guitars can and often do end up sounding too dry and incomplete. The delay here is a tool to fatten up a guitar sound. The repeats are set at a low amount and the delay time is variable according to taste. Even the wet delay tone is set pretty low. In this way your searing leads will be stand out like a naked man at a funeral, but with some added overtones that make your lonely six string sound bigger than it actually is.
The Hay Eating Country Guitarist:
Actually just two words will suffice: Slap-Back. Slap-back delay is a short time delay with little repeats. However here the wet signal is pretty loud, or at equal level to the dry signal. In this way the quick and twangy leads can give you a rhythmic flow. This setting also helps you cut through the mix. However, slap-back delay warrants a particular style of playing that accents the echoes without making the licks too mushy. This is a pretty niche and decadent setting, however, and rarely complements most styles of pop and rock. So unless Johnny Cash is a regular on your playlists, you may want to give this one a miss.
The PhD in Prog:
Here is where the delay effect is more used as an instrument and effects and textures become paramount. There is rarely a clean guitar sound without any delay on it. Delay is used both as a rhythm providing tool (think Run Like Hell by Pink Floyd) or as a tool to provide space and atmosphere to a part. Here the delay sound is completely variable and depends on the guitarists creativity or taste. Often times some amount of modulation is also added on to the delayed signal to provide more depth. Sometimes a pitch shifted delay is also used to provide Van Halen like Cathedralesque sounds to one’s clean tone. To provide spacey yet weird effects and textures players often mess with the delay time knob to get DJ-scratching sounds. One can even use an expression pedal to achieve these sounds easily. Setting the repeats at a very high level can yield ever expanding overtones to notes that provide a very psychedelic vibe to songs. All it takes is to spend a couple of hours with a delay pedal to get the signature tone of choice.
The Edge of Rhythm:
You must have heard Where the Streets Have no Name by U2. Well the kind of delay used is called a dotted eighth which plays in between each rhythmic note to give you a double time rhythm. This style of playing has been used by a number of guitarists over the years and is a catchy as hell way to give your rhythm playing some edge (pun intended). Most of the work by Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit, Black Light Burns) also features this style of playing. Here, the delay time is set as a quarter of the base tempo of the song and the picking is done in double time. Hence, in one bar of a song, the notes fill up the half and quarter spaces. Confused? Well, just try jamming to your own delay notes and your brain will automatically catch on. Also try muting the base note to get a more pronounced rhythm.
Delay Sounds and Pedals:
Delays can be of various tonal varieties and each type can either make or break your sound. If you love tone and like to find that perfect sound, then go on reading.
Yes yes, every one fights about the whole digital versus analog thing. But digital delay has its space and is often a great tool to make each note stand out clearly. Analog delays darken each successive repeat to a proportionate degree. Digital delays make exact copies of each note and hence the delay tone is clear and crisp. This kind of delay is especially useful while delaying distorted tones as they do not add to the mush of the distortion. And hey, if you like the sound then go for it.
Best of Digital Delay:
- Boss DD-7
- TC Electronic Nova Delay
- TC Electronic Flashback Delay
- Eventide TimeFactor
- Line 6 Echo Pro (Rack Unit)
Analog delays all try to emulate the whole classic, vintage delay sound heard on everything Mr. Gilmour has ever done. Yep, everything. As said before, each successive note is darker and loses tone. This adds a great amount of warmth to a guitar tone. In fact, most analog delays are perfect for filling up space and adding some beauty with the imperfectness of the echoes. These delays hold great sway over the music world. But most analog delay pedals are very simple units and give you just the bare minimum in terms of delay sounds. Yet still, every well known guitarist has at least one analog delay on their pedalboard.
Best of Analog Delay:
- Way Huge Aqua Puss
- EHX Deluxe Memory Man
- MXR Carbon Copy
- Catalinbread Echorec
- T-Rex Replica
- Wampler Faux Tape Echo
These pedals offer many presets and an inexhaustible amount of delay types. Known as delay modelling pedals, these can allow you to have many styles and types of delay on tap and are a great buy for live gigging. These delays use digital processing to provide even analog sounds. For live venues, you wont be able to tell the difference between a modelled analog delay and an actual analog delay so these are manly convenience based pedals that do everything. Often, these delay pedals will have some weird and experimental kind of delays that will definitely send your creativity through various trips. Disclaimer: you will spend days and days exploring these kinds of pedals and will eventually get lost and settle on the simplest setting on offer. Ok maybe not. It all depends. These can be used in a studio situation as well, you just need to know how to use them well and efficiently.
The best of all-in-ones:
- Line 6 DL4
- TC Electronic Flashback X4
- Vox DelayLab
- (Don’t look further than these. You will get everything you need and more from these)
Tape Delay Units:
These were made famous by (I cant believe how many times I have to take this dude’s name) David Gilmour. These are not pedals but true-blue tape echo units that provide an echo to a guitar or anything, using an actual mechanism that uses a tape loop to provide the echo. This is the actual baseline of delays and all other kinds of delays came from these. However, these are horrifically expensive and unless your album has been the best-selling album in the world for decades (big up to Dark Side of the Moon), you would rather avoid these. But no denying these are insanely cool and their mechanical set up provides room for tweaking a delay sound using a screwdriver and common tools. The amount of sonic creativity available here is insane. If you got the cash then definitely get one. Not only will it give you some of the coolest delay sounds available, they will reinforce your knowledge about delay sounds and sound in general.
Best of Tape Units:
- Maestro Echoplex
- Fulltone Tube Tape Echo
- Binson Echorec
- Watkins Copycat
Well I hope this helps you make the right delay choice, because like I said before, no delay is no choice at all.