For those wanting basic information on delay pedals, let's talk about the simplest question:
What is a delay pedal?
A delay pedal is an effects processor, sometimes called a pedal or stompbox, that sits on the floor between your guitar and your amplifier. As the signal passes from your guitar, it goes into the pedal, is processed, then outputted as a delay sound.
The actual delay effect is a trail of echoes, created by sampling a line of your signal and then playing it back. Typical variables include the following:
- Length: Time of the sample
- Repeats: Number of echoes
As the complexity of a delay pedal increases, other variables might include:
- Feedback of ambient trails
- Frequency of echoes
- Waveform manipulation
- Timing manipulation of echoes
All of this functionality can make up your average delay pedal, which can then be used either for electric guitars, acoustic guitars, or even bass.
Read more: Best delay pedals overall
How it works
Delay pedals work by processing your guitar's clean signal and outputting a "wet" or effected signal where you actually hear the echoes.
This processing occurs using one of two mechanisms:
- Digital signal processor: Computer code called algorithms
- Physical analog circuits: Physical circuits or bucket brigade circuitry
You can have either digital or analog delay pedals, while some are even a hybrid of both. We'll cover more about the specifics of analog and digital delay pedals later, but for now it's sufficient to know that these two mechanisms process your signal to create the delay effect which is then mixed with your original clean signal.
Difference between reverb and delay
I also mentioned in the intro paragraph that delay is a type of ambient effect, which is in the same category that reverb pedals fall into. But what is the difference between reverb and delay?
In simple terms, reverb creates an ambiguous trail of sound, based on a select amount of time from the dry input, while delay creates a more uniform echo of the original signal. However, they both rely on timing and playback, albeit in different forms. Reverb is usually not considered rhythmic, nor does it follow an identifiable repeating pattern.
It basically takes a sample of what you've played and plays it back slowly, in a way that it trails off the original segment.
How do I power my delay pedal?
As with most guitar pedals, delay pedals are going to be powered by a 9V battery or power supply. Some larger delay pedals may use a 12V or 18V power source. This depends on which pedal you're referring to.
You'll also want to keep an eye on milliamp load, which can be different for larger pedals, delay or otherwise.
Read more: Milliamps in guitar pedals
Refer to our writeup on guitar pedal power supplies for more information on powering your guitar pedals.
Analog or Digital Delay
Let's get back to our discussion about analog and digital delay pedals. One of the most basic questions is simply: Which one is better? As a potential delay pedal buyer, it's not necessarily true that one is better than the other. It really just depends on which two delay pedals you're comparing. However, we can make some generalizations about each type, summarizing their strengths and weaknesses.
Analog Delay Pedals Pros and Cons
- Generally better tone quality
- Vintage appeal
- Warm and more natural sounding
- More expensive
- Less control options
- Less likely to have presets, multiple modes, and tap tempo
Digital Delay Pedals Pros and Cons
- Often cheaper
- More flexible than analog pedals
- More control options
- Usually have multiple presets, modes, and tap tempo
- Tone quality tends to be not as good as analog
- Can be more complex to operate
Best analog option
With these differences in mind, what is the best analog delay pedal? Personally, I'd recommend either the MXR Carbon Copy with the EHX Memory Boy as an honorable mention. I'm a big fan of the DOD Rubberneck as well.
Best digital option
What about the best digital delay pedal? The Strymon TimeLine is one of the best, with the DL4 MK2 coming in as a close second place finisher.
If you have questions about delay pedals - what they are or how they work - leave them in the comments section below, and I'll help out as much as possible. Thanks for hanging out and trusting our content.
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