Delay is one of the most common effects used in almost every genre of music and is one of those must-have effects pedals that every guitarist should own.
In this article, we take an in-depth look into what this effect is and how you can use it in your music. We also include our pick of the best products on the market.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Delay Pedals on the Market
- Ibanez ADMINI
- Boss DM-2W Waza Craft
- MXR M169 Carbon Copy
- Way Huge WHE702S Echo-Puss
- Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail V2
- Boss DD-7
- TC Electronic Alter Ego V2
- TC Electronic Flashback
- Strymon El-Capistan
- Eventide TimeFactor Twin
- EarthQuaker Avalanche Run
- Dunlop EP103 Echoplex
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Here’s the contents of this article.
- What is the Delay Effect?
- Buyers Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Delay Pedals
- So, Which Should I Buy?
What is the Delay Effect?
Delay, echo, and reverb are all time-based effects that follow the same physics but vary in their ‘reflection time’ (the time it takes for the sound to bounce back).
So how the effect used? First, you have what’s known as ‘slapback delay’, a very short type of effect commonly used in blues, country, and early pop music. In fact, John Lennon used slapback in a lot of his vocals. Second, it’s also used as a ‘doubling effect’ to produce fuller, chorus-like sound and to mimic the sounds of stacked vocals. Finally, long delay is used to create interesting chordal and melodic textures.
Buyers Guide – Key Considerations
Convinced you want to buy one? Cool. What things should you look out for?
First up, decide if you want to go vintage or contemporary. Analog pedals usually sound warmer than their digital counterpart and the BBD chips they use produce shorter delay times, but many digital options offer a great alternative with more flexibility.
If your pedal has a true bypass circuit, it won’t drain any of your signal when it’s switched off. This means you’ll make sure a complete output signal reaches the amplifier, to ensure that your guitar produces it’s full tone, for a better overall sound.
A stereo output will let you send your guitar’s signal into two separate amplifiers if required. This means you can vary the delay produced in each speaker for a unique, experimental tone, or to achieve a bouncing effect sound between two amplifiers
Product Round-up & Mini Reviews – Best Delay Pedals
The Ibanez Admini is a mid-price mini stompbox, with a relatively simple but effective aesthetic and tone selection. Thanks to its analog circuitry, these Japanese boxes deliver a classic, warm, vintage sound – making them perfect for retro fanatics.
Who should buy this?
For those of you looking to recreate a vintage tone, this pedal is pretty good and available at a lower price compared to some models out there. Due to its simple controls and solid build, its best for players looking for a simple, retro style stompbox that can withstand being on tour.
- Great sound – Analog circuitry for those classic vibes.
- Portability – Easily transported to and from gigs thanks to its miniature size and lightweight.
- Less versatile than a digital alternative – if you’re looking to create some bizarre ambient music, this may not be the right option for you.
- Not as many extras as some models.
Boss DM-2W Waza Craft
The Boss DM-2W Waza is another great sounding analog stompbox and built like a tank, selling at a slightly higher price than the Ibanez Admini. It’s also slightly larger and takes 9v batteries and a power supply for extra portability.
As well as having the usual tone controls, the refreshing aspect of this product is that you can switch between ‘custom’ and ‘standard’ modes. The standard setting offers a vintage sound with a delay time between 20-300 ms; custom provides a more modern, cutting sound with up to 800 ms. The Waza also features an expression pedal input jack, so you can create some cool variations while playing live.
Who is best suited?
Due to its ability to sound very old school analog and modern at the same time, this is best suited to guitarists on a mid-range budget, who like to keep their options open.
- Quality Sound – Recreates both analog and experimental sounds effectively, so a great all-rounder.
- Expression pedal input – Allows you to vary your sound while playing live – much more convenient than reaching down to turn dials between songs.
- Although the Waza is a recreation of the original Boss DM-2, it sounds noticeably more digital in comparison.
- Weight – Heavier than some of its rivals. This shouldn’t be a problem but is worth thinking about if you’re already carrying several others in your gig bag.
MXR M169 Carbon Copy
Slightly more expensive than both the above, the Carbon Copy is an analog box designed by MXR. With its bright black exterior and simple but elegant design, it’s a bit of a head turner.
Although it can’t reach as high times of the Boss DM-2W, it offers optional modulation, with two extra controls, thanks to its new internal trim pots. This allows for modulation with adjustable width and rate control, meaning the modulation effect will produce cool swirling and spacious tones for those more experimental players.
A couple of other bonuses are true bypass so that it won’t suck away your guitar tone, and a battery option making it extra portable.
Who should buy it?
Although it uses analog circuitry, the modulator effect sounds modern and slightly more digital than the Boss and the Ibanez products we mentioned earlier. It’s great for any guitarist that wants to create spacey out of this world sounds.
- Extra Modulation effect – Allows you to create your own experimental, nebulous sounds with ease.
- Simple tone control – With just three simple tone control dials and one extra effect, there’s not much room for error here.
- No expression jack – Unfortunately you won’t be able to use an expression pedal to change effects while playing live.
- Sound Quality – Although the Carbon Copy offers reasonably decent sound quality, it’s tone isn’t quite as authentic as the Boss and Ibanez we previously mentioned.
Way Huge WHE702S Echo-Puss
The Echo-Puss by Way Huge, as its name suggests, delivers a huge tone and also looks cool with its raw metal finish. However, the best thing about it has to be it’s authentic rich, warm analog sound and its simple but versatile set of tone controls.
It features standard time and repeat controls, but also has an LFO modulation circuit featuring a tone control (for extra bass or treble) a blend dial (which lets you change the level of modulation) and a speed dial (to change the speed of the repeating echoes). Overall, the LFO modulation circuit allows you to add chorus-like texture too.
The Echo-puss can also run via a 9v battery or a power supply, so if you forget one or the other, you don’t need to worry too much.
Who would like this?
Due to its fantastic analog tone and simple controls, this is the best pedal for those less technical players, looking for a purely vintage, warm sound. It even sounds great with plenty of distortion in the mix.
- Amazing analog tone – The Echo-Puss produces some of the finest vibes out there.
- LFO modulation – Offers extra variation in the form of chorus.
- Not so great for ambiance and shoegaze, it’s all about vintage warmth.
- No expression jack – You won’t be able to change your settings during a song, as there’s no room for an expression pedal here.
Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail V2
The Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail is one of the more pricey products out there. But for your buck, you get some pretty interesting features and tones. It has separate controllers for rate and depth, which allow you to control the chorus effect. Despite being analog, these extra controls let you create highly versatile sounds.
However, the best feature has to be the blue tempo light that flashes in line with the delay time, so you can easily change tempo while playing in a darkened club. As well as having extra tone control dials, there’s an additional stereo jack where an expression pedal can be connected to control the effect intensity.
Who should buy this?
Overall, the versatility on offer here makes it best suited for analog lovers that want to experiment with more out-there modifications. That said, you’ll need to have some prior knowledge to make the most of these modulator settings, so it’s best if you’re at least an intermediate player.
- Versatile – Extra modulation control, as well as an expansion pedal jack, allow for a variety of sounds.
- Time illuminator – The handy tempo light will help you to adjust your tone in the dark easily.
- Price – Not the cheapest.
- Off-putting – Some guitarists will argue that the bright blue tempo light makes it harder to see your pedal board due to its brightness.
Versatility is the Boss DD-7’s middle name. This little beast takes the best features from older models (it simulates the classic analog BOSS DM-2) and adds extra tonal variation via its modulation and analog modes, extension pedal control option and longer delay times (a massive 6.4 seconds). As well as this, the DD-7 features a hold mode which allows up to 40 seconds of input to be recorded for building up layers of sound.
Which type of guitarist would like it?
Due to its versatility, the DD-7 is best suited to adventurous guitarists, looking to play around with settings and experiment. It’s not a beginner pedal, as adding footswitches, loops and tone control all require some prior skill.
- Highly versatile – The tonal possibilities are almost endless, mainly thanks to it having an expression input jack for extra control, and stereo out, for audio panning and spatial audio sweeps.
- Hold Mode – Cool feature that lets you record and build up layers for interesting textures of guitar sound.
- Analog setting – digital is never going to sound better than the real thing.
- Complex – not the right choice for players who prefer a simple set up.
TC Electronic Alter Ego V2
The TC Electronic Alter Ego has a simple, yet professional look about it, with its black finish and controlled by three simple tone dials (level, time and feedback). Its standout features are the nine vintage analog modes, which offers sounds ranging from vintage slapback to tape echoes, chorus, and flange. The other great feature is its use of Toneprint software, meaning you can beam your favorite settings onto the pedal via your laptop or smartphone app. TC already have a huge database of presets you can download, or you can even create your own.
Who is this ideal for?
Due to its ability to create a vast variety of new tones, this pedal is best suited to experienced guitarists looking to experiment. The Toneprint technology will require some extra learning, so better for the tech-savvy person.
- Variety – Nine classic built-in presets, not to mention more available via the software.
- Quality Sound – Despite being incredibly diverse in modes, it manages to recreate a warm, rich analog vibe.
- Extra learning – The software will require some additional learning before you master it completely. This may take some time depending on how computer literate you are.
- Price – More expensive than other models on the list.
TC Electronic Flashback
Considering we just talked about how much variety the Alter Ego provides, TC’s Electronic Flashback provides us with even more technology and at a slightly lower price. Once again this pedal features the standard controls we’ve previously mentioned, however, but it also offers 11 unique effects which include both analog and digital recreations.
The best part thing about it? There are a reverse delay and a 40-second looper, so you can produce some out-there sounds and layer them up, for fascinating rhythm and lead sections. As well, the TC’s Toneprint technology allows you to create your own effects, so you’ll never be left wanting more options.
Who’s best suited for?
Ideal for those experienced players wanting the absolute, maximum tonal options, including those produced by analog and digital effects. Saying that the Flashback is only going to work if you’re fairly computer literate and willing to spend time configuring its settings.
- Extremely versatile – There are not many sounds it won’t be able to recreate, thanks to the variety of modes available, as well as space for your own Toneprint creations
- Mash Technology – Features a handy Mash footswitch, which lets you control the overall expression of the output.
- Complex – Novice players may find it too complicated to use.
- Jack of all Trades – Because the Flashback offers so much, it tends to fail on some of the analog tones that other models (like the Boss DD7) recreate more realistically.
If you’re a guitarist looking a high-quality tape echo replica, look no further, Strymon’s El-Capistan is the one for you. Even though the El-Capistan is not analog, it’s digital circuitry specializes in producing authentic sounds. The best thing about it’s 3 separate tape head options: Fixed, multi, and single-head, which allow for a diverse array of tones from the ’50s onward. There’s also a ‘wow and flutter’ dial so you can add in vintage tape crinkles and splices for aged and retro vibes. Additionally, the El-Capistan has a tap footswitch, letting you tap in the exact delay time you prefer, and a trails cut off option – meaning you can completely stop the echo for a high impact end to a riff.
Who’s the ideal customer?
Compared to other products in this round-up, the El-Capistan is on the more expensive side of the spectrum, and not to mention quite complicated to use (there are 11 adjustable mode/tone settings overall). It’s, therefore, best suited to experienced players, in particular, those looking to recreate realistic tape effects.
- Authentic tape effect – Produces some high-quality effects.
- Tap Switch – Extra features will save you tons of time, bending down and dialing in your tempo in between sets.
- Too much choice – Offers too much control for some players.
- Price – There are similar, high-quality alternatives out there for a fraction of the cost. Have a look at the TC Alter Ego for example.
Eventide TimeFactor Twin
One of the more expensive products we’re going to discuss, but for its price, you get a lot to play with. The TimeFactor Twin features nine modes, as well as an entertaining looper setting which lets you record anything you like to reuse later or to build up as layers of sound for a percussive effect. Another unique addition is it’s X knob which varies its use according to the effect.
Who is best suited?
Due to its price and complex set of tone controls, its best suited to experienced players with some prior knowledge of creating effects loops and stereo amp settings.
- Twin Delay outputs – Gives you more control over your tone.
- X knob – Extra tone control has a different function on every mode, for even an even more versatile array of effects.
- Very large – It’s so big that it may not fit on your pedalboard. It’s also heavy, so you might want to reconsider this if you’re going to be carrying it around
- Complicated – So much to offer that it may leave you feeling confused or not knowing where to start.
EarthQuaker Avalanche Run
The EarthQuaker Avalanche Run is full of surprises, not to mention very pleasing to the eye thanks to the mountain range imprinted across its body. It’s essentially a three-in-one, as it includes reverb, swell mode, and a standard delay setting. It also has six expression parameters which are controlled by either a dial or an expression pedal. Interestingly, the expression knob can also control the mode toggle switch, allowing you to glide between the modes, via an expression footswitch.
The coolest thing is that it’s been designed to lag in delay shifts, which allows you to create some amazing, usable pitch shifting effects. The second coolest aspect of the Avalanche Run is its oscillation blast feature, which you engage by holding the tap footswitch down, allowing you to increase the intensity of your tone during a live set.
Who will like it?
Thanks to its ability to manipulate your tone via foot-switches rather than tone dials, it is best suited for players wanting versatility when playing live. It’s also suitable for those that prefer digital over analog tones.
- Great live – Offers oscillation blasts, trail cut-offs, and six expression parameters, all of which can be controlled by foot (perfect for live shows).
- Pitch shifting – Produces extremely cool pitch shifting qualities – great for ambient or spacey riffs.
- Digital lovers only – Sounds great, but is incredibly digital; therefore it’s not well suited for people wanting warm analog vibes.
- Price – Once again, it’s only available to those with a larger budget, so make sure it does exactly what you need it to before you buy.
Dunlop EP103 Echoplex
If you’re a guitarist serious about analog reverbs sounds, the Echoplex is unlikely to disappoint, as its specifically designed to sound like a 70’s tape effects, but also includes some extra tricks for modern versatility.
The best feature is it’s vast amount of delay time (up to 750 ms) and a whopping 4 seconds if you add MXR’s tap pedal into the tap input jack – this is much longer than most analog alternatives out there, and means you’ll be able to create plenty of long effects.
Another cool feature it offers is the ‘age mode’ setting which you engage via the volume tone dial. This setting lets you dial in extra saturation and modulation. Usually, the Echoplex sound is pretty bright and clear; however, pushing the volume knob darkening the tone, increasing the tape distortion, and distress.
Who will like it?
Overall it’s simple enough to be used by most guitarists, including those that are less experienced. But tone-wise the Echoplex will work best if you’re looking to play 70’s sounding stuff and need a vintage tone.
- High-quality – Recreates authentic 70’s tape tone incredibly well.
- Age Mode – This cool feature will let you create really old school crackly reverb.
- No Tap Switch – Unfortunately, you’ll need to buy MXR’s Tap Switch separately if you want to produce the 4 second times.
- Small Speed Dial – Because the usable portion of the dial is very condensed, it’s quite hard to set times accurately.
So, Which Should I Buy?
So, what would we recommend?
All the options we reviewed here have their benefits; however, if you’re happy to spend a little more, you’ve got two very different options.
The TC Electronic Flashback 2 has an intriguing expression pedal built in…. But remember it’s worth trying this out before you buy, to see if you’re able to focus on it properly when you’re playing. The additional TonePrint technology and the option of using not just one, but three presets means you can create almost any tone you want.
If getting that vintage tape delay is what you’re looking for, the best bet for you is the MXR M169. It’s a sturdy workhorse, that does exactly what you want it to do, with simple controls. What makes it so great is that it doesn’t have any negative impact on your tone and is quite specialized, so it does what you need it to well.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.