There's nothing like the deep, vibey tone of a great delay sound on a guitar track. But with that in mind, too often a bad delay sound can make a track sound like nails on a chalkboard. So let’s take a look at a few simple tricks to make sure your guitar-based delay sits perfectly in the mix.
1 - Do I Really Need it?
The first thing you want to do is decide if you need delay on your track at all. Sometimes, you might put it on there just because you can, but you should really take the time to analyze your production. Does it make the track better or worse? The only way to know is to listen to it both ways—with and without—and decide as a producer. Use that mute button wisely.
2 - Pick Your Type
There are actually many types of delays that you can add to a guitar. Will it be super ‘wet’ and repetitive, like The Edge, or will it be a touch of slapback like a Hendrix or Page track? Or do you want to go old school dub? Is it a clean digital delay, a warm analog delay or something like a tape slap? Again, it depends on what you’re going for. Not to beat a wet noodle, but the overall production will dictate what type of delay sound will sound best. Once you know a type of delay will work, decide on the approach. The basic principal is that less is more, and you'll want the delay to enhance your guitar tone.
3 - Keep it Dark
One of the giveaways of a bad delay sound is that the echo, or slapback of the delay return is too bright. Using the simple Pro Tools Mod Delay II as an example, consider pulling down the LPF (Low Pass Filter) slider to make your delay darker. This way, it doesn’t sound… well… cheap.
Pro Tools Mod Delay II.
Note that different delays have different ways to darken the tone. For example, something like the classic SoundToys EchoBoy has a HighCut filter with Min and Max settings. By turning the HighCut up (clockwise), you darken the overall tone of the delay returns. Or looking at something like the Massey TD5, you have a TONE switch for Normal, Dark or Bright, as well as a MODE switch for Vintage Retro and Modern. Setting it to Dark and Vintage will help blend that delay into your mix.
4 - Use An EQ
Sometimes I will place an EQ after a Delay in a mix. This lets me customize the sound of the delay to fit my production. For example, you can filter out the high end of your delay to help darken it. But also, you can use EQ to boost a frequency that you might want to stick through. What I do is grab the band of EQ, boost it up and sweep it around until I hear what I’m seeking. Adding a separate EQ simply gives you more sonic options.
5 - Pan Man
By panning the delay to a certain spot in the stereo field, you can make it really shine. For example, if my guitar is panned left, say to the 9 o’clock position, I will often take a delay and pan it all the way to the right. This delivers a sense of sonic space in the mix. You can also choose to go full Left and Right with your delay panning, but I find panning it to one spot is often more effective. The only rule to remember is that there are no rules. As I often say, if it sounds right, it is right.