Delay is a simple effect. Delay is what you might first think of as echo. That is, a repeating sound which gradually fades into the distance. “Hello?...hello?.....hello?.......hello?.........”
Since you're familiar with the echo sound, you probably associate it with large, empty spaces. That is one of the effects a delay creates.
How Does Delay Work?
There are many different types of delay, but they all work on the same idea. A delay effect records a sound and plays it back at a delayed time.
Depending on the delay settings, it may be played back briefly or for a long time. It may be loud or quiet. It may repeat after several seconds, or just a few milliseconds. Many delay parameters can be adjusted.
Common Delay Parameters and Settings
- Delay Time – How long between repeats of the sound. (Milliseconds)
- Wet/Dry Mix – How much of the effect is mixed with the original “dry” signal. (Percentage)
- Feedback – How many repetitions to output.
- Level – How loud the output is.
- Tempo – Sets the repeat value to a rhythmic unit like an 8th note. This is usually found in recording software to match the recording's tempo.
- Tap – Sets the delay time to the tempo you tap.
The earliest type of delay was a tape delay. Tape delay used a magnetic tape to record and playback the sound.
Next came analog delay. Analog delays were built with electronic circuits which were small enough to put into effects pedals, amps, and mixers.
Finally, we have digital delay found in software where it emulates the delay effect digitally.
Other Types of Delay
Besides the standard delay, there are also some special types of delay.
- Ping-Pong Delay – Delay where each repetition alternates from the left side to the right side of the stereo field.
- Stereo Delay – Delay where you have control over two delays: a left and right.
- Multi-Tap Delay – Delay where there are multiple, independent delays joined together. Each can be set with different delay times, feedback levels, and stereo position to create wild rhythmic effects.
How Do I Use Delay on Bass Guitar?
Use Caution with Delay on Bass
Bass players must be careful with the delay effect. When it is set to a long delay time, delay can work against the traditional rhythmic role of the bass.
If you're going for a spacey, ambient sound, delay may be useful. When the delay time is long, the added rhythm of the delayed notes can distract from and blur the rhythm of the bassline. A bassline might lose its punch.
Listen to the bassline clip with no delay.
Here is the same bassline with an extreme application of delay.
A short delay is often used to create a double-tracking effect on guitar or vocals. Even a little delay can mess up the tightness of the low end, however. Listen to a little delay on bass...
Useful Delay for Bass
Using delay in a standard bassline may be tricky, but a long delay might be interesting in a bass solo.
In another scenario, a delay (like a multi-tap delay) could be used to create an interesting rhythm from a few notes played by the bassist.
Listen to Robbie Shakespeare's bassline on Space Within Your Dub by Black Uhuru.
As with all effects, you have to decide if it adds something to the music or not. When used as a lengthy echo, delay is not a very common effect on the bass. Other instruments use it quite a bit—especially guitarists and singers. It adds a lot of depth and space.
Why Explain Delay If I Can't Use It?!
Don't worry, delay is not useless. Many effects which bass players do use all of the time are built on delay. They often use a very short delay (a few milliseconds). For me to explain other effects like chorus or flange to you, you need to understand delay.
You should also understand delay because others in the band or the sound guy will mention it.
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