Delayed Gratification

Posted: December 14, 2010 by Paul H in Tips & Tricks
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I’m continuing this topic from my last post because there is so much to say about delay. By the way, nowadays most guitar players use the term delay even though the effect produced is echo. For all practical purposes among guitar players, echo and delay mean the same thing.

I just love this effect and use it all the time. I view it as an accepted way to cover up my mistakes, just kidding. If I really mess up, delay won’t cover it up, but it does make everything a little less stressful so my notes aren’t out there naked. They’re enveloped in a warm noise generated from my previous notes.

Back in the day, I discovered delay after being mesmerized by Alex Lifeson on Rush’s Fly By Night tour back in the 70s. Rush was so good back then, and because they were a trio Alex had his Echoplex going almost all the time. Delay is very nice in a trio situation and it made Alex’s guitar sound very full. Along with Alex’s hollow-body ES-335 that resonates a bit fuller than a solid body guitar, his tone really filled out the band.

Delay adds an extra fullness in between your notes and when you use it on rhythms switching from one chord to another is smoother, it fills in those little gaps. I just skied this morning and it was snowing hard. Delay kind of reminds me of how when it snows, features on a hill soften, everything smooths out so there are no rough edges.

If there are two guitarists in your band or if you’re doubling the rhythm guitars in a recording you probably want the extra definition, and in that case I don’t recommend adding delay on the rhythms, but I’d definitely go for it on solos! I’ve even doubled solos and panned them left and right and put a delay on each guitar and panned the delays; check out this except from my Paul Hanson Orchestra album, it’s the solo from my Peter Gun cover. You can’t really hear the separate delays on each track but the delays give the two lead tracks a soft coating so they blend better.

Doubled Lead w/Delay

As I mentioned in the last post I prefer analog or tape type delays that give a thinner sound, and the echo repeats degrade when they fade out. I remember hooking up an equalizer to roll off the highs of my first digital delay in the 1980s, I just think a perfect digital echo steps on your main signal a little and gets in the way. I recorded three delay types so you could hear how they react with a distorted lead tone. I like the tape type, a close second is analog. Hear how the digital one is so perfect?

Digital Delay

Tape Delay

Analog Delay

Another thing that’s ideal for a delay effect is for it to be in-rhythm. I like to tap in (with my foot) the delay rate for every song. The Boss DD-7 lets you do this with an external pedal even when the unit is off. The Line 6 DL-4 and Echo Park both have this tap-tempo ability too. It’s not necessary but in-rhythm delay usually sounds smoother than a delay that’s set up at a random speed. I usually go for quarter notes.

In Rhythm Delay

Now, there are some guys like U2’s The Edge who uses multiple delays in-rhythm at different rhythmic groupings. This becomes even cooler if you are playing in stereo and some delays are ping ponging back and forth.

If you’ve never tried these tricky delays, the first one to get used to is the dotted eighth delay. If you’ve heard Eddie Van Halen’s instrumental Cathedral, the dotted eighth effect is what he’s doing on that. If you are new to this be careful, at first it’s like walking and chewing gum at the same time.

For the dotted eighth effect set your delay unit for 100% effect, (or 100% depth). Then, set the delay feedback for only one repeat. (On most units you just turn the feedback knob all the way down.) If you have a tap feature like the DD-7, set it to the dotted eighth setting, (you might need to get out the manual). Now with your foot, tap in a few quarter notes to set the delay rate, then play eighth notes (playing staccato will help). If you’re having trouble, try tapping the quarter notes while simultaneously playing the eighths, it might help you get them in rhythm. Using a metronome to keep you in time helps too.

If your delay doesn’t have a dotted eighth setting you can set the delay rate the old fashioned way. Example: at 120 BPM, set your delay to 375ms for the dotted eighth rate. To help you feel the rhythm use a metronome. Set it to 120 BPM. Now play eighth notes along with the metronome. (Eighth notes are: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and etc., two notes for each metronome click.)

My example below is at 120 BPM and the single repeat delay is set to a dotted eighth rate at 375ms, as suggested above. Remember the single repeat echo needs to be the same volume as your played notes. (I just played the beginning of Paganini’s 2nd Caprice here in even eighth notes; I played one note at the top so you can hear there’s only one repeat.) The dotted eighth delay is so cool because when you get it going the delay plays the echo in between the notes you play.

Single Dotted Eighth

Since delays are measured in milliseconds, that divide a second into 1000, and song tempos are measured in beats per minute, there are formulas for figuring delay rates at different tempos. If you are a math guy it is cool to know the formulas but I’m not so I’ll direct you to an online delay calculator, they are all over the Internet, this one is called a delay time generator:

Delay Calculator

Now check this out. In addition to the 375ms single repeat delay. I’m adding a 500ms quarter note delay for a Pink Floyd effect. I put the 500ms delay in the chain right after the 350ms dotted eighth delay and I kept the feedback up on the quarter note delay so it has multiple repeats.

Dotted Eighth & Quarter Note Delays

If I was stranded on a desert island and I could have only one effect I would choose delay in a millisecond.

  1. Scott DeFriez says:

    Very good article Paul. I’m still useing my old EP-3 echoplex’s, 4 of them….LOL! A former student of yours!

    Scott DeFriez

    • Paul H says:

      Hi Scott, great to hear from you. You’re still in the dark ages dude. You know my wife put my echoplexes out during a garage sale when I was on the road. Fortunately, nobody in my neighborhood had seen one before so they didn’t know what they were. Bottom line, I did eventually sell them and I use lots of gear that sound just as good. Check out the Boss RE-20 space echo pedal.

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