5 Best Analog Delay Pedals
and Buyer's guide
The Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy combines traditional analog bucket brigade sounds with exceptional versatility. This is the have it all analog delay pedal and my favorite.
I am not sure why, but I love delay pedals. It seems like every time I build one, or buy a new one, I find another one that I want to get. Delay pedals can do so much for your tone and creativity, and every one sounds different.
Whether you’re a casual noodler or a professional player, an analog delay can add inspiring textures to your sound. The analog delay pedal’s rich, dark sound has been featured on everything from Chet Atkins’ “Blue Ocean Echo” to Guns ’N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.”
In the following article I will walk you through what to look for in an analog delay, give some suggested uses and recommend a few of my favorites.
Analog Delay Pedal Buyer's guide
What is an Analog Delay Pedal and How Does it Work?
A delay pedal is a device that takes a short snippet of an audio signal and repeats it back in evenly spaced intervals. The repeats (sometimes called the delayed sound) can be replayed from one to an infinite amount of times. The number of repeats is controlled by a feedback knob.
The time between the initial note and the repeated sound is called the delay time and can range from just a few milliseconds(ms) to up to 600ms on an analog delay pedal. Digital delays can be as long as 3 seconds.
A short delay time with only one repeat will give you a retro flavor, known as “slapback”, often used in rockabilly and surf music. Longer delay times with more repeats can create lush, continually decaying, organic soundscapes.
Analog Delay vs Digital Delay?
Analog and digital delays differ in the circuity that creates the repeats.
Analog pedals use a Bucket Brigade Device (BBD). A BBD is an analog circuit within a small chip that delays an incoming audio signal using capacitors. You can think of capacitors like buckets, in fact, the BBD is named after the “human chains” of firefighters who would pass along buckets of water to douse a blaze.
Similarly, the capacitors in an analog pedal are continually filling with signal (voltage) and emptying into the next bucket (capacitor). Just like some water spills in the real Bucket brigade, there is some signal that is lost along the way. This creates the slowly degrading, “dark” repeats that analog delay pedals are known for.
- Analog pedals sound dark and organic.
- Analog pedals have shorter delay times than digital pedals.
- Analog delays has fewer features than digital pedals.
Digital delay pedals convert the analog signal from your guitar into a digital signal using Digital Signal Processing (DSP). This process eliminates any “spillage” along the way giving the digital pedal the ability to create perfect repeats.
This might sound great, and it is for certain things (like dotted eighth “edge” style repeats), but digital pedals have a tendency to sound bright and out front. Their repeats can get in the way and muddy up the mix when trying to create more ambient parts.
Digital pedals have all kinds of algorithms and tricks to try to get around this problem, but purists say that, try as it may, the digital pedal will never sound analog.
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Here are some common delay pedal controls. Different companies will call them by different names so I listed the most common names.
Controls the time between the dry signal and the first repeat. Subsequent repeats will sound at an equal distance from each other.
Controls the number of times a delayed signal is repeated back. Each subsequent repeat will decrease in volume, this is known as decay.
Controls the volume of the repeated sound. For instance, if you set a mix knob halfway, it would play back the delayed note half as loud as the original one. Some pedals allow you to play the repeated sound louder than the original sound and even play only the repeated sound.
Modulation can give your repeats a slightly out of tune sound all the way to a crazy laser gun sound. This is achieved through an oscillator that sweeps up and down a given range. The speed and rate of the modulation are controlled by two knobs.
— Rate — This knob controls the modulation (up and down detuning) speed.
— Depth — This control regulates the intensity of the modulation, how out of tune the modulation gets.
Where does a delay go in the signal chain?
Generally, a delay pedal will go towards the end of your signal chain. Most people I know like to put it after a reverb. However, a delay pedal can also go before a reverb pedal, it boils down to personal preference.
I would suggest experimenting with the placement and discovering what difference it will make in your tone.
In an Effects Loop
If your amp is equipped with an effects loop, you should place your delay pedal there. This will allow the pre-amp to shape the tone before it hits the delay, allowing for more natural repeats.
Mono or Stereo Delay?
Many delays are equipped with stereo outputs, you will know because there will be two outputs labeled “L/mono” and “R”. If there is not mono label typically you can just use the left channel.
Stereo pedals have a ping-ponging delay, which bounces the repeats left and right. This creates a full, “wide” sound. Stereo setups are more complicated and require two amps. If you think you might want a stereo rig down the road, find a pedal with that option.
You can use a stereo delay as a mono pedal but you can not use a mono pedal in stereo.
How to use a delay pedal:
Delay pedal settings
Slapback delay is characteristic of rockabilly and 50s music. You’ll most often hear it on guitar, but sometimes it is also applied to other instruments like drums. To achieve this sound:
set your delay time pretty short. (drop a quarter on its side from about 2″ high, listen to the bounce. That is close to the right length)
Set your mix or repeats level close to equal of the dry signal
Set your feedback for one repeat.
Fatten up your sound with delay
You can fatten up your guitar tone by starting with a slapback sound and then shortening the delay time just a bit and lowering the repeats level (or mix).
The dotted eighth sound is more suited to a digital delay but works just as well with an analog pedal. Set your feedback for one or two repeats to your liking. The mix should be just below the dry signal. set your tap divide to the dotted eighth note setting, tap the switch at the same tempo you are picking the strings. If you don’t have a tap tempo you will have to guess your way to the right setting, but you want the delay to sound like a gallop.
Analog Delay Pedal Round-up
MXR Carbon Copy
The MXR Carbon Copy delay goes old-school with a 100 percent analog signal path. Its classic bucket brigade circuitry delivers the warm, full tones that are unique to analog pedals. You can dial in everything from brief slapback echo to an impressive 600 milliseconds (as opposed to the 300 milliseconds on many analog pedals) of spacious, ethereal delays.
The Carbon Copy is simple but effective. Even someone whose foot has never stomped a pedal should be able to dial in a great sound. The Carbon Copy has three knobs — Mix, Regenerate and Delay.
With this delay, you can mimic the wow and flutter of tape echo units. There’s a Modulation button on top for extra swirling, spacious echoes. Two easily accessible internal pots control the width and rate of modulation. This is an excellent feature that nicely boosts the pedal’s lushness.
The Carbon Copy features a bright blue LED status light that can be seen even on pitch-black stages. It’s powered by a 9V battery or optional AC adaptor. This pedal just looks cool, with a sparkly deep green finish. If you are looking for a more fully features Carbon Copy check out the deluxe version.
Artists who use the MXR Carbon Copy include Incubus and Slipknot.
BOSS DM-2W Waza Craft
Once upon a time, BOSS produced an analog delay pedal called the DM-2, a device with the rich tones typical of analog pedals. Much to the disappointment of guitarists everywhere, it was discontinued in 1984. Now it’s back, with upgrades that make it a great reinterpretation of the original.
Thanks to its bucket brigade circuitry, the BOSS DM-2W Waza Craft produces warm, retro echoes. It offers more flexibility than its predecessor with three knobs (Repeat Rate, Intensity, and Echo) and two modes for tinkering with the sound.
Standard mode reproduces the real DM-2 sounds, ranging from 20 to 300 milliseconds. Custom mode produces a cleaner sound and skyrockets the delay time to 800 milliseconds.
The DM-2W has another cool feature, expression pedal connectivity. This lets you control the delay time with your foot, instead of fumbling with the manual repeat rate knob.
You’ll also want to check out the DM-2W’s direct out jack that permits you to send the dry signal and echo to two separate amps for a spacious stereo effect.
Musicians who use the BOSS DM-2W include Bruce Kulick and Dave Grohl.
Ibanez Analog Delay Mini
Ibanez’s mighty mite Analog Delay Mini is small and simple but, can still rock out with the best of ’em. At an adorable 55.1 mm x 50.9 mm x 92.6 mm, and tipping the scales at 10.2 ounces, it was designed to conserve space on your pedalboard while offering first-rate tone and a clear signal path.
It’s also very portable and will nicely fit in luggage, backpacks….and maybe even your pocket. The AD Mini is a miniaturized version of Ibanez’s vintage AD-80 and AD-9. It nicely retains their toasty classic analog delay sound.
The Mini’s controls are simple. Repeat to adjust echo repeats, Blend to dial in just the right amount of wet and dry signals and Delay (the largest knob, because you’ll probably be adjusting it the most) sets the delay time. The delay can be set from 20 to 600 milliseconds and yields everything from crisp slap echoes to broad ambient delays.
Because of its size, the Mini has no room for a battery, so you’ll need to use an external 9V adaptor (not included).
Musicians who use the Ibanez Analog Delay Mini include Tash Sultana and J. Mascis.
Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail
The Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail is a small analog pedal chock full of big features. Equipped with classic bucket brigade chips, it produces everything from tape-like slapback to long, ambient delays.
The Vapor Trail’s wet insert loop is one of its best features. It offers tons of creative possibilities and is compatible with flangers, volume pedals, and other effects. The loop also allows you to split the signal to two amps so you can conveniently control just the wet signal with your foot.
The pedal’s delay time is 15 to 600 milliseconds. With wide-sweep rate and depth controls, the Vapor Trail has broad modulation spanning subdued tape-style flutter to tranquil vibrato. By twisting both knobs to zero, the modulation circuit is eliminated from the path for a starker delay. All of the knobs are big and easily accessible. The Mix control can boost wet delays up to 3dB louder than the source signal.
It has a very bright flashing tempo light, which is helpful when you’re playing on a dark stage. It has true bypass and is powered by a 9V battery or 9 to 18V external power supply.
Musicians who use the Vapor Trail include Rick Nielson and Peter Frampton.
Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy
The Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy combines traditional analog bucket brigade sounds with exceptional versatility. This is the have it all analog delay pedal and my favorite. I am offering the boy over the man simply because of the price, I think you get about 90% of the tone of a Deluxe memory man for a fraction of the price.
The deluxe memory boy offers a tap tempo feature with a tap divide function, so after you’ve set the song’s tempo, you can choose a triplet-feel, eighth-note feel, triplet-eighths or sixteenths.
The pedal also offers your choice of triangle or square modulation waveforms with adjustable rate and depth for remarkable chorus, sweeps, and vibratos.
The Memory Boy lets you roll off the low end of the echo returns. Hold down the Expression Mode Selector for two seconds. Then, adjusting the Rate knob, you can roll off of the low end of the echoes.
If you hold the button down again, that setting will be saved. Your material will be saved even if you repower the pedal. If you want to change the setting, just hold the button down again.
It also has a built-in effects loop so you can affect echoes with the pedal of your choice.
Finally, there is an external expression pedal connection which allows you to tweak parameters on the fly without having to bend over.
This pedal is a great choice for ambient guitar parts, or guitar players looking for something a little more interesting coming out of their amp.
Musicians who use the Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy include Luke Parish and Ryan Adams.
If money were no object
It’s been a close race, but my pick is the EHX Deluxe Memory Boy. It’s a sturdy, high-quality pedal that produces an exceptionally rich, true-to-vintage analog tone. It is a full featured pedal which lends itself to creativity and fun. At the end of the day, I just like the way it sounds and I hope you pick the pedal that inspires you the most, no matter what anyone else says.
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