By Damian Fanelli and Josh Hart
Rock guitarists — and manufacturers of effect pedals — have been obsessed with delay in its many forms since Cliff Gallup achieved that ultra-cool delayed-echo effect on the first few Gene Vincent albums in the mid-'50s.
The mechanics behind basic delay are simple: Play a note or chord into an audio-storage medium, then get that device to play that sound back to you — either once or multiple times — after whatever amount of time makes you happy.
Of course, people have improved upon this simple formula, taking delay to new depths and heights, adding multi-taps, reverse, looping and stereo, often including a seemingly infinite assortment of combinations in one pedal.
Which brings us to the story you're reading right now, our guide to five of the most powerful, versatile and useful programmable delay pedals on the market today. By programmable, we're talking about pedals that offer numerous (more than, say, four, for instance) presets that make changing your sound on the fly effortless — and the results limitless.
Like our last gear feature, this list was compiled by a group of Guitar Aficionado staffers, including Technical Editor Paul Riario. As always, these five pedals are presented in no particular order.
For maximum tweakabilitiy and sheer processing power, virtually nothing surpasses the TimeLine from Strymon.
With the ability to save up to 200(!) presets, you can take full advantage of the TimeLine's 12 delay engines, each of which are further customizable by the unit's front panel controls for Time, Repeats, Mix, Filter, Grit, Mod Speed and Mod Depth.
Add in the ultra-powerful SHARC digital signal processor and you might just have more than enough brain power to take Apollo 11 to the moon — or, at the very least, create some killer delay sounds!
MSRP: $449 | Learn more about this pedal here.
Don't let the compact size of the Empress Superdelay fool you into thinking you're somehow getting an inferior delay experience.
Packing 2.8 seconds of delay time and eight modes — normal, tap, autoset (delay time is set by tempo played), reverse, rhythm mode (multi-tap), tape mode, misc (dynamic, gate) and 12-second looper — into a box smaller than 6 inches wide, the Superdelay provides a solid range of sounds that will never coat your signal with an unwanted digital sheen.
Its eight presets may seem limiting to some of you delay junkies out there, but for the average guitarist who wants to add some unpredictability or texture to a solo, the Empress Superdelay will fit nicely in any pedalboard.
MSRP: $449 | Buy at Amazon
With more than 40 years of design experience and musical experimentation to draw on, we're in the midst of a golden age for effect pedal users and makers. For an all-out guide to pedals, past and present, check out Dave Hunter's Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook. It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store.
According to EHX lore, "hazarai" is what you say at a Jewish deli when you want "the works" on your sandwich. We've never actually tried that (although there a few nice delis down the block where we can give it a shot). Regardless, EHX definitely threw the works into this brilliant pedal.
Along those lines, the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Harzai has eight modes, including four echo modes (modulation, multi-tap, reverse and a looper), letting you create everything from ethereal tone-scapes (Feel free to insert other dreamy-sounding nouns here) to full musical performances, and it's all in stereo.
There are three multi-tap modes and two Deja Vu modes. Its Looper offers up to 30 seconds of loop time. All in all, world-class echoes with modulation and reverse are just some of the many choices.
Basically, the pedal — like many others on this list — offers an incredibly wide range of choices and, therefore, provides endless sonic possibilities.
MSRP: $294 | Buy at Amazon
Lots of big names over the years have relied on Eventide, from Brian May, Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai to Robert Fripp, John Petrucci and Adrian Belew. The cool thing about the TimeFactor, however, is that it — for the first time — collects all those guys' sought-after delay effects into one good-looking pedal.
The TimeFactor offers 10 effects: DigitalDelay; VintageDelay; TapeEcho; ModDelay; DuckedDelay; BandDelay; FilterPong; MultiTap; Reverse; and Looper. Some of these might be self-explanatory (for instance, if you're forming a Gene Vincent tribute band, head for the VintageDelay or TapeEcho). As for some of the others, Reverse provides a psychedelic-sounding backwards effect; Mod Delay adds chorus-style modulation effects; DuckedDelay lowers the level of the repeats when you’re playing, and brings them back to their normal level when you stop playing; Looper offers up to 12 seconds of looping with dubbing and speed control.
Even though this pedal might seem a little overwhelming at first, getting the tone you're after is pretty easy. The top row of controls includes main mix, delay 1&2 time, delay 1&2 feedback, delay 1&2 balance. The tier of controls let you make changes corresponding to the particular type of delay you're using.
Here's Paul Riario's video review of the TimeFactor from 2008.
MSRP: $399 | Buy at Amazon
Not only is the Nova Delay from TC Electronic a powerful weapon for the delay-happy musician, it also wins some points for ease of use. While it's no stretch to say that all the Nova's digital delay effects are studio-quality, fast switching between presets means it's also the live guitarist's best friend.
The Nova Delay features six stereo delay types — line, dynamic, reverse, ping-pong, pan and slap-back — each of which can be further tweaked using the pedal's style parameters. A 2290-ms delay time leaves room for plenty of tail, and the ability to calculate delay time using milliseconds or beats per minute makes for maximum flexibility, not to mention a nice perk for use with a metronome.
Perhaps the coolest feature on the Nova Delay is its patented Audio Tapping technology, which "enables you to set the tempo of the delay by playing a rhythm into the pedal while holding down the tap tempo switch." One more thing that just screams for the Nova to be put front-and-center in your live rig.
MSRP: $345 | Buy at Amazon
Can't get enough gear? Check out the 2013 Guitar World Buyer's Guide. It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store.