“It’s time to cook.” And to take a page out of Breaking Bad’s highly entertaining playbook and apply it to our Line 6 DL4 delay pedal.
Yes, it’s a fictional TV show that has nothing to do with playing guitar, but we can still learn something from the underachieving high school chemistry teacher, turned legendary drug manufacturer.
Walter White knew his field well enough to fine tune his product.
Dare I say, he perfected it.
Line 6 DL4 Compared to Similar Delay Pedals
Line 6 DL4 Delay
Line 6 DL4 MKII
Strymon Timeline Delay
Walrus Audio ARP-87 Delay
Boss DD-500 Digital Delay
Guitar players have a product too - our tone - and as we’re able to purify it, it’ll become significantly more appealing to others. That will be true both as it relates to other musicians and those who might simply be listening to our music.
Because it doesn’t really matter what we play if our tone is garbage.
For people to hear and appreciate our music, we need to provide them with a pure tone, as close to perfection as possible.
And we do so by using the tools we have - broadly, our entire rig - specifically, one incredibly versatile echo modeler.
Weapon of Choice: The Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler
The Line 6 DL4 delay pedal is our subject and our goal will be to establish some go-to settings that we can bank and reuse.
I’ll start by listing a couple of basic resources that will serve as helpful references.
The Line 6 DL4 delay is one of the most popular and widely used delay modeler’s in existence, featuring 15 delay modes, a loop sampler and a tap tempo.
I’ll assume that you own one and already know most of the general ins and outs involved with using it.
We’ll take things a step further, learning to use it more effectively. In other words, we’ll figure out how to really get our money’s worth out of a delay pedal that, if we face facts, is a little on the expensive side at $250 retail.
So, how do we get $250 worth of tone out of this pedal?
How do we craft the perfect recipe for our blue sky?
Any good cook knows his ingredients, so let’s start with a review of what the knobs on the DL4 actually do and what we have to work with.
Reviewing the Knobs on the Line 6 DL4
There are six knobs in total. The first one is simply the model selector that lets you choose between the 15 delay modes.
We aren’t worried about that one because it’s fairly self-explanatory.
Our focus is on the other five. Here’s what they do:
- DELAY TIME: This controls the amount of time that the digital processor records your input. before repeating it. In other words, it’s the length of the echo.
- REPEATS: Predictably, the higher this knob goes, the more your delay segment will repeat. It either increases or decreases the number of echoes.
- TWEAK & TWEEZ: These two knobs have varying responsibilities that depend on which delay model you’re using. We’ll explain those responsibilities as-needed.
- MIX: This knob sets the balance between the dry or “unprocessed” signal and the “processed” signal. Turning the knob clockwise gives you more processed signal.
Of the four buttons on your DL4, the right-most is the tap tempo, while the other three serve as presets for models and settings that you want to bank.
Settings can be banked by holding one of those buttons down for five seconds.
Note that we can only bank three at a time.
When the loop sampler is selected, those buttons all serve different functions, which are outside the scope of this article. Refer to the user manual for instructions on how to use the loop sampler.
Now that we know our ingredients and what we have to work with, we can get started.
Preset 1: The Garden Variety Digital Delay
The title I used for this setting could be broadly interpreted.
Even within the DL4 itself, there are several models that might strike you as “garden variety” or generic.
So feel free to experiment with different models. However, in this case, I’m starting with the Digital Delay mode and looking to optimize that sound. Digital delay is often cleaner and more sterile than its analog counterpart.
It’s a good starting spot.
First, use the model selector to choose Digital Delay (at 12 o’clock).
Then move down the line with the following presets:
- Model: Digital Delay
- Delay Time: 4
- Repeats: 5
- Tweak: 6
- Tweez: 4
- Mix: 7
When using the Digital Delay model on the DL4, the TWEAK knob controls bass, while the TWEEZ controls treble. They basically give you just a little more EQ to work with outside of your amp.
In this instance, I pushed the TWEAK knob up a bit more to get a thicker tone.
With the MIX knob at five or under, I found that the processed signal, though audible, was just too subtle. You can adjust this to taste, but I’d recommend six or higher if you’re having trouble hearing the repeats and getting definition in your echoes.
Once you’ve set everything, kick in the tap tempo to stay on beat.
All delays are somewhat time-sensitive, but I would still call this a generic, run-of-the-mill digital delay and not quite heavy enough to require a rhythmic handling. Still, it’s good to get into the habit of always using the tap tempo.
Preset 2: Replicating Delay from The Edge and U2
The Edge’s delay is actually quite complicated and beyond the scope of this article.
But you can come close by using the dotted eighth note setting on the DL4 which can be dialed in by using the Rhythmic Delay model and setting the DELAY TIME to the dotted eighth position, which can be identified via the user’s manual or the graphic below.
Once you’ve got your model and DELAY TIME set, we’ll push the REPEATS up to give us a more sustained and lengthy echo.
We can then use TWEAK and TWEEZ to add some modulation and help us mimic Edge’s chime-like tone quality.
When using the Rhythmic Delay model, TWEAK controls modulation speed, while TWEEZ controls modulation depth.
- Model: Rhythmic Delay
- Delay Time: 7
- Repeats: 7
- Tweak: 4
- Tweez: 8
- Mix: 7
The MIX knob is what can cause (or prevent) a lot of chaos. You might need to experiment with it some to get the processed signal thick enough, as I found that anything less than six was just too dry.
Also note that getting the tap tempo right is crucial when you’re using the RHYTHMIC DELAY model.
Set the tap tempo with something specific in mind, either while playing along with a track or to match whatever beat is in your head.
Preset 3: Thicken Up the Tape Delay
Tape delay is what got it all started.
Those old boxes would just record your signal and then play it back without any kind of alteration or digital processing. And the DL4’s tape delay model can sound really good and vintage, yet out of the box, I found it to be a bit thin and weak.
With a little tweaking, here’s how I was able to thicken it up.
- Model: Tape Echo
- Delay Time: 6
- Repeats: 5
- Tweak: 7
- Tweez: 6.5
- Mix: 6
Once again, TWEAK and TWEEZ handle bass and treble respectively. Hiking the TWEAK knob helped to add a little bit of thickness, though it’s keeping the MIX on the wet side that really seemed to do the trick.
Also, be careful that you don’t push the REPEATS too high.
If you do, your notes start to run into too many old notes, meaning you might be hearing four or five at the same time.
That’s going to crowd your sound pretty quickly.
Ideally, you should be aiming for a note trail that allows you to hear two or three behind, at any given moment.
Preset 4: Arpeggio-Friendly Analog Delay with Some Added Modulation
I should mention that the DL4 is not an analog delay and that the analog setting is meant to mimic the sound produced by real analog delay pedals via a digital signal.
That said, it’s a fairly accurate imitation.
Analog delays are thicker and more primitive then what you get from a digital delay (similar to our above tape delay example). Digital effects are sterile and clean, without any kind of noticeable inconsistencies (unless of course they’re programmed in).
Since the original delay pedals were designed with analog circuitry, the analog sound is thought to be a bit more authentic.
On the DL4, despite the digital shortcut, I find it particularly ideal for arpeggiated chords and progressions, given the right settings.
Those settings took some time, but here’s what I came up with.
- Model: Analog with Mod
- Delay Time: 6.5
- Repeats: 3
- Tweak: 5
- Tweez: 7
- Mix: 6
The model I used was Analog w/ Mod, which is meant to mimic the sound produced by the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. The Memory Man is essentially the gold standard when it comes to analog delay, and even has its own built-in modulation.
So the DL4 version is a good copy. Not the real thing, but still a great sound and replica of what has become a legendary pedal.
To make it work with arpeggios, there were a couple things that needed to be addressed.
1. The REPEATS knob had to be cut back.
I started with the REPEATS knob a bit higher, perhaps around six or seven.
The echo was just too long and ended up blurring out the chord changes. A delay can work with chords and arpeggios, but the repeats have to be low enough that you can still hear the chord changes when (or shortly after) you make them.
It has to be reasonably distinct
Cutting the REPEATS knob back to four preserved the chord changes and allowed them to be more defined and easily identified.
2. Timing was annoyingly important.
Take some additional time to work with the tap tempo on this one and really get your timing down.
Go with something fast, as a slow echo with these settings will drag too much.
It’s similar to the Rhythmic Delay model, at least in that regard. Because you could almost be strumming through the chords and still get a nice, choppy delay sound, provided you’ve been shrewd enough to get the right tempo tapped in.
So take care of your timing before saving the preset.
Preset 5: The Perfect Volume Swell
In this case, the delay model itself does a lot of the work for you.
That model is called the Auto-Volume Echo and is the right-most selectable effect.
This is essentially the same effect you get when you cut the volume on your guitar down and then swell into a note after you’ve already picked that note.
In this case, you don’t need to worry about working the volume knob on your guitar or some kind of volume pedal. The DL4 simply takes care of the swell for you on every note that you pick, even if you’re playing full chords.
Adding delay to this effect is a rather brilliant move by Line 6 as it gives you some nice customization options.
You can also add tape-style flutter modulation with the TWEAK knob and adjust the ramp time for the volume swell with the TWEEZ knob.
I’ll also add that this one sounds pretty good right out of the box.
To optimize and really hone this effect, here’s what I would recommend.
- Model: Auto-Volume Echo
- Delay Time: 8
- Repeats: 5
- Tweak: 8
- Tweez: 8
- Mix: 5.5
The TWEEZ gets pushed higher so that the swell comes in a little slower, while I also used the TWEAK knob to add some thickening modulation. With a higher DELAY TIME you’ll get a faint echo in the background which adds to the mystique of the effect.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can combine this with third-party modulation.
The Danelectro Chorus is what I used, which melded nicely.
Preset 6: Modern Rock Verse Filler
Modern rock verse filler is really quite simple.
It’s a short, four or five note arpeggio or melody line that’s commonly heard in the verses of most rock songs released after 1993. Think the “Black Hole Sun” riff by Soundgarden or nearly all of Marcos Curiel’s verse licks.
It’s a distinct sound that usually combines a subtle delay with some form of modulation.
So in addition to my DL4, I’m employing the use of two other pedals:
- Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble
- Boss PS-5 Super Shifter
We’ll get a slight de-tuning and harmonizing effect from the PS-5 and a deep fluttering chorus from the CE-5
Note that a lot of guitarists will use a phaser pedal here as well.
Let’s dial in our settings for the DL4.
- Model: Lo Res Delay
- Delay Time: 3
- Repeats: 4.5
- Tweak: 4
- Tweez: 6
- Mix: 6
Since the TWEAK knob acts as a tone control, we move that back a bit to help soften our signal, since this is intended to be used as a more subtle verse filler.
DELAY TIME and REPEATS stay low so that our delay isn’t too lengthy, while a higher MIX gives you a nice, wet tone. For free, here are the settings I used with the PS-5 and the CE-5:
The Super Shifter is set to a detune mode which creates a nice harmony over the notes being played. Our CE-5 has the rate and level knob hiked all the way up in order to create that thick fluttering effect, similar to the “Black Hole Sun” riff.
Turning up the rate on any chorus pedal should have a similar effect.
Preset 7: Incubus-Style Reverse
I wouldn’t say that Incubus “owns the rights” to this sound, but it is oddly reminiscent of Mike Einziger’s guitar playing.
When we dial in the right settings, it gives us a smooth, modern tone with a wide range application.
Here’s where your settings should fall.
- Model: Reverse
- Delay Time: 2.5
- Repeats: 2
- Tweak: 5
- Tweez: 5
- Mix: 7
We’re setting the DELAY MODEL to Reverse and then pushing the MIX knob up so that most of what we hear is the processed or reversed signal. Also note that we’ve dialed in a little bit of echo with the repeat knob, providing a filling delay trail.
A fairly common technique employed by Einziger is to add light distortion to heavy modulation. You can hear this distinctly in “Pardon Me” and “Warning.”
To come up with a similar tone, I added a Boss DS-1 distortion with the following presets:
Note that our DIST knob is nearly all the way down.
Level is also low to avoid unnecessarily amplifying the signal or increasing our volume. We’re going for thickness without a significant increase in gain.
The TONE knob is a matter of taste and preference.
I found that having the tone knob lower preserved the smoothness and definition of the Reverse effect coming out of the DL4 which, by the way, sits behind the DS-1 in my effects chain for this preset.
Preset 8: The Strummer’s Delay
Once again we’re going back to the Rhythmic model on the DL4 to get a delay that’s ideal for strumming and could even work with acoustic guitars.
Before you start, I would like to point out that the tap tempo is where this battle is won.
Depending on how fast you’re strumming or what song you’re playing, you must follow up these settings by clicking in the beat. Otherwise, it’s going to throw the timing off and probably sound really bizarre.
Let’s start with the settings on the DL4.
- Model: Rhythmic
- Delay Time: 9
- Repeats: 6
- Tweak: 6
- Tweez: 5
- Mix: 7
Remember, the Rhythmic Delay mode is the one with the DELAY TIME setting that we used to dial in the dotted eighth note rhythm.
If you cut the DELAY TIME knob all the way to the right, you get quarter note triplets.
That’s what we need for a our strumming delay.
The REPEATS knob goes up to six, while MIX gets pushed to seven so we can hear the delay above the continuous strumming.
Preset 9: Ideal for Distortion
There are many sounds the DL4 could produce that would work well with distortion.
In this case, I have two specific qualities in mind:
- Thicker Tone
- Gain Producing
Since the Tube Echo model on the DL4 actually adds a tube-style drive (via the TWEEZ knob) to the signal, we can start there.
It’s also subtle enough that we can add a distortion pedal and avoid muddying our signal.
The DL4 comes first in the chain (after the amp), so let’s start with those settings.
- Model: Tube Echo
- Delay Time: 3
- Repeats: 6
- Tweak: 3
- Tweez: 5
- Mix: 8
The TWEEZ knob adjusts the drive from the tube emulator and, at five, gives us just enough boost from the DL4 itself. We push MIX higher to get a thicker delay signal, while everything else stays fairly conventional.
I tried two different distortion pedals with this effect:
- Boss DS-1 Distortion
- Boss MD-2 Mega Distortion
With an exterior source of gain it’s important to control those gain levels since you’re introducing a lot of extra noise into your signal.
For both pedals I kept the gain fairly low and avoided scooping the mids too high.
The settings we showed you earlier for the DS-1 work fine here. For the MD-2, you can see we’ve cut the GAIN BOOST back pretty far, thereby avoiding excessive noise and feedback.
Depending on your pedal, you’ll need to adjust for a similar, low-saturation setting.
Be advised, it might take a little trial and error if you have different distortion pedals.
Settings Deserve Your Time
It’s really easy to take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to all the knobs and switches on your gear.
Because if we’re honest, it’s really nice to just be able to turn on our amps and play.
But if we’re going to own all these fancy digital pedals and gear, isn’t it better to put them to good use, and not just fly by the seat of our pants, assuming that they’ll do all the work for us?
Because pedal’s don’t create great tone anymore than hammers build beautiful porches. No one looks at a shinny new back deck and asks, “What hammer was used to build that? I’ve got to get one so I have can a nice porch too.”
No, they ask who built the deck. And then in all likelihood, they hire that person.
Because it’s the mind of the builder that people pay money for and it’s likewise the mind of the artist that creates great tone and great music, who people want to hear.
So settings deserve your time because they are of little value without your brain.
In fact, they’re completely worthless without a creative thinker dialing in, and eventually playing, something that sounds amazing.
The Line 6 DL4 delay is certainly a fantastic tool, but not helpful if we don’t learn to use it properly.
It’s the proper, perhaps optimal, union of a great pedal and musical mind that we’re looking for.
Settings Provide Additional Creative Opportunities
Further, effects and systems that allow you to tweak your tone offer the ability to be creative outside of the fretboard.
In a lot of cases this gets criticized and labeled as “hiding behind effects.”
Now, that can happen, but is it really hiding behind the DL4 if you’re simply learning how to properly utilize it?
No, of course not.
It’s taking advantage of an opportunity to shape your sound.
It’s using a tool to build something that’s unique to you.
Begin Building Your Sound Right Now
Now you’ve got a foundation to work with.
Learn the Line 6 DL4 delay settings backwards and forwards and to start building your sound today.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your gear will do the work for you. You must do the heavy lifting. So take the time to build your tone, shape it and come up with something truly inspiring and unique.
It’ll be the best way to get your money’s worth out of the DL4
And while you may not be given control of a state-of-the-art laboratory and a $1 million a month salary from the owner of a poultry-based fast food franchise, you’ll be a more valuable and hireable guitar player with a bright musical future ahead.
If you want to chat about settings and getting closer to the perfect presets, get in touch with me via the comments section below.