Similar to reverb, delay effects can create the illusion of distance in a mix, and adding it in or taking it away can change the way your guitar fits in with a band. Ever since the introduction of massive tape delay units such as the Roland space echo, whose praises can still be heard from the mouths of true analog purists, delay effects have become an essential component of any modern guitarist's tone.
Guitar icons from Jimi Hendrix to The Edge have pushed the delay pedal into the library of required reading for any guitarist with even a half hearted interest in advancing. That said, not all delays are created equal. Many of the delay effects on the market today boast an ever widening array of features, and understanding what exactly some of the most substantial differences are can help you to make informed decisions towards understanding what kind of features are most important to you for your own purposes.
One of the clearest distinctions between certain types of delay effects is analog delay vs digital delay. To be perfectly blunt, unless you're using an actual rack mounted tape delay unit with magnetic tape on reels, any modern delay pedal marketed as analog is really just a digital recreation of what an analog delay would sound like. Nevertheless, the difference is still important.
Analog delay seeks to imitate some of the unpredictable but beautiful idiosyncracies of old tape delay units. With these units, the tone of each passing repeat would darken as it grew quieter. Also, the timing and rhythm of the repeats was never perfectly uniform or exact and could be a little irregular at times when compared to digital delay. Analog delay is often described as warmer sounding and more "vintage" than its digital counterpart, as well as less predictable. Today, there are some absolutely killer analog delays on the market and I'll mention just a couple of my favourites here.
MXR Carbon Copy
This is everybody's favourite sounding analog delay. With an exceptionally dark tone for the repeats, this delay is perfect for playing live. The "mod" button on the top lefthand side engages a chorus sounding modulation effect on the delay trails, and inside the pedal casing there are a few additional controls for the width and rate of the modulation effect.
Boss RE - 20
The Boss RE - 20 is a faithful recreation of the Roland Space Echo tape delay unit. This pedal does a great job of recreating all the nostalgic sounds of the Roland unit including the tape flutter sounds and magnetic head saturation. Additionally, this pedal has lots of modern features that are really useful such as tap tempo and expression pedal outputs.
Digital delays are different from analog delays in that they do not seek to match the vintage tones of old tape delay units. Instead, digital delays are exact and predictable. The time between repeats is consistent, and the tone of the repeats is often the same as the initial sound that triggered them. Think 80's delay tones like U2 or The Police. Digital delays are really great because their reliability opens the door to a world of creative opportunity.
The Boss line of delay pedals is really the gold standard of digital delay sounds, and the DD-3 unit is considered by many to be the most desirable. The DD-3T is a reproduction of the original DD-3, but with additional tap tempo functionality. This pedal still includes all the same sought after features of the DD-3 such as the hold function to repeat endlessly as well as a wet and dry output to accommodate the use of stereo amps.
TC Electronic Flashback
The TC Electronics Flashback is a really diverse addition to the universe of digital delay effects. This unit boasts a collection of delay tones including both a tape delay and analog, meaning that in reality the Flashback pedal can effectively work as either an analog delay or a digital one. This pedal is a great choice for anybody seeking to get as much diversity as possible from a single delay unit.
After the advent of the portable delay pedal, it did not take guitarists very long to realize that the only thing cooler than one delay pedal in your signal chain... is two! Setting up multiple delays one after the other creates an incredible polyrhythmic delay trail that can make any simple guitar part sound like a symphony of brilliance. Once this was discovered, pedal companies everywhere began creating delay units that could facilitate programming multiple delays into just one unit. Today there are so many sophisticated delay units available to the consumer that the individual features can be overwhelming. Here are a few of the most popular of these more advanced delay units.
Multiple Delay Units
Line 6 DL 4
Look closely at some of the most well known guitarists' pedal boards and you just might find this well known model. This pedal can program multiple delay sounds at once, can be used with an expression pedal, and can even function as a looper pedal. If you are looking to advance from using one single delay unit to something more comprehensive, the Line 6 DL 4 is a great place to start.
This is Boss' top of the line digital delay. This pedal will do whatever you need a delay pedal to do, and then some. With 12 different delay modes and an onboard LCD screen, this pedal is where we stop talking about conventional delay pedals and start talking about space ships. If you think you might need a pedal like this one, there's a very good chance that you've already heard of it.
The Strymon Timeline is one of the most comprehensive delay units on the market today. With 12 delay machines, hundreds of built in presets, and even MIDI in and out capabilities, this pedal is the answer for your most advanced delay function needs. This pedal is not for beginners.
Thank you so much for checking out my post on Delay Pedals! I can't tell you how much your interest means to me. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment or to reach out to me by email. I'll see you soon and don't forget to practice!