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From: Shootout Guitar Cables UK

See also: The Shootout Guitar Cables Range

Other than reverberation which is the most commonly used 'effect' in recording studios (since all recorded acoustic sounds other than those from anechoic chambers have some), delay is probably the next most common (the two are usually combined in some way) other than equalisation and compression which are also used on most sounds except that these latter two processes tend not to be thought of as 'effects' at all but rather as signal processing for mixing purposes, but they do affect in effect the signal!

Strictly speaking an 'echo' is a delayed repeat of the source sound some time after that initial sound as heard as being distinctly separate psychoacoustically (i.e. as interpreted by the brain).

The time between the two sounds and their relative amplitudes (how loud the repeat is) are the main factors as to if the repeat is indeed perceived as being distinct or not (i.e. in reverberation early reflection 'echos' are grouped and so fast and of such amplitude as to often not sound like distinct echoes, and the following reflection echoes likewise are too many and too diffuse to be singled out by the brain. When an early reflection is heard distinctly though, we might also call it a 'slapback' and this can be created in both a real reverberant environment and with signal processing.

Of course once you have one delayed echo repeat, you can have many more delayed versions of the same sound. From this point on we will refer to echoes as 'delay repeats'.

Until the time of recordable media there was only one way of getting a delay repeat of a sound for music, and that was acoustically via environmental systems such a particular landscapes and built environment in buildings and wells etc. However once something can be recorded and played back again, then there was the possibility of electronically created delayed repeat echoes.*

* Line delay was possible over very long lengths of copper cable between radio staions but we are talking about practical use here.

Delay is used on all instruments as an effect but as we are guitarists let's focus on us!


Les Paul's Tape Machines (1951)
The first artificial delay effect for guitar on a recording is considered to be by Les Paul (who also developed 'sound on sound' multitrack recording with tape) covering the standard 'How High The Moon' with Mary Ford in 1951 using tape machines for the 'slapback' delay effect.

Video: Les Paul and Mary Ford 'How High The Moon' 1951. Note the slapback single repeat tape delay sound and the nice camera shots of those wonderful tape machines!

Since tape machines became common place in recording studios then this sort of effect was available to others but only by using the machines in those facilities which needed to be hacked.

EchoSonic (1954)
The first available purpose built and portable units were actually built into a valve guitar amp called the 'EchoSonic' by Ray Butts; sold commercially from 1954 only a few dozen of these units were ever made, however delayed guitar sounds dominated from the rock'n'roll era onwards. Chet Atkins was the first to use the amp on a released recording for 'Sessions with Chet Atkins' in 1954 most notably 'Caravan' and 'Mr Sandman'.

Video: Chet Atkins plays 'Mr Sandman' for television in 1954 with tape delay slapback one would think from his EchoSonic.

Binson Echorec 1954
Meanwhile in Italy another type of magnetic recording medium was used for the delay repeats by the Binson Hi Fi company when they introduced their magnetic disk Ecorec (later Echorec) in around 1954 which was a more reliable and portable technology than the tape machines at the time. Notable Echorec users have include David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.
Eventually as the 50s came to a close newer portable tape delay units unattached to an amplifier were being developed in the parallel universes of the USA and UK. Since these new more portable units could be used with any amplifier, and as these also developed in design throughout the 1960s along with the new musical genres, they were to be found in all sorts of musical situations over the coming decades.

UK (Watkins/WEM Copicat) 1959 to date
On the wet and windy side eastern of the Atlantic, a chap from London called Charlie Watkins had visited Italy to see the Marino Marini Quartet who were using two expensive Revox tape machines to get delay effects. Inspired by this he took up the talents of designer Bill Purkis and invented the Watkins Copicat Tape Echo in 1959 which was first used on a recording by Johnny Kidd and The Pirates for Shakin' All Over released in 1960.

Video Link: Charlie Watkins Copicat Tape Echo NAMM Oral History and you can still buy yourself a WEM/Watkins Copycat here:

Video: The Shadows were a big fan of the Watkins/WEM Copicat; here they are with their 1969 hit instrumental 'Apache'.


USA (Battle/Maestro Echoplex) 1961
Developed by Mike Battle the 'Echoplex' had both variable delay repeat time and feedback (number of repeats), was valve powered and was first made commercially available in 1961 a decade on from that first recorded tape delay by Les Paul. The solid state Maestro Echoplex EP-3 is particularly fabled for the thickening effect of its preamp stage on a guitar signal and pedal versions of this preamp of varying accuracy have become available.

Video: Eric Johnson can be seen here tearing up the stage with a variety of equipment including an Echolpex for 'Cliffs of Dover' from his album 'Tones'.


Roland Space Echo RE-201 1974-1990
The Roland Corporation had some tape delay units of their own, but in 1974 they released the Space Echo RE-201 which in addition to the delay had a built in spring reverb, and the unit was used by many artists.

Tape delays sound special for the following reasons:

• Increasing high frequency roll off of each repeat helps the delayed signals 'sit behind' the dry signal and each other.
• Tape compression reduces the dynamic range of the repeats which also helps them sit behind the dry signal and each other.
• Wow and flutter 'warbles' the delay repeats with varying modulation.
• Tape can distort when pushed and there are also preamps within the machines that have their own characteristic sounds.

Notable examples of tape delay users have included Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Sam Phillips (the producer), Robert Fripp and his'Frippertronics' (Revox), John Martyn, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Eddie Van Halen and Eric Johnson (Maestro Echoplex) and Hank Marvin (WEM Copycat).

True analogue tape delay is still available of course by using vintage tape machines, some modern units are also available, and there are varying accuracies of modeling now available via pedals, rackmount units, and computer software plugins. Likewise with the magnetic disk units.

Being mechanical, tape delays and spinning disks require significant maintenance, and parts for vintage units can be difficult to get hold of and maintenance skills hard to find, but their sounds are unique, and well worth the time and expense for serious tone hunters who have the patience and financial resources to own and enjoy the real deal.


Discrete time analogue delay line devices otherwise known as Buck Brigade Devices (BBD) were invented by Sangster and Teer of Philips Research Labs in 1969. Relying upon the delayed sounds being passed along a series of capacitors like buckets in a fireman's chain, these devices allowed miniaturisation of signal delay processing and thus the possibility of putting the delay technology into a guitar 'pedal'. However to filter out clock noise and due to other issues delay time was often quite limited and the delays were rather low-fi and somewhat distorted, giving them a nique sound and one which many guitarists love.

Electro-Harmonix Memory Man 1976 to date
One of the first guitar delay pedals to use bucket brigade chips was perhaps the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man designed by Irwin Cornfield and released in 1976 which developed through various incarnations to become the more versatile Deluxe Memory Man. There have been many variations of these pedals over the years which sound somewhat similar due to their heritage but also rather different.

Video: The Edge used an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man on U2's 1980 debut album 'Boy' and using delays with a Vox AC30 came to define his unique and quite unforgettable sound.


Boss DM-2
The first analogue 'bucket brigade' delay pedal from Boss was the DM2 in 1981, followed by the DM3 in 1984.

Digital Delay Pedals and Rack Units

Coming soon...

Analogue Modelling Digital Delay Pedals and Rack Units

Coming soon...

Other pages in the section: Guitar Overdrive Pedals Explained

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