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10 Delay Tricks For Guitarists

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Read Time: 8 min
This post is part of a series called An In-depth Look at Playing Guitar (Premium).
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Delay is probably the most versatile effect in any guitarist or engineers arsenal. This is because many other effects that we use like modulation are actually delay effects repackaged with another name. In this tutorial I'll show you 10 different delay tricks most of which can be achieved using the simplest of delay plugins.

Delay and Echo effects have been around since the 50's in recording. From the first Echo Chambers to Tape Echos pioneered by players like Les Paul to the state of the art processors of today it's hard to get away from this effect! But it's not all about 'echo'! Many different and surprising sounds can be produced from this time based effect. From Chorus to Reverb (thousands of tiny delays) there's a lot you can do delay!

Here's 10 of them!

Stereo Effects

Trick 1 - Stereo Spread

This is a very simple trick for increasing the stereo spread of a mono sound source. For this trick you need a stereo delay. Set one side to 0ms (no delay) and the other side to a very tiny amount (1-20ms). The effect should be 100% wet with no feedback. Splitting the sound into Left and Right channels with the delay and offsetting one of those channels slightly creates a faux stereo effect. Here's our mono source example.

Now here's the example with Logics Sample Delay on it. I find this to be the easiest way to get this effect. The right delay is set to around 500 samples which provides a nice spread. The higher the amount, the wider the image becomes.

Trick 2 - Automatic Double Tracking - ADT

In this example we're going to emulate a double tracking effect. We start by sending the signal to a bus. The dry signal and return of the delay are manually panned left and right.

To get the effect we modulate the delay time with the LFO on the Tape Delay. With a Tape Delay when you adjust the time your essential slowing or speeding up the audio so you get a modulation in pitch, at lower settings this produces a slight chorusing effect.

This gives the effect of two performances with slight variations in timing and pitch, or a double tracked part.


Trick 3 - Chorus

You might not think of Chorus as a delay effect but it is. Modulated delay times of 20-40ms produce a variation in time and pitch which when blended with the dry signal produce the Chorusing effect. Here's our dry signal.

Logics Tape Delay (or any delay where the delay time can be modulated) is very good at producing anything from lush slow chorus to extreme pitch wobble chorus. In my opinion this is actually more versatile than most dedicated Chorus effects.

This setting produces a Chorus not unlike that of a Roland JC-100 amp. Play with the LFO Speed and Depth as well as the delay time.

Trick 4 - Flange

The same goes for Flanging which is again caused by fluctuations in pitch and time. This time the delay times are lower, around 5-20ms. Feedback also plays a big part in this too. Here you can see the feedback is set quite high. You can hear that metallic flanging effect by using the setting below.


Trick 5 - 16th Note Slapback

Used on countless Rock'n'Roll and Rockabilly tracks this is the sound of the 50's! The Slapback delay is achieved by playing an 8th note part and timing your delay (with no feedback) to a 16th note. This essentially doubles anything you play making it sound twice as fast!. Here's my dry 8th note part.

Here's my setting for the Slapback. I've set the return high so you get the full effect!

Trick 6 - Dotted 8th

So out of all these effects this is the one you'll hear the most. From John Martyn and Van Halen to The Edge and David Gilmore the Dotted 8th delay trick is everywhere. Guaranteed to spice up even the dullest guitar part this one is always a winner! The effect works by playing an 8th note part and letting the Dotted 8th (8th+16th) delay bounce inside the gaps. Here's a version of the effect that is quite common an makes it sound like your playing a lot more than you are! Here's my dry 8th note part.

Adding a Dotted 8th note delay at quite a high return level will give you this effect.

At lower return levels on little arpeggiated guitar parts you'll get closer to an Edge type sound. Basically just add it to anything and it will sound good!!! It's also great on solos as well!


Trick 7 - Harmonize

This effect was made famous by Brian May of Queen. By using two long delays, one set at double the length of the other he could build up three part harmonies. Here's how it's done.

For this I'm using Delay Designer. The first Tap delay is set to a Half note, the second Tap is set to a Whole note.

If I play a minor scale in quarter notes, when I get to the third note (on the Half note beat) the first delayed note (Root) will sound producing a Minor 3rd harmony. When I get to the fifth note of the scale (on the Whole note beat) the first Tap is then playing the 3rd and the second Tap in now doing the Root. What I gat is a Minor Triad. Keep on going and the triads will follow up the scale.

Here's the dry example which is an A min arpeggio followed by an a min scale.

Here's the effect! Instant Brian May!!!

Trick 8 - Resonant Effect

This effect is quite strange but I like it! When you set a delay time very low (between 1-60ms) and use a very high feedback setting the delay will actually start to act like an oscillator. Depending on the delay time this produce different pitches. This can make for some interesting resonant effects. These can vary from Sitar like effects to more Ring modulation effects.

A setting of 30ms produces a pitch 'near' to C. You'll find sympathetic notes of the scale will resonant further in strange ways. Which is cool! Experiment with different delay times to find the different pitches.

The feedback should be just on the verge of self distorting for this to work well. Here's an example.


Trick 9 - Reverse

Any delay that can be reversed can do a pretty good job of emulating a backwards guitar solo. Guitar Rigs Psychedelay is one of these.

Although it's no substitute for flipping the tape over (or reversing your audio file!) it can be useful for getting the effect in a live situation. Line6's DL4 Delay modeller is good for this. Here's an example from Guitar Rig.

Logics Tru Tape delay in Pedalboard can also produce this effect as well although it's buffer is reset at the delay time (max 1500ms).

Trick 10 - Washes

Treating delay returns with other FX is another great way of expanding the use of this effect. Here I'm going to make a filtered delay wash. I'm going to start with a sound that I threw together in Guitar Rig. It's pretty much a clean sound with some chorus, echo and reverb.

Now I'm going to send this off to an effects bus.

The first link in the chain is a Stereo Delay. One side is a 1/4 note the other a Dotted 8th. The feedback is set quite high so it takes a while to trail off.

I'll then run that delay into a Bandpass filter with a high resonance setting. This is then modulated with a slow LFO. Because the delay feedback is high I'll be able to hear the filter as it sweeps through.

I'll then compress this to even it out.

The result is a nice ambient sound. This works well if you swell the chords in using a volume pedal too!


So there you have it. Getting creative with delays can lead to all sorts of great effects. So get those plugins or pedals out and start messing about and see what you can come up with. I hope this has given you some new ideas for using delay!

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