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The Best Delay Pedal Your Pedalboard Needs In 2021 

 April 19, 2021

By  Zen Chung

If you're a lead guitar player looking to add motion to your solos, you probably know that delay is one of your most essential effects and adds to your pedalboard. The best delay pedals provide various options and functions, but they can radically offer different tones and feels too.

When it comes to selecting the best delay pedal, it's worth ensuring that it gels well with your personality as a performer, as this can lead to some creatively inspired work.

Keep reading to see our top favorites and the factors to consider when buying the best delay pedals.

The Best Delay Pedals

1. Boss DD - 500

BOSS Digital Delay Guitar Pedal, Standard (DD-500)
  • Studio-level stereo sound with 32-bit/96 kHz processing throughout12 versatile...

The Japanese brand, Boss, can easily be considered the pioneers of the digital delay. In 1983, they were the first company to launch the idea of a digital delay into a stompbox with the DD -2. Now facing stiff competition from new players like Strymon with their Strymon Timeline and Eventide, the company has certainly upped their game.

The Boss DD-500 boasts of being the most powerful and versatile stompbox delay ever made. The pedal offers 12 different delay modes, including analog and tape echoes. Each delay type includes a semi-parametric four-band EQ, modulation, ducking, and various other parameters, allowing you to dive deep and refine tones with maximum precision. It comes with 297 patches that save your carefully crafted tones with the added functionality of running two simultaneously.

 The DD-500 supports analog pass-through on the straight guitar tone, and you have a choice of buffered- or true-bypass operation. Not only does the buffered bypass strengthen the analog dry signal, but it has the added benefit of enabling carryover, so delay trails are not cut off unnaturally when turning the effect off or switching patches.

The Boss DD-500 features a large LCD that fully supports the pedal’s capabilities, giving you clear visibility of delay time, patch ID, and more on one screen. You can easily connect to your computer via USB for remote editing and patch backup with the DD-500 Editor.

Lastly, it also includes tap-tempo, the ability to freeze notes or manipulate delay rates into sonic infinity, and a 120-second looper. The best part is that it is feature-rich and comes at an affordable price.

Pros

  • High-quality sound.
  • Very versatile.
  • Affordable.
  • Switching patches is really easy.
  • Has great terra and filter echo.

Cons

  • Shimmer mode isn't the strongest.

2. Electro Harmonix Canyon Delay

The Electro Harmonix brand were the pioneers of analog delays from the decade prior with the popular Deluxe Memory Man that was the first echo/delay unit with no moving parts. In the years since, top bands like Radiohead and U2 have used it. It is one of the best delay pedals on the market.

Electro Harmonix Canyon is the brand's first compact and multi-mode offering. The delay and looper pedal come packed with 11 delay types, 10 different effects, a 62-second looper, and the pitch-shifting Octave mode.

The Electro Harmonix digital delay has a delay time of 5 milliseconds to seconds. You can tap tempo and tap divide using the built-in footswitch or an external footswitch. The digital delay's tail switch allows you to select whether echoes repeat or stop immediately when the pedal is switched to bypass.

You can easily access the hidden parameters through the secondary knob mode.

Pros

  • Features a buffered bypass.
  • Fantastic Delay sounds and tones.
  • Compact, packed with features.
  • Set at an Affordable Price.
  • Comes with a looper.
  • Can Tap tempo.
  • Has a small footprint.

Cons

  • Have to think about a separate power supply.
  • The Tap tempo can be confusing.

3. MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay

MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay Guitar Effects Pedal (M169)
  • Rich, all-analog delay
  • Up to 600 milliseconds of delay time
  • Modulation controls emulate tape echo tones
  • Bucket-brigade technology

If you're looking for the best delay that's analog and affordable, the MXR Carbon Copy is your best choice. You're guaranteed to get good reverb and delay.

The MXR Carbon Copy analog delay pedal uses BBD technology and features 600ms of delay time with optional modulation and a three-knob layout that controls repeats, delay, and mix. The analog delays are darker, richer, and less clear than the digital kind making them better suited for those who don’t want their repeats to pop out too much or hoping to retain more of a vintage-sounding warmth. 

The MXR Carbon Copy features two internal trim pots that offer user-adjustable width and rate control of the modulation for even more tonal options.

The analog delay pedal can be considered an updated and modern version of the 1977 original that quickly became one of the most popular delay units of its generation.

Pros

  • Excellent build quality.
  • Has a great sound.
  • Has a bright LED.
  • Adjustable modulation.
  • Great reverb and delay.
  • True Bypass.

Cons

  • Tiny Internal Trim pots.
  • Have to use a noise gate.

4. TC Electronic Flashback 2

TC Electronic Guitar Delay Pedal (960823001)
  • Flashback 2 delay effects pedal.
  • The tc electronic flashback 2 delay packs the company's entire delay legacy into...
  • TC Electronic groundbreaking MASH technology adds an expression pedal to a...
  • Package Weight: 0.431 kilograms

The TC Electronic Flashback is considered one of the most popular and best delay pedals of the last decade. The TC Electronic Flashback 2 is an update of the original compact pedal and offers a similar user-friendly design.

The digital delay pedal features 8 exceptional delays, inclusive of hyper-realistic tape warble and self-oscillation. The delay is designed with MASH technology that adds an expression pedal to the stompbox hence responding to your touch and saving you pedalboard space.

It features 3 dedicated Toneprint slots that allow you to store signature effects. The delay type can be updated via USB and allows users to beam TonePrints via their phones. When the pedal is off, the true bypass allows for optimum clarity and zero high-end loss.

Pros

  • Solid and sturdy.
  • Tap Tempo.
  • Features Unique mash feature.
  • The beaming process of tone prints to the pedal from your phone is super easy.
  • True bypass.
  • Saves space for your pedalboard.
  • Tape echo delay mode is good.

Cons

  • A slight turn in the knobs can create a large jump in the result.
  • Tape delay could be better.

5. Boss DM-2W

Boss DM-2W Waza Craft Delay Pedal with 1 Year EverythingMusic Extended...
  • Special edition Waza Craft pedal delivers the ultimate BOSS tone experience
  • True reproduction of the vintage DM-2 Delay sound
  • Premium all-analog circuit with BBD (bucket brigade) delay line
  • Standard mode for authentic DM-2 tone with 20-300 ms delay time
  • Custom mode provides warm-yet-clear delay sound and maximum 800 ms delay time

The original Boss DM-2W was discontinued in 1984. It was highly sought after by players for its bucket-brigade delay (BBD). The legendary analog delay is back, and the updated Waza Craft adaptation recreates and captures the classic tone quite well.

It features analog circuitry and has a delay sound that ranges between 20 - 300 ms. The Boss pedal features an expression pedal input for foot control of delay time. It's designed with two output jacks that allow separate output of delay and direct sounds.

The DM-2W features three knobs and two modes: Standard and Custom. The Custom mode offers a warm but clear delay sound and a maximum 800 ms delay time. If you're searching for an old-school digital delay that can go from simple slapbacks to OTT auto-oscillations, this might just be the best delay for you.

Pros

  • Has a warm and lush tone.
  • Expanded delay time.
  • Features an expression pedal.

Cons

  • No onboard modulation.

Factors To Consider When Buying The Best Delay Pedal

a) Reverb/Echo Effects

An example of reverb in its natural form is if you've been in a large hall and noticed how the environment changes the sound of someone speaking out loud. Reverb does as its name suggests, providing reverberations of the instrument's sound, thus resulting in an echoing effect.

Reverb/echo settings in modern guitar pedals imitate the classic reverb methods from the prior days of studio recording and engineering when sounds were routed through plates and springs to produce a warm tone. What you’re getting in your guitar pedal is the same, though a much more compact operation that allows for far greater sound control.

Most reverb effects let you control the tone, type, and decay time. Some of the best delay pedals also combine different reverb effects at once, allowing guitarists to tweak the specifics of the settings and develop their own unique sounds.

b) Delay Effects

Originally, delay effects were processed as a signal sent through a reel to reel recorder, copied, and played back a specific amount of times through a complex tape machine set up after the original sound was played. Guitar pedals imitate this effect, hence providing guitarists more control over their sounds and eliminating the need for grand audio setups.

A delay effect allows the guitarists to accompany themselves and set up poly-rhythmic repeats ranging from bouncy melodic to dissonantly chaotic. It also allows you to manipulate the amount of delay, length of delay, speed of the sound’s playback, and the mix between the dry “no effect” and wet “with effect” signals; thus, players can dial in a sound perfectly fitted to a specific song.

c) Analog Delay vs. Digital Delay

The difference lies in the circuits and how they produce the time effects.

Digital guitar pedals tend to work with mathematical algorithms like a computer. They contain data on producing a range of programmed sounds, and changing the dial setting changes the algorithm. This results in cleaner sound with high fidelity hence making them more capable of more complex delays. However, over the last decade, digital delay pedals have developed to become notably closer in capturing the “imperfect” sound of analog delays.

Analog delay pedals preceded digital delay pedals and are considered to have warmer tones with greater character. They tend to be more expensive, and their parts are hard to find.

Analog delay pedals rose in popularity since the mid-1970s and rely on a microchip that Panasonic pioneered. It works by feeding the original sound from the guitar back into the signal chain at timed intervals. Since there is nothing in the circuitry of the effect to preserve the fidelity of the echoes, they will degrade with each repeat.

d) Looping Effects

Many delay pedals feature a looping function which sets up a permanent repeated delay. This effect brings the concept of the“one-man-band” to life, as guitarists can build elaborate layers of sound in real-time, stacking tracks to achieve a wall of sound, and it can be a useful way to thicken up a guitar part.

Though there various effect companies that offer exclusive delay pedals for handling looping, the ability to create this unique effect still falls under the category of delay and reverb. Guitarists can lay a subtle, repeated loop as a foundation for a piece or use the looping for a more abrasive and ear-splitting effect.

e) Durability

Durability is definitely a key factor to consider when selecting the best delay pedals, especially if used continually for a live performance. Traveling on the road presents many risks for delay pedals even when they are well transported.

However, if a guitarist opts to use a delay pedal strictly for studio work, this opens up more options, as the delay pedal will more than likely experience far less wear and tear.

f) Intended Use

Deciding on the intended use for your delay pedal will make finding the best and right one much easier. Though many delay pedals offer complex sound switching and manipulation, these options should be quickly accessible in a live setting, especially considering the guitarist will likely make these changes using just their feet.

A pedal offering deeply expansive editing capabilities doesn’t necessarily pin it as a bad choice for live performance since some models offer programmable presets or auxiliary components to easily select favored settings.

Some pedals, however, may not offer the ideal ability to switch settings during a live stage performance. This should be of little concern for guitarists looking for something to use solely for recording purposes.

g) Saving Presets

This is an essential consideration as not all pedals allow you to save your own presets. Presets can come in handy when you want to quickly and easily switch between different delay settings.

For example, if you have a song where you want a slow and subtle delay and another song uses a loud slapback delay. Presets allow you to save the different settings and instantly switch between the two. This is usually through a footswitch.

The best delay pedals should allow you to save presets. Though you can adjust a few knobs and get away with bending over during your performance, the best delay pedal will be one that allows you to save the settings you like.

h) Editor/App

Various new pedals provide the ability to connect to a computer or smartphone and use an editor to set up your own presets and adjust the settings. Though this comes down to personal preference as you may not be interested in having too much control.

It is worth considering, especially if you're a live performer or enjoy having full control over your tone. If factors such as tape delays and being able to set a specific delay time by the millisecond or saving your presets to access later are of key priority to priority to you, then this is a feature worth looking into it.

i) Control

The basic delay pedals tend to have three controls: Delay Time, Delay Feedback, and Delay Level. These three controls allow you to set the minimums for your delay.

There are other important elements to consider depending on the type of effects you're looking for. Being able to control other aspects such as depth, filter, speed, etc., can give you a lot more control over your tone.

When using a delay pedal with only three controls, then transition to a pedal that allows you to control every aspect of an effect, you begin to notice that you can shape and gain even more control of your tone. 

Zen Chung


I'm Zen Chung, a piano and violin teacher based out of Plano, Texas. I started this blog because my students (and their parents) kept asking about the best musical instruments to buy online. Look no further I'm here to save the day! 

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