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Echoes of the Past and Future

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Some believe the Dynacord EC 280 was the first BBD delay.

The Charge of the Bucket Brigade
In the early ’70s, integrated-circuit (IC) chips made it possible to create more sophisticated effects designs. The bucket-brigade device (BBD) is a highly specialized IC that facilitated development of a whole category of time-based modulation effects. Before the digital revolution, choruses, flangers, and analog delays all relied on BBDs to achieve these effects.

The BBD was invented in 1969 by F.L.J. Sangster and K. Teer at Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven, Netherlands. The most common version made by Philips was a 512-stage BBD named TDA 1022. Eventually, Philips licensed the technology and other companies began manufacturing bucket-brigade devices. The first was the Reticon Corporation of Sunnyvale, California, whose Sampled Analog Delay (SAD) series of delay chips became the industry standard for the first wave of modulation effects. Not long after, Philips licensed the technology to Matsushita in Japan, which developed the Panasonic MN3000 series.

BBDs are also referred to as analog delay lines, even though they’re also used in modulation effects such as choruses and flangers. This has more to do with how the chip itself functions than what type of effect it’s used in. In lay terms, here’s roughly how it works: A BBD chip contains a long series of stages. Each stage is made up of a small capacitor circuit that can store a charge. As a signal enters the BBD, it must pass through each stage of the chip, which causes a delay in the time between the signal entering and leaving the chip. The delay time is controlled by a low-frequency clock oscillator, and the total delay time is determined by the number of stages in the chip. The term “bucket brigade” was originally used to describe a single-file line of people standing side by side and passing items, usually buckets of water or sandbags, from one person to the next. This is how fires were extinguished in the days before modern transportation and plumbing.

By the end of the ’70s ... manufacturers started to focus more on rackmount products and less on stompboxes. As a result, the next wave of classic delay units was mostly of rack devices.

Bucket-brigade devices were first used in musical products around 1972. Electronic keyboards such as the Eminent 310 String Synthesizer and Freeman String Symphonizer were the first to employ this new technology. It was only a matter of time before the devices found their way into standalone effect-pedal designs. The first stompbox effects to employ BBDs were flangers, which first appeared around 1974.

According to Electro-Harmonix founder Mike Matthews, the first analog delay pedal was the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man—though the veracity of this claim has been the subject of some debate. Design engineer Howard “Mick” Davis, who was hired by Matthews in 1976, recalled that the Memory Man had already been released for some time before he was hired, which at least qualifies it as one of the first BBD delays. Davis’ improved design was the now-classic Deluxe Memory Man.

Another contingent holds that the first analog delay was the EC 280 Electronic Echo, which was manufactured by Dynacord—the same company that made the highly regarded Echocord tape delay. The EC 280 used eight Philips TDA 1022 BBDs, one of the first analog delay-chip models. As analog delays go, the EC 208 isn’t great, but it does have a quirky lo-fi sound that’s unique and rather endearing.

Yet another contender for first analog delay is the Marshall Time Modulator, an exceptionally great-sounding studio rack unit with some highly innovative features. Stevie Wonder used it on his 1976 album, Songs in the Key of Life. The Tycobrahe Analog Delay Line was another early design that used four Panasonic MN3001 BBDs and had an awful lot of circuitry for a relatively short delay time. Due to its rarity, the Tycobrahe is more of a collector’s item than a useful delay unit.


MXR’s bucket-brigade Analog Delay (left) debuted in 1977 and became one of the most popular delay pedals of its time. Boss’ bucket-brigade DM-1 Delay Machine (right) preceded the now-legendary DM-2 compact analog delay.

One of the more popular analog delay pedals of this era, the MXR Analog Delay, debuted (along with the company’s new “block logo” design) in 1977. And though Boss is better known for its DM-2 analog delay pedal from the early ’80s, the pedal giant’s first analog delay was the DM-1 Delay Machine, which came out in 1978. By the end of the decade, every major effects manufacturer offered BBD flanger, chorus, and analog-delay effects.

Unfortunately, the demand for BBDs was somewhat limited, and the advent of digital technology soon rendered analog delay chips obsolete. Reticon ceased producing them in the early ’80s, thus the majority of subsequent analog delays featured Panasonic chips until Matsushita ceased production of Panasonic BBDs in 1999.

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