5 Best Delay Pedals for Serious Guitarists


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Sometimes I wonder why I chose the electric guitar as my instrument. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it, and it will always be number 1 in my heart, but it’s not a very expressive tool. Compared to other electronic instruments, the guitar is, well… kind of basic.

After a few years of rocking, I was left wanting more, playing less frequently as time went by. I just couldn’t get the guitar to make the sounds I was hearing in my head. Was this the end of my tenure with the axe?

Would I have to learn a whole new instrument from scratch? These thoughts went round and round my brain, until the day I got my first delay pedal.

Suddenly, I felt like I was playing a whole new instrument. I could create sweeping ambient soundscapes, ephemeral harmonies, and snappy atmospheric rhythms… the sky was once again the limit, and it can be for you, too!

Welcome to my guide to the best delay pedals in town.

Best Overall: Boss DD-500

BOSS Digital Delay Guitar Pedal, Standard (DD-500)

The Boss DD-500 is a straight-up masterpiece of delay technology. Providing 12 discrete delay engines and multiple advanced parameters for tweaking each one, it invites you to become the architect of your own sound.

And speaking of custom sounds, the DD-500 allows you to save up to 297 presets in its internal memory bank. You can then prime two of them simultaneously, one on each lateral footswitch, allowing you to switch freely between them or even use them at the same time, creating an epic dual delay effect.

All the while, you can activate the looper function which gives you a whopping 2 minutes of record time, making this pedal one serious performative tool!

Now, I’m afraid that all this functionality does come at a price, and that’s an extensive footprint. Yep, you better have some wide-open spaces on your pedalboard to accommodate this bruiser, but one it’s on there, you’ll never want to take it off.

Pros:

  • Price — Not cheap but great value for money.
  • 12 delay engines — Awesome sonic templates to use as a baseline for your own effects.
  • Looper function — Doubles as a looper for some epic jamage!
  • 296 memory slots — Imagine having 296 custom delay effects at the tips of your toes.
  • Dual delay — Use two delays simultaneously to create insane multifaceted echoes.

Cons:

  • Footprint — It’s a big boy.
  • Depth — The amount of options can be daunting.

The Boss DD-500 is also available from…

BOSS Digital Delay Guitar Pedal, Standard (DD-500)
  • Studio-level stereo sound with 32-bit/96 kHz processing throughout12 versatile delay modes from vintage to modern deliver unlimited creative possibilitiesUnrivaled real-time expression with customizable control settings for onboard and external switchesGraphic LCD for easy, intuitive operation while performing and editingOnboard patch memories and hands-on controlsEquipped with a built-in Phrase Looper, MIDI, USB and moreSelectable buffered or true-bypass operation

Premium Pick: Strymon TimeLine

Strymon TimeLine Multidimensional Delay Pedal

Strymon are renowned for the quality of their effects pedals, and the TimeLine is essentially the be-all-end-all delay. Seriously… this thing is deep!

It offers 12 delay engines, each with multiple presets, which are, in turn, tweakable via a number of parameter knobs, so you can effectively craft your own echo effects to suit your play style. You can then save your custom sounds in the onboard memory, which can be navigated with the integrated LCD.

While it’s on the large side, the amount of functionality it brought to my board during tests was off the charts, so it’s space in your setup well spent, especially considering the quality of the audio.

All the sounds in the TimeLine are handcrafted by the sonic wizards at Strymon, and their studio-grade quality is second to none — some feel they might even be a bit too polished.

My only real gripe with this pedal is the price tag. It’s… pretty scary. But, if you’ve got the cash, and you want to craft your own delay types, the TimeLine won’t let you down.

Pros:

  • 12 delay engines and 100 presets — Soooo many sounds!
  • LCD — Easy to navigate presets.
  • Aesthetics — This is one sexy pedal.
  • Studio-grade audio — It’s a professional tool.

Cons:

  • Footprint — The enclosure is pretty big.
  • Depth — Some may find the sheer number of options in this pedal to be intimidating.
  • Price — You may have to smash your piggy bank.

The Strymon TimeLine is also available from…

Strymon TimeLine Multidimensional Delay Pedal
  • - Hand crafted, studio-class delay algorithms deliver meticulous, detailed and nuanced delay experiences
  • - True Bypass (electromechanical relay switching)
  • - Selectable Trails mode with high quality, transparent Analog Buffered Bypass, saveable per preset
  • - Dimensions: 6.75" wide, 5.1" deep
  • - Crafted with love in the USA

Best Budget Delay: Boss DD-7

Boss DD-7 Digital Delay Pedal

The DD-7 was my first ever delay pedal, and I loved, loved, loved it! This thing is user-friendly, versatile, sounds immaculate, and has a super small footprint, perfect for a mini-board setup!

Granted, it’s technically quite a basic pedal, but it’s about as fleshed out as basic gets. On top of your three mainstays: feedback, mix, and time, you have a  “Mode” knob, for cycling through a bunch of different preset timings and effects such as modulation, analog, and reverse.

Honestly, with all the options available, you’ll be sat noodling for hours, with one guaranteed result, a renewed passion for the electric guitar.

It also has tap tempo, so no need to get on your hands and knees to adjust your delay. Just use your foot and play on, pard!

What’s more, the DD7 is without a doubt one of the best bang-for-buck delays on the market, proving quality effects don’t have to break the bank.

Pros:

  • Small footprint — More room for other pedals!
  • 4 delay modes — Lots to explore.
  • Tap tempo — No fine-tuning with fingers required.
  • Price — Great value for money.

Cons:

  • Tone — No tone sculpting whatsoever.

The Boss DD5 is also available from…

Boss DD-7 Digital Delay Pedal
  • Boss DD-7 Digital Delay Pedal

Best Delay/Reverb Combo: EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run V2

EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run V2 Stereo Reverb & Delay with Tap Tempo Guitar Effects Pedal

I have the EQD Avalanche Run on my board right now, and of my many stompboxes, it’s undeniably the most stomped on of all — that’s how much I love it.

The first thing you should know is that it’s a delay/reverb combo, two effects that, together, create pure musical poetry.

While the reverb is a little limited in terms of controls, it does have a 100% wet setting, so you can reduce attack and create a soft, swelling ambiance.

You get three delay settings to choose from. Normal, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is your standard delay, Swell reacts to pick dynamics and adds volume swells to your signal, and Reverse (my favorite), gives you both standard and backwards repeats.

As well as standard Feedback, Mix, and Time controls, you get an additional tone knob, so you can sculpt the repeats to your liking.

It also goes down a treat with an expression pedal, as you can dial one in to ramp up any of the parameters I just mentioned. Oh, and it has tap tempo functionality if you prefer setting timings with your feet rather than your hands.

Pros:

  • 3 delay modes — Offers a diverse range of sonic options.
  • Reverb — Perfect for ambient players.
  • Tap tempo — Intuitive tempo setting.
  • Expression-ready — Even more sonic options when combined with an expression pedal.
  • Tone knob — Sculpt your delay sound to perfection.

Cons:

  • Power — Requires an insane 425 mA, so you’ll need a versatile power supply.

The EQD Avalanche Run is also available from…

EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run V2 Stereo Reverb & Delay with Tap Tempo Guitar Effects Pedal
  • New custom-built enclosure, Flexi-Switch silent relay based switching for traditional latching or momentary operation, and updated reverb algorithm for improved stereo imaging
  • A dreamy sonic discovery device with up to 2 seconds of delay time and a lush reverb.
  • Features complete control over delay time, repeats, mix and voice (with the tone control), as well as control over the reverb length and mix
  • It can run in one of 3 different modes to really play with your tone: Normal, Reverse and Swell
  • Features an expression jack that can be assigned to one of six different controls using the 'EXP' selector switch

Smallest Footprint: TC Electronic Flashback 2

TC Electronic FLASHBACK 2 DELAY Legendary Delay Pedal with Groundbreaking MASH Footswitch, Crystal Delay Effect and Built-In TonePrint Technology

If you’re looking for a delay pedal that you can fit in the cracks between the pedals of an established board, then you need to see the TC Electronic Flashback 2 — it’s freakin’ tiny!

But just because it’s small, doesn’t mean it’s lacking in the feature department. This thing comes with not 1, not 2, not 3… but 8 delay modes, spanning octave-shimmer to vintage tape echoes. 

This is what I’d call a time-eater of a pedal, as it was light outside when I started noodling with it, 10 minutes or so seemed to pass, I looked up, and it was dark out.

Much like the other popular TC pedals, the Flashback supports their TonePrint technology that essentially allows you to customize up to 3 delay slots in the pedal, or, alternatively, download presets designed by your favorite artists.

My absolute favorite thing about his pedal has to be the “Mash” function triggered by holding down the footswitch. It automatically modulates whichever delay effect is in use, giving you a momentary burst of extra juice to keep listeners on their toes.

Pros:

  • Footprint — Doesn’t hog board space.
  • 8 delay modes — A lot of functionality for the price tag.
  • Mash — Cool performance enhancer.
  • TonePrint — You can download 3 custom delay algorithms.
  • Price — Cheap but by no means tacky.

Cons:

  • No top mounts — Can make cable management tricky.

The TC Electronic Flashback 2 is also available from…

TC Electronic FLASHBACK 2 DELAY Legendary Delay Pedal with Groundbreaking MASH Footswitch, Crystal Delay Effect and Built-In TonePrint Technology
  • Flashback 2 delay effects pedal.
  • The tc electronic flashback 2 delay packs the company's entire delay legacy into a single compact and affordable stomp box that's designed for now – and the future
  • TC Electronic groundbreaking MASH technology adds an expression pedal to a world-class delay stompbox that responds to your touch and saves precious pedalboard space
  • Package Weight: 0.431 kilograms

Buyer’s Guide

Delay is one of the most multifaceted effects in the musical world, which can make finding the pedal that’s right for you incredibly tricky. That’s why I’ve composed this brief yet informative buyer’s guide to help you on your way.

Digital vs Analog

In the past, digital delays were frowned upon for their sanitized sound. They just didn’t have the warmth of the analog echo, but digital has come a long way in recent years. 

These days, you might not be able to tell a digital and analog delay apart. Plus, digital delays tend to provide much more options in terms of delay type and tone sculpting.

That’s not to say you should absolutely choose a digital unit, as they’re often so deep that they can hit you with some gnarly option paralysis. 

My advice is that, if you want to keep it simple, go analog (or rudimentary digital), and if you want flexibility, go digital.

What About Tape Echoes?

Tape echoes were the very first delay machines, dreamt up by none other than Mr Les Paul. Yes… that Les Paul.

Wonderfully flawed devices, they would often deteriorate and warp the repeats, which isn’t an issue with modern delays, but many musicians are now chasing that imperfect sound. 

So, if that vintage, almost warped vinyl timbre, interests you, you should be looking for a digital delay with high-quality tape echo emulation.

Footprint

It’s easy to get caught up with the sound and functionality of a pedal, but it’s important to consider a few practicalities as well, namely, its size.

How much space do you want to allocate to delay on your board? Do you even have a pedalboard? For the longest time, I just used an old coffee table as my base of pedal operations.

Whatever you’re using, bear in mind that the larger your delay pedal is, the less room you’ll have for other pedals further down the line. 

Generally speaking, the larger a delay pedal is, the more it can do, so you have to decide on a compromise between functionality and footprint if you want to find the perfect device for your setup.

To Tap Tempo Or Not To Tap Tempo?

If a delay has tap tempo functionality, it means that you can tap the footswitch a few times, and it will set repeats to that tempo.

This allows you to switch tempo on the fly with your feet, which many find more intuitive than using dials.

I, personally, don’t use tap tempo that often, but I’m not a live performer, and I enjoy twisting knobs (don’t laugh!), but if you like to focus more on your instrument than your pedalboard, tap tempo is a solid choice.

Precision Timings

Some delay pedals offer insanely high-resolution tempo timings — we’re talking millisecond increments here! Not everyone needs such precision, but it can be helpful in the studio and live settings.

Preset Slots

Advanced delay pedals typically come with preset slots in which you can save all your favorite settings for quick retrieval whenever you require them.

If you’re going to be using a variety of different delay styles, I highly recommend something with internal memory, so you don’t have to keep track of all the sonic parameters of each individual delay sound.

Delay +

Delay plays nice with other effects, which is why you’ll often see hybrid pedals that have delay + 1 or 2 other effects.

While these pedals are great fun, if you’re new to the world of delay, it’s probably best to stick to a standalone device, so you can really familiarize yourself with the effect.

If you’re ready to get a bit experimental, I can’t speak highly enough of delay/reverb combos, or if you want to get really weird, a delay/pitch-shifter is the way to go.

Reverse Delay

If you want to rip a psychedelic solo like Hendrix, you’ll need a delay with a reverse function. In a nutshell, a reverse delay setting will repeat the notes you play, but backwards.

Looper

Lots of delays have what’s called infinite repeats, meaning you can have a sound repeat forever, gradually getting louder and louder, but more advanced models have an honest-to-goodness looper function.

This means they can loop a section of your playing indefinitely, allowing you to jam over the top.

I’d highly recommend getting a discrete looper eventually (or 3), but an integrated looper on your delay is a nice bit of extra functionality for starters.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Do Delay Pedals Go In The Signal Chain?

There are no set rules in regard to where delay should occur in your signal chain, but the most popular format is to have it towards the end of your chain with only the reverb and your amp proceeding it.

Is A Delay Pedal Worth It?

It’s all a matter of preference and the kind of music you want to play, but, in my opinion, delay is one of the most important effects. On a list of essential stompboxes, I’d place it 3rd, after a decent drive and reverb.

How Do I Choose A Delay Pedal?

To choose a delay pedal, you really have to know what you want and how you like to work, musically speaking, but don’t worry if you’re not sure about this kind of stuff. Everybody starts somewhere, which is why I included the buyer’s guide.

In my eyes, the most important decision to make is between simplicity and complexity. Both can be inspiring but require very different approaches.

What’s The Difference Between A Delay And An Echo Pedal?

There is no difference between a delay and an echo pedal. Delay is echo.

Why Do Guitarists Use Delay?

With delay, a guitarist can create cascading oceans of sound, taking the sonic possibilities of the guitar far beyond the norm. But it doesn’t have to be such a huge presence in your playing. You can also use it in a very subtle way to add another very palatable dimension to your sound.

What Is The Difference Between Delay And Reverb?

As they’re both time-based effects, reverb and delay are often confused with one another, but they’re distinctly different beasts.

Reverb is the extension of a sound (picture a choir singing in a cathedral), while delay is the repeating of a sound (picture yelling under a bridge)… does that make sense?

If you played a chord with a long-trail reverb, that chord would ring out atmospherically for a while. If you played the same chord with a delay, the chord wouldn’t be extended, but it would repeat at predetermined intervals.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, folks — 5 of the best delays pedals on the planet for your delectation. So what are you still doing here reading? You should be snatching one of these bad boys up and preparing to reinvent your sonic identity! Go on.. git!