A delay will produce repetitions of the input signal. Many people will relate to it being called an “echo” or “echo pedal”. From 1950s style slapback to longer rhythmical delays timed perfectly to your playing, a delay can really enhance your sound.
Whether you want to add just a touch of delay to thicken up your sound or want to bathe in it and make it a massive part of your sound like The Edge from U2, you’ll find it a worthy addition to your pedal line-up.
So, what does a delay pedal sound like?
Delay Pedal Buying Guide
Analog vs Digital
Delay was one of the earliest effects used in recording and started life as a loop of tape with 3 magnetic heads for erase, record and playback. By placing the playback head after the record there would be a delay in playback the length of which depending on the speed of the tape.
Analog delay has a chartestic sound due to all of the imperfections that comes with tape.
Along came the 1970s and things moved on to analog, solid state electronic circuits to replace the mechanical tape machines (and the obvious maintenance issues that they suffered from). In many ways the sound was a bit more lo-fi than tape machines – especially as the manufacturers worked at offering longer and longer delay times.
By the time we hit the 1980s things had moved on to Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chips giving a lot more control over the sound and length of delay. They also could offer perfect replication of the original signal avoiding degradation over successive repeats. For this reason they became extremely popular. Eventually this has lead to two camps. Those that prefer the more authentic analog sounds and those that like the crispness and versatility of digital technology.
In simplistic terms an analog delay will produce warmer, repeats that lose clarity more quickly. Digital on the other hand will produce cleaner, more accurate repeats. The downside to this is some people feel it is too clean and clinical sounding.
Typical controls will include:
Delay / Time / Echo: Controls the length of time between repeats.
Mix / Level: This changes the volume of the repeats.
Feedback: The amount of repeats. Turned right down you’ll get a single repeat with multiple repeats coming into play as you turn the control clockwise.
Mode: Some pedals will allow you to change the type of delay, from analog and tape simulation to reverse echos.
Below is our list of some of the best delay pedals on the market today. This is a solid list that would probably please most people meaning that you aren’t going to go to far wrong with any of them.
Note: There’s a lot more information below but clicking the above links will take you to current prices, further information and customer reviews on Amazon.
Donner Yellow Pure Analog Delay
The Yellow Pure is one of the growing number of micro pedals available. When you first set eyes on it two things stand out; it’s tiny footprint and the bright yellow color of its aluminum alloy casing. First impressions are good. It definitely feels well made and above its price range.
It’s a true bypass pedal meaning the signal is routed straight to the amplifier when the pedal is off (as opposed to buffered). This can have its advantages in maintaining the tone of your guitar. Of course, it isn’t necessarily as clear cut as that because those that run a very long guitar lead and/or lots of pedals might find a buffered pedal works better for them (as it strengthens the signal).
Weirdly they describe the echo knob as a tone control in the manual. It isn’t. What it does is control the mix or blend of raw signal and repeats.
In use there was no unwanted noise added to the signal and overall we were impressed by the sound quality. Obviously the “echoes” aren’t as clean as as digital but generally this is what people are looking for in an analog pedal.
One potential downfall is the feedback control produces infinite feedback before you have even reached the 75% position.
Boss DD-7 Digital Delay
Here’s the Boss offering in this round-up. As with all their other pedals this is up to their usual, professional build quality.
The DD-7 is a digital delay offering a massive 6.4 seconds of delay time and in stereo too! Various modes are available including an analog mode that emulates their popular DM-2 analog pedal. Other modes on offer include reverse delay and modulate which will give a chorus-like effect – very useful if you have limited board space and want chorus for occasional use.
For those that like to be able to use tap tempo it is available although it has to be done via an external footswitch. Well technically you can do it without but it involves holding down the pedal for over 2 seconds then tapping the tempo. Using something like the Boss FS-5U footswitch make this job so much easier. The DD-7 also allows you to plug in an expression pedal.
If you want to experiment with looping then the DD-7 has that too. It’ll give you 40 seconds of loop time. It won’t beat a dedicated looper but it is pretty good. Great for solo guitarists and can be a great tool for practising. Just lay down a chord sequence and you can solo over it. Note, you can’t use delay and the hold function at the same time.
Overall a great pedal in terms of sound quality and features.
MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay
The MXR M169 is a true analog pedal using old school bucket brigade circuitry that produces a wonderful, smooth sounding delay of up to 600ms. It’s become somewhat legendary amongst serious guitar players that are after an old school sound.
The mod button turns on the modulation circuit and adds in a chorus effect on the delayed signal leaving the clean signal unaffected. This is great because you don’t then lose the clarity of the notes you are playing. It’s a lovely effect and nice addition to this the M169.
The modulation settings come set at the factory but there are internal trim pots that allow you to change the speed and width of the modulation. Obviously not something you can do in the middle of a gig but is useful for those that want to tinker. Most will find the factory settings just fine.
One criticism is the battery access is a bit of a pain but, let’s face it, you really should be running your pedals from a power supply anyway.
You’ll likely enjoy using this delay for whatever style you play with the only exception being those who want a super long delay. If you are looking for true old school sounds then this the pedal to get.
TC Electronic Flashback 2
One of the key features that makes the Flashback 2 stand out is the inclusion of TC Electronic’s MASH technology. This allows the bypass switch to also act as an expression pedal. And, if that wasn’t enough, you can also hook it up to their TonePrint editor allowing you to fully customize up to three presets. Pretty cool eh?
While this is a digital pedal they have gone to great efforts to reproduce an excellent analog and tape sound which are a complete revamp on. The latter even includes a realistic tape warble! Other cool modes include “Crystal” a very nice shimmering delay based on those shimmer reverbs that sound so great.
There’s also modulation mode uses the TC tri-chorus sound and adds it to the delay that gives the Flashback 2 an extra dimension you won’t hear on a standard delay.
All-in-all there are eight modes plus the 3 presets so it’s a pretty versatile pedal.
TC Electronic Flashback Mini
While it may look like a basic pedal there is more to it than meets the eye. Using the TC Electronic TonePrint technology you have access to a multitude of different delay tones and artist signature effects. You can even create your own custom tones – how brilliant is that? This can be done via your computer or even using their app on your phone held up to the guitar pickup.
The only consideration is that in a live situation you won’t be able to swap presets easily. Sure you can use the app but it does send an audible digital “noise” down the pickup.
Delay time is good. A total of 7 seconds so you have enough time to create a small loop.
The Flashback mini has a small footprint as would classify as a micro pedal and, as such, there isn’t any room for a battery so you are going to need a power supply.
One nice surprise is that the Flashback mini includes a tap tempo feature so you can get your delay in time with the song.
TC Electronic ND-1 Nova Delay
If you want total control then the spaceship control panel of the Nova Delay is going to appeal. The multitude of controls and digital display mean you can dial in the exact delay / sound that you want. Added to that it also features a modulation control. There are three styles that add chorus to the delayed signal with the level controlled via a separate mod level knob.
The Nova has nine presets which is very handy. The downside is changing them mid-song. Firstly you can only scroll forwards through them and you also have to activate them using the tap tempo then the on/off switch to scroll through them. This is fine to set before you play a song but not so good if you want two different delay sounds during a song.
Both analog and digital fans are catered for with the rather inventive color knob. You can dial through from the old sound of a tape echo, through analog and on to fully digital sounding delay.
As you’d expect from a unit this size, it’s power supply only.
Fender Mirror Image Delay
The Mirror Image delay is another of the fantastic pedals in Fender’s recent assault of the guitar pedal market. Part of a new range of quality effects from the famous guitar maker, they have taken the effect pedal market by storm.
Fender who have traditionally just dabbled in the pedal market have really upped their game here and produced some amazing pedals.
The Mirror Image case is made from brushed aluminum, it’s well built and looks great too. There are LEDs in each of the knobs which makes them very easy to see on a stage setting. One minor criticism is the main jewel light that lets you know the pedal is on is brighter than the sun so they might want to tone that down in future versions.
Modulation effects are also included on the Mirror Image giving a chorus/ flanger effect. Unlike some other pedals, Fender have included depth and rate knobs to fully control it.
Of the three “Type” settings: Digital, Analog and Tape the latter has been absolutely nailed by Fender. Again the depth and rate controls are put to good use and control the warble effect that was common on tape delays.
A cool feature is the dotted ⅛ switch that adds an eighth note into the repeats along with your quarter notes.
The battery door has been well designed, is magnetic and pops right open. It’s probably the best design we’ve seen on a pedal.
While Fender’s Mirror Image doesn’t go to the wild extremes of some of the other pedals, it does what it does very well. As fans of vintage tape echo it wins us over on this feature alone.
For many though, the awesome variations made available in the TC Electronic Flashback 2 combined with the TonePrint editor and MASH expression pedal will make this pedal the winner.
Pure analog fans will ultimately sway towards the MXR Carbon Copy which is a truly delightful old school pedal with added modulation.
Where do I place a delay pedal in the chain?
Typically you would place your delay at the end of the pedal chain. If you are also running reverb then that would be placed at the very end. But remember, rules are made to be broken so experiment!