Turn the clock back a few years: I was a naive beginner excessively fascinated by the use of reverb and delay. For someone who had spent countless hours playing the guitar with nothing but a bit of distortion, these two effects opened a treasure chest of possibilities. I still remember the first time I heard a friend of mine talk about a box that made his guitar sound like it was playing in a massive hall—visualizing something that sent tingles down my spine. Boy, was I excited or what?!
A short while later, I managed to convince my friend to lend me the piece of equipment he used to create that dramatic effect. With no idea what those knobs did, I decided to give it a whirl. The first few notes I played, I was blown away by the sheer reverb that came out of the amplifier. At this point, I was a guitarist who had just learned about something called a reverb, and the sound alone was enough to drive me mad with excitement. I played everything I knew for the next three hours, and everything seemed so much nicer than it did without reverb.
I took a quick break, and when I returned, I wanted to mess with the knobs a bit. Without realizing what I was doing, I ended up adding a delay as well.
Give a monkey a flame, and that monkey would set the forest on fire: that’s precisely what I did. To me, I was Kirk Hammett: playing Fade to Black, and feeling on the top of the world. That day, I decided to save some money and buy myself this incredible equipment.
Years went by, and I forgot about saving altogether. I started composing my tracks, and things were seemingly going well. Soon, I was invited to a studio to help a friend with his song. This was my first time going into a studio, so I was very excited. However, what happened there was something I wish I could have undone.
The entire session, I recorded music using nothing but reverb and delay. Looking back at that moment, I feel like digging a hole and burying myself in it, just to evade the sheer embarrassment. Unknown to me, I had no idea what I was doing. The knobs were in the wrong place, it was a live recording session, and we only had limited time: that meant we only had one shot at recording. The moment I strummed my guitar, I thought it felt cool. I’m sure my friend would have wanted to kill me right there and then.
It was only after I heard the recorded work that I realized my guitar was sounding completely dampened. To make matters worse, the delay was going to throw in the feedback at specific beats per minute (BPM), and those were poles apart from the one used throughout the song itself.
Imagine the horror and shame that I experienced when both the recording technician and my friend gave me a look like I was someone who just didn’t belong there.
I learned it the hard way, and it’s still something I regret. I learned a couple of extremely important lessons on using reverb and delay
- Reverb and delay: they’re both different.
- Knobs are there for a reason: to fine-tune the reverb, delay, or both and match it to the one more suited for the recording.
- Not everything in reverb or delay sounds good.
- It’s a perfect way to ruin your efforts if done without knowledge.
For those who may not know, the delay is essentially an echo. It can be entertaining if the settings are right with the dial; otherwise, it’s just a never-ending echo—monotonous and boring. At times, a lot of delay can end up confusing someone and may throw the previously played notes all over the place.
Imagine playing the first four notes of your favorite minor scale, one for each ‘tick’ of the metronome (also known as quarter notes).
They may not sound all that thrilling; now, add in delay, and set the feedback so that it matches the BPM you are using. As you play your second note, the first note would come back in as well, giving you a new feel.
Now, let’s take things up a notch. Instead of playing quarter notes, speed it up by playing the same scale at the same BPM, but instead of playing quarter notes, play the eighth notes.
As soon as you strike the fifth note, the delay would kick in, giving you a completely new feel. It now sounds a lot more meaningful and even more exciting.
The Problem with using delay
If you enjoyed that, know that using delay also brings a problem. Suppose you end your solo and switch to rhythms. While you may have finished playing the solo, the tail of the delay would keep on coming until it decays off completely.
Something like that may dampen the sound of your rhythms, mess up the timing, and even sound horrible. It’s easy to see why delay appeals so much to guitarists, but you must know when and where to use the delay.
Experiment with the knobs
Next, you should also learn how to experiment with the knobs: they’re there for a reason. As a guitarist, you should take some time to practice using various settings and find out which one suits you best for a specific segment of the song you want to record or perform. If you use delay throughout the song’s entire length, you are barring any sense of creativity and overshadowing your skills.
Now that you have some idea about how delay works, it’s time to look at reverb. Once you understand that, I have some tips that could certainly improve your skills, creativity, and give you a whole new world of possibilities to explore.
Surprisingly, reverb is everywhere. You may not hear it right away, but reverb exists in almost every place you can find.
If you go into an empty hall and scream, you’ll listen to your voice sustaining longer than usual: that is reverb doing its job. You might also go into a tight space; if you scream there, you will get a different reverb.
Mastering reverb takes practice, but that doesn’t mean you start screaming everywhere just to explore reverb. That would be silly (and slightly embarrassing!).
Reverb is what gives your sound an illusion of space. It replicates how sound would naturally reflect from various surfaces in confined spaces. While both reverb and delay may work the same, their results are quite different.
Reverb gives your notes added sustenance, along with an atmospheric feel. On the other hand, delay is simply the sound bouncing back with a specific time interval between each of the instances.
Next time you’re in the studio, visualize the kind of sound you wish to get. If you are looking to replicate the ambient sounds of a specific setting, reverb is your go-to effect.
If it’s a varying, creative delay you are looking for—with no additional support or ambiance—switch-on delay, and dial in the settings.
Using Reverb and Delay together (pro tip)
Now you know the difference between the two, and you have a good idea on when to use delay or reverb, let me throw in a curveball. What if you mix the two? Can you do that? Yes, you can and it gets ever more exciting when you mix these two effects.
As long as you know what you need, you can combine the two to get sustained delays, with more emphatic tones and ambient feelings.
There are no “best reverb and delay settings” that you can find: all you need is your creativity. Practice, practice, and when you think you know what you need, practice some more.
That’s not all. If you are looking to replicate some classical sounds, like those in the 60s or 70s, use delay first, followed by reverb. You can do this either through the software you are using or by grabbing some great stompboxes.
You can use Boss DD-8 and hook one of the outputs as an input for a reverb pedal, such as Boss RV-6. I find that Boss offers versatility and doesn’t try to break your bank either. There are tons of other makes and models out there to choose from, in case Boss isn’t your cup of tea.
Wrapping it up
Remember to adjust the settings accordingly to ensure that your guitar doesn’t get dampened by the intensity of the effects you use. Keep things simple, and don’t be inspired to crank up the knobs all the way to 11.
Until next time...