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21 Best Delay Pedals: The Ultimate List

The ambiance that a good delay pedal can provide is invaluable. Most players keep one on all the time, sitting behind their core tone and giving them a bit of breathing room. Ambient and worship players create great walls of sound and combine them with their reverb pedals. Whatever you need in a delay pedal, we’ve compiled this list of the best delay pedals to help you pick a great one, ranging from a simple analog or slapback unit all the way up to the ultra-powerful, algorithm-driven mega-delays.

Price: $ – $
21 Listed Items

What is a delay pedal?

Unlike the overdrive pedals we discussed before, the history of the delay effect in music doesn't begin with a blues guitarist pushing his weak amp of the time past its comfort zone. Instead, some of the first examples of delay come from a style of French origin called Musique concrète.

Beginning as a response to radio and phonographs, art commentary of the time began to speculate about the artistic effects of recorded music, which soon after became known as radiophonic art. By the late 1940s, Musique concrète was experimenting with altering the playback of recorded audio. This would also serve as the earliest foundation of electronic music.

The most common technique of that era was the tape loop echo delay, which was achieved by physically lengthening or shortening the loop of tape during playback. Audio engineers quickly took notice of the practice and used it as a studio secret to augment the effect they got from plate reverb. Because the music world is ultimately a small one, and audio engineers tend to be complete music geeks who are interested in everything, it wasn't long before the technique caught on in popular music.

Les Paul's tinkering eventually led to the Ray Butts EchoSonic, which was an amplifier with a built-in tape echo that was popular in both country and rock and roll. Next came the Echoplex and the rest is history.

The simple explanation of delay is that it creates a layered output of repeating sounds to enhance the depth and texture of any recording. It's usually the effect making an arena-rock solo sound as massive as it does, often having the impression of multiple guitars playing at once. It's also invaluable in post-rock; try to imagine any Explosions in the Sky song without delay. No matter what style of music, a well-placed delay will add that extra detail that makes for a truly great recording.

Since delay can be timed exactly to the beat of the song, it also enhances the timing of the band as a whole. Some bands, when they play live, run a signal from the guitarist's pre-set delay pedal right to the in-ear monitor of the drummer in order to keep exactly perfect timing in often confusing settings.

As with all pedals, there are a baffling number of delays to choose from. The high-end units of today give you access to the entire history of delay pedals, including emulating the very first tape loop echoes that gave life to the effect. Some are much simpler and let you easily repeat notes to add just a sparkling of detail to your playing.

When choosing a pedal, you'll want to pay attention to a few choices you'll have to make. For each of the pedals on our list, we've indicated what the pedal has to help you choose.

What kind of delay pedal should I buy?

Digital: This is a little misleading these days since vintage-style delay sounds are often achieved using digital signal processing, but your signal is sampled with an analog-to-digital converter that handles the repeats and blends it back together before converting back to analog at the output. This allows for longer delay times generally, and simple digital delays are typically cheaper than the alternatives.

Analog: Though the term applies to various technologies to achieve a delay without A/D/A conversion, typically an analog delay pedal these days refers to one that uses bucket-brigade capacitors along a clock cycle to playback the repeats. Some of the following types also qualify as analog delays.

Tape: Early delay units recorded the signal to tape and automatically played it back. These included the EchoSonic, Echoplex, and Space Echo. Very warm and well-loved, with plenty of unpredictable artifacts from the use of physical tape and moving heads. Modern pedals seek to recreate these warbles and odd additions using DSP (for the most part).

Magnetic drum/Echorec: Though rarely referred to as such now, modern units are usually seeking to recreate the magnificent Binson Echorec or occasionally the Vox Echomatic. Similar to tape, these feature interesting artifacts and a certain sound quality no other method does, as well as four play heads that make this type distinct. Again, often achieved via DSP in modern effects.

Oil can: An alternative to the tape and disc, these units featured a brush made of conductive wires which transferred a charge to a rotating rubber belt sealed with a layer of oil to keep the charge in place. The belt stands in as a series of capacitors, just like a BBD device. These follow in the footsteps of the Morley EDL, Tel-Ray Model 10 and Fender Echo-Reverb.

Slapback: Not a delay type in its own right, but this is a delay that creates one (maybe one-and-a-half) repeats, usually at a very short time setting. This creates a double effect that is very useful in many types of music.

What do I look for in a delay pedal?

What type of delay?: If you want to emulate the old school, warm and warble-y stuff, you'll want to go with one of the analog styles. If you want crystal-clear, exact replicas of your notes, go with digital. You don't have to choose, though. Lots of pedals have both as you'll see, and lots of players use one of each, often at the same time.

How long is the delay?: Delays are usually measured in milliseconds, which reflects the amount of time between each repeat. Most people end up using a medium-short repeat, probably in the 300 millisecond range. If you want your repeats to wait forever and a day, choose delays with longer times. Country pickers like shorter slap delays and experimental music tends to use extremely long delays, as a guideline. Of course, there are no rules.

Do you need a tap tempo?: For perfectionists and prog rockers, tap tempo is essential. This is a button on the pedal that allows you to tap out the tempo of the song, so that your delays line up perfectly with each beat. If you're more into the experimental or textured recordings, you might be able to skip it and rely on your ability to turn the knob. Up until the early 2000s, it wasn't regarded as absolutely essential, but let your ears decide.

Is it true bypass?: True bypass means that within the pedal enclosure, there is a single, separate cable that runs from the input to the output jack that skips all the internal circuitry. On some delay pedals, you can hear the delay clock even when it's turned off, while on others, you may simply get some sound degradation.

On the other hand, delay pedals without true bypass almost always contain a buffer, which can be supremely handy after a long line of true bypass pedals. The trouble with purely true bypass delays is that once switched off, your decaying repeats will immediately stop. There is a time and place for both approaches.

Other considerations: If you have a stereo or a wet/dry rig, you'll want to pay special attention to pedals with stereo ins and outs. Since these tend to be processor-heavy affairs, we've made a point to list the power requirements of each pedal for your reference. Finally, to really up your performance game, we've noted whether or not an expression pedal can be used.

When in doubt, trust That Pedal Show to help you decide.

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