The Best Delay PedalsBuying Guide

How to Choose Which Type of Delay Pedal is Best for You

Delay is a time-based effect that copies your incoming signal and plays it back one or multiple times after a period of time. That period of time (Time) and the number of times it’s played back (Repeats) depends on the delay itself.

Early analog delays worked by actually recording your guitar to magnetic tape within the units, but as technology evolved—first by replacing magnetic tape with a magnetic disk, then creating all-electronic bucket brigade effects, and finally multifunctional do-it-all digital delays—the units became smaller and more ubiquitous.

Today, the market for delay units is jam-packed with a surplus of excellent units, both analog and digital, that all boast their unique capabilities and feature sets. In the guide below, we've broken delay pedals into five different categories, highlighting our favorite picks for each category. Start with the video above to see Reverb's Andy Martin demo a pedal from each category and talk more about what you should consider before picking up a delay of your own.

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Warm, Analog Delay Pedals

The very first analog delay effects, like the Echoplex and Roland Space Echo, featured magnetic tape within the units that your guitar signal was recorded onto in order to generate repeats. Later, in the late-'60s, bucket brigade circuitry replaced magnetic tape and is still used to make analog effects today. It works by moving analog signal along its line of capacitors, much like a line of people passing along a water bucket.

Players love analog effects for their organic-sounding, natural tones and signature warmth from its low-pass filtering. The imperfections characteristic of analog delays are what draws a lot of players to them. But as with a line of people losing a bit of water each time they pass the bucket down, so is the case with a bucket bridge delay in the form of signal integrity, strength, and clarity.

More Excellent Analog Delays

Digital Delay Pedals

To combat issues with signal processing, pedal builders began using DSP (digital signal processing) technology instead of bucket brigade circuitry. Because these kinds of pedals don't have to worry about signal degradation in the same way, they feature delay times that are quite a bit longer than what their analog counterparts are able to deliver, with the added promise of a consistent and strong signal.

Boss was a major player in the digital delay game in the 1980s, releasing solid and simple units like the DD-3 that were committed to bringing the classic, warm delay tones characteristic of analog units straight to your pedalboard.

More Excellent Digital Delays

Do-It-All Digital Delay Pedals

Since they first hit the market, digital delays have continued to get more advanced. Digital multi-mode or "do-it-all" delay pedals allow players to select between many different kinds of delays, including analog-style echoes and tape effects, without the hassle and signal degradation of true tape or limitations of basic bucket brigade analog devices.

Like the Alter Ego X4 that Andy plays in the video above, these pedals are packed with features and functionality and are just about limitless when it comes to recreating the delay types and sounds that you're after. If quantity and diversity of choice are at the top of your delay pedal wishlist, a do-it-all digital delay is the right kind of pedal for you.

Vintage Tape-Style Delays

While many delay pedals include tape-like echo emulations, there's a whole sub-genre of delay specifically devoted to this recreating the tones of original tape-based machines. Some companies have taken vintage tape emulation a step further to make vintage multi-tap delay pedals. These units—like the Strymon Volante, Dawner Prince Boonar, Boss Space Echo, and Catalinbread Echorec—have multiple "heads" styled after tape machine recording and playback heads. Vintage multi-tap delay pedals offer even more of the feel of old tape delays, but with modern functionality.

The Volante, for example, features powerful emulations of multiple types of delay—including drum echo, tape echo, and reel-to-reel echo—along with onboard spring reverb and looping functionalities. Its multi-head setup allows players to control the level and feedback for each of its four individual tape heads, while also providing controls for variable head spacing, panning for each tape head, three speed settings for the playback of the delay media, and a "wear" knob to control the amount of noise and saturation on the delay track.

You can learn more about this sort of pedal on our tape delay and tape delay emulation buying guide.

Experimental, Off the Wall, and Granular Delay Pedals

These days, there's also a growing number of what could be called experimental delay pedals. It's nearly impossible to categorize these in one fell swoop, but many of today's favorite pedal builders have made delay pedals that offer advanced sound design possibilities, whether through granular synthesis like in Red Panda's soon-to-be-released Particle V2, the 1980s-themed Alexander Pedals Radical Delay DX, or Chase Bliss' Thermae, which brings in pitch-shifting, harmonization, and other digital manipulations of its all-analog signal path.

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