Delay pedal

Boss DD-7 Digital Delay

Photo by j.sutt

The delay pedal is incredibly popular among guitar players in various styles. It is used by many popular guitar players like The Edge (U2) and David Gilmour (Pink Floyd). There are a lot of delay types and applications. In this article we’ll discuss these and how to use them.

What does a delay pedal do?

A delay pedal basically repeats the signal of the guitar. This gives a very spacious effect, like the guitar signal bounces back and forth in a big room. The signal of the guitar without the pedal engaged is often referred to as the dry signal. The repeats of the delay pedal are called the wet signal. Usually the guitar player is capable of blending the dry and the wet signal.

Delay pedal controls

The most common controls, found on almost every delay pedal are:

  • Delay time: This controls the time between the repeats. Usually the more you turn it up, the longer the delay time.
  • Mix (or effect level): The mix knob sets the volume of the repeats. If the mix is low, the delay effect will not be noticable. If the mix is too high, the dry signal is buried and cannot be distinguished from the delay sound.
  • Feedback: The feedback knob controls the amount of repeats. If you turn the feedback all the way down, you will usually hear just one repeat. As you start to turn the feedback knob up, there will be more repeats.

Some delay pedals also have these controls:

  • Modulation depth: This knob controls the depth of the modulation.
  • Modulation speed: This knob controls the speed of the modulation.
  • Gain: This knob controls the output volume of the delay pedal. This can be set to ‘unity gain’ (the same volume as when the pedal is off), or above ‘unity gain’ (the volume is boosted if the delay is on).

Delay pedal types

There are many different delay pedal types. We’ll discuss the most common ones.

  • Fulltone Tape Echo

    Photo by aaronHwarren

    Digital delay: A digital delay pedal uses a digital processor to generate the delay sound. The repeats of a digital delay pedal are very close to the original signal. They sound very clean and the highs are retained. This makes digital delay pedals ideal for rhythmic patterns, like ‘dotted eight delay’. Popular digital delay pedals are the Boss DD-7 and the TC Electronic Nova Delay.

  • Tape delay: Tape delay units are big machines that use a tape for storing and repeating the guitar signal. Examples of famous tape delays are the Roland Space Echo, the Binson Echorec and the Echoplex. Because tape delays use tape, the delay signal is usually warmer then digital delay. The older the tape, the darker the delay sounds. Also the delay signal sounds modulated in a beautiful and random way. It’s like you can hear the tape go round. Tape delays are very hard to find and also very expensive. However there are great delay pedals that can simulate the tape delay very well, like the Strymon El Capistan or the Boss RE-20.
  • Analog delay: The analog delay uses analog (bucket brigade or BBD) chips to generate the delay signal. Analog delay repeats are usually warm and blend in very well with the dry sound of the guitar. This makes analog delay great for lead solo’s, because the dry sound is retained. Popular vintage analog delays are the Electro Harmonix Memory Man and the Boss DD-2. If you want to buy new, check out the MXR Carbon Copy or the Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy.
  • Modulated delay: Modulated delay pedals add a modulation effect (for example Chorus or Vibrato) to the delay sound. This makes the sound excellent for slow ambient music. Usually the modulated delay is found in digital delay pedals (for instance the TC Electronic Flashback delay), but some analog delays also feature modulation (for instance the Electro Harmonix Memory Man).
  • Reverse delay: Reverse delay is often found in digital delay pedals. The delay sound is reversed. It takes a lot of practice to master this effect, but it gives something very unique and creative to the sound.

Applications of the delay pedal

Here are some common applications of the delay pedal.

Tap tempo and dotted eight delay

Some delay pedals offer tap tempo, either by a footswitch on the pedal or via an external footswitch. This gives you the opportunity to tap in the tempo with your foot. The delay time of the pedal will follow the tempo of your foot. This is great if you want to set the tempo during a song while playing the guitar. Tap tempo in combination with digital delay is ideal for getting that dotted eight delay sound.

Boss DM-2 Analog delay

Boss DM-2 (Photo by David Poe)

Delay underneath a lead tone

When using a delay underneath your overdriven lead tone, use a longer delay time, but keep the feedback and mix down. In this application it is important that the delay widens up your sound, but does not overwhelm your dry guitar signal. Tape or analog delays are great for lead tones, because they are warm and blend in well.


Slapback delay is used to widen up the sound of the guitar. The delay time is set very short and the feedback all the way down to just one repeat. Analog or tape delays are great for slapback because they have a warmer tone and blend in well with the dry sound of the guitar.

Oscillation or ‘space ship noise’

Some delay pedals allow you to dial in the ‘oscillation’ effect. This means the feedback is so high that the repeats are infinite. Often this will lead to overdriven and loud repeats. This makes it sound like a space ship is about to land. It’s amazing. Analog delay pedals like the Electro Harmonix are good at this. A cheaper option like the Ibanez DE7 is also great for space ship noise.