The banner photo is a shot of the DM-2, one of Boss's original analog delay pedals that became popular before the DD series.
The DM-2w from the "Waza Craft" series is this pedal's reissued counterpart.
Traditionally, analog delays are the weapon of choice when it comes to slapback and rockabilly-style delay sounds. Moreover, they're generally preferred for their more organic tone and bucket-brigade circuitry.
The only problem is there are a lot of great digital delay pedals that are available now.
They're also a lot cheaper.
Gear I Used for this Article
Line 6 DL4 Delay
Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor
Boss DS-1 Distortion
Line 6 Spider IV modeling amp
And in most cases a digital signal processor (DSP) will provide you with a far more involved set of controls and manipulation options.
For example, the tap tempo feature is often (though not exclusively) available on digital delay pedals, while omitted from most analog delays.
Most guitar players who grew up in the '90s and 2000s have gone digital, simply because it's what happens to be readily available.
So, if you have a digital delay pedal, we'll cover how to dial in a slapback delay sound (a staple of the analog delay world) with just a touch of reverb, in a digital environment.
Digital Delay and Reverb Setup
Before we look at adjusting our delay pedal, there are a few different setup considerations and options that you'll want to think about.
First, in almost every case, your reverb is going to come directly from your amplifier. Tube and digital amps alike almost always offer an independent reverb knob, so I'll assume that your amp is following suit.
Per the context of the article, I'm also assuming you have a digital delay pedal of some kind, as I'll be using the Line 6 DL4 for my example settings and samples.
Thus, your setup should be fairly basic, as the following diagram shows:
I'll also use an analog boost pedal to add a little grit to our slapback delay, along with the onboard compression provided by my amplifier, a Line 6 Spider IV modeling amp.
Placing the delay pedal and eliminating noise
If you already have your pedalboard setup, there's no need to isolate your delay pedal, though I should mention that in my example, I've moved the DL4 and booster pedal off of the board and onto their own effects loop, just to minimize excess noise.
Those who are setting up a slapback delay for a recording environment should consider doing the same.
Otherwise, here are a few best practices you can employ for minimizing noise:
- Use low capacitance cables
- Use pedal couplers as often as possible
- Run your delay pedal at the end of your effects chain
- Use something like the Boss NS-2 at the beginning of your pedal chain
So, just to recap:
I have a Line 6 Spider IV modeling amp, going into the Line 6 DL4 delay modeler, a RimRock PT Drive distortion/booster pedal and finally a Boss NS-2 noise suppressor, all arranged per Boss's pedal chain recommendations:
Aside from the RimRock distortion (which is not a crucial part of this process) we are completely digitized.
Examples of Digital Delay Setups in Pro Rigs
While these aren't artists who typically use a slapback delay in their sounds, I think it' worth taking note of a few big names who have setup their gear in a similar (albeit, more expensive) manner with a digital delay pedal.
The Boss delay stompboxes are really popular with the pros and are usually setup in a pedal chain that gets compression and noise control in a rackmount system.
Let's look at few templates:
Tom Morello in 2004
During the Audioslave years (and likely still) Tom Morello used a Boss DD-2 digital delay in the middle of an effects loop, with no compression or noise control:
Slash in 2011
Similar to Morello, Slash has traditionally used a chain of pedals going into both a dirty and clean amp, with all compression and noise reduction being handled in rack-mounted units.
In this shot he's running a Boss DD-3 delay at the very end of his pedal chain:
Jonny Greenwood's '90s setup
Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, during the band's hay days in the '90s, used two pedalboards, one of which ran a Boss Digital Reverb/Delay pedal in the middle of the effects chain:
Hopefully you can tell by now that there's little in the way of "exact science" when it comes to placing and setting up any of your guitar rig. We can always look at best practices, but there's a tremendous amount of flexibility to be considered as well.
Now that we've setup our own rig and looked at some other examples of implementing a digital delay pedal, let's get specific and dial in some settings.
We'll start with the amplifier and work our way up to the guitar.
Slapback Delay Settings: The Specifics
We'll look at settings for all of the following pieces:
- Amplifier's EQ and the reverb (reverb last)
- NS-2 noise suppressor
- Line 6 DL4
- Your actual guitar
Since gear won't necessarily match up, I'll stick to settings and options that are universal to most amps and delay pedals.
With the amplifier we'll adjust bass, treble, mids and reverb. Most, if not all, amplifiers should provide you with those options. The same deal goes for your delay pedal and reverb configurations.
With the Line 6 DL4, there are 11 modes and five different tweaking parameters.
We'll use the ANALOG mode and limit our critique to three common controls that are likely available on all delay pedals.
For a slapback delay you'll want to create a somewhat brighter response that allows the "pop" and grit of the slapback sound. Think lead country tones like Brad Paisley or the sound of snappy finger-picking.
From our own amp settings guide, I pulled the following EQ:
For my amp, I found that giving it a bump of mids really made the "plucking" sound pop, which is ideal for the rockabilly vibe I'm going for.
In my case, bass and treble (LOW and HIGH respectively on the above amp graphic) sounded great at 12 o'clock, though you can make adjustments to each one depending on how your amp reacts.
Some amps can need more or less of either, so make sure to do some contextual tweaking for a lower or higher EQ as-needed.
The noise control pedal settings
The Boss NS-2 noise suppressor is a set-and-forget type of pedal which I almost always have on. If you have one, set it to the "REDUCTION" mode (not mute) and keep the threshold a bit lower.
Having a noise control that's too aggressive will cut off your guitar's tone and start to sound artificial.
If you don't have any kind of noise control, it's not worth worrying about.
I mentioned it here because it can help to highlight and preserve the subtle tones of slapback delay, but you can do without it, if need be.
The delay pedal settings
A slapback delay is all about speed.
The essential difference between the delay you might hear on a U2 album and the slapback tones you hear guys like Brad Paisley use, is that slapback delay is set fast enough that it almost sounds more like a wobbling tremolo effect.
It's not time-sensitive and doesn't have to adhere to the tempo (hence the popularity among analog delay pedal users).
Just set your delay or "time" really low so you get a quick shimmering trail off of each note. If you're using a tap tempo button, like I did with the DL4, you'll want to set it really quick.
As you lower your delay knob, the window that is recorded gets smaller and smaller, which is what you need to create the slapback sound.
Here are some of the terms that might be used for this rotary on your pedal:
- Delay time
Here's how I dialed everything in on my DL4:
- Mode: Tape Echo
- Delay Time: 1
- Repeats: 6
- Mix: 4-6
Note that I've bumped repeats up a little higher than normal, to get about five or six echoes, which helps to fill out the sound and make it more noticeable. As I've mentioned, slapback delay will come out a lot more subtle, which means bumping up the repeats is usually necessary.
For the same reason I've turned the MIX knob up higher, giving us roughly a 50 percent "wet" or effected signal.
These same settings can be repeated on nearly any delay pedal.
Here's the tone that results, first with the reverb:
And without reverb:
Distortion pedal settings (if you use one)
If you add in a distortion, you'll want the gain levels to be fairly low and in step with the country and rockabilly conventions we're trying to emulate.
Most distortions and booster pedals have the following dials:
Level should match with your amp's volume, if not just slightly louder.
Gain should stay where it gets you just a little bit of grunge, usually around 20-30%.
Your tone knob should lean lower, since we're already getting a higher tone from our amplifier.
The Guitar Itself
While it's less critical in this case, we should talk a little bit about how to set your guitar once you get the amp and delay pedal dialed in.
Since we're focusing on a slapback tone, your TONE knob should be maxed, while the VOLUME pot can be used to cut down gain if you want to add a little more variety. Depending on how "high pitched" your amplifier sounds, you can then use the pickup selector to compensate.
Personally, I almost always set it in the middle position so I'm using both pickups.
- Volume: 70-100%
- Tone: Maxed
- Pickup selector: Middle or neck
However, if your tone is too bright, you can use the neck position to cut things down a bit.
In the same vein, you can switch to the bridge position if things sound too muddy or dark.
In the case of slapback delay, your guitar is just one last opportunity to tweak.
Reverb Best Practices
Reverb is going to be a surprisingly straightforward addition, especially if the source is your amplifier.
In most cases, and in the case of my Spider IV, an amplifier simply has a reverb level knob without any kind of EQ for the effect. In other words, reverb is either on or off, with a knob that acts as a wet/dry mix.
To add reverb to your slapback delay, I'd advise setting that knob low, around 30%.
Anything higher is going to cloud out your delay tone, which is subtle to begin with.
A small amount of reverb will add that extra layer that gives you a more analog feel and vibe. Just make sure you don't overdo it.
The Advantages of Digital Delay
Everyone loves analog delay, and for good reason. It just sounds fantastic and is hard to replicate with even the most sophisticated DSPs.
However, digital delay pedals do have some advantages over their analog predecessors, namely the following:
- More feature-rich
- More delay "modes"
- More versatile
Thus you can take a sound, slapback delay, that is more traditionally implemented by analog pedals and make it sounds pretty good, even in an entirely digital environment.
An alternative setup
The other option is to run two delay pedals for two different tasks. Since I'm a bit of a delay junkie, I have both a digital pedal (the DL4 I'm using here) and an analog Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail.
For rhythmic lead stuff that requires a tap tempo, I use the DL4.
For more subtle lead riffs I'll often switch to the Vapor Trail, just because it sounds better in that context.
If you can swing both a digital and analog delay, I'd recommend having one of each on your board, especially if delay is an effect that you utilize frequently.
The Power of Informed Tweaking
What I've always found helpful is to take a template, or something that other people have had success with, and tweak it with my own rig.
Since the slapback delay is something that has concrete best practices, it's perfect for modeling after a template, then making adjustments based on your own gear and what you have to work with.
Your Own Setup
How do you set things up with your digital delay?
Do you have a tried and true method for getting DSP features without the "sterile" DSP sound?
If you've got slapback delay secrets, thoughts, questions, diagrams or comments you'd like to share, drop it in the comments section below so everyone can benefit and learn from your experience.
Thanks for reading.