What do the songs “Run Like Hell”, “Welcome to the Jungle”, and “Where the Streets Have No Name” all have in common?
They all feature iconic guitar riffs that utilize Delay.
The guitarists behind these riffs don’t just sprinkle the effect on either.
It’s in your face in a good way, and these parts simply wouldn’t sound the same if they were played without a delay pedal repeating the guitar signal over and over.
Delay is an effect with a rich history and is one of the most inspiring and fun effects that can be paired with the electric guitar.
There are a ton of great options out there, so in this list I’m covering some of my top picks for the best delay pedals across a variety of needs.
From a subtle slapback effect to overwhelming self-oscillation, there’s a delay pedal on this list for you.
Snapshot: Best Delay Pedals in 2020
- Dunlop EP103 Echoplex – Best Tape Delay and Best Overall
- Boss DM2-W – Best Bucket Brigade Delay
- Boss RE-20 Space Echo – Best Digital Delay
- TC Electronic Flashback Mini – Best Mini
- JOYO Aquarius – Best Budget Option
- Strymon Time Line – Best High-End Option
How to Pick the Right Delay Pedal
The question is: How do you pick the right delay pedal for yourself?
It all comes down to what you want the delay pedal to do, how you want it to sound, and what kind of control/functionality you’re looking for. There are delay pedals on the market with nearly infinite parameters and controls. There are also delays with a single sound. I’ve included examples of both (and everywhere in between) on this list.
What do you want the delay to do?
Do you want a short, slapback delay for your next country gig? There are a number of simple, warm sounding tape delays with a low feedback cap that will do the job at a low price.
Conversely, if you’re wanting to make cosmic, swirling, infinite loops, you’re going to need a delay with clear repeats and a long repeat time.
How do you want it to sound?
Most analog delay pedals (such as tape and bucket brigade) have warm, warbling repeats. These are perfect for using in front of a dirty Marshall for high gain solos. However, this sound may not be what you’re looking for with clean guitar sounds. Digital delays typically have crystal clear repeats that can turn arpeggios into perceived chords. Picking the right sound of delay can have a big impact in how you use them.
How do you want it to function?
Are you a “set and forget” guitar player? If so, then a simple delay with one sound is all you will need. However, if delay is you are playing a gig with dozens of different delay tones in it, you might need a delay with multiple types in it. You might even need stereo in/outs or MIDI control.
Personally, the number one functional requirement of a delay that I need is tap tempo. I like my delay repeats to be in time with the song I’m playing and the easiest way to dial this in (especially on stage) is by tapping my foot on the pedal. This is a function that is present on most digital delays and only on some analog delays.
For this list I tried to pick out delay pedals that could cover all types of guitar playing. That being said, this was a tough list to put together because there are so many great options out there.
Before moving on with my selection of the best delay pedal options, here are some honorable mentions that are also worth checking out:
The Best Delay Pedals on the Market
1. Dunlop EP103 Echoplex – Best Tape Delay and Best Overall
- Vintage Echoplex EP-3 tape echo warmth and modulation
It was a close call between this and the Strymon El Capistan, but I went with the EP103 because Dunlop crammed a classic, warm delay sound that originally came from a machine the size of a VCR into a small pedal. It’s also a simple pedal and comes in at an attainable price point.
I would recommend this pedal to beginners and collectors alike.
As the name implies, the EP103 Echoplex is modeled after the Maestro Echoplex of the 70’s. The EP103 takes that warm, tape echo sound and distills it down into a traditional sized guitar pedal with a sturdy, metal enclosure.
It features up to 750ms of delay and also features tap tempo (a rarity for analog delays). To get the full Echoplex experience, combine this pedal with the EP101 preamp, giving you a warm, broken up tone to add the delay.
One of the reasons I named this the best overall delay pedal is for its ease of use. There are three, easy to understand controls: Sustain, Volume, and Delay. Sustain controls the number of repeats. Volume controls the mix of the delayed signal, and Delay controls the length of time between delay signals.
Finally, if you press in the Volume control, you can control the tone of the delay. This is meant to emulate the sound of either a new or old sounding tape, with crisp repeats to the left, and modulated tones to the right.
You could spend thousands of dollars on an original Echoplex, but there really isn’t a need for it with this pedal. It sounds identical to the original, especially when you dial in the tape age. Delay in front of dirty amps can be tricky, but this pedal sounds great in front of cranked amplifiers when set to more conservative settings.
That warm delay sound is really appealing and won’t have that pesky high end that can hurt folks’ ears. You can even pull off reverb tones when the Delay is set all the way to zero.
- Effect Type: Tape Delay
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.5 x 2”
- Features: Tap Tempo, Trail bypass,
Final Thoughts on the Dunlop EP103 Echoplex
When I think of delay pedals, this is the delay pedal that comes to mind. Sure, there are more advanced delays out there, but this one does the essentials of delay better than any other. It adds just the right amount of character, while having the flexibility needed by modern players with features like Tap Tempo and Trail Bypass. Being able to control the sound of the tape is also a must have.
I would recommend this to someone who is just getting started, or someone who has been playing forever and needs a reliable tape echo. There’s not a bad sound in here.
2. Boss DM-2W – Best Bucket Brigade Delay Pedal
- Special edition Waza Craft pedal delivers the ultimate BOSS tone experienceTrue reproduction of the vintage DM-2 Delay soundPremium all-analog circuit with BBD (bucket brigade) delay lineStandard mode...
While tape delays modulate the sound of delayed trails, they remain consistent. One of the cool aspects of bucket brigade technology is that every repeat gets more and more lo-fi. Bucket Brigade is one of the most colorful sounding delays you can choose from, and the Boss DM-2W does it as well as any other.
The DM-2 is a classic, all analog, bucket brigade style delay that originated in 1977. The Waza Craft edition includes a faithful adaptation of this circuit, as well as a custom voice and modern updates that make this the ultimate bucket brigade delay pedal.
It features two outputs for wet/dry rigs, as well as an input for an expression pedal. With an expression pedal, you gain the ability to control the delay rate with your foot. This can create all kinds of cool self-oscillation sounds that you would otherwise have to control on the pedal itself.
While the DM-2W is flexible, it remains simple and straight forward in its controls. You have three knobs: Repeat Rate, Echo, and Intensity. These are basically synonyms for Delay Time, Repeats, and Volume, respectively. In the middle is a switch that allows you to choose between the original DM-2 circuit and the updated, Custom circuit (more on these later).
The pedal has Boss’ standard big button footswitch, so you’re sure to hit the effect when you want to. If you want to use an expression pedal, just plug one into the Rate input, and push your toe forward for faster rates, and back for slower rates.
The delay trails on the DM2-W vary in sound depending on which voicing you choose: S (Standard) or C (Custom). The Standard voice sounds exactly like the old DM-2 pedals. It has a slightly dirtier, lower fidelity sound to it. It also has a minimum 20ms, maximum 300 ms of delay. For many, this is a limited amount of delay time, but have no fear!
The Custom side of the pedal gives you up to 800ms of time and also has a slightly clearer voice. This is a great delay pedal to use while chicken pickin’ or while playing high gain lead tones. That warm delay tames any harsh high frequencies and makes your delay have lots of character.
- Effect Type: BBD Delay
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 2.32 x 2.87 x 5.08”
- Features: Expression Pedal In, Buffered Bypass, Updated Custom Mode (800ms delay)
Final Thoughts on the Boss DM-2W
Bucket brigade delays were all I used for a long time. I love how much character they add to your guitar tone and the DM-2W is a great place to start. As usual, the Waza line takes classic Boss pedals the step forward that they need to fit into the modern guitar world. The only feature I wish they included was tap tempo, but that is still a rarity amongst analog delays. Overall, this is a delay pedal filled to the brim with character and is simple to use.
3. Boss RE-20 Space Echo – Best Digital Delay Pedal
- Amazing simulation of the famous Roland RE-201, with the spacious, analog tone of the original Space Echo
At first, I thought I was going to list the Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run for best digital delay, but Boss does it again with this twin pedal. It gives you all the modern features of digital delay while keeping the character of a classic tape delay. This multi-head delay sounds complicated but works simply.
I’m late to the party, but this is my new favorite delay pedal and it might just be yours too.
It’s no secret what tape unit it emulates, for its written right across the top of the pedal. This is a direct clone of the Roland Space Echo RE-201 in pedal form. It is a multi-head delay (three to be exact), meaning that the pedal emulates having three different playback heads, which creates multiple delay tracks for some really cool sounds.
All of this is achieved using Boss’ COSM technology to digitally recreate famous analog tones. In addition to being lighter, easier to maintain, and cheaper than the original RE-201, the RE-20 has modern features including tap tempo, a 100% wet reverb only switch, an input for an expression pedal, and stereo In/Out.
It also has a peak level indicator light and input volume control so the pedal can be used with just about any instrument without clipping.
The RE-20 looks intimidating to the non-initiated, but once you understand how multi-head delays work, it’s a pretty straight forward design. Starting on the left, there are controls for the delay signals. You have knobs for Bass and Treble, which control the low and high end frequencies of the delay signal.
There is also a knob for the Reverb level, which controls how loud the reverb is. You can switch off the dry signal entirely using the switch on the back of the pedal. Below this set of three knobs are controls for Repeat Rate (Delay Time), Intensity (number of repeats) and Echo Volume (how loud the repeats are).
There are two big footswitches (hence the term twin pedal); the left controlling bypass, and the right controlling tap tempo. This pedal can also be held down for momentary self-oscillation. Finally, the mode selector lets you choose which of the three tape heads is used. Head 1 offers the shortest delay time, 2 is a little slower, and 3 is the longest in delay time.
These heads can then be combined, along with the reverb. See the chart below for what each of the 12 modes do:
The sounds, oh the sounds this machine can make. Cascading, cavernous repeats that make you feel like you’re out beyond the clouds or deep within the world’s largest cave. It’s hard not to get romantic when it comes to tape echo delays like this.
Unlike most digital delays that have a perfectly clean repeat of your signal, this delay sounds more like a pristine tape delay, so there is a slight modulation to the effect. If you are wondering how close this sounds to the original RE-201, you can take my word that it sounds incredibly close. If you want to hear a comparison for yourself, check out this video.
I think that the RE-20 does a good job of toeing the line between a crystal clean digital delay, and an analog delay with character. The delay is also a fantastic, squishy sounding spring reverb. You don’t even need to buy a reverb pedal with this pedal’s reverb only setting.
- Effect Type: Tape Delay
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 9.1 x 3.6 x 7.5
- Features: Expression pedal, Reverb only, stereo In/out, multihead
Final Thoughts on the Boss RE-20 Space Echo
I get overly excited when companies release versions of coveted gear in a way that is accessible to the masses. The folks at Boss/Roland are smart and they know how to model their own gear.
There are always going to be haters on digital pedals, and maybe my ears aren’t as great as some, but I find this to be a dead on recreation of the legendary RE-20. If you’re looking for a pristine, clean, digital delay, look at my honorable mentions list (the DD-8 and DL4 are fantastic digital delays).
However, if you want a digital delay that sounds analog, this could be the best delay pedal for it.
4. TC Electronic Flashback Mini – Best Mini Delay Pedal
I know, I know. TC Electronic takes the best Mini spot again, but I promise you I looked around for a better mini delay pedal and there simply isn’t one out there. This is an absolute powerhouse of a delay pedal and it fits into the palm of your hand.
Let’s check it out!
If you’ve ever seen the original Flashback, you’ll be amazed to find out that this entire pedal still exists within the newer mini pedal. This digital delay delivers all that power through TC’s TonePrint software/app. TC partnered with dozens of professional guitarists to create one of a kind delay tones in addition to all the classics found on the regular Flashback.
It features true bypass and analog dry through to preserve your original tone. The Flashback mini has tap tempo, as well as audio tempo that allows you to tap the tempo using your strumming hand.
If you’re not interested in all the hidden power of the Tone Print app, the Flashback mini is still a user friendly pedal on its own. There are controls for Delay (repeat time), Feedback (number of repeats), and FX Level (Volume of the delay signal).
For those who are interested in the Tone Print app, all you have to do is download the free app to your smartphone. From there you can beam your favorite toneprints using your guitar’s pickups. To learn how to achieve this successfully, watch this video.
My only complaint about the controls is that the knobs feel kind of cheap and seem to adjust in crude measurements, but finer adjustments can be made in the app.
The great thing about the TC Electronic Flashback Mini is that even though it is a digital delay, it replicates all forms of delay extremely well. Whether you choose to replicate a warm analog BBD delay, a worn out tape delay, or a synthesized octave up delay, the Flashback Mini does it in spades.
You can even create your own custom sounds using the app and then save them for later. I personally used this pedal for a variety, top 40 cover band that required a wide array of delay sound. The Flashback mini was perfect because it sounded great and took up minimal space on my board.
It’s a really inspiring pedal, as it has delay sounds, I didn’t even know existed.
- Effect Type: Delay
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 2.48 x 2.2 x .06”
- Features: True Bypass, Tap Tempo, TonePrint
Final Thoughts on the TC Electronic Flashback Mini
When it comes to sheer flexibility and power, this is the best delay pedal for the job, no other mini delay even comes close to the Flashback mini. There are great mini delay pedals out there that do one or two sounds exceptionally well, but this is the only one that does every type of delay well.
It’s great for gigging musicians that value space on their board, while needing as many sounds as possible. It’s also appropriately priced. The Tone Print may not be ideal for everyone, especially if you’re old school.
However, if you’re needing that exact delay in your mind, and then some, it doesn’t get much better when it comes to mini pedals.
5. JOYO Aquarius Delay/Looper – Best Budget Delay Pedal
- The JOYO Advantages: over 14 years of brand history, strong technical teams, many innovative patents, electroacoustic core technology, guide design of music masters, winning the love of global fans,...
I’ve noticed that Delay is often one of the most expensive effects across the board. Fortunately, the folks at JOYO create some of the best budget conscious effects units and the Aquarius is one of the most impressive.
With eight delay types and a looper for under $80, even the tightest of budgets can make room for this pedal.
My favorite thing about JOYO pedals is that even though they don’t cost as much as other pedals, the build quality is still there. The metal enclosure feels sturdy, while remaining attractive with its glossy finish and rounded edges. The Aquarius also features a retro LED that lines the top and bottom of the pedal, making it stand out on your board, so you’ll always be able to pick it out even on the darkest of stages.
It even flashes with the tap tempo. What is most impressive is that this digital delay has eight, excellently voiced delays and a looper (5 minute recording time) all in one tank of a pedal.
There is one knob that allows you to choose which delay/looper mode you want, ranging from analog, to reverse, to galaxy. The other three knobs all serve as dual function knobs, with controls for Level, Time, and Feedback for the delays, and Volume, Tone, and Tape for the looper.
This makes the pedal extremely flexible and unique, as not many dual pedals have controls to manipulate the looper sound. To access the tap tempo, simply hold down the footswitch for two seconds and tap, tap, tap.
The Aquarius produces hi fidelity reproductions of your guitar tone, whether it be in the delay or looper setting. I especially like the sound of the Tape effect when added to the looper, as it helps to separate your looped guitar tone and your live tone.
While it doesn’t sound as warm and inviting as other digital delays (such as Flashback Mini), it achieves delay tones that are worth the price point. I have to say that the Low Bit setting sounds particularly sterile, but otherwise I think the other modes are good. If you prefer crystal clean delay, then this is definitely worth looking at.
- Effect Type: Delay/Looper
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: N/A
- Features: 5 min Looper, Tap Tempo, 8 delay types, LED’s
Final Thoughts on the JOYO Aquarius Delay/Looper
Finding a delay pedal that sounds usable for under $100 can be tough, but the Aquarius delivers eight usable delays (okay, seven, in my opinion) and an easy to use looper. Its built tough and smart with its tap tempo synchronized LED and rounded metal enclosure. JOYO continues to blow me away with their high quality pedals that come in at bargain prices.
6. Strymon Time Line – Best High End Delay Pedal
- - Hand crafted, studio-class delay algorithms deliver meticulous, detailed and nuanced delay experiences
Any number of Strymon products could have taken the position of the best delay pedal at the high end level. Because all Strymon delays (be it the Volante, Dig, El Capistan, etc.) are top of the line delays. While each of these pedals do their “thing” exceptionally well, I ended up choosing the Time Line because it does all of those pedals at a near comparable level.
This is a pedal for the delay enthusiast.
Where do we begin? The Time Line is a digital delay that has 12 delay types built in, with over 200 presets available for programming and a 30 second stereo looper. The Time Line is a big pedal, measuring in at 6.8 x 5.1 x 3.5 inches, but that space holds a lot of delay capability.
The LED screen allows you to navigate all of the pedal’s hidden features, including a BPM indicator. In addition to Stereo In/Out, the Time Line is also fully MIDI controllable, giving you the ability to hop from one preset to another with greater ease.
Many of the Time Line’s features are accessed using the internal menu, which is explained in perfect detail within the pedal’s manual, which you can read here.
The external controls not only give you traditional delay controls like Time, Repeat, and Mix, but also added controls that effect the tone of the delay signal depending on which mod you are in. The controls work as follows:
- Knob to select between 12 different delay types
- Filter/Grit: work together to shape fidelity of the repeats.
- Value: finely adjusts delay time. Controls menu
- Time: coarse adjustment
- Repeat: feedback
- Mix: 3:00 is 50/50 wet/dry
- Speed/Depth: control modulation of repeats
- A: Engage/Bypass Preset A. Hold for infinite repeats
- B: Engage/Bypass Preset B
You get what you pay for when it comes to the Time Line. Whether you are looking for crisp digital delays, or warm tape delays, there isn’t a single delay type that the Time Line does half-heartedly.
I think the best part of this delay pedal is the fact that it gives you full control over the tone of the delay signal, to the point that the pedal has surprises hidden in it that even the Edge would find amazing. My favorite tone is the filter delay, which creates an almost Line 6 FM4 like sound within the delay.
For those that need every delay under the sun, or for the control freaks out there, this is the delay to get.
- Effect Type: Delay/Looper
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9V DC center negative polarity (300mA)
- Dimensions: 6.8 x 5.1 x 3.5”
- Features: Analog buffered bypass, Tap Tempo, Stereo In/Out, Presets, and much more.
Final Thoughts on the Strymon Time Line
The Time Line certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. If you only prefer one type of delay sound and you set it, then forget it, the Time Line isn’t for you. Its big, expensive, and intimidating. However, if you want to have every type of delay under the sun at your pedal board or studio, then you’ll never have to buy another delay pedal ever again once you have this.
It is a masterpiece in terms of sound quality and engineering, especially when paired with a MIDI controller. It is the best delay pedal options on the market today.
An Introduction To Delay Pedals
If you’re new to delay, you may be wondering just what the effect is and how it is accomplished. Delay pedals are essentially little recording machines (you can think of it as a short looper pedal if you have one of those) that then play back whatever you play into them.
As early as the 50’s this was achieved using tape machines. This technique is still used in some studios, but isn’t very practical for the touring guitarist, so there are delay pedals that emulate this effect. These are called “tape delays”.
Moving on to the late 70’s/early 80’s was the invention of “Bucket Brigade” chips, which create a progressively lower fidelity delay sound as the repeats go on. This warm delay is great with high gain and can get particularly trippy with longer feedback settings.
The next evolution of delay came in the form of 19” rack units in the eighties that produced clean, high fidelity repeats. This kind of delay was made widely popular by The Edge of U2 and is a good choice for creating a rhythmic, layered guitar part.
Since then delay has continued to evolve with the creation of reverse, octave, modulated, swell, and many other types of delay. Some pedals even include multiple types of delay so that you can have all the options at your feet.
To learn more about Delay and its history, I recommend watching this video from the folks at JHS pedals.
Create Space With Delay
Delay is a truly magical effect. It makes your rig sound as if there is more than one guitarist in the room calling back to you. This is why the effect is often called “Echo”.
If you are looking for creative ways to write new music, I recommend starting with a delay and seeing where it takes you. It’s amazing how hearing guitar parts filling the space that you aren’t actually playing in can take you to new places musically.
I also recommend trying a number of different types of delay. If you’re an analog man, try a digital delay sometime (I promise, digital delays are killer, too). If you’re tied to your tap tempo digital delay, throw caution to the wind and try a tape delay. Then add some overdrive or modulation and watch as your instrument takes on new life.
Don’t delay any further. Get yourself a delay pedal!
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.