Are you wondering how to use guitar delay to your advantage? You wouldn't be the first!
Delay is a relatively simple effect but it can be used in many different ways to achieve a multitude of different sounds. For example, you can use delay subtly to add a feeling of space and depth, or dial it up for in-your-face doubling, ping-pong or trippy ambient soundscapes.
Of course, the traditional way of getting a delay sound for your guitar is by using a delay pedal, however you could also use a digital effect built into your amp or even a good quality plugin for your DAW (I love Lemon by Acustica Audiofor its huge range of super-high quality hardware delay emulations).
It's definitely worth experimenting if your latest song is lacking some "je ne sais quoi", so below you'll find 5 ways to use guitar delay...
How to Use Guitar Delay
Slapback was the first delay effect and is still effective today, especially for country, rockabilly and early rock 'n' roll. Typically a very short delay time is set of around 100-150ms. The mix should be set to around 80%. Instant Hank Marvin!
Doubling delay mimics double-tracking, a recording technique that thickens instrument and vocal lines by utilising two takes, often panned left and right for guitar tracks.
Set a slightly longer delay time (try up to 200-250ms) and play with the mix set at 90-100% to achieve a thicker sound. You may find a shorter delay time works better for faster tempos.
Ping-pong is a stereo effect that requires a delay pedal with stereo outputs and two amps/cabinets (or a stereo amp such as the Orange Rocker 32 Combo). Alternatively, many delay plugins can achieve a ping-pong delay effect.
Ping-pong sounds amazingly wide and three-dimensional as the delay pans from one speaker to the other then back again at a chosen rate. Although it's expensive and cumbersome to use live, it's much easier to use in the studio running direct into your DAW.
Pick a BBD-based delay (or digitalequivalent) and dial in several repeats. You should find that each repeat degrades more than the previous one, giving that lovely organic, tape-style feel. Some pedals also have controls for experimenting with wow and flutter, which were originally unwanted side effects caused by the tape stretching and moving around.
Again, there are delay plugins which can replicate tape, and Lemon really comes into its own for this application.
Long, spacey delays
Digital delays are great for long, multiple repeats - think U2's The Edge, for example. Try setting your delay to dotted-eighths of around 350-450ms with one or two repeats and set the mix to around 80% for classic Edge delay!
Guitar delay: A history
Even before Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black popularised the slapback delay in the early- to mid-1950s, the effect held an increasingly important place in the musical landscape.
Magnetic tape had been around since the 1920s, and it was soon discovered that by adjusting the distance between playback and recording heads of the tape machine, the engineer could manipulate the length of delay created.
Les Paul, whose name later appeared on Gibson's flagship guitars, was a studio pioneer, experimenting with slapback delay and multi-track recording using these early reel to reel machines.
The introduction in the early 1950s of more portable devices - the first being the Echosonic Combo - allowed the delay effect to be used outside of the studio for the first time, opening the gateway to its popularisation with musicians.
During the 1950s, tape delay became a signature part of early rockabilly and rock 'n' roll - thanks in part to its use by Elvis and his band - and by the end of the decade units were appearing with multiple, moveable playback heads and tape speed controls.
The 1970s saw the introduction of the Bucket-Brigade Device (BBD), a hybrid digital/analogue chip that was able to achieve delay times of up to around 300ms. A key characteristic of these early chips was a steep high frequency roll-off to eliminate clock noise, as well as degrading signal as it passed down the various stages within the chip.
The benefit of these chips was that they could be packaged into small foot-switchable pedals, required far less maintenance than tape, and were also far more affordable.
The 1980s led to the rising popularity of digital delays, offering super-clean repeats and longer delay times.
Today, digital technology has matured thanks to vastly improved processors and memory, and while players can enjoy high fidelity digital delays and even digital emulations of tape or BBD delays, there is still a huge market for real BBD delays.
New & Popular Delay Pedals
[product=signal-cheyne-echoflow] The Signal Cheyne Echoflow is a tape-style delay with adjustable modulation. In addition to the external controls, it includes 2 internal dipswitches: one to adjust the voicing between bright and dark, and one to kill the dry signal for a completely wet delay sound. [/product]
[product=bleak-district-electric-tapescape] Featuring 7 control knobs, 4 toggle switches, and a host of internal dipswitches, this is possibly the only tape-style delay (or as Phil dubs it, "Magnetic Ambience Generator") you'll ever need! [/product]
[product=greenhouse-effects-roots-echo] The Greenhouse Effects Roots Echo is a superb value analogue-style delay. Its delay time of up to 500ms takes you from straightforward slapback to ambient soundtracks with a near-endless trail of warm, lush repeats. [/product]
[product=hungry-robot-the-wash-v2] The Wash V2 is an analogue-style tap-tempo delay offering over 1,000ms of delay time. The unique Wash circuit adds reverb to the mix in a way that replicates and even supersedes the technique of stacking several reverb and delay pedals in series. [/product]
[product=kma-machines-cirrus] The KMA Machines Cirrus is a combined delay & reverbpedal like no other. Featuring multiple modulationfeatures, tap-tempo, an expression input and an effects loop, it has you covered for all your time-based needs. The Delay and Reverb sides are independent, with their own Mix controls and modes. Each side is controlled dynamically - that is, the effects are manipulated by your pick attack. The Sensitivity controls allow you to dial in how the effects react. [/product]
[product=drunk-beaver-lighthouse] The Drunk Beaver Lighthouse is a tape-style digital delay offering up to 700ms of delay time, a switchable Echoplex-voiced preamp, and modulation section with controllable LFO shaping. [/product]
Some parts were hard to find even before the chip shortage we're currently experiencing. The supply chain issues are affecting the entire electronics industry, and that includes us guitar pedal builders.
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The Bleak District Tapescape is one of the best delay and ambience style pedals ever invented. The controls are all intuitive but highly flexible, the sounds are rich and detailed, the modulation can go from dreamy to nightmarish very quickly, and all of that inside a small footprint with a low power requirement. It's difficult to get a bad sound out of it, honestly.
Add in that Boost shipped it out quickly and it arrived with a nice note written on the invoice, is there anything else you could ask for? Definitely will be buying more from both Boost and Bleak District in future.
I ordered a set of strings from Boost, that did not initially turn up. After contacting Boost via the website they immediately sent out another set (no questions asked). Both sets arrived a few days later (Thanks Royal Mail!). Boost were prompt in dealing with the issue (gave) me a set of strings and got things sorted out. Highly recommend you use these guys.
I didn’t know that particular manufacturer from Italy, but I definitely recommend their "Vintage Vibe”. It’s simple, intuitive, it looks awesome, the build quality seems impeccable, and most importantly, it sounds fantastic.
Really loving the range of organic tape sounds from the tapescape. Great build quality and a world of wobbly good times. Instant atmosphere as soon as you turn it in. Great small company from the UK, worth every penny