9 '90s Delay Pedals Worth a Repeat Listen

Ah, the 1990s. When angst-filled music from the fringes took front stage and the rack effects dynasty was toppled by compact pedals. Dirt boxes may have led the charge, but they did so flanked by a growing arsenal of sophisticated echo effects. A few decades on and the used market is flush with '90s-vintage delay pedals that offer cosmic sounds at crazy prices.

Whether you're looking for a crisp slap back, early digital takes on tape, dark analog sound, or even an oscillating landscape creator, pedals from this decade still have something for you.

Especially today, when new delay pedals can be so feature-packed you need a Ph.D. to play them, wind back the clock to the last millennium and consider your options. To guide your echo venture, here's my top nine delay pedals to consider from the decade.

Danelectro Dan Echo DE-1

Maybe you don't want a million delay types in a futuristic box. That's okay. Perhaps you want one solid pedal that looks like the fins of a 1959 Chevy Impala with a sound that's as cozy as the car's back seat. That's a pretty particular order, but the Danelectro Dan Echo checks off those boxes.

The sound you'll get out of this baby blue box is reminiscent of a 1960s tube-driven tape echo. The Hi-Cut knob simulates the tonal character of aged tape by cutting high frequencies off in successive repeats. In a decade dominated by dark analog and crisp digital delay sounds, the Dan Echo was ahead of its time by recapturing the sounds of tape from decades past with emerging DSP technology.

DOD EchoFX FX96 Analog Delay

The DOD EchoFX FX96 hit the floor at NAMM in 1997 and also took aim at the vintage sounds of tape delay units. This take, however, was analog through-and-through. The Tape Quality and Dry/Tape functions are real assets for this pedal. The former is a low-pass filter that gives the feel of worn-out tape, while the latter allows you to go all wet for the sound of whirling echoes without any pick attack.

If you're shopping the used market for one of these, note that DOD did a cosmetic update in 1999. Both versions, however, retain the same circuit design and that brilliant purple-blue exterior basecoat.

Ibanez Stereo Delay/Echo DE7

I get it: the ToneLok series was not Ibanez's greatest hit. No matter how many Korn endorsement ads went behind it, the series didn't catch on. By the early 2000s, these pedals, which looked like paperweights for a Soviet space station, quietly went away. There were, however, many entries in this lineup that should have stuck around. The Ibanez DE7 Stereo Delay/Echo is on that list. The pedal is crazy dynamic, with delay times and sounds ranging from tight slap back to washy, ambient explosions.

My favorite feature? The Echo/Delay switch that changes the shape of repeats from pristine-sounding digitized pings to mild and lingering darkness. Crank the repeats and you get an open self-oscillation that hovers in the background as if creating a pad effect. Features like this make the Ibanez DE-7 a top pick for a '90s vintage box that is reactive and responsive for on-the-fly tweaking.

Boss DD-5 Digital Delay

Back in the '90s, you couldn't get 10 feet inside the front door of a guitar store without seeing a Boss DD-5 digital delay. They were everywhere. Following on the heels of the iconic Boss DD-3—which has remained in production since 1986—the DD-5 had some big shoes to fill. While the DD-5 was unable to supplant its predecessor, it put up a winning fight with some new features and functions for delay pedals of the day.

These included optional tap-tempo functionality, an expanded range of delay times (1ms–2000ms), and eleven delay modes, including reverse delay and hold sampling. With a production run from 1995 to 2002, there's a standing army of DD-5s on the used market. For a classic Boss digital delay sound with heaps of features, conscript a DD-5 today.

Boss PS-2 Pitch Shifter Delay

Like the DD-5, the PS-2 was intended as an upgrade to an earlier unit. This time, the remodel won the day. Since the Boss PS-1 was prone to frequency squeals, the design of the PS-2 fixed the glitch. Born in 1987 and in production into the mid-1990s, the Boss PS-2 became one of the more mythic made in Japan Boss effects of the decade.

Because the PS-2 uses a different chip than the DD-3 the character of echoes is a little different. This unique characteristic is underscored when the sound is layered using the octave up/down options of the shifter. If you're looking for some vintage Boss with a delay terrain a little off the beaten track, the Boss PS-2 Pitch Shifter Delay is worth a play.

Ibanez AD99 Analog Delay

From the "Flying Finger" era of Ibanez's days of old, the AD99 shows the breadth of the company's delay innovations of the 1990s. The pink on black designed stompbox is feature-packed and forward-thinking, yet captures the feel of the first Ibanez analog delay, the AD9.

With bucket brigade circuitry offering up to 300 ms of delay time, a triad of knobs for delay time, level, and feedback, as well as outputs for both a dry and wet signal, the AD99 is a crazy bargain for fans of made-in-Japan-era vintage effects. For Ibanez, the decade may have ended digital with the futuristic DE7, but the production of the AD99 from '96 to '98 attests to the company's secure anchors in the past.

Akai Headrush E1

Now, delay and loopers go hand-in-hand. Yet back in the day, this pairing was less common. The Akai Headrush, however, debuted in the mid-1990s as an all-in-one delay workstation and looper. On the delay side of things, you'll find a "normal delay" and "tape delay," both of which include tap tempo functionality.

My favorite feature on this little box is the Head Gap knob that lets you tweak the sounds of the tape delay by adjusting the spacing of the emulated record and playback heads. Finally, with the flip of a switch you get up to 23.8 seconds of loop time, which is just enough for a quick soundscape sketch. Whether it is the Headrush E1 or its updated version, the Headrush E2, for a two-digit price tag this pedal is tough to beat on features and functionality.

Digitech DigiDelay

Like a historian that suggests the 19th century, as a state of mind, didn't really end until 1914, we're categorizing the Digitech DigiDelay as part of the "long '90s," to coin a phrase.

Released in 2002, its interface is as simple as the truly '90s delays that preceded it, but the diversity of sounds tucked beneath is a harbinger of the complex pedals that followed. With a turn of a knob, you can dial in seven different delay types, including preset echo intervals, tape emulation, modulated or reverse delay, and, yes, a looper. Toss in tap tempo functionality, stereo outs, and cabinet modeling and the DigiDelay starts to sound a lot like a feature-rich pedal that could debut at NAMM this year.

Line 6 Echo Park

Almost 20 years on, pretty much all that has changed on the Line 6 DL4 Delay modeler since its 1999 launch is the logo. Because of the success of this big green box, however, it's easy to overlook the DL4's spinoff in compact pedal form, the Echo Park. How Line 6 distilled this much brilliant DSP technology into such a small format is beyond me.

The delay types are diverse yet retain their own integrity. The stompbox is built like a tank yet it's functional beyond belief: the tap tempo switching is intuitive, its stereo outs play well even with the most modern pedals, and you can even exchange the digital brains of the pedal for any other cartridge in the ToneCore series. With a launch in 2004 this one, like our DigiDelay, is cheating the topic of the article a tad. But since its DSP-heritage is based on turn-of-the-millennium Line 6 tech, it's worth inclusion as well.

With great innovations and creations coming out all the time, it's easy to forget the old school goodies from the decade of flannel and Dr. Martens. By picking up one of these pedals you'll not only stretch your sound but also stretch your budget. You might even have enough left over to pick up that new Discman you've been wanting.

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