Using Delay to Help Lead Guitars Cut Through the Mix

Getting lead guitar sounds to breathe and cut through the mix can be tricky when competing with lots of instruments. Rich Tozzoli shares a useful tip on how a touch of delay can make a big difference.  

When it comes to lead guitar sounds, a touch of delay can be just the right thing to make your part stand out. Let's take a look at three different approaches to adding delay to a single mono track. In this case, we'll use SoundToys EchoBoy, but most any delay will do that has a wet/dry control and can do mono to stereo.

Slap it Right There

With the mono guitar example, you can place a mono instance of your delay directly on the track. Simply instantiate a mono plug on the insert of the channel, just like it's any other effect. 

When you place it directly on the track in mono, a few things happen. Firstly, the delay is of course mono, and will be panned exactly where the guitar is—because it's actually on the track itself. It's kind of like using a pedal before your amp—the signal will be 'built in' with the guitar. The only difference is that when recording with a pedal, you can't take the sound off. With a plug-in, you can remove it or change it at any time. 

Secondly, you'll need to adjust the Dry/Wet mix control. Remember, the guitar will be passing directly through the delay, so if it's completely set to Wet, the guitar will be swamped in reverb. 

Wet Dry Mix

Notice above that the Mix knob is set to almost completely dry. The delay sound I wanted wasn't too wet, just enough to add a little depth to the sound. The more you increase the Wet control, the more delay that will be in your guitar signal. 

The other settings, such as delay time and Feedback, are of course based on personal preference for what fits the track. One thing I tend to do is (if it has it) push up the HighCut filter so that the sound is not too bright. It helps filter down the highs so that it doesn't stand out as much. I will also use the LowCut and pull any unnecessary lows out of the signal.

In this instance, what I did is use the Tap Tempo function to set the delay time, which turned out to be around 300 ms. By tapping the tempo yourself, you are not using any type of tempo that is locked to the BPM of the song, say if you were in Grid Mode on Pro Tools with a fixed tempo. In some cases, it's cool to tap the tempo slightly ahead or slightly behind the beat, so it's not perfect. You can then adjust from there once you have a starting point. 

Mono to Stereo

Another approach is to insert a mono to stereo version of the plug in. What this does is take your mono guitar track and send it into the stereo plug in. Therefore, your guitar comes out stereo in the mix. In the case of EchoBoy, changing a mono plug in to mono to stereo keeps the same settings intact. What will change is that you'll hear the guitar delay coming out of the left and right side, and the panners will be in full Left/Right stereo. 

At this point, you can again adjust the Wet/Dry control and all of the other settings as need be. Sometimes when I take this approach, I will pan one of the sides of the delay to move the signal in the stereo field to whatever sounds best. 

Mono to Stereo

In the above screenshot, I have a mono to stereo EchoBoy on a single channel of guitar, but I've moved the left panner to around the 11 o'clock position. Notice on the master fader how the levels are reflected as such—there is more level on the right side of the mix. Again, however you approach this is whatever works best for your particular track. 

Bus to Aux

One of the most common mix ways to add delay to a guitar is to use the standard bus send to Auxiliary track method. With this, you insert a stereo (or mono if you prefer) delay on an Auxiliary track. From there, you 'send' your guitar signal to that delay using a bus send.

Bus Aux

Above you can see that a bus fader is being used to send the guitar signal to the delay, which is on an Auxiliary track panned fully Left/Right. The farther you push up the bus send fader, the more guitar signal that will be sent into the plug-in. 

Fully Wet

When using the traditional Bus/Aux method, make sure to set the Wet/Dry control on the delay to fully Wet. This way, the delay gets the most 'effected' output. 

Note that there is no real difference between using the bus/aux send method or inserting it directly on the track and using the Wet/Dry Mix control. The only thing is that with an Aux, you can also send other tracks to that delay. If it's placed directly on the tracks itself, you cannot do that. Sometimes I will insert the delay directly on the track just to push myself to do something different. 

With any of the above methods, experimentation is key. Every production will require a new approach, but they will all work to get that guitar track rocking. Just make sure you add that delay to taste and don't overdo it!

Grammy-nominated Producer/mixer/engineer/composer Rich Tozzoli has worked with such artists as Al DiMeola, Ace Frehley and more. Also specializing in 5.1 Surround Sound production, he has mixed DVD’s and/or HD Television broadcasts for the likes of David Bowie, Hall & Oates and Blue Oyster Cult. Also a lifelong guitarist, his music c... Read More


Good article, and a lot of user experimentation is needed to get a satisfactory sound. A few playable examples would have really helped make the points hit home.
Thanks & keep 'em comin'!

Want to join the discussion?

Create an account or login to get started!