Delay pedals are among the most popular effects around, and the reason is simple: A delay pedal not only gives your sound a professional sheen and adds a three-dimensional quality—even when set for a discreet, atmospheric effect—but it can also produce a wide variety of not-so-subtle sounds and textures, ranging from ear-twisting rhythmic repeats (à la Eddie Van Halen’s “Cathedral”) to faux twin-guitar harmonies and live looping.

Though there’s a plethora of delay pedals on the market, the control scheme on a Boss DD-7 is very common.
This how-to guide will cover the aforementioned effects, as well as fundamentals like the function of typical delay controls, and where to place your unit in an effects chain. Although there are countless delays on the market—many of which have mind-boggling features—we’re going to use a basic delay pedal setup similar to what you’ll find on a Boss DD-7 as our reference point. We’ve also provided some sample settings so you can get the most out of your delay pedal right away.

Delay Pedal Controls
Three controls are common to virtually all delay units: Time, Feedback (sometimes labeled “Repeat” or “Regeneration”), and Level (or “Mix”).

Time controls the length of time between any two repetitions of your signal. It is most often measured in milliseconds (ms). Most delay pedals don’t have a delay-time readout that would enable you to determine exact delay times in milliseconds, so you typically just adjust the Time knob to get an approximate time based on the unit’s available range. For instance, the Boss DD-7 (street $179) has a Mode knob that selects between four time ranges—up to 50 ms, 51–200 ms, 201–800 ms, and 801–3200 ms—and the Time knob then adjusts the setting within the selected range.

Feedback determines the amount of repetitions. At its minimum setting, Feedback outputs a single repetition of the original signal. From that point on, as you turn up Feedback you get more repeats. Some delay units allow infinite repeats when this control is maxed.

Level controls the volume of the repeats. When Level is at its minimum setting, you won’t hear any repeats. When it’s all the way up, the repeats should be as loud as the original signal.

Signal-Chain Placement
If you plan to use your delay in conjunction with other stompboxes, it’s important to consider where to place these effects in the chain—especially if you’re using an overdrive, distortion, or fuzz pedal. The most common setup is to place dirt before delay. This is important because it means you’ll be delaying the distorted signal as opposed to distorting a delayed signal, which will sound mushy and indistinct. Because a distortion pedal has the strongest impact on your fundamental tone, it’s typically placed early in the chain, whereas delay is usually placed toward the end of the chain so it can produce repeats of all of the effects added to your guitar sound. Of course, you should experiment for yourself to see what you prefer.

If you’re taking the dirt-before-delay with the distortion from your amp, then you’ll want to insert your delay into your amp’s effects loop (if it has one) so that it comes in the chain after the preamp gain. For recording, it’s less of an issue because you can just record the amp without any effects and then add delay during post-production.