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The affordably-priced Flashback 2 shines when it comes to tonal versatility. TonePrint feature is well done, letting you download delays designed by pros. Throw in a 40 second looper, and you’ve got digital delay done to perfection.
With 200 presets and a 30 second looper that can run pre or post delay, this workstation many consider to be the gold standard of delays. Its tone and build quality are amazing, and it is absolutely worth the premium.
We’re here to help you figure out what the best guitar delay pedals are. If you’re thinking, “there is no such thing as the best pedal…” you are correct. Variety is the spice of a musician’s life, and there are dozens of great pedal options no matter what type of pedal you’re looking for. We aim to provide you with “can’t go wrong” delay pedal choices for different types of guitar players with varying budgets.
The Top Delay Pedals
TC Electronic Flashback 2 Delay
» The Flashback 2 shines when it comes to tonal versatility.
Delay Type: Digital Delay Max Delay Time: 6 seconds (40 seconds with the Flashback X4, and 7 seconds with the Flashback Mini) Looper: Yes, 40 seconds
TC Electronic keeps making compelling pedals, and the trend continues with the TC Electronic Flashback 2 Delay and Looper Effect Pedal. Along with Line 6’s DL4, the Flashback 2 is one of those “do it all” delay pedals where versatility is the name of the game. An important thing to note is that the Flashback actually comes in 3 flavors. The one we saw the most recommendations for (and thus the one we tested) happens to be the middle one, the Flashback 2 Delay and Looper. If you don’t need the looper functionality, then we strongly suggest you go with the budget-friendly Flashback Mini. Conversely, if you want more features and have the cash to spare, you’ll want to look at the larger Flashback X4.
The TC Electronic Flashback 2 is the second iteration of the super popular original Flashback delay pedal, and has all the features of its predecessor plus a few cool new ones, most notably the MASH footswitch control (more on that shortly). You can think of the Flashback 2 as a more compact Line 6 DL4. The lower right knob lets you select between seven built-in delay types: 2290, Analog, Tape, Dynamic, Modulation, Crystal (which has this shimmery/spacey thing going on), and Reverse; the 2290 setting is particularly highly praised as a fantastic clean delay.
One feature that makes the Flashback stand out from the rest is the TonePrint feature. All three versions of this pedal can be plugged into your computer via USB, and you can load in different delay settings supposedly made by the pros themselves. To get an idea of the various TonePrints available for the Flashback 2 Delay, go here. This feature could have definitely been a hindrance if not implemented correctly, but TC Electronic did a great job with it. Want a delay custom-made by Steve Morse or Omar Rodríguez-López? Plug in your pedal via USB, download the TonePrint, and start playing. It’s very easy and intuitive to use. You have three TonePrint slots available in this pedal, so while you’re playing you can switch between the three, as well as the normal built-in delay settings of course.
Another similarity with the DL4 is the inclusion of a looper, though the looper on the Flashback is not quite as good as the DL4’s. Think of it more as a bonus, rather than a core feature. The strength of the Flashback is the tonal versatility; there are definitely much better loopers out there. If looping is important to you, the relatively low price tag of the Flashback should leave you with cash leftover to grab a TC Electronic Ditto. That said, this pedal offers a generous 40 seconds of loop time.
The MASH feature is pretty interesting, and while your milage may vary in terms of how practical it is, we sure had fun playing with it. If you give the pedal’s footswitch a quick tap, it turns the pedal on and off (like any other stompbox). However, if you apply sustained pressure to the footswitch, it basically acts like an expression pedal. There’s an LED in the middle of the pedal that shines brighter the more pressure you apply, which in turn modulates the current delay sound more and more. It does some pretty cool things like infinitely hold your last delay repetition, change the pitch of the delays, apply a synth-like shimmer, and all sorts of other crazy modulations.
One minor annoyance of the Flashback 2 is tap-tempo is not built in - or rather, it’s not fully self contained. When you’re running the pedal mono, you’re able to use the stereo input jack to plug in a footswitch for tap-tempo.
As far as digital delays go, the sound quality of the TC Electronic Flashback is one of the best. It has made its way onto the pedalboards of the stars, including Joe Perry, Albert Lee, Troy Van Leeuwen, and Steve Morse.
Bottom line: The Flashback gets our wholehearted recommendation. If anything, the question is which of the siblings in the Flashback family should get a home on your pedalboard. If you want a versatile digital delay and decent looper without spending a ton of money, grab the Flashback 2. If you can do without the looper but still love the idea of a digital delay (and want to take advantage of the TonePrint feature), you’ll save about $50 by going with the Flashback Mini. If budget is not an issue, you can spare the room on your pedalboard, and you want a slightly more modern and superior sounding version of the DL4, we suggest you go with the Flashback X4.
Provided you don’t mind the digital flavor, it’s hard to argue this is not an outstanding pedal. For this many features packed into a single pedal, its outstanding sound, and value for the money, the Flashback is an absolute win.
Delay Type: Analog Delay Max Delay Time: 600ms Looper: No
If we just went by the most recommended delay pedal in forums, the MXR Carbon Copy would be the undisputed champion. Right away it’s worth mentioning that this is a no-frills true analog delay pedal, and an outstanding one at that. Why no-frills? With analog pedals you tend to give up the bells and whistles like looping and tap tempo (the lack of tap tempo is probably the biggest gripe we have about this pedal).
This is absolutely a pedal for those who appreciate analog tone. Owners of this pedal describe the sound as “organic,” “lush,” “full,” “subtle,” and having “warm tonal characteristics.” With the Carbon Copy you get up to 600 milliseconds of delay time. From a usability standpoint, people like the relatively large size of the knobs, making it easy to dial in settings with your toe as you’re playing. And speaking of control, there are 3 knobs to play with: REGEN controls the amount of delay/repeats, MIX controls the level of delay, and DELAY controls the rate (there is also a MOD button which toggles the modulation feature). Build quality is great; MXR knows what they’re doing in this department.
Of course, analog delay is not for everyone. Some people might prefer the clearer and crisper tone a digital delay such as the Flashback and Boss DD-7 provide. Analog delay is susceptible to coloration, since every repeat of the sound reuses the previous repeat.
Bottom Line: For as good of a pedal as the Carbon Copy is, the price is not at all unreasonable. While not in the super-budget range, keep in mind you’re paying for a pedal that is widely regarded as the best analog delay pedal, and has found its way onto countless pedalboards of the pros. Billie Joe Armstrong, Billy Gibbons, Zakk Wylde, and Brad Paisley have made room on their pedalboards for the Carbon Copy.
With dozens of positive endorsements by pros and casual players alike, hundreds of near-perfect ratings, and overwhelming approval from our panel of reviewers, the MXR Carbon Copy is a no-brainer for one of the best analog delay pedals out there.
Delay Type: Digital Delay Max Delay Time: 6.4 seconds Looper: Yes, 40 seconds
Boss has been making some of the best delay pedals for decades - DD-2, DD-3, DD-5, DD-6, DD-7, DD-20... enough choices to make your head spin. Luckily for us, they have outdone themselves with each new iteration. Case in point is the Boss DD-7 Digital Delay. We thought that the delay pedal was as good as it was going to get but Boss has made a great product even better.
First, we just have to say the DD-7 looks cool with its white, black and blue color scheme. It’s also practical, since it also allows the various lettering to stand out and be legible (the other pedals on this list suffer a bit in this regard). The DD-7 packs in quite a lot of features that we will get into shortly. Finally, coming to build quality, this is a pedal that has been built like a tank. This is common across almost all Boss products and the DD-7 can take a considerable amount of abuse before breaking down or suffering any significant damage.
As we mentioned earlier, Boss has a history of making great delay pedals and the DD-7 is no different. It has bettered its predecessors by offering up to 6.4 seconds of delay which is unheard of in a pedal. This really expands the possibilities and allows you to create some really unique and otherworldly tones. The delay also comes in two modes: modulation delay and analog delay. While modern music enthusiasts will love the modulation delay, classic music lovers will appreciate the analog delay.
Another useful feature is the stereo output capability of this pedal. This allows you to create some mind-bending stereo sweeping and panning effects which is unheard of in a pedal at this price point. The DD-7 is also very adaptable. You can connect it to an expression pedal and an external footswitch to control various parameters of the sound on the fly which can be a great boon when performing live. It can also send dry and wet signals at the same time making it equally at home on the stage and inside a recording studio. Finally, an onboard looper that can save sounds of up to 40 seconds in length is a very handy feature to have in such a compact and affordable package. The icing on the cake is that it is virtually noise free and produces one of the cleanest outputs we’ve experienced.
Getting the DD-7 to sound exactly like you want it to is pretty easy. There are four knobs that allow you to tailor the sound to a very fine level. The first knob E.LEVEL controls the effect level and is basically like a volume control. Set it at the 12 o clock position and you get the same level as the input sound and it can be reduced or increased from here. The second knob F.BACK is the feedback knob and this controls the number of time the delayed sound repeats itself. Keep in mind that this knob does not work when using the hold mode (i.e. looper). The third knob D.TIME is the one you will probably end up using a lot and it is the delay time knob, which unsurprisingly controls the amount of delay time. The last knob MODE allows you to select the various modes such as modulate, analog, reverse, etc.
No product can be perfect and as good as the DD-7 is, there are still some things it can do better:
Drains batteries quite quickly, but this can be mitigated by going with a power supply.
Operation is a little less intuitive than a similar digital pedal like the TC Flashback.
Difficult to change settings on the fly without using an expression pedal that has to be bought separately.
Bottom Line: There is no doubt that this is a rock-solid choice for a delay pedal, especially at this price point. It's that good and will last you for many years. Boss has a very long and rich history of delighting guitarists and the DD-7 proudly carries out that task with even more oomph. It's a mainstay on pro pedalboards - Josh Homme, Steve Vai, Joe Perry, Paul Banks of Interpol, Ryan Adams, and more.
» Astounding versatility from 12 algorithms which you can tweak parameters on all day long.
The first thing that will grab your attention rather forcefully is the aesthetics of the Empress Effects Echosystem. It has gorgeous exterior that does justice to its insane capabilities. The light metallic color makes it look like an expensive piece of art rather than a piece of musical gear and for that matter. There is no screen but it is not much of an inhibition.
The initial learning curve will feel a bit tricky but once you spend an hour or so with this unit, everything will be clear as the light of day. The build quality is exceptional and this thing will withstand almost everything a guitarist will be able to throw at it in a regular use scenario. The LEDs light up beautifully and everything is clearly labelled and spaced out intelligently to allow for easy adjustments even when the lighting conditions wouldn’t seem conducive to it like on a dimly lit stage.
The Echosystem takes a more nuanced approach to the art of signal processing to give some of the best delay effects we have heard in sometime. Instead of a single algorithm driving the entire unit, the Empress Effects Echosystem has 12 separate algorithms. This makes each type of delay have its own unique and specific character. Another advantage of this approach is that the sound quality is simply breathtaking. It is quite easy to get lost in the depth and elegance of each of the single type of delay. Furthermore, it is quite customizable and flexible as well. Every parameter of the delay can be adjusted to a very fine degree and that allows you to create some really unique and personable sounds.
The sheer number of available delay effects is staggering too. Just to put this into perspective, there are 4 different tape delay effects alone. Overall, there are more than 36 types of delays in all which would take a lifetime to get through. You also have the option of saving 35 presets so that once you have a sound dialed in just right, you can save it for future use.
The one thing that the Echosystem offers that no one else is offering currently is constant firmware updates. Empress are very active on their forums and always lend an open ear to their users. In the rare occurrence of you finding an issue, chances are pretty high that it will be quickly fixed.
With highly convincing analog delay effects and some of the best digital delay effects, this pedal truly shines like a bright star. Add to that features like buffered bypass and full bypass and the Echosystem becomes a must-have component of every guitarist’s pedal board. The Empress Effects Echosystem is innovative and highly dependable and its flexible features make it a bonafide winner.
» A simple, no-frills delay with a shockingly low price.
Delay Type: Digital Delay, disguised as an Analog Delay. Max Delay Time: 620ms Looper: No
Some players are just looking for a simple, great sounding delay pedal with a small footprint that won’t break the bank. We were very happy to see several recommendations for the Donner Yellow Fall Delay. For as good as this thing sounds, you won’t believe the price. You just can’t beat this for a simple delay.
You get 3 knobs to play with: ECHO which controls the wet/dry mix, TIME lets you select 20-620ms delays, and FEEDBACK for the length of repetitions. Unfortunately the Echo and Feedback knobs are too small to be manipulated with your feet as you’re playing. This pedal is marketed as “True Bypass,” meaning it should not color your signal when inactive. Despite this claim, some users reported a slight bit of coloration, which we were not able to detect ourselves.
Some users have reported that this is not a true analog delay pedal, but rather a digital recreation. Still, it has drawn some comparisons to the analog tone of the MXR Carbon Copy, which is very high praise considering you can buy 4 of these for the price of one of those! Whether it’s true analog or not, it tends to sound darker than most digital delays, and the repeats are prone to artifacts from harmonic distortion, meaning Donner did a very good job with the sound.
Bottom Line: It’s easy to fall in love with this little pedal. Coming in at the lowest price and sporting a killer sound in a robust enclosure, we think this makes the perfect budget choice.
» Pristine digital delay, 15 vintage delays and echoes, 14 second looper, and options for days.
Delay Type: Digital Delay Max Delay Time: 14 seconds Looper: Yes, 14 seconds
The Line 6 DL4 has the distinction of being one of the most highly recommended and most recognized digital delay pedals. Digital delays offer more versatility, and no pedal showcases this better than the DL4. Part delay pedal, part looper, this is arguably Line 6’s most successful effect pedal. If you’re the type of person to look at the pedalboards of the pros, you don’t have to look long before spotting one of these green boxes in the wild (John Mayer, Coldplay’s Jonny Buckland, John Frusciante, Joe Perry, and Thom Yorke all use it, to name a few).
They call this a “delay modeler,” which means that because of the digital circuitry, it is able to model or replicate 15 vintage delay and echo effects (the left-most knob on this unit lets you select what delay to model). Sure, a purist in a studio setting might be able to tell that the DL4 does not replicate the true warmth and character of vintage analog delays… and if you’re that type of player, we suggest you own a true analog delay like the MXR Carbon Copy. The majority opinion is that the Line 6 DL4 is a fantastic sounding delay unit, and does justice to the delays it attempts to replicate.
The enclosure is rather large so be mindful of how much space you have on your pedalboard; but for the versatility it offers, it’s a small price to pay. Not only are all of the presets customizable with the DELAY TIME, REPEATS, TWEAK, AND TWEEZ knobs, but you have 3 programmable preset slots to save your custom settings, tap tempo, and an outstanding loop function (labeled the Loop Sampler).
It’s worth talking about the Loop Sampler - you get 14 seconds of memory to record your guitar playing, and loop it over and over. For instance, you can record a rhythm part, and play lead over it as it loops. You can continue to overdub more and more on your original loop, essentially becoming a one-man-band. While it’s not a perfect looper, and some users complain that the 14 seconds is a little short, it’s generally great for most users, and will save you from buying a separate looper pedal.
To address some of the negative feedback we uncovered, some users complain that the stomp switches are not the most sturdy. We personally owned one of these even before making this guide, and in years of use we’ve never had a problem (granted we don’t abuse our pedals to the max). Another gripe is the price, which some users feel is a bit on the high end. It’s by no means budget-priced, but we think considering how many features you get, the price is justified.
Bottom Line: While the price is bit steep, there’s a good reason this is one of the most popular pedals of all time. Its ability to model a host of vintage delays is second to none, and the 14 second looper is a pleasure to use.
» Dual independent delays that can be customized in millions of ways.
Delay Type: Digital Delay Max Delay Time: 3 seconds Looper: Yes, 12 seconds
The great thing about modern electronics is that they can pack in hundreds of features in a tiny form factor and the Eventide TimeFactor Twin Delay Pedal is a great example of that. It is feature rich and has the ability to do some great delay effects right out of the box. Its biggest strength is the degree to which it can allow you to tweak and customize the sound without degrading the quality. There are two independent delays (hence the name Twin) that can each be up to 3 seconds.
Each delay can further be chosen from 10 awesome presets that are all very usable and can be used in stereo or mono mode. A 12-second looper, rugged build quality, true bypass, and the ability to connect to a computer via a USB port sweeten the deal even further.
You can update the software via USB, and also use Eventide’s H9 Control app to manage your delay presets. It is no doubt on the expensive side but well worth each penny if you crave the most tweakable digital delay out there.
» 8 presets and a 30 second looper make this a good option from a great manufacturer.
Delay Type: Digital Delay Max Delay Time: 3 seconds Looper: Yes, 30 seconds
The EHX Stereo Memory Man is a cool device that combines a capable delay pedal and a lengthy looper in a seamless manner and at a pretty decent price. The sounds you can get out of this pedal is matchless.
The reverse echo is a really cool feature which in combination with the 30 second looper can produce some really amazing sounds. The eight presets are programmable which allows you a great degree of tweaking.
It is a digital pedal which can be a sore point for analog enthusiasts, but this is one of the warmest sounding digital pedals and your audience will not have the slightest clue anyways. The sturdy metal construction, stereo operation, and true bypass complete this sweet package.
If you’re wondering what in the world Hazarai means like we were, this is according to founder of Electro-Harmonix Mike Matthews himself:
It means all the extra stuff. You know, give me a frank with all the Hazarai.
» 200 presets and a 30 second looper that can run pre or post delay make this the gold standard of delays.
Looper: Yes, 30 seconds with the ability to run pre or post delay.
The brushed steel appearance gives this pedal a very distinguished and high end look. The layout is neat and the use of green LEDs is a genius move. The master selection knob abandons a notch or mark on the knob itself to point at an effect and instead uses individual LEDs for each effect with the selected effect’s LED glowing. This makes selecting effects easy even in dim lighting conditions. The exquisite build quality and its air of exclusivity makes it stand out from the crowd of delay pedals out there.
Using the Strymon Timeline Delay was very easy it was with no effort at all that I was able to make in-depth changes to the sound to get it to sound just right. The layout and the old-school LCD screen help immensely but it is the way everything is structured that anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of how delay works will be able to make this pedal to sing to their tunes. There are at least 8 parameters that you can tweak for each effect to a very minute degree and then save it on one of the 200 memory locations to call it back when needed. There are so many possibilities with the sound that your own creativity will be what ultimately puts any obstacles in front of you.
Its connectivity options are great too including MIDI capabilities. You can connect a MIDI controller to it to make switching between the presets quite easy. An expression pedal can also be connected to precisely control certain parameters while playing live. Overall, this is one of the most intuitive and easy to use feature-loaded delay pedals that we came across.
The analog sounds that the Strymon Timeline Delay produces puts it into the upper echelon of delay pedals on sale right now. They are as warm and colorful as a true analog pedal’s sound.
It is a solidly built unit and even the most enthusiastic guitarist will have a tough time putting a dent into this beauty. The build quality is just so exceptional and everything looks and feels exquisite. Turning the knob gives a satisfactory response and that brings us to how easy it is to use. Do not get us wrong. This delay pedal is loaded to the hilt with features including a looper but the way everything is laid out and managed seems so organic that even amateur guitarists will be able to set up the Strymon Timeline Delay without any issues. This is a very capable delay pedal that can make you happy irrespective of which effect type you have your mind set on. If you want a truly amazing delay pedal that can handle analog effects with aplomb few pedals are as good as this one.
» 12 delay modes, an easy to read LED screen, MIDI interface, and looping capabilities.
The DD-500 is Boss' flagship delay pedal. At its heart it is a multimode delay pedal but it actually is a lot more versatile and customizable than your average delay pedal. If you are looking for the ultimate delay pedal that money can buy then the Boss DD-500 should absolutely be on your short list.
As soon as you lay your eyes upon the Boss DD-500, you will realize that it is a premium product. It somehow manages to look powerful yet quite simple at the same time. You will not feel at all intimidated by this device. Everything is very neatly laid out and operating it is very intuitive. There is a main knob to the left of the screen which you can use to select a particular type of delay. Examples include shimmer, tape, dual, Tera Echo, slow, SFX, and so many more. Having the sounds of all these delay types available so easily is great but you might ask what is so special about them. It is their authenticity and the level of customizability that truly makes them shine. You can choose to modify many parameters to get the delay to sound just right. You can then save these on one of the banks for easy access later. The crisp and clear screen helps in this regards quite a lot. The phrase looper capability is another wonderful addition to this pedal.
Coming to the actual sound quality, it is just so sweet and full of life. This is technical wizardry at its best and I can’t imagine how Boss are going to better this one as it is damn near perfect. There is almost no noise and the build quality is excellent which allows you to play passionately without having to worry about damaging your precious and rather expensive pedal. The DD-500 is the closest a digital pedal has come to replicating the warmth of an analog delay pedal.
The stereo on this device isn’t true stereo which can be a bit annoying if you really want to get into heavy mixing. The lack of an inbuilt expression pedal also seems like an oversight. Apart from these minor quirks for which you can find workarounds, there is very little to complain about regarding the Boss DD-500.
» Great analog delay that is true bypass and has terrific tones.
Delay Type: Analog Delay Max Delay Time: 600ms Looper: No
While being a revered name among guitarists, Seymour Duncan is known mostly for their pickups. They, however, have produced a few great pedals and the Vapor Trail is one of them. The great thing about this pedal is that it manages to achieve with perfection what many of its peers fail to achieve - produce an authentic vintage delay sound.
Another cool feature is the ability to mix the wet and dry signal precisely by using an external expression pedal. The downside to this pedal is that it is highly focused doing one thing and that is delivering a vintage sound, so if you’re looking for variety then this isn’t the best pedal for you.
By analog delay standards the price is quite affordable though which means that you can use it as a specialty pedal. Despite using an analog BBD chip, it is noise-free which usually happens to be the biggest problem traditionally associated with an analog circuit.
Another huge plus is the flashing light synced with the delay time - very useful when jamming with other musicians. While this pedal might not be for everyone, those looking for a smooth vintage sound will absolutely love the Vapor Trail. To top it all off, the color scheme and paint job is beautiful.
» Organic analog tones with tap tempo and modulation effects.
Delay Type: Analog Delay Max Delay Time: 700ms Looper: No
Analog delay pedals are mostly pretty simple. By providing you loads of features and a very precise control over the depth and rate of delay, the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy bucks that trend. An external expression pedal can enhance this control even further, and we definitely recommend one.
It is a completely analog pedal and allows you to get a warm, somewhat dark and deep delay that can vary from subtle to mesmerizing. It sort of takes on a life of its own which can easily take you to Radiohead-ish territory, so if you’re looking for a more bright and clinical delay it’s best that you look elsewhere.
The tap tempo and subdivision selection is a game changer, and its inclusion is unheard of at this price point. If a very tweakable analog delay is what you’re after, this is one of the best pedals on the market for the money. Think of it like an MXR M169 Carbon Copy or Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail on steroids.
» Stereo reverb and delay combination creates absolutely beautiful modern delay sounds.
Delay Type: Digital Delay Max Delay Time: 2 seconds Looper: No
Rarely does a pedal get the name, looks and the features just right but when it happens, it is magical as is the case with the EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run V2. This is one of the most feature-rich pedal that offers both reverb and delay effects in the same enclosure.
It’s important to note that this is not your everyday “vanilla” type of digital delay pedal. The reverb/delay combo and that intangible EarthQuaker Devices “magic” makes the Avalanche Run V2 sound a certain way which you will either like or hate; if you happen to be in the former group - like us - then you are in for a treat (have a listen for yourself and try not to fall for this pedal).
The reverb alone makes this a truly awesome pedal but add the delay capabilities and this is a great option if you want to build a minimalist pedal board. Sadly, the Avalanche Run isn’t great at producing classic and vintage sounds but is the perfect companion for anyone into modern, experimental, or ambient soundscapes.
Though the means of achieving the effect can get a bit complicated at times, the actual function of a delay pedal is pretty simple. Essentially, all the pedal really does is play back the notes that you’ve played. A good example of this effect would be something like guitar riff in the opening of Sublime’s April 26, 1992 or the majority of the lead guitar work of U2’s guitarist The Edge.
However, this effect also has a few other interesting uses. For example, when set to more subtle settings delay can work wonders in filling out your lead tone for solos. This technique is actually commonly used in almost every genre, though it seems to be most common in country.
Also, a delay pedal opens up a lot of interesting uses when used as a way to enhance rhythm guitar work. For example, when using Jimi Hendrix-esque barre chords (F-Major shape with the thumb wrapped around the neck to hit the bass note on the 6th string) you can have a sound almost similar to a bass player and rhythm guitar player working in close conjunction. That technique offers up a lot of flexibility in what your rhythm section can accomplish, as it gives the bass guitarist more room to emphasize certain intervals in the song.
What to Look for in a Delay Pedal
While the things that apply to shopping for other pedals apply here as well (build quality, size, features, cost), perhaps the biggest consideration is akin to one of the greatest debates in audio of all time; analog vs. digital.
Analog vs. Digital Delay: As you probably guessed, this has to do with the circuitry that’s causing the delay to happen.
Digital Delay is controlled by a computer chip, i.e. pure logic, 1’s and 0’s. It’s a more perfect delay, since it’s algorithmic. Digital adds no coloration to the sound. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on the guitarist; sometimes we want a pure unadulterated sound, and sometimes we want some dirt and artifacts. Objectively, the benefits of digital delays are much longer delay times, and more versatility, i.e. the delays can be processed with other effects like reverse echo, stereo delay, tap tempo, looping, etc.
Analog Delays have more character, but are less perfect. If you think of the delay time as a clock, every repeat of the sound reuses the previous repeat, thus potentially introducing coloration and imperfections. Also, delay times are going to be shorter. Some guitar players seek this out, claiming analog delays have, “natural dark and murky warmth to them that really thickens up your signal.” Depending what signal you are feeding into your delay pedal, you might want to avoid analog. For instance, if you’re feeding it a big/thick or distorted sound, the harmonics will have to be reproduced on every repeat, and this can cause some unpleasant results.
It comes down to personal taste, and your existing rig. If you have a relatively clean signal and don’t need an immensely long delay, analog might be preferable since it will add some character and warmth. If on the other hand you want long delays, or are feeding a very dirty signal into your delay pedal, you might opt for a digital delay that won’t introduce any unwanted surprises with every repeat. Still not satisfied? We go into more depth on this topic in this article and video.
Versatility: An analog delay pedal tends to be simpler, i.e. it just serves as a delay pedal. Digital delay pedals have the advantage of offering more features - looping, reverse, tap tempo to name a few. This is exactly why you’ll often see guitarists recommend that you have both types of delay pedals on your pedalboard; analog for quality and warmth, and digital for the versatility and bells & whistles.
Looper: It’s not uncommon for digital delay pedals to include a looping function. A looper allows you to record anything for a specificed amount of time, which will just be repeated (looped) over and over. For instance you can record a rhythm riff, loop it and then play lead over it. It’s how musicians like Ed Sheeran can become a one-man band. If you want to seriously get into looping, we recommend a dedicated looper pedal (we have a guide to choosing the best looper pedal here). But if you just want to play around with it or are ok with shorter loops, you’ll appreciate the loop function included with many digital delay pedals.
Build Quality and Size: How important delay is to your style and sound will dictate if you need to pay close attention to build quality and size of the pedal. As with any pedal you shop for, if you’re going to be playing live and stomping on it night after night you’ll want to make sure it can take a good beating and remain functional. A less robust build quality usually means a much more affordable pedal, so make sure that’s something you really require. Regarding size, the more feature-laden a delay pedal is, the larger it will be (thus taking up more space on your pedalboard), and typically more expensive. One of the pedals we recommend actually comes in three different size variations.
Cost: Price can often be the deciding factor, so we made sure to select pedals in different price ranges. Whether you’re looking for a starter delay pedal, or something to invest in and keep on your pedalboard for years to come, our picks have you covered with some options.
How We Tested Delay Pedals
We’ve got several guitarists on Equipboard’s editorial team, and boy do we love pedals! To bring you the best delay pedals out there, we keep current and extensively research new products. We periodically review and revise this list as new pedals are released.
We ran these delays through our tube amps, solid-states, and even headphone amplifiers. In terms of electric guitars, we used a variety of single-coil and humbucker pickups, as well as solid body, semi-hollow, and hollow body guitars.
For this particular test, we had an Orange Crush 30 watt combo amp (which has a nice clean channel that takes pedals very well), and a Fender Hot Rod DeVille 60 watt combo amp. We tested with many guitars, but with delay the choice of guitar matters a little less. For the record, we used a Gibson ES-325, a Gibson Bill Kelliher Golden Axe Explorer, and a Tele Custom.
Which Delay Pedals Are Used by the Most Pro Artists?
Ever wonder what your favorite artists have on their pedalboards? Well, we crunched the numbers on Equipboard to reveal some fun facts about the most used delay pedals.
Slash's DD-3 can be seen at 5:35 of this video detailing his signal chain. His guitar tech says, "...they work, they sound the way we're looking for, real simple. Got about two places I use it in the set right now, and you know, good delay."
Michael bought his first guitar, a Fender California Series Stratocaster in Candy Apple Red, in 1998. He likes rock of all types, from classic to punk to metal. Michael co-founded Equipboard to satisfy his curiosity around what gear his guitar heroes use. Read more