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The Gibson Guide to Guitar Effects

DELAY

HELLO   Hello   hello   hello...

That’s the stereotype of echo—a sound being repeated over and over, with each repeat getting weaker until the sound dissipates completely. This is different from reverb, which is more of a “wash” of sound (see the Gibson Guitar Effects Guide chapter on Reverb for more details).

But in recent years, echo has evolved into a whole family of sounds. We’ll look at basic delay controls, then some of the more esoteric variations that can definitely spice up your playing.

DELAY CONTROLS

Delay time is the time between when you play a note and when you hear the first echo...which means if the delay is set up to produce successive echoes, this is also the time between the first echo and second echo, second echo and third echo, etc.

Echo
The top waveform shows a guitar note with a single echo, while the bottom waveform shows a guitar note with multiple echoes.

Feedback takes some of the output and feeds it back to the input, which is how you can end up with a series of echoes. If you feed back the output at a lower level, then there are fewer echoes, and successive echoes aren’t as loud. Combining really long delay times (several seconds) with lots of feedback lets you loop phrases over and over (and over!) while you overdub more lines on top of this repeating loop.

Feedback filter changes the tone of successive echoes. For example, with tape echo, each echo would sound a little “duller” than the previous one. Filtering out some high frequencies emulates this effect.

Mix (also called Blend or Balance) mixes the desired amount of delay sound into your main, unprocessed guitar sound.

Tap tempo lets you sync the delay time to a song’s rhythm by tapping along with the tempo. Tap tempo measures the time between taps, and converts that to delay time.

Delay mode gives you a bunch of different delay types, such as:

Dual delay means there are two independent delay lines, so you can have two different delays with two different mixes, amounts of feedback, etc. Great for polyrhythms!
Dynamic delay suppresses delays while you’re playing, but lets them through when you stop playing. One control sets the amount of suppression (from a little bit softer to all the way off), while another sets sensitivity to your playing (i.e., how loud you need to play for suppression to occur).

Reverse Delay
The top waveform shows a guitar note, while the bottom waveform shows the same note being produced by reverse delay.
Reverse delay changes a note’s “direction.” With a guitar note, normally the echo decays from loud to soft. With reverse echo, the echo starts at zero level and builds up to the initial attack. This emulates the “backwards tape” effect, popularized in the '60s by Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and many more.
Modulated delay changes the delay time slightly as you play to give a more animated effect that’s a little like chorusing. This has two controls, one to set the modulation rate, and another for modulation depth.

DELAY TIPS

Get an instant “60s psychedelic sound” with reverse delay. Few guitar sounds scream “'60s music!” as much as backwards delay effects.

Use dual delay for dance grooves. Try a dotted half-note for one delay, and a half-note for the other delay—it will really propel your music.

Short delays can “fatten up” your sound. A single delay, without feedback, in the 20-35ms range can give a bigger, fatter sound when combined with a straight guitar sound.

Use delay modulation for “automatic double-tracking.” When you double-track a guitar part, you’ll have slight timing differences because no matter how good you are, you can’t play a guitar part exactly the same way twice in a row. You can simulate these subtle timing differences, and generate a pseudo-double-tracked part, by adding some delay modulation.

Use 75-90 milliseconds of delay for “rockabilly” tape echo effects. Back in the '50s, studios generated echo by recording into a recorder at the record head, then monitoring a delayed sound from the playback head. The space between these heads resulted in a delay of about 75-90 ms at a typical tape speed of 15 inches per second.

AUDIO EXAMPLES

Play Name Description
EXAMPLE 1 Turn one guitar part into two by using modulated delay to create Automatic Double-Tracking effects.
EXAMPLE 2 Get people moving on the dance floor with polyrhythmic delays. In this example, one--Firebird X delay is set to a half note, and the other to a dotted half note.
EXAMPLE 3 Light up the incense, and put on your love beads—the '60s are back with reverse delay and a little added reverb. The pseudo-bass part is Firebird X, too, using the octave divider.
EXAMPLE 4 Dynamic decay lets decays through when you stop playing. In the first half, note how in the two figures, delay is going all the time—this muddies the sound. In the second half, dynamic delay lets delay though only when Firebird X stops playing, making the part far more clear and focused.
EXAMPLE 5 Nothing says “rockabilly” like a tight, single echo.
EXAMPLE 6 Firebird X doesn’t just have delay, but can give really long delays – up to 10 seconds. Here this is being used to loop an ambient bed, with occasional notes played over it and repeated.