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How to Get the Most Out of Your Delay Pedal

How to Get the Most Out of Your Delay Pedal

Independent/Counterpoint Melodies
If you’re really adventurous, you can take the staggered harmonized line idea we just discussed and use it to play something contrapuntal, like a “canon” or a “round.” In other words, soon after a melody starts, it is imitated by another voice. In this case, the other voice would be from your delay. To get this technique under your belt, you might try playing simple, familiar pieces like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Frère Jacques”— which might be harder to play, initially, than you would think. If you’re more ambitious, try tackling something like “Little Dance in Canon Form” from composer Béla Bart—k’s Mikrokosmos or parts of a Bach Invention.

Guitar legends such as Bill Frisell and David Torn have made looping an integral part of their live shows. At its most extreme, looping is almost like real-time multi-tracking: You can continually add layers of sound, starting with a bass figure, then a layer of chords, followed by a muted, single-note rhythm part, and then a solo on top. Pedals like the Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler (street $236), Boss DD-7, and Eventide TimeFactor (street $399) have built-in looping functionality and are good options for getting started with looping.

One tricky thing with looping is that the start and end points of the loop have to be rhythmically precise: When you first record the loop, you have to start the loop on the first beat of the phrase, and then stop the loop when the first beat occurs again—thus cutting off the note’s sustain to avoid overlap. In every loop, the last note will immediately flow into the repetition of the first note. Sometimes there might be a very slight lag before the effect is actually activated after you step on the pedal. We’re talking milliseconds here, but you might feel it and may have to adjust the timing of your stomps accordingly.

Many newer digital delays—including the Eventide TimeFactor (above), Boss DD-7, and Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler (bottom) —also feature built-in looping functionality.

If the maximum looping time available on your delay device is too short for some of your more ambitious looping applications, there are still good uses for it. For example, if you only had enough delay time to have one harmony or drone note sound, you could leave it on for infinite feedback and practice playing and hearing scales or patterns against the fixed tonal center. You could also use it to loop a note that you could tune the rest of your strings to if you don’t have a tuner (at least you’d be in tune with yourself!). These may not be performance-critical uses, but they could certainly be helpful in your development as a musician.

Adventure Awaits … Awaits … Awaits
Although we’ve explored its most common uses, there are still many more sounds and textures that can be created with a delay pedal—in fact, the possibilities are nearly endless. And whether you arm yourself with a basic echo box or one of the newer units with a bunch of bells and whistles, learning to see and use the effect in a fresh new way— just as the Edge and Eddie Van Halen did—could make you the next sonic innovator whose sonic weapon is the delectable delay.