In the previous tutorial, I highlighted playing techniques for fleshing out lead guitar parts. In this tutorial I'll suggest some useful gear.
A common effect every guitarist should own, it’s a great way to fill out the sound.
Bear the following in mind when using delay:
- Set feedback and mix/wet/dry settings carefully to avoid drowning out the original sound
- Getting the timing wrong and it creates a confused sound
- Making a mistake means living with it more than once
Here are some useful examples for you to try.
Associated with rockabilly, country, and more, this uses a short delay time of typically 40-120 milliseconds, with just one or two repeats. It provides a great bedrock for your playing, as well as apparently doing half the work.
Here’s an appropriate example courtesy of the JHS Milkman pedal (£169).
If the term is unfamiliar, I have two words to say to you.
It’s the sound of U2, of classics such as Where The Streets Have No Name.
If you play on each beat of a 4/4 time signature, and set the delay to 1/8 notes, the repeat would fall between each beat. Essentially, you’d play the on beat, with the delay playing the off beat.
The Dotted 1/8th Explained
A little maths now follows, so be warned.
- 1/8th can also be expressed as 2/16ths
- A dotted note adds 50% of the note’s value
- A dotted 1/8th is 2/16ths plus (50% of 2/16ths = 1/16th), or 3/16ths
Unlike the 1/8th note delay example, where each repeat falls between the beats, a dotted 1/8th delay causes the repeats to be offset. Even if you’re playing metronomically in 1/8ths, the dotted 1/8 delay sounds like triplets, creating a bubbling, propulsive feel.
In the previous tutorial, I talked about stacking notes to create harmonies. Instead of fretting all the relevant notes simultaneously, you can use delay instead.
A master of this is Queen’s Brian May. He uses two delays—one set at 600ms, and the other at 1200ms. From this he builds chords in the following manner:
- 0ms: The root note of C is played
- 600ms: The note of E is played as the first repeat of C occurs
- 1200ms: The note of G is played as the second repeat of C AND the first repeat of E occur
At 0ms you have just the note of C, but by 1200ms you have the chord of C Major.
It’s worth trying, but timing is critical, as this will only work if notes and repeats coincide.
Other Delay Considerations
- Use reverb with delay, as this further lengthens and broadens the sound
- An expression pedal can fade delay in and out, which sounds more organic than simply switching it off
- Lots of feedback. Players like John Martyn used this to create a continuous wash of sound. This can be especially useful for soloists. Be careful how you set the wet/dry mix, though.
Of course, if you don't want to create harmony yourself, there are dedicated pedals to do it for you.
However, consider fixed or adaptive.
This refers to a fixed harmonic interval, an example of which is an octave pedal. Whatever passes through the pedal will be shifted up or down by an octave, or multiples thereof.
If you need the harmonic interval to change, you need an adaptive pedal.
Here’s an example of why this matters.
- If you play the note of C, and you want your harmony to be E, set the harmoniser to produce a MAJOR 3rd.
- However, if your next note is D, and you want to stay in the key of C, the desired harmony is F, which is a MINOR 3rd.
- If the interval is fixed, playing D would produce a harmony of F#, a flattened 5th in the key of C, which sounds nasty.
An adaptive pedal can be set to follow a specific key, or recognise the correct harmony from the incoming signal. The BOSS PS-6 Harmonist (£120) is a popular and feature-rich choice.
As with pedals of this type, set the wet mix low, as higher settings will sound far less convincing.
But it's become a popular live tool in the last decade. For example, KT Tunstall’s 2004 appearance on Jools Holland’s ’Later…’ programme practically launched her career with just a Gibson acoustic guitar, a tambourine, and an Akai Head Rush looper pedal.
Whilst she used this to augment her role as a soloist, it’s still relevant in a band setting.
For example, you could record a rhythm part, and then solo over the top of it—no second guitarist required. Or, just like delay, you could record one lead part, then immediately play a harmony along with it.
Like delay, you do need to be extremely aware of your timing. Unlike delay, however, the ideas are not limited to the number of repeats. They’ll continue until the looper’s switched off, and you can layer up ideas.
A simple starting point is TC Electronic’s pedalboard-friendly Ditto (£80). It has a single footswitch, and is also a great practice tool. If you really want to get into it, the BOSS RC-30 (£150) is comprehensive, allowing you to store loops in patches, and connect it to your desktop for importing or exporting audio.
Some simple, readily-available tools can really bolster the sound. Bear in mind the following:
- When using delay, watch the timing
- Be careful about the number of repeats
- Setting the wet/dry mix correctly is critical
- An adaptive harmoniser is more versatile
- A looper pedal has a whole range of applications
In the next tutorial, I’ll look at going for a really big sound by using a stereo rig.