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Delay and Beyond

Maestro_Echoplex_EP-2Since 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.


The Digital:

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:

  1. Boss DD-7
  2. TC Electronic Nova Delay
  3. TC Electronic Flashback Delay
  4. Eventide TimeFactor
  5. Line 6 Echo Pro (Rack Unit)



The Analog:

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:

  1. Way Huge Aqua Puss
  2. EHX Deluxe Memory Man
  3. MXR Carbon Copy
  4. Catalinbread Echorec
  5. T-Rex Replica
  6. Wampler Faux Tape Echo



The All-in-Ones:

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:

  1. Line 6 DL4
  2. TC Electronic Flashback X4
  3. Vox DelayLab
  4. (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:

  1. Maestro Echoplex
  2. Fulltone Tube Tape Echo
  3. Binson Echorec
  4. 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.




What the heck is a compressor?

compression-iconNo, I didn’t hear this question. I actually asked it a year ago. And one of the middle words was slightly different. Then I did what every self-respecting person with a hunger for knowledge does: I googled it. I saw a plethora of different forums with many answers as to what a compressor does. A lot of them are very illuminating and can explain exactly what a compressor does. This article, however, is only marginally about what a compressor is, despite the misleading title. I think what most musicians want to know is whether they need a compressor or not and this is my attempt to answer that. I am a guitarist, so I will talk about compression for guitarists and bassists, but at the same time I will also explore the need of compression for vocalists and on music production for drums.

So now for a quick look at what a compressor really is. Very very simply put: a compressor increases the volume of soft sounds and lowers the volume of loud sounds.  Technically put: it lowers or “compresses” a sound’s dynamic range. How this translates into English is: the more subtle aspects of a sound or chord you play come in to the lime light. While playing guitar, the softer pick scrapes and strums can be highlighted. How hard you play the guitar starts mattering less and less. In a similar fashion, for vocalists, a compressor could bring about a clarity and sibilance to voice by highlighting the softer ‘ssss’ sounds and lowering the loudness. It makes your sound more controlled and within a controlled range; it can be set to emphasize certain parts of a sound. End of lesson.

Okay so now lets look at compression on music production for drums. Drums are one of the most dynamic instruments. They can be real loud and real soft depending on usage.  Even within a  drum set, each item has different loudness levels. Usually the snare seems louder than the kick but this also depends upon how the drummer plays it. Putting a compressor on drums really makes the sound of drums huge. The bass of the kick and the ring of the snare get pushed to the forefront and make the entire set sound bigger and more powerful. So if you want to go for a gigantic drum sound (probably something akin to the start of Smells Like Teen Spirit) then push up the compressor and enjoy.

For guitarists it is more of an effect to use when needed. Typically, funky stuff on the guitar could do with compression to bring out the rakes and scrapes. But other than that compression could be used to great effect to fit in your guitar sounds in the full band scenario. In essence one mustn’t drown the vocalists in a wave of distortion and generally be a douche on stage. At the same time all the little harmonics and subtle nuances get to shine. Now on this matter, solid experimentation is required. If you like heavier genres of music with lots of gain, harmonics and loudness then a compressor could be really useful. Even with certain aspects of country, blues and funk a compressor takes your tone up a notch. Be sure to ensure you enjoy the sound of a compressor though. For bass guitar a compressor is more of a tonal option. Some bass sounds are great without compression, but a compressor may reduce the boominess and add a little punch to your slaps. Most bass amps come with a limiter option which works like a compressor in limiting your loudest sounds. It is advisable to have a compressor handy for unknown stage situations.

Finally, lets look at compression for vocalists. The need for vocal compression depends solely on the style of the vocalist. Compression on vocals is likely to distort vocals if applied to a large extent. Like every effect on vocals, compression needs to be subtle and just applied to make the vocals darker or brighter based on they type of compression. It can vary from song to song and is best to let an engineer handle this.

Well, I certainly hope things are clearer; the loud is softer and the soft is louder etc. Go try a compressor out and you may be surprised. It may be a bit subtle to grasp but small things make big differences, especially when the soft is louder…