Posted by: worshipguitarguy | February 21, 2007

Delay… lay… lay… Part 1: Choosing Delay Sounds

by Ugur Taner

This concept can be as complicated as you want it to be. Some people prefer to use a simple analog or digital delay like the Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man or Boss DD-3. Others, on the other hand, like to have different delay settings for each song they play and like to use digital delays with user presets like the Boss DD20 or Line 6 DL4. And then there are those that want the highest level of flexibility and like to have all aspects of the delay under their control, so they use rack delays such as the TC Electronics D-two, Line 6 Echo Pro, or other new and/or vintage rack delays such as the Korg SDD series or TC 2290.

To help you decide how to select your sound, here’s a run down on the most common parameters for delay.

Delay Time:
Your first decision will obviously start with your delay time. What delay time and/or tempo do you want to select for the song you are playing. Short delay times can be very applicable for rhythm guitar or picking, and even lead work. Slap-back delay is a popular style of delay used among many country guitarists. This short delay time would be any delay time around 100 ms or so, give or take 10 ms. Medium length delay times range from 200-400ms. These are the most commonly used delay times in music as they seem to sync up tempo wise with most songs and their beats per minute (bpm). Long delays are 500 ms and above. These delay times can be used to create very creative and atmospheric sounds.

Feedback / Repeats:
The next parameter that you will need to adjst is the number of repeats. On most of the simple delay footpedals, this parameter might be identified as, “repeats”. On more sophisticated delay pedals or rack delays, it might be identified by the word “feedback”. Either way, in the case of using delay, this will adjust the number of audible repeats, after the intitial tone, before it fades out.

Effect Level/Mix Level:
This will adjust the amount of delay, or you could call it, “volume” of the delay. The lower this setting it, the softer the delay will be. Maybe you want something very subtle, just enough to lengthen out your notes and add more sustain. This would be the parameter to adjust. Or you might want an aggressive delay really bringing out the rhythmic qualities of the effect, so you would set the effect level higher.

These three parameters are the most common controls when it comes to delay. There are many other aspects of the delay that can enhance the tone, but those are found on more middle to high end effects. To learn more about different types of tone offered by delays, check out the previous analog vs. digital article.


3 Categories for Delay
There are many different tempos that can be used when playing with delay. These will be covered in part 2 of the article on using delay. But to get us started on choosing a delay tone, I would classify delay into 3 catagories. There are 3 basic ways to use delay.

Playing On Top
First, there is what I would describe as “playing on top” of the delay. This is where the repeated delay notes happen to land directly on top of, or “at the same time” as when you play your strumming and/or picking pattern. This is a great way to use delay. It can make your sound more consistant and steady, more precise sounding. I always find that when I play guitar using delay, it helps me to stay in time with the song. This method of playing will definitely help you stay in time, because if your drummer speeds up or slows down, you will notice your repeats are no longer happening at the same time as your strumming/picking pattern. A tempo that will give you this result is the ½ note, ¼ note, or 1/8 note

Playing With the Delay
The second method of using delay is “playing with” the delay. For this style, the musician plays together with the delay so the repeats are falling inbetween the active notes being played. For many guitarists who are familiar with this style of delay, The Edge comes to mind. In my opinion, The Edge is a master when it comes to using delay, and in many of U2’s songs, you will hear this style of delay being used. Where The Streets Have No Name, With or Without You, and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, are 3 classic examples of this particular style of delay. One of the tempos that can give you this kind of result, is the dotted 1/8.

Random Delay
The third style is a more random style for delay. Unlike the first two general styles, here you will not necessarily notice a distinct pattern used for the delay, but more abstract. This style incorporates long delays, higher feedback levels, unusual delay times, etc. This can really give the song a different and abstract feel, not so “inside the box” kind of sound. A great example of this is U2’s song, If You Wear That Velvet Dress. During the musical interlude/bridge part of the song, the delay the Edge is using is set so the feedback is very high so you can hear the repeats for a while, and all of the notes kind of blur into eachother.

Other complex delay set-ups can be achieved by combining 2 delays together in series or parallel. This is for the more advanced delay user. More about this in the next article.



  1. Hey, this is one of the great resources in worship guitar…. thanks for your efforts. I am from Romania, and lead an alternative band.
    Currently experiencing a lot with delays – specially the dotted eight – lots and lots of uses – it gives a brilliant texture in rhythm, and while picking, creates some really interesting notes – specially while arpegiating.
    Looking forward for more delay.
    Oh, I am using a Behringer x v-amp, and saving for a Vox TLSE – the xv-amp has a great Edge delay copy, although you could use the dotted eight with other delay settings, if you know how to tap in the tempo – when I first got it right, it was always a piece of cake…….
    Take care

  2. Hey Gerry… sort of off-topic, but sort of on-topic…

    Edge is all the rage these days. I’d guess it’s partially because the guy just plays the right notes and serves the song well, and partially because this generation of guitar players grew up listening to U2.

    What do you think is next? Where does it go from here?

    Lots of PODs, I’m guessing…

  3. Great article. Question–you’re talking about “delay time” and how it can be set to milliseconds. Some pedals have a “genereal” millisecond setting, i.e. 400ms, 800ms, etc., and the user is allowed to experiment with times in between. How do you suggest getting the right delay time for the “in between” stages? I use a Boss DD-6. Thanks for your help–Matt

  4. Great article…delay is easily my effect of choice. Absolutely essential for worship guitarists to master. Give me my telecaster, vox ac30, and a nice delay unit and I could play forever.

    Matt, your boss DD6 has a tap tempo function for getting the right delay time. Hold down the pedal for 2-3 seconds and it will go into tap tempo mode. Tap your foot to the beat of the music and your delays are set. Hopefully I’m understanding the question right.

    Tony, my opinion is that it’s hard to say what is next, but people will always love the classics. What creates a classic and what creates a musical fad is hard to say. The Beatles are certainly going to be appreciated for many generations to come for a variety of reasons (classic melodies, vocal harmonies, evolution of lyrics, studio experimentation, broad instrumentation, “style”, etc.). Not many bands are appreciated on the same level as the Beatles. I think U2 is the closest thing we’ve seen since the Beatles to a timeless band based on their enormous popularity, consistently good albums with high sales and positive reviews, enormous stadium tours, etc. What U2 have mastered is the art of capturing emotional weight in their music. They have great melodies, but as Bono said himself, they don’t compare to the Beatle’s melodies. But the Beatles don’t carry the emotional weight of U2.

    People try to predict the next big thing all the time and then bands, consumers, and record labels ride that wave for a little while. Most die out (nu-metal and boy bands come to mind) while others might have an impact that lasts a couple generations (grunge). The next big, classic, timeless, influential band can only be recognized in retrospect. It seems like the greats don’t forget the success of the past greats, but are very aware and involved in the modern music culture (for us, this could be the digital revolution).

  5. Hey Austin… great thoughts there.

    To some degree, I think I am looking for what’s next in an effort to keep from becoming irrelevant (musically… stylistically… not in a worship leading sense).

    I’ve heard more than one guitar player in recent years struggle thru a modern worship tune trying to fit 70’s and 80’s rock licks in (wheedley-whee!) where some more atmospheric, Edge-y stuff would work better.

    I guess what I am wondering is when I will be struggling to fit Edge-y, atmospheric stuff into a tune where something else will work better… and wondering what that something else will sound like.

  6. Ya know Tony, I’m not exactly sure where worship is going, but I know where my style is evolving towards, and also where several other bands are heading towards. I think there’s going to be a big shift into using more electronic/effects based stuff in music that’s to come. HERESY ALERT: I think the role of the guitar may move from front and center to more of a balanced position, while finding ways to use triggered electronic sounds and patterns will become much more profound. I think of groups like Radiohead and Mute Math who really broke ground in this area, and also to some extent the David Crowder Band.

    One thing I’m really doing with my playing is finding ways to layer or texture my guitar playing (not in the traditional “Edge” sense), instead finding ways to loop, sustain, electronically modify, and just plain transform my guitar signal so it’s almost unrecognizeable as a guitar. One band that’s really cutting ground in this area is the Icelandic group Sigur Ros.

  7. Groups I’ve been playing in have started using loops – synths, reverse guitars, bowed guitars (Sigur Ros), and other ambient recordings layered together. It’s on songs where our drummer plays to a click so the loops come in right on time. Totally opening up new possibilities in a live setting.

    I’ve been playing worship gigs with a good worship leader friend of mine a lot lately, traveling a bit too. We both have a line 6 DL4 and use it mainly as a looper (I used the Boss DD20 as my full-time delay). What’s really amazing about the line 6 DL4 is the reverse looping capabilities. If you have one or have access to one, click record and start recording very simple guitar arpeggios (emphasize the root of the song) until the memory automatically runs out and plays back the arpeggio. You can then double click the right switch to play back the line reverse. Click record again and keep layering – the memory will now record 14 second phrases infinitely. If done carefully and tastefully, you can really create some breathtaking ambient textures. I’ve layered parts with some chorus, reverb, and delay and effectively turned my guitar into a string section. (: We rarely take a keyboard player to out of town gigs, so I have been figuring out ways to texture my guitar like a keyboard. Use a Whammy Pedal for some really unique texturing capabilities! All this works best during down times.

  8. Electronica, here we come…

    This is certainly not the first time technology has taken more of a center-stage role. We have been thru this before – the computers were just much bigger and slower.

    Think back to when the synths started showing up in the 60’s / 70’s. Stevie Wonder, the Who (think Baba O’Reilly), Pink Floyd (Dark Side), etc. The 80’s stretched it further – MIDI ruled the earth…

    Then the Seattle thing happened – Nirvana and Soundgarden took over, and there was nary a MIDI cable to be found – suddenly it was all about “feel”, etc…

    Cycles, I guess.

  9. I really hope the next wave involves more electronica…Kid A influenced worship music? Yes please! That album was totally ahead of it’s time, and really still is. I think in the next 10 years people will begin to rediscover that album and it will reflect in the industry.

    If there is one band that are ahead of the curve, truly forging their own way musically while writing worshipful lyrics it’s David Crowder Band. I think Chris Tomlin writes more accessible songs (love them), but Crowder is just slightly ahead of our time. A Collision is truly a brilliant work of art…lyrics that are honest and meaningful, music that is textured, orchestrated, unique, and exciting. I’m so glad there are artists out there like David who are trying to do something different in Christian music. Notice all the attention mainstream media gave it even though it’s clearly Christian?

    Sorry, we’re getting off topic here.

  10. Austin – I have “OK Computer” and “Kid A” up in my “best albums ever” list, so I’m with you there.

    But… as far as them being ahead of their time… ever heard Dark Side of the Moon?

    The thing about Crowder that I see as innovative is how their use of samples / loops etc does not detract from the energy and the “human-ness” of their songs… their tunes have a bounce and a vitality to them that is rare, especially for music that relies so much on electronics.

  11. Dark Side is one of my all time favorites and I think it was another album ahead of it’s time. Similar mood between the two albums and Pink Floyd’s use of synthesizers and sampling (like Radiohead’s) with their guitar driven rock music was (and still is) fresh and inspiring. That being said, Kid A holds it’s own against Dark Side. Kid A’s influences go far beyond Dark Side of the Moon to include Miles Davis, DJ Crush, Talking Heads, Charles Mingus, Kraftwerk, Krautrock…including styles of music that weren’t even invented at the time of Dark Side like ambient electronica and abstract hip-hop.

    Certainly there is a parallel between the two – I might even call Kid A “Dark Side for the 21st century”, but with Radiohead’s additional unique influences I personally think it stands alone and is quite ahead of it’s time.

    Just to make this relevant to the original post: Radiohead use a number of delays live including the Line 6 DL4, Akai Headrush, Boss DD-3’s, and Roland Space Echos. Check out this great site for more info on Radiohead’s equipment:

  12. I remember when skillet took that nose dive into electronica. I think I read an article/interview with them and what they were going to be doing with electronic stuff. They wen’t from Nirvana to NIN (not entirely identical of course). I can definitely say I’ve passed the “analogue is the only way to go” mentality. I’m constantly looking for more ways to change my sound. The way I look at it, I play many instruments that are all on the same level…meaning, I no longer consider delay to be an effect, so much as an entire separate instrument. Most of my effects are just more instruments that I have to learn how to play. This goes especially for dynamic and modulations of any sort.

    It’s definitely interesting. I have a friend that can just shred up and down his neck, but can’t use effects beyond a standard delay setting and reverb. I can’t shred, but I sure love creating just as “ear-catching” of sounds with my pedal-board full of fun. Doesn’t get me out of having to practice my scales though….bummer.

  13. Nice topic! Sir I just wanted to know how to set up my DD3 delay based on how to compute for that dotted 8note and to get that 450-500ms, since my delay is set 50ms,200ms,800ms?

    And how can I achieve the edge sound with my Ts7,DD3 set up with a fender squier telecaster and a marshall amp

  14. good article. i would certainly like to see more delay in worship music; i come from a traditional church where me playing electric guitar is radical enough LOL it would shock a lot of people if i added my not-inconsiderable pedal board to the sound.
    to erick3ya: i have a DD3 pedal, and where it says 50ms,200ms,800ms, thos are just guidlines for the range. there is a knob that selects the range, then a knob to fine-tune it. use the fine-tune knob to make sure each repeat is in time. i dont usually use the numbers anyways, just go by feel.
    BTW, if you hope to get any sort of decent sound like famous guitarists, the Edge included, i would recommend getting a decent guitar, cause the Squire’s pickups just wont cut it. you could also buy a pickup set and replace them yourself or get a tech to do it if you dont know how to use a soldering gun. it seriously helps a lot to have good pickups; i replaced the bridge PU on my Fender 2003 strat with a DiMarzio minibucker and it made a world of difference. Especially for my delay work too, because the new pickup helps contribute to clearer response from the pedal.

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