Updated on 12/04/2020
The Best Delay Pedals: a Guide by Type
If you like delay, you were born in the right century. Humans have been making music for a very long time — some say as many as 35,000 years. But none of the gazillions musical compositions written between the dawn of humanity and the 1960s had a “delay effect” on it!
Of course, echo could be experienced in nature before then, but it was impractical for musical purposes (unlike reverb, which is achievable by placing the sound source in an empty room).
Delay is, therefore, a modern commodity, and if it’s true that it’s not the only sound effect born in the last century, we’d be hard-pressed to deny that it’s one of — if not THE — most fun and inspiring of them all. How lucky are we?
Delay Pedal-Mania is… Now!
Those who, more specifically, love delay pedals, are even luckier: the decade that just ended saw an explosion of devices and new technology that made this effect better sounding and more tweakable and portable than ever. In the last few years, things have gotten even more interesting with granular synthesis entering the arena, making echo and delay pedals one of the most inspiring and playful niches for creative musicians and effect designers alike.
What’s the Best Delay Pedals for Your Needs?
A delay pedal simply replicates your guitar’s input signal. So why is choosing one so difficult?
The short answer is “variety.” Electronic delay, or echo, has been around since the late 1940s, when it was produced mechanically, using audiotape. In the roughly 70 years since then, it’s become available in a range of analog and digital circuits and with an increasingly varied set of features.
We’re not going to get into the specifics of how delay pedals work—you can go here for that—but suffice to say, delay has become one of the most common effects available today, even if it is available in an uncommonly diverse number of flavors.
So, what kind of delay do you need? The easiest way to find what you are looking for is to click on one of the overall categories in the list below and then look for the pedal that’s right for you in the sub-categories’ interactive galleries, which are organized by perceived popularity:
• A Simple, Classic Sounding 3-Knob Delay Pedal
(2 categories: Analog and Tape-Style)
• A Classic Delay Pedal with Advanced Controls
(4 Categories: Analog Compact, Analog Non-Compact, Tape-Style, Tape-Style w/ Lo-Fi controls)
• A Do-It-All Workstation Offering Many Flavors of Delay
(3 Categories: Compact and Large Workstations, Tape-Style Multi Delays)
• A Character Delay Emulating Non-Tape Vintage Units
(2 categories: Binson Echorec and Oil Can Emulations)
• A Creative Delay Pedal
(6 Categories: Pitch Shifting, Ambient, Lo-Fi, Single Function, with Reverb, CV In)
• A Truly Experimental Delay Pedal
(2 Categories: Multi-Mode Experimental and Granular Delays)
• A Mini Delay Pedal that Fits in Any Board (separate page)
CLASSIC DELAY PEDALS WITH 3 KNOBS
Many guitarists are looking for a delay to help them beef up their tone. They don’t need tap tempo or other frills—just a basic pedal that can deliver a range of delays for styles ranging from rockabilly to reggae to hard rock. If this sounds like you, you’ll be happy to know there are plenty of pedals out there that can fulfill your requirements, in the two flavors of analog (Bucket Brigade Chip-based) and tape echo-style delay (digital delays that emulate the warmth and “wow and flutter” of the vintage tape echos.
• 3-Knob Analog Delays
All analog delays are based on the Bucket Brigade Device chip (BBD).
• 3-Knob Tape-Style Delays
These are simple digital delays that emulate the delay character of vintage tape echo devices.
DELAYS WITH ADVANCED CONTROLS
If a basic echo pedal is too spartan, check out these analog and digital pedals, which boast tap tempo and additional features for creative sonic manipulation, such as multi-tap and low-frequency oscillators that can emulate the pitch fluctuations of vintage tape-based delays.
• Advanced Analog Delays (Small Footprint)
In this list, devices that give you a bit more flexibility within the BBD analog format within the perimeters of a small enclosure.
• Advanced Analog Delays (Larger Footprint)
These analog delays exploit a wider footprint to give you more controls, opening up extra creative features.
• Tape Delays with controls for Modulation
Tape-style echos differ from analog delays mostly for trying to convey – through added modulation – the “wow-and-flutter” produced by the rolling of the tape in the vintage unit. The pedals in this category let you fine-tune that effect with dedicated controls.
• Tape Delays with Controls for Tape Character (Lo-Fi)
Another characteristic of tape is the sonic degradation it conveys to the repeats when the tape ages. These pedals allow control over the lo-fi character of the repeats.
DELAY PEDALS WITH MULTIPLE MODES
Guitar players with a decent budget don’t necessarily have to pick between an analog-style and tape-style delay. Many advanced delay units place a wealth of analog, vintage and digital tones at your service, along with features such as looping, multitap delay, “freeze,” tap tempo and additional reverb and modulation effects. As a rule of thumb, the more flexible these pedals are, the pricier and lesser compact they get.
• Multi-Mode Workstations (Larger Footprint)
This list features the most comprehensive and flexible delay pedals out there. They are all DSP-based and stereo, and come at a cost.
• Multi-Mode Tape Echo Pedals
Unlike the devices in the previous list, these pedals focus on recreating the various flavors of vintage tape delay units (and some non-tape based ones) through modes emulating classics like the Echoplex, the Space Echo or the various effects producers learned to create out of a Studer tape recording machine.
• Multi Delay Pedals with Smallish Footprint
These are streamlined and shrunk versions of the flagship devices in the previous list. They normally share the same algorithms but have less controls and features.
MINI DELAY PEDALS
If your priority is size, this is your list, and you’ll find a lot of options in the linked in-depth article. Today’s mini pedals can pack a lot of functions, but the reduced real estate doesn’t allow them to be as deep as the delay workstations in the previous list. They tend to be more affordable than their bigger cousins, but in many cases also flimsier and impossible to repair.
EMULATIONS OF VINTAGE, NON-TAPE DELAY UNITS
Maybe you’re just hooked on the raw sound of echo produced by mechanical tape and oil can delays. Unfortunately, vintage tape delays like the Echoplex, Binson Echorec and Roland RE-201 Space Echo can be costly and difficult to maintain. Oil-can delays are even more troublesome—and more expensive, since fewer working examples survive. On the bright side, there are a number of entirely electronic pedals that can faithfully mimic the glitchy sounds of tape delay and warbling echoes of oil-can units.
• Binson Echorec Emulations
Digital emulations of a vintage Italian magnetic drum-based effect unit from the ’60s (dear to David Gilmour among others) that introduced multi-tap delay.
• Oil Can Delay Emulations
Digital emulations of a rather murky sounding and obscure delay device based on oil. There are only two pedals in this category.
CREATIVE DELAY PEDALS
Delay is also the centerpiece for a range of stompboxes designed for adventurous guitarists (and other musicians too). These pedals excel at turning your input signal into textural machines or echoey, droning wash of sound, and usually include a number of other signal-bending features, such as filters, pitch shifters, and modulation, . If you’re looking for a delay pedal that can take your sound into another dimension, chances are you’ll find what you want among these machines. Most of the boxes here can do straight delay, but nearly all of them exist for the sole purpose of creating unorthodox effects.
• Multi-Tap Pitch Shifting Delays
Assigning different pitch parameters to different delays in a multi-tap echo is an inspiring way to create unexpected parts. These stompboxes shine at this.
• Ambient/Sci-Fi Delays
In this list, a bunch of delay pedals that excel at creating otherworldly washes of sound, ranging from the ethereal to the sci-fi, ofter featuring a mix of reverb and delay.
• Creative Lo-Fi Delay Pedals
Lo-Fi artifacts add character to the signal, and the stompboxes in this list provide plenty of options to make your guitar sound less clean, often in a playful if not quirky way.
• Creative, Single Function Delay Pedals
These pedals offer a unique take on delay. They are not very flexible, but what they do, they do it extremely well.
• Delay Pedals with Reverb
The Reverb+Delay combo is one of the most popular for creative guitarists with ambient or shoegazer inclinations.
• Delay Pedals for Synths with CV In (Great for Modular)
CV (Control Voltage) is a format that allows electronic musical instruments to talk to each other (like Midi, but analog), and it’s the standard for modular synths. The pedals in this list are both creative and CV compatible.
DELAY PEDALS WITH AN EXPERIMENTAL ANGLE
For the guitarist interest in pushing the traditional sonic boundaries, there are a few pedals that blend delay with more experimental effects like granular synthesis, filters and reverse effects. These are mostly textural pedals that are great at generating happy accidents, glitchy parts and quirky riffs.
• Multi-Mode Experimental Delays
The pedals in this category offer several unconventional delay modes.
Check out our in-depth article about the Best Delay Pedals with Creative and Unusual Features.
Go back to list of delay types
• Granular Delays
Just like some sort of “dyslexic delay,” a granular delay chops us samples of audio, reorganizes these fragments in a different order, and then repeats these new patterns creating unexpected, often glitchy textural repeats.
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And finally, here are a few videos highlighting cool delay tricks to get your creative juices going (click for video)!