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Choosing a Delay Pedal

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Before you read this post, I would like to preface with this: We have all seen the impact of certain musical devices on the worship world, whether it be the frequent use of a click, Ableton tracks, or a fancy new guitar pedal set up. These changes are good because they show that we are growing, trying to improve our music, and trying give our best to the Lord by utilizing technology! That being said, THINGS can provide a huge distraction and can sometimes be a spiritual hindrance. This is why it is vital that, as worship musicians and leaders, we stay focused on the Lord and in his will in all matters, including our finances and time. Gear can very easily turn into a form of idolatry that can slowly become a much bigger deal than you thought it was. Prayerfully make all your decisions and remember that gear does not affect the moving of the Holy Spirit, your heart does!

So let’s talk delay pedals! These things are so much fun and are most certainly a huge part of the majority of worship guitarisits’ pedalboards. We are even seeing a lot of delay pedal use with keyboard players and drummers and in all kinds of new areas because they so easily lend themselves to creative inspiration.

But which one is right for me? This is a question that I cannot truly answer, BUT I can give you my experiences! Over the last three years, I have used, owned, and borrowed a TON of delay pedals and I feel that I can accurately compare a lot of them for you and tell you how I personally felt. Keep in mind that a lot of the reasons I have gotten rid of something have not been because the pedal was bad, but because it was not inspiring to me or I found it distracting… or I was just nit picking.

I’m going to start with some fairly normal, or older delay pedals and toward the end, I will get to our mainstays that we are seeing a lot. Anticipation building!

Let’s get started!

Boss DD-7:

dd7This is the first delay pedal I ever used and owned. There are a lot of features packed into this little guy! I particularly liked the reverse and modulated settings on it, a great ambient delay. The onboard tap was not very usable and it really requires an external tap, but it has the very pristine digital delay sounds that it is known for AND it can do all the normal tap divisions. So, if you are looking for something with crystal clear repeats, tap capability, and something that can do those awesome dotted eighth divisions, this might be a pedal for you! It’s also really nice that it is fairly small for all its features. If you are looking for something with presets or a lot of different, cool algorithms or something with a darker and more washy sound, this pedal is not for you, but could be a great secondary delay! Sometimes I regret getting rid of this pedal. (the boss dd-5 and dd-3 get the same reviews but with less options.)

Line 6 dl-4:

dl4This pedal can also do your tap tempo tricks and has some cool features, but for the most part, I was highly underwhelmed by the sounds this pedal had to offer. I really don’t use digital delay as far as the bright repeats are concerned, so I am usually looking for pedals that can do really great, darker voiced delay sounds, I just did not really enjoy the way the analog and tape options sounded. That being said, I thought the onboard looper was incredible! So if you do live looping with your team or need to launch some samples, this pedal is great for that! For most things, I think there are just better and more efficient options than the dl-4.

Ibanez de-7:

de7This is a digital delay with the option of analog voicing. This pedal is incredibly underrated. I think the repeats could fool just about anyone into believing the pedal was analog, it has the option of very long delay times, sounds great in oscillation, does not take up too much room, and the time switch gives you a lot of control over different amounts of delay time, really letting you fine tune your sound. The only thing that stinks about this pedal is that there is not tap capability. That being said, sometimes tap can be overrated.  This pedal has stayed on my board for over a year, watching other huge names leave and be replaced. It’s a workhorse and I use it as a pedal that is always set up for swells. Very cheap used and certainly worth a look!

MXR Carbon Copy:

mxrccThis pedal has your normal time, repeats, and mix controls as well as onboard modulation. Needless to say, it does everything that I just mentioned with the de-7 except better and with modulation. This is an incredible pedal and great for those who are learning delays. I personally have never owned one but, as much as I love my de-7, I’m sure it would knock it off its pedestal.  Carbon Copies can also be found used for under $100 and really offer some of the best analog sounds you will ever hear!

EHX Memory Toy, Memory Boy, and Memory Boy Deluxe:

ehxmbdI’m not going to lie to you, I have only tried the memory toy once and have never had the memory boy, but I did own the memory boy deluxe. As for the toy, it’s a great pedal with incredibly similar controls to the carbon copy, I just personally am not a fan compared to the carbon copy. As for the memory boy deluxe, some people swear by this delay. I had a bad experience with it in my rig. I found it noisy, a little cheap feeling, and I experienced a TON of clock noise. I wanted longer delay times for some Jesus Culture songs and such. For me, this pedal did not make the cut, but there are a lot of players that love it, so, as with all of these pedals, I suggest you try it out and see how you like it before you purchase.

EHX Deluxe Memory Man (vintage big box):

ehxdmmThis pedal was an absolute pleasure to play. There are no frills with this analog delay… it just sounds so good. To me, I have never heard a better analog sound than a vintage memory man. The modulation on it is incredible. There is not tap, but I really feel you don’t need it as this pedal sounds good enough to just let those repeats dance around you. They can be pricey used and break down a lot, but they are a lot of fun.

EHX Deluxe Memory Man 550-TT:

ehx-dmm550ttThis pedal has about 550 ms of delay, I believe. To me, that’s just not really enough. I tried it out when I was looking for strymon alternatives and just experienced too much clock noise and general hum, like the memory boy deluxe. But, again, there are a lot of players that love these pedals. The features seem too good to be true, and for me, they were.

EHX Deluxe Memory Man Tap Tempo:

ehx-dmm-ttNow this memory man has 1100 ms of analog delay which should alleviate the issues I was having with its younger brothers. To be honest, though, I never got to try this pedal as, when I was looking, EHX had stopped producing them because the vintage chips were running out. These pedals are very hard to come by now and when they pop up used, they are expensive. I have never heard a bad thing about this pedal though. Supposedly it does not share the issues I had with its younger brothers and sounds remarkably similar to the vintage memory mans… which would make me drool.

JHS Panther Delay / Panther cub:

panther-cubI have owned both of these pedals for about two months each. They really were great pedals but the repeats were a little too dark for me without the roar switch engaged, which makes the pedals extremely difficult to control, oscillating almost every time I would stop playing. I thought the modulation controls were fantastic though and that they really never stopped being musical. All in all, these pedal were great and have awesome functionality, they just weren’t the sound I was looking for. I would really give these a shot, though. Also, in my opinion, I had more fun with the original panther delay than the cub. And it looks cooler.

Diamond Memory Lane Jr:

diamond-mljNow THIS is an excellent delay. Its my main delay right now and I’m still drooling over how awesome it is. The MLjr is an analog voiced delay with divisions. The odd thing about this pedal is that it won’t oscillate… which I kind of like because my de-7 takes care of oscillation for me and I don’t have to fear large feedback ranges on this pedal, getting nearly infinite repeats.  The modulation sounds fantastic and I don’t really miss the speed and depth controls from the panther that much. This is just one of those pedals that can be a main delay or an awesome secondary delay. Unfortunately, there are no presets or anything, keeping with the analog style, but the tap doubling feature is cool and I actually used it a couple times this weekend to change for different parts in songs. Honestly, out of all the delay pedals I have owned, this is my favorite sounding one.

Strymon El Capistan:

elcapI think most of us are familiar with how awesome this pedal is. I have tried it a few times and I think it’s one of the best delays you can buy, not to mention that it is probably the closest to an authentic tape sound. The age control allows you to get an incredibly dark and washy sound and the oscillation sound is amazing. Combined with a favorite switch, I think this is one of the most functional delays out there. We are seeing a lot of people changing to delays that don’t necessarily have all the bells and whistles and massive banks of presets in exchange for better sounds, and this is the main culprit of that… although panther cubs and MLjr’s have a lot of sway in that movement too.

Strymon Timeline:

timelineThe king! Or is it? I owned this pedal for almost a year… and im not going to even try to run down the features because there are too many. Know this: this is the favorite of most big time worship guitarists right now and is sweeping the worship world by storm. The large amount of presets, seemingly endless tweakability, and great sounds combine for one of the best delays ever. And I got rid of it. Why? Honestly, I just found it distracting and superfluous. I only really used the d-bucket, d-tape, and reverse algorithms with an occasional dual delay, I limited the bank count because I didn’t need that many banks and it made scrolling easier, and, as awesome as it was to make weird ambient sounds with the timeline, I mostly found them distracting to me. I just was not at a place spiritually where I could justify keeping something this nice on my board when I was not nearly tapping into its potential. I tried a dd-20 and was blown away at how close I could get it to sound to a lot of the things I was using the timeline for, and what I couldn’t get, I could get with a nice analog or tape style delay… and still be able to save money. So I had to let it go. Just know that this is not because there was something wrong with it. I really could not tell you what I didn’t like about the timeline, it was just that I did not need the timeline. (weirdly, what I REALLY miss about the timeline is the hold for infinite repeats feature)

Eventide Timefactor:

tfI have tried this pedal and must say that, despite all the debates on the internet, I feel that it pretty much does everything the timeline can and more. And if you are a midi guy, the timefactor can send commands. I think the timeline is more easily navigable, but you should really just try both.

If you own or are considering the  TimeFactor, be sure to check out our library of downloadable presets here.

Boss dd-20:

dd20Old faithful. Every time that I have tried and borrowed this pedal, I have realized how awesome something simple can sound. The modulated setting, analog setting, reverse setting, and even the tape setting are very cool on this delay and it has some presets! It can do all your tap divisions and it can be modded for extra functionality. The onboard tap is a little junky but you can control it with an external tap and sync it to your other delays if you have them. There is a reason this pedal is still on some really big name boards and that’s because, when you pump every ounce of this thing, you can cover a lot of ground and they are low maintenance and easily replaceable. Also, these can be had for about $150 used, which is absurd for how good they are. This is the next pedal on my want list and I can’t wait to get it on my board!

TC Electronic Nova Delay:

novaNow the nova delay is a pedal I have had a lot of encounters with.  This is one of the more affordable delays on the market, in the same category as the DD-20.  It has presets, tap tempo, multiple delay types, modulation, etc. There are some cool things about this delay unit, mainly the ping pong setting for stereo users and I really like the voice knob allowing you to dial in how dark or bright you would like your repeats. All in all, when you are looking for a delay in this price range, I would honestly just have to say try some different ones and see what fits you best.  Personally, I prefer the DD-20 for this purpose, however I have heard people get some awesome sounds out of the nova delay.  There are features that each has that the other does not, but for the most part, there are a lot of similarities in the units at this range.

There are a few other pedals I have tried that have been amazing but I haven’t had enough time with to comment on… also, some of these are pedals I just really want to try.

Honorable mentions:

Catalinbread Echorec

Way Huge Aqua Puss and Supa Puss

Ibanez ad 9

Boss dm 3

Strymon brigadier

Danelectro reel echo

As you can tell, what delay pedal is right for you is 100% subjective. The delays that are right for me are a lot different than what is right for others. Go try things and find what you like and don’t become consumed with gear nerding. I hope you enjoyed my insight.  I’d love to hear what you use in the comments below.  Now go have some fun!

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14 Responses to “Choosing a Delay Pedal”

  1. thanks for this Alex!
    Super helpful stuff.
    I personally use an Empress Tape Delay which is a great delay.
    Here is the comparison video Curtis Kent made between the Tape Delay and the El Cap that sold me on the Empress.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0rg6-0BwHo
    Thanks again for this great post. This will help many I am sure.

    • Hey! Thanks man, sorry I left those empress pedals out, idk what I was thinking. There are so many pedals that I guess I just got a little overwhelmed. Haha

  2. any thoughts on the visual sound dual tap delay? i currently own a line 6 dl-4, but i am looking for a delay with dotted 8th function. i’ve been playing dotted 8th by ear and sometimes the drummer can get out of tempo. by your review, i would probably get the boss dd-7 and the mxr carbon copy.

  3. How about the Flashback x4?Any word on it?

    • Good choise, bro.
      I also personally recommend for Flashback.
      If money is no object? it’s a good delay pedal for you.
      This delay pedal provides you the shortest delay time along with ample of features.

  4. @levinjapan the Flashback x4 is huge – takes up too much pedal board room.

  5. What do you think of Blackstar HT Delay ??

  6. I think the write up on the DL4 was shocking! Personally I think it is still one of the nicest sounding delays although it is ancient.

  7. Hey great article! I have the same concerns regarding the idolatry issue in dealing with guitar gear in general. Maybe you could expound on that a bit more? How can you tell if your gear , pedals or other things are becoming an idol of worship? This is exactly the opposite of what we as worship leaders are trying to do.

    • That’s a great question Steve! We’ll get some guys to work on the question.

    • steve, as a guitar player for 28yrs mostly live playin and 17years of that is playing at different churches,one can get consume with trying to achieve ones sound. If not careful it is an idolatry! worst form of idolatry is self worship being consume with your sound to gratify oneself. We should all be consume in thinking about the One that saves us from burning in hell,that’s not to say that playing skillfully with excellence is thrown out the door,it just means prioritizing things. The book of ACTS have no delay pedals,PA system etc… and they moved in insane power! their priorities was about the ONE TRUE GOD JESUS! and souls that want to follow HIM and Worship HIM…

  8. Just purchased a MLjr after ditching my Strymon Timeline and JHS Panther Cub. Love it. The subdivision switch is super handy too.

  9. I have the Timeline as well and its painful for me to tweak, especially the way they do their dual delay divisions. I recently picked up the Eventide H9 Max which includes the Timefactor and I’m loving it right now. Love the ability to tweak with an iPad, and also that it can function as a not just a delay, but a chorus, pitch/harmony or reverb…so versatile. Pairing it up with my Timeline for now, but could see downgrading the Timeline to something else.

  10. Matthew Short March 21, 2017 at 2:35 pm Reply

    Any thoughts on the line 6 echo park. I’ve thought about buying one to use as my second delay haven’t quite bitten the bullet yet though

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