Why are there so many types of delay?

It can be confusing to new and experienced guitarists alike, as to why there are so many different types of delay, so first let’s look at what delay is.

Delay is an effect that repeats the notes you play, depending on how you set a delay it will repeat your notes from as little as one time to as many as infinity (that’s when things get a little bit messy).

Adjusting the “time/speed” knobs spreads delayed notes out, meaning the “repeats” can be either extremely close together producing a doubling type effect similar to two guitars playing the same thing slightly out of time, or, at the other end of the control, you will find the repeats much farther apart which sounds like somebody repeating a phrase that you played 3 bars ago for example.

So on paper, this all seems to make a lot of sense, and when you hear it’s obviously an effect that you will be familiar with as it’s used on many millions of songs, but when we dive deeper into delay we find there are many many many different types, but why?

The first type of delay we should discuss is the original created by Les Paul (of the Gibson Les Paul fame) which was created using tapes. Les would effectively record the same thing on two different tape reels at the same time and one of them was played back slightly after the first one creating what was eventually called echo.

Many musicians believe that this was the best delay sound ever and as a result, people have tried to re-create the effect and tonality around it with all sorts of different methods including effects pedals.

The recent release of the BOSS RE-2 and RE-202 pedals are an effort to recreate a very famous tape echo unit, the ROLAND RE-201 Space Echo. They’ve done a great job of it, as have other pedals which chase this tone, however, since this one is from the original creators of the Space Echo it could be seen as the most authentic. 

The Space Echoes stood out among other tape echoes due to their pristine clean almost percussive tonality whereas most tape echo units had a warm is slightly saturated sound. 

Tape wasn’t the only way to reproduce tape delay, things such as oil drums and the Binson echo-rec which used magnetic drums to re-create notes were very popular within the field of artists including David Gilmour who is playing is almost always going through the delay of one sort or another.

In an attempt to make delays portable and easy to use companies such as BOSS and Ibanez (and many others) began to make what was referred to as the bucket brigade delays of the 1980s. These were often dark-sounding delays with simple controls and really started to make delay an effect that everyone could use easily. 

We love delay at Analog Alien, our Rumble Seat has one built into it which we’re extremely proud of! 

Around this time Digital Delay became something musicians required because the repeats could be heard clearly. This type of dealy has much more pristine repeats and could be said to sound like the tape delays of old when a brand-new tape reel was used in them. As the older tape got darker it sounded. At this time musicians tended to be broken down into two types of delay users, digital and analog.

So this is often where many guitarists leave it, are you an analog or digital delay lover? However, it goes deeper still!

We soon started to see the creation of multi delays with all sorts of different variations such as reverse delay which would play the notes backward producing an effect that needs to be heard to be believed, modulation controls could add a similar effect to that of more worn out tape reels, this would extend from slight out of tune chorusing effects all the way to extreme “omg change the tape already” watery type effects. Some people started to get very creative by implementing very broken-sounding repeats, this can be heard all over Radiohead‘s albums and it’s normally courtesy of Line 6 DL4.

The past few weeks saw not only saw the release of the BOSS RE-2 and RE-202 it also saw the release of the new version of the Line 6 DL-4 as we mentioned used by many artists including the mighty Radiohead. The DL-4 had a built-in looper system, meaning you could record your playing and then play over what you have recorded!

The Line 6 DL-4 had many different types of delays some of which were absolutely out of this world and others that replicated things such as the previously mentioned Roland space echo style delays.

Some of the delay types the DL-4 introduced to the average guitar player included rhythmic pattern delays, here the repeats wouldn’t play sequentially 123, instead, they would play at varying times given a rhythmic pattern. Dynamics delay also known as ducking delay would only sound the repeats when the guitarist stopped playing and when the guitarist began playing again, the repeats would either completely disappear or reduce in volume depending on the settings.

Ping-pong delay was a stereo delay that would alternate between different stereo speakers, left then right, then left, then right, etc, which previously was only something that would happen in a studio environment or at Pink Floyd gigs.

Today we have many many different types of delays which have gone even further than the previously mentioned types of delays, these can be extremely creative sources. One such delay, released only a few days before releasing this blog, is Chase Bliss Audio’s Habit. This bizarre approach remembers everything you play for the past 3 minutes and can repeat any part of that time back to you randomly with all sorts of amazing delay effects added. Tools like this are extremely useful for creativity and all of these delays discussed have been responsible for inspiring whole new songs and musical types of genres.

This may seem like a very comprehensive list but we have only just brushed over the tip of the iceberg and we truly hope you enjoy your delayed journey.

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