Echos from the Past…

Posted: December 8, 2010 by Paul H in Tips & Tricks

I got this email asking about a Boss pedal the other day, instead of focusing on the pedal, it got me thinking about echo, delay and your overall tone.

Hi Paul,

I got a Boss DD-20 today and I think it’s fantastic!  I know that you have quite a lot of experience with the unit so I was wondering if you could recommend me any settings for an Eddie Van Halen type of echo sound?  I love his tone on those early Van Halen albums – his guitar sounds huge!!

Thanks again!



Hi Gareth,

On the first Van Halen album I’m pretty sure Eddie used a Univox tape echo unit with the unusual shaped cassette that inserted into the slot on the back. I had one of these echo units also, mainly because it cost less than an Echoplex. A funny thing, I remember after hearing the first Van Halen album I sold my Univox and spent the extra dough for an Echoplex so I could get a better echo tone like Eddie’s. You know, I assumed Eddie had the more expensive Echoplex unit because, of course, Eddie had a record deal. (Later Eddie did trade up to Echoplexes.)

I was surprised to learn later that, for his first album, Eddie actually did use the same Univox unit as me! He also used a hundred watt Marshall and an MXR Flanger like I did too! We had the same basic gear but I sounded way different, so very different!! Granted, I did play different guitars than Eddie.

This illustrates one truth that you can’t escape, you’ll always sound like yourself. The real secret is to find what your sound is and then perfect it! You’ll still need to borrow from other players to build a vocabulary and if you want to get some of Eddie’s sound into your playing, then the best way is to learn some of his licks, solos and rhythms and mimic his nuances. By the way, I can’t think of anyone better to mimic.

For me during those early Van Halen days, I was listening to Michael Schenker, Uli Roth and Frank Marino so I sounded more like those guys even though I had the same amp type and pedals as Eddie.

As for the Boss DD-20 I like to create two presets for the Van Halen tone, a dotted eighth delay and a quarter note delay and I set the DD-20 to toggle between these two. You can save more presets if you want. Next I would use an external, momentary type pedal to tap in the delay rate. You will always sound better if your delay is in rhythm, as Eddie’s was on most of his records.

Finally use the DD-20’s “analog” or the “tape” delay modes (other units have these delay modes/settings too). I think these delays get out of the way of your main guitar sound better than a straight digital delay. I remember my first digital delay totally stepped on my sound, I hated it. Now I am using the Boss RE-20 Space Echo pedal. This is a tapeless tape echo created with the miracle of computer modeling. This is my favorite pedal, it even has a dedicated tap-tempo pedal built in.

In my opinion If you are using amp distortion, the best place to insert your delay pedal is in the amp’s effects loop. If you are using a pedal for your distortion then you can insert your delay in the effects chain before the amp, just make sure the delay is after the distortion pedal. 

All the best!


  1. bingefeller says:

    Thanks again, Paul. The DD-20 is fantastic, probably the best delay I’ve ever played. I could spend hours tweaking it. Thanks again for the setting hints.

    Gareth. :-)

  2. phanson says:

    Cartier Sunglasses has a good point. Hey, a thing I like about the future, nowadays, is that those past, primitive inventions, like tape delay can be contained and duplicated with binary code. No quaint, moving parts.

    Paul H

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