Guitar Delay Pedals Explained

Delay Pedal? – Where to Position In Your Signal Chain!

When it comes to the effects of the guitar, there are many supporting tools used to enhance the final output (like amp distortion, tube reverb, noise gate pedal and so on). Among plenty of helpful devices, the delay pedal can be considered as one of the most important components in the guitar signal chain due to its striking function. The delay pedal processes plenty of positive features to create beautiful and amazing guitar performances. However, all of its benefits just stem from one core value. That is the capacity of repeating a note produced by the guitar. To have a clearer understanding of this object and the reason why it can be so highly appreciated by many guitarists, even by the most professional guitar players or long-time guitar fanatics, let’s have a look at our definitive guide surrounding the delay pedal below including;

  • What is a delay pedal?
  • How does a delay pedal work?
  • Why do I need a delay pedal?
  • Where to place your delay pedal in the signal chain?

What Is A Delay Pedal?

Simply put, a delay pedal is a device that records any input signal produced by the guitar and stores it in an audio storage medium. Then it will play the signal back after a stated period of time. Shortly the delay pedal can repeat any notes that you play on the guitar. Playback is the key feature of this object and is often calculated in milliseconds (ms). While a speedy playback will produce a slapback effect with a prompt echo, a leisurely playback will create cascading walls of sound. Because the delayed signal can flow back through the recording and storage medium, it is not only played back one time but it can also be repeated multiple times in the chain. This quick description of the delay effect may remind you of another similar one – the reverb effect. They are both time-shifted repeating of a signal but the difference between them is the final output they can produce. Specifically, the delay effect can create unnatural sound through many components like decay controls, complicated rhythmic repeats and so on, whereas the reverb effect can only provide with you the sound similar to a natural echo.

HOW DOES A DELAY PEDAL WORK?

Before exploring the detailed operation of the delay pedal, we will take a glance at two basic definitions relating to it: dry and wet signal. Dry signal represents the original tone that your guitar emits whereas the wet signal symbolizes the delayed sound that your pedal plays back. Most delay pedals control wet signals through its three parameters:

To grasp how a delay pedal works, you should understand about these parameters. So let’s find out about them as below:

Delay time or time: controls how long the echoes are – in other words, it will determine the amount of time that the pedal waits before reproducing your audio signal. This feature is often calculated in milliseconds (ms) and commonly ranges from 50-600 ms range. This time setting plays an important role in the overall sound. Namely, short delay time (ranges from 40 to 120 milliseconds) will produce a sudden slapback effect, making your output sounds deeper, so it is used on electric guitars for the surf rock genre. Long delay time creates a long loop, which is wonderful for making atmospheric landscapes.

Repeat or Feedback: determines the number of times the delayed signal is played back. Keeping the feedback parameter at a reasonable level is very important. If there is no feedback, your audio output will be unattractive. But on the other hand, if there is so much feedback in the chain, it will change your delay tone into chaos.

Effect Level (or often found to be shortly called mix or blend): governs the amount of wet signal that will go through the signal chain in contrast to the dry signal. Proper adjusting of the effect level is a must if you want to get the desired sound because turning the effect knob to stand up straight will totally turn the signal into the wet, which produces the trippy effects and overwhelms your song structure.

Besides these three above parameters, there are also some other ones like modulation, looper, wow and flutter … affecting the operation of the delay pedal. However, delay time, feedback and effect level are the key features you should know well first to start using the delay pedal in the best way.

WHY DO I NEED A DELAY PEDAL?

We all grasp the aim of the delay pedal is to copy and repeat any random sound, but how we can apply its benefit to our performance is still a question. Take an analysis in more detail, we will find that it brings so many advantages to us. Firstly, the delay pedal can support you to create cool mixture effects. Because the delay pedal copies your note and plays it back after a period of time, it is perfect for putting off a chord, then having it turn back with a different sound layered in on top of it. Some types on the market are even equipped with full looing abilities, helping you to get complete multi-part melodies by yourself. Next, the delay pedal is a wonderful tool for your solo guitar performance. It will add more depth to rhythm parts, which makes your solo sounds more attractive and cool. Moreover, the repetitions it creates will fill all the blank spaces and level your sound up, which will make your solo sounds more clear and melodic for people who are further away from you. Finally, some types of delay pedals have the function of filling out the sound and shaping your sound and chorus.

WHERE TO PLACE YOUR DELAY PEDAL IN YOUR SIGNAL CHAIN?

With many different supporting tools and devices for guitar players, there are times you feel confused when setting up stompboxes suitably in the pedalboard. There are a lot of pieces of advice and suggestions for the sort order of the pedals in the signal chain. But overall, a common signal chain is often organized like as below:

compression -> gain -> modulation -> ambience

Compression should be positioned at the beginning of the chain because it can shape your overall tone. Namely, its main function is to amplify all the signals going through it. Therefore, if you put any noisy pedals before compressors, then all the irritating noises will sound louder. Being located in the first place, compressors can get clean input signals for great effects on sound.

Gain representing for effects like overdrive or distortion will come next in the chain because it will put the greatest impact on your fundamental tone.

Modulation which includes chorus, phasers and flangers should go after overdrive and distortion. Because gain pedals will create the sound harmonics, putting modulation after them will help you get benefits from their good effects.

Ambient effects including delays and reverbs will go last on the pedalboard. The explanation for this organization is that delay and reverb are the last things that happen before the sound touches your ears in a physical space, hence they should be located at the final point of the signal chain.

Above is the brief of the organization in the signal chain. Now we will go back to the main subject today of the delay pedal to find out about its concrete position.

As we know, the delay pedal is another type of ambient effect, therefore it should be put at the end of the signal chain to repeat what has already been played. If you locate the delay pedal before the distortion, you will put the distortion into the repetitions, which makes your output signal sound very muddy, boomy and indistinct. And the same consequences may appear when you put it before compressor or modulation…

Despite the fact that the delay pedal should be put at the final place, we should place it before the reverb if there are any combinations between these 2 ambient effects. Standing before the reverb will make the tone that your delay pedal created stay clear.

However, that is not to say that you must always conform to the above formula rigidly. Sometimes, you can be flexible when establishing the order of these pedals in order to make your performance sounds more attractive and interesting, marking your own unique personal style during your course of becoming a real guitar artist.

HOW MANY TYPES OF DELAY PEDALS ARE THERE ON THE CURRENT MARKET?

Delay pedals are classified into many groups, however, the exact quantity of its types is still a controversial issue and has been for many years within the guitar playing community. Some players grouped it into 3 types, while some pointed out that it has 4 or even 5 different categories. In this article, we will not spend time proving which view is absolutely right or wrong. Instead, we will just concentrate on the 2 groups which are most common now: analog and digital delay pedal.

Analog Delay Pedal

Analog Delay works on the basis of Bucket Brigade Device (or BBD) chips. Therefore, to understand about analog, we need to know about the Bucket Brigade Device. As the name suggests, bucket brigade demonstrates the imagery of a chain of humans transporting water to the next by pouring water from one bucket to another. In this way, there will be a huge amount of water being lost in the delivery process. This phenomenon is also applied in the same way with the BBD chips and your guitar signal. Specifically, BBD chips will turn the original sound from your guitar back to the signal chain at planned intervals. As a result, the echoes will gradually decrease because there is nothing in the circuitry of the effect to keep their accuracy.

Digital Delay Pedal

On the other hand, the operation of digital delay bases on Digital Signal Processing (or DSP) chips has a wide range of signal processing operations. Generally speaking, DSP converts the sounds from the environmental background into digital data which can be analyzed later. When looking back to its application on digital, we can see that it will turn the guitar signal input into the echo, which creates an ideal replica of each note.

=> So the question now is which one is better? The answer is that no certain effect is better than the other. It is a matter of personal taste and preference. Both these 2 types have their own strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the delay pedal type depends on your own need and demand for your desired output. If you are a person who loves vintage warmth of echo tone, then the analog delay will best fit for you because the sound which stems from it is very warm, natural and authentic. However, since its circuitry is very simple, it has a shorter maximum delay time than the one from the digital delay and the delay patterns produced by it are restricted at a low level. Thus, if you are a person who treasures the precise tone and the flexibility of the echoes created, then you should take a digital delay pedal for your instrument kit. Anyway, it does not mean that you just can use only one type. You can combine both these two types on the same pedalboard to unleash your creativity and create your unique musical work.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DELAY, ECHO AND REVERB PEDAL?

Delay, echo and reverb are 3 terms that cause a lot of confusion to many guitarists – even for the most seasoned musicians.

The basic principle of their operation is to store a copy of the input signal for a set amount of time, then repeat the signal (or its modified version) as needed. Distinguish these 3 effects obviously is vital for you to get the most from them and create fantastic performances. Thus, let’s have a look into this below part to see the detailed comparison between them:

+ Delay Pedal: is a one-time repetition of the audio signal which is played back after a specified amount of time set by the operator.

However, the difference stays in the number of times that the sound is repeated. An echo includes instances of the original sound source delayed in multiples, with each amplitude being lowered for each repetition.

+ Reverb pedal:  is designed to send back input signals many times, at very close intervals. It describes how the sound bounces off every surrounding surface around a hall and then reach the person’s ear at different time, giving us the perception of space. This effect will maintain the subtlety and spatial depth of musical voices and instruments in a very reflective environment.

To explain more clearly, imagine that you are standing in a room and suddenly yell “Hi”. The very first replicated sound you hear is called delay. And echo is actually just a sub-set of a delay. It repeats the same sound many times with each instance being degraded until we can not hear it anymore. Finally, the echo will turn into reverb when the sound is reflected off many surrounding surfaces in space large enough.

TO SUM UP

We have just gone through the journey of discovery about the delay pedal together. Although this article may not cover all the aspects of these useful tools, it provides you with basic information that is carefully selected by us with the hope to give you a general view of it. Through these tips, you can perceive the function, the operation as well as the importance of the delay pedal. You will also know the typical position to place it is at the end of the signal chain but before the reverb pedal to get the good desired output. Moreover, there are many different types of delay pedals on the current market to meet your requirements. Define what you really need and you can get the best one for yourself. Sincerely, these tips are just a source of data for your reference. Start experimenting with it by yourself to find out which one and which method is the best fit for you to use the delay pedal effectively.

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