Delay can add a galaxy of lush ambience and vibe to a guitar part. As a result, it’s like a drug you can’t seem to get enough of, but it’s a blessing and a curse. When used properly, it can add dimensions to your sound that you could only have imagined. When abused, it can make you sound like pails of mud. Here are a few quick ideas to keep you out of the muck.
The Army of Darkness
This is when the listener can’t really tell where the real guitar lines end and where the delays start. This is usually a function of the regeneration (sometimes called feedback) knob turned up so high it almost has a life of its own. I like to try to keep the regeneration down to the point where the tail of one delay does not go over the bar line of another. This allows the listener to actually hear the lines that were meant to be played.
Many times, I have had a single track of guitar and wished I had tracked it in stereo. If you just put the signal through another input or duplicate it, you have them in stereo but they seem a bit too sterile in their sound—too much alike. My solution is to open up an aux track and place the delay on that second track. Set the delay to 8.5ms with the mix on 100% so that it is all delay and no original signal. Make sure the regen is set to zero as well. Take your send off of the original track in pre and bring up the gain so that both signals are equal in volume when the faders are at unity. Pan them hard left and right and voila: instant stereo.
Aside from all of the Fender guitars, Twin Reverbs, and blonde girls waiting to hang ten with you, the best way to get that early ’60s Malibu is to use a delay. Try using a delay set on about 25ms with a feedback of about 20 % with a wet/dry setting of about 40% wet. The Ventures will have nothing on you.
I would never be so arrogant as to reduce Pink Floyd’s production aesthetic to saying it’s all delay, but they do employ them with the skills of a surgeon. Try this one on and see if pigs really do fly. Set up two aux tracks next to your source track. Place a long stereo delay (left side at 800ms, right at 1,500) on one and a dark hall or church reverb on the other. Send two separate aux sends to both tracks respectively and place them in pre fader mode so they can be controlled separately form the source track. Set up an aux send from the delay track to the reverb, as well.
This setup is a powerful one, as it gives you the following options: dry guitar in track; dry guitar and delay in track; dry guitar, delay, and reverb in track; delayed guitar and reverb in track; just reverb in track.
Here’s a little trick to get a secondary guitar part—meaning a lick or line designed to be “ear candy” within a track—to be more present without making it too obvious. Bring up two aux tracks (one mono, one stereo) next to the guitar track, and put a mono delay on the mono aux track and a reverb for the whole guitar part on the stereo aux track. Send an aux bus from the guitar track to the delay track and to the reverb, as well. Send the delay through an aux bus to the reverb. Both aux sends should be set to pre for a bit more control. Set your delay to about 125ms (this will depend upon the tempo of the track) with a 5–10% regeneration setting, and send that signal over to the reverb. Here is the capper— you will use none of the original delay sound in the track. You will use only what we hear through the reverb. This, in combination with the original guitar track, gives you a three-dimensional sound that makes the part pop out, but in a ghostly and vibey way.