Delay is perhaps one of the most iconic guitar effects. It can add depth to your tone, serve as a rhythm to riff over or even make it seem like you’re playing two solos at once. There’s certainly a lot of potential with delay effects.
Delay has been used for decades from the slap back type delay used by rock and roll artists like Chuck Berry to the rhythmic digital delay used by The Edge, the guitarist in the band U2. When you dive into the world of delay it can be confusing at fist. There are so many varieties and so many price points. So, what is the best delay pedal? Firstly, let’s give you an introduction to delay.
Introduction to Delay
When most people think of delay they think of echo. That’s a good and simplistic way of describing delay, however delay pedals are about so much more. Most delay pedals come with three core controls:
- Volume – this controls the level of the effect. Higher volumes put more emphasis on the repeat
- Time – this controls the duration between the original note and the repeat
- Feedback – controls the number of repeats
If you play with a delay pedal you might soon find that it can be difficult to sustain the effect within your chosen tempo. For that reason some pedals come with tap tempo functionality.
Tap tempo allows you to tell the pedal the tempo you’re playing to by tapping it into the pedal. The pedal will then repeat based on that tempo. It’s not available on all models, but tends to be present on most higher end models as standard.
Types of Delay
Broadly speaking there are three main types of delay. You’ll probably see the type of delay either in the product name or the immediate description.
We’ll talk about tape delay first. The original way to produce a delay effect was to literally record a phrase onto a tape and then play it back. Of course this was very cumbersome and unreliable. There were many moving parts, which could all malfunction and those of us old enough will remember the problems with cassette tapes all to well.
However tape delay provided something that many guitarists still find endearing. Tapes tend to degrade, which has an effect on the tone over time. The tone starts to degrade and becomes warmer. Tape delay seems to naturally introduce some modulation and is usually associated with a warmer tone.
Tape delay is still very popular today, but thankfully we’ve moved away from units with moving parts, making the whole experience much less of a headache for the guitarist.
Analogue delay first showed up in the early 1980’s. This was the answer the old style tape delay units with moving parts. They have become popular in their own right and the circuitry tends to be revered. They tend to use “bucket brigade circuitry”, which is effectively a series of capacitors.
The signal is passed from one to the other, meaning the signal degrades slightly at each pass. That leads to more warmth. However there’s a limit on how much delay time can be set and you’ll usually get a maximum of around 5 seconds with an analogue delay unit.
Digital delay was the next iteration. They still use analogue circuitry, but they use digital processors to mix up the signal and store information into memory. That enables much longer maximum delay and a multitude of manipulation possibilities.
It’s not unheard of for maximum delay to be over 10 seconds with some digital delay units. The digital processor retains the integrity of the signal so there’s no degradation as with analogue delay. If you adjust controls to give you a bright and crisp tone, the resulting repeats will remain bright and crisp too.
Your preferred delay type tends to depend on your playing style and what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a vintage feel, then you should definitely consider tape or analogue delay. If you’re into your classic rock and roll, most pedals will cater for slap back type effects, but you may want to look at something leaning more towards tape delay.
If you want something that’ll provide rhythmic delay you’ll need something that features tap tempo. If you’re looking for something that’ll give you flexibility and will retain signal integrity then digital delay will be more suitable.
Now we’ve talked a bit about delay types, let’s take a look at some pedals. I’ve not ranked these because they suit different audiences. The Behringer is not in the same league as the Boss for example, but both have their features and will suit a specific type of player.
As you can see from the image the DD-8 features digital delay. It’s a very feature heavy pedal that has only recently been released. The pedal includes support for tap tempo, a looper, support for external foot switches and support for mono or stereo output.
There are 11 modes, 10 types of delay plus the looper. The looper will record up to 20 seconds when outputting via stereo or 40 seconds when outputting mono. When the looper is active the feedback and time control knobs are bypassed.
The control knobs are fairly standard; level, feedback and time. You can set the delay up to 10 seconds. The tap tempo allows you to define the rhythm. The unit is powered either by a 9v battery (included) or via a separately sold power adapter.
If you’re powering it with a battery the “check” indicator light will begin to fade when it’s time to swap out the battery. Changing the battery is a relatively simple operation, which can be achieved by loosening the thumb screw at the bottom of the pedal.
The ten delay modes give you a preset basis to work from. The modes include:
- Analogue – standard delay
- Shimmer – adds glistening type high end towards the end of the delay effect
- +reverb – adds reverb to the delay
- Modulation – a country twang when controls are set properly
- Warp – hold the pedal to set the tempo
- Reverse – delay with a reverse effect
- Standard – digital delay
- Tape – warm and swirling – adjust feedback to create space like tones
- Warm – more low end, warmer tones
- Glitch – slap-back type delay – hold the pedal down for machine gun type noises
You can further sculpt the effect using the level, feedback and time control knobs. There’s also a carry-over switch next to the power adapter connection. If switched on it’ll preserve the effect when you switch the effect off. An interesting feature, good if you want to maintain the ambiance of the delay whilst moving onto some rhythm or lead work.
You can control the pedal using an external foot-switch, which is connected via the Tempo / EXP jack. This will also allow you to utilize the tap tempo functionality. It’s a little annoying that you have to get a separately sold pedal to use the tap tempo feature, but it seems to be standard setup for compact delay pedals.
This is a great delay pedal for those who want flexibility in the type of delay available. It’s digital so it preserves the sound with no degradation. It’s one of the more expensive on this list and will cost in the region of $170 (at time of writing), but it’s sturdily built and should serve you well for a long time.
- Packed full of features
- Includes a looper
- Sturdily built
- Separate pedal required for tap tempo
- Can be a bit tricky at first
- Power adapter not included
Dunlop Carbon Copy Analogue Delay
One of the best things about the Carbon Copy is it’s simplicity. One input, one output, a foot-switch to toggle the effect, a modulation button and three control knobs. That’s it! The regen knob serves as the feedback control. The mix knob controls the level and the delay knob controls the delay intervals. The Carbon Copy is one of those pedals that you find on almost every famous guitarists pedal board. From Slipknot to Green Day, Metallica to ZZ Top.
The Carbon Copy produces an analog delay effect, using the aforementioned bucket brigade circuitry. This produces a vintage tape type delay, which is mellow and warm. That’s it’s default but with the delay knob turned up over half way you can produce a sound similar to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. It has a vintage look and feel too, perfect if you like to stock you pedal board with stylish pedals.
The delay time can be set from 20ms, barely any delay, up to 600ms. The slow delay type effect sounds incredible from the Carbon Copy. There’s no support for tap tempo, so you’ll need to adjust the controls to find the rhythm you’re looking for.
There’s a modulation switch above the regen control knob. That’ll make the repeats sound warmer. You can control the amount of modulation using the mix control knob. You can adjust the modulation by adjusting the internal trim pods. That’s a surgical procedure and will require you to remove the back plate. The factory setting seems to be adequate for most.
The pedal is built like a tank thanks to it’s metal casing. It’s powered either by a 9v battery or a separately sold power adapter. The LED indicator above the foot-switch is super bright, which makes operation a little easier.
The Carbon Copy is well built, simple to operate and gives you access to a variety of delay effects – if you’re willing to spend some time adjusting it. You won’t get the 10 seconds of delay you get with a digital delay unit, but you do get the capability to create a lovely warm tape echo delay effect thanks to the analogue circuitry.
It’s priced similarly to the Boss DD-8. Some people prefer analogue to digital and vice-versa. The Carbon Copy is a solid choice of analogue delay pedal.
- Built like a tank
- Wide range of delay time
- Built in modulation
- No tap tempo support
- Adjusting the modulation is fiddly
- Power adapter not included
Behringer VD400 Vintage Analog Delay Pedal
I’ll come right out and say it, the Behringer is definitely the budget option. Costing around $29 it’s definitely not one for the seasoned guitarist looking to upgrade. If you’re looking for a cheap option to experiment with delay effects then this is perhaps for you.
I don’t envisage the VD400 lasting a particularly long time, it’s unlikely to withstand a hefty stamp. The build materials are poor, with it’s plastic casing. There’s also a feint hiss when the pedal is switched on, which really isn’t good at all.
The VD400 has three control knobs. The repeat rate controls the delay of the repetitions, the echo controls the volume output and the intensity knob controls the number of repetitions. As the name suggests, the VD400 aims to produce vintage sounds. It does this using analogue circuitry, giving it a propensity to lean towards warmer tones. The delay can be set up to 300ms, so there’s quite a bit of flexibility for such a cheap unit.
The VD400 can produce classic slap-back sounds with the intensity dialed down or full on echo with everything dialed up. The unit can be powered by either a 9v battery, which is included, or a power adapter, which is sold separately.
The power adapter doesn’t cost much and it’d be a worthwhile investment if you’re going for the VD400 because it’s very fiddly to change the battery. If you do plump for battery the LED status light will let you know when it’s time to change the battery.
This pedal is suitable for an absolute beginner who doesn’t want to spend a ton of cash to experiment with delay effects. If you buy this pedal you’ll need to upgrade within a few years and I certainly wouldn’t use it for gigging. Unless you’re really stuck for budget I’d spend a little more. I think metal construction is a minimum requirement for any compact pedal.
- Super cheap
- Delay can be set up to 300ms
- Power supply is pretty cheap to buy
- Plastic casing
- Can have a feint hiss when bypassed
- Will need replacing in short to medium term
Dunlop EP103 Echoplex Delay Pedal
This is one for true tape echo enthusiasts. The EP103 aims to be the digital version of the classic EP-3 tape delay unit. The EP103 is very sturdily built, with a rugged metal case and top plate. The unit is powered by a 9v power adapter, it can’t be powered by a battery.
The EP103 has three control knobs to control sustain, volume and delay. You can set the delay from 40ms right up to 750ms, so there’s plenty of flexibility. When you first plug in the Echoplex, it’ll produce a bright tape delay with some modulation. From there you have many options.
As well as the three control knobs, you can manipulate the “age” setting. You can activate the age setting by tapping the volume control knob. The age will affect the modulation and degradation. In the original tape units, as they tapes aged the sound would change.
Thanks to digital wizardry you can alter this on the fly. To alter the age hold down the volume knob until the LED starts to blink. Twist the volume knob clockwise for bright tape echo or counter-clockwise for darker and more modulated tape echo. Push the volume button again to lock in the age settings. The age settings can produce a whole new dynamic, so it’s a great little feature.
The EP103 supports tap tempo of up to 4 seconds, but it’s achieved by plugging in the separately sold M199 tap unit. It’s worth going for the M199. Having the option for setting the tempo unlocks more potential in the EP103.
The pedal is simple to use, however it has some advanced options. You can access “wet” and “dry” modes. By default the pedal is set to dry mode, but you can adjust to set to wet mode, which send the effected signal only to your amp. That’s possibly one for the enthusiast, but the option is available none-the-less.
You can also set the pedal to use “trail bypass”, which allows the reverb to ring out when the pedal is deactivated. If this isn’t set it’ll use true bypass. The EP103 has a low noise floor so there’s no background noise. Great when the effect is off.
The EP103 gives you all of the sounds of the classic EP-3 but without the technical problems. If you’re a vintage tape echo enthusiast then this is definitely the pedal for you. It is more expensive, clocking in at over $200, but it’s well built, well engineered and should last.
- Solidly built
- Age adjustment feature is great
- Faithful reproduction of old EP-3 unit
- Tap tempo pedal sold separately
- Can’t be powered by battery
- Quite expensive
Mooer MDD1 Reecho Digital Delay
Here’s another digital delay pedal, this time a compact and lightweight pedal produced by Mooer. The MDD1 Reecho combines a wide range of quality tones with simplicity of operation. The pedal takes up very little room on a pedal board so great for those who are already packing a lot of effects. It’s also very simple to use, making it a great option for beginners or those just getting their head around effects.
The Reecho comes with three modes, which are controlled by a retro looking switch at the top of the unit. Analogue and tape echo for that retro feel and real echo for a more modern feel. Admittedly the pedal approaches delay from a vintage standpoint, but it’s possible to craft a very wide variety of tones with this little box of magic. Delay time can be set anywhere from 5ms to 780ms.
There are three control knobs. Echo Level controls the delay volume. Feedback controls the amount of repeats and the time control knob dictates the amount of time between repeats. The pedal has just one input and one output, so no confusion there.
It’s constructed sturdily with a full metal casing. There’s no hiss or signal loss when on bypass. Unfortunately it can’t be powered by a battery, which forces you into using a power adapter. If you don’t already have a compatible one it’s sold separately. The other draw back is the control knobs, which feel a little cheap.
In terms of sound you can achieve anything from slap-back to existential Pink Floyd type delay. Combining shaping using the control knobs and the different modes you can create tones from mechanical to crisp and beyond.
You can even achieve a really cool sounding reverse effect. There’s no loss of tonal integrity, so it’s great for rhythmic delay. There’s no tap tempo available, so you’d need to achieve this via adjustment of the controls.
Sure it may not have as many features as the Boss DD-8, but it’s half the price and there’s certainly no compromise in terms of the sound. I think, on balance, this is the best of the bunch. The operation is simple, yet there’s a wide range of possibility for sculpting your perfect tone. It’s well built and tough but won’t break the bank at around $65.
- Easy to use
- Great range of quality tones
- Sturdy metal casing
- Power adapter sold separately (can’t be powered by batteries)
- Control knobs feel a little cheap
- No tap tempo support
We’ve introduced delay and looked at some of the pedals available right now. The Boss DD-8 is certainly a good choice for the enthusiast, but perhaps not for those who want a truly vintage feel. The Echoplex is definitely more suited to those looking for warm tape delay.
The Carbon copy is popular with many bands and is a stalwart in the analogue delay market. In my opinion the Behringer is for those who are just starting out and don’t want to drop a lot of cash on a pedal, but for me it doesn’t suit any purpose, except for those experimenting with delay for the first time.
Finally the Mooer Reecho ticks a lot of boxes. Simple to use, built well, dynamic and best of all affordable. If I was nailing my colors to the mast, so to speak, I’d go for the Mooer. That said if your budget will stretch then the Boss DD-8 is an excellent choice, albeit for for the enthusiast. If you really hate digital delay then the Echoplex is definitely a good option with it’s additional aging functionality.
It might be that you’re considering compact pedals, but you’re also interested in multi-effects units. If that’s the case check out my post on the Boss GT-1, which is a great multi-effects unit for beginners.
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