Before BBD chips, time-staggered effects like flanging, chorus, echo, and double-tracking were only possible with magnetic-tape-driven units such as the Echoplex EP-3 (left) and Roland Space Echo RE-201, while rotary-speaker effects required a literal rotating-speaker array like the Leslie setup shown here in a transparent acrylic cabinet.

Stompbox guru Mark Hammer reveals everything you need to know about the analog effect chips of yesterday and today.

Is there a 15-year-old out there who’s never dreamed of having a time machine—a hi-tech contraption that’d take you back in time 10 minutes to avoid the botched joke that ruined your chances with so-and-so, or maybe to think twice about that failed guitar twirl that obliterated mom’s favorite lamp? Or, even better, beam you into the future, Biff Tannen-style, so you can ferret-out bankable sports bets—or just skip the rest of high school altogether! It’s a silly fantasy, yet one we never completely outgrow over the post-teen decades.

The funny thing is, in a sense, time machines have existed since the early 1970s. They may not have had all the bells and whistles we dream of, they may not have come with a clever talking dog who explained all the new sci-fi awesomeness for us—and heck, they didn’t even take you into the future—but they still existed in the form of delay/echo units. The first such “time machines,” at least in terms of mainstream availability and affordability, came out back during the bell-bottom decade—and they were powered by another hyphenated double-B technology: “bucket-brigade” chips.

If you’ve been playing guitar for a while, you’ve no doubt heard a lot of hoodoo and voodoo about expensive vintage bucket-brigade effects pedals and processors over the years, but even players with fewer axe-wielding years under their belts have likely seen and heard a fair amount about devices powered by modern renditions of this once-dead, now-resurrected circuitry. Which is why we’re offering this handy-dandy guide to help you understand bucket-brigade devices (BBDs) from then and now.

So What Exactly Are BBDs?
Bucket-brigade devices were the first wholly electronic devices for producing time-delay of electronic signals. Prior to their development, most effects that time-staggered an audio signal relied on magnetic tape and manipulation of tape speed. (Examples include the various iterations of the Echoplex and Roland’s Space Echo.) BBDs permitted easier production of echo and effects like flanging, chorus, and double-tracking from a much smaller device. Further, BBD effectors enabled flanging to be produced onstage without the prior need for two tape decks, and rotary-speaker-like effects were possible without lugging around a massive Leslie setup.

The original Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble was a classic early BBD-driven chorus stompbox.
Photo courtesy of Spaghetti Vintage

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