Ok, I admit it. I am a delayophile. At age 13, I hooked up a reel-to-reel tape recorder’s output into it’s input, and heard delightfully warm repeats get endlessly louder and louder, while I squealed with delight in my 13-year-old voice. I wasn’t trying to create delay at the time, though. I was trying to just record something, and had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t realize that the distance between the record and playback heads set the delay time, and that magnetic tape made each successive repeat fuzzier and blurry. This article will describe me channeling my 13-year-old self, and squealing with delight as I plugged in the warm and fuzzy Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail Analog Delay.
What means analog?
Analog delays use what we call bucket brigade devices, or BBDs. Remember those historical WWI films where one bucket is passed to another person, which in turn is passed to the next person? Well, passing water this way, you never end up with the same amount of water you start with. Water is spilled as the bucket is passed from person to person. Now, imagine it is a guitar signal that is sent to a delay: each successive repeat is a little less clear than the original signal. This is the opposite of digital delays, where the echo is an exact copy. Early echo devices used magnetic tape (like my experiment many years ago), and we all know that magnetic tape softens the highs and slightly compresses the signal which is why it is still highly regarded as a recording medium.
The Vapor Trail Analog Delay uses bucket brigade devices so that the repeats resemble the old analog tape devices. Repeats on the Vapor Trail are fuzzy, smeary, and they have a secret up their sleeve.
Promise not to tell…
The echos of the Vapor Trail can be treated with modulation too. Modulation is a gentle ‘warbling’ of the pitch, much like a chorus pedal that only affects the repeats. This modulation can run from a gentle, slow spinning to a very fast Leslie-like seasick vibrato using the Speed knob. This mimics the way old tape delays ran at inconsistent speeds. If it gets too wobbly for you, you can just spin the Depth knob all the way down.
I Like Blinky Lights!
You are in luck, because the Vapor Trail has one built into the Delay knob. This knob goes from 0 to about 600ms, and blinks in time with the repeats with a bright, blue glow. If you need to set a specific time, just turn the knob until it blinks in time with the song. If you get tired of all that blinking, you could always replace the clear knob with a normal black one, and set the delay time with your ears instead of your eyes.
But how does it sound?
Alright, here are some clips! These were recorded into a Tech21 Trademark 60 direct into a DAW.
Basic Analog Delay
The first one is recorded using the Seymour Duncan Jazz neck pickup playing chords. Modulation is set low, and you can really hear that fuzziness of the repeats.
Now we will hear some arpeggios. These have the depth of the modulation turned up, and speed set to 10:00. This was recorded with a split Classic Stack Plus neck pickup in conjunction with the Five-Two middle pickup.
Now the delay time is up all the way, and I swell in the notes with the YJM High-Speed Volume Pot. I added a bit of overdrive to the signal before it hit the Vapor Trail. Here you can really hear the lo-fi quality of the delay, just like that old reel-to-reel.
Chorus Me Timbres
Want a bonus chorus pedal? Turn the Rate up halfway, the Mix at halfway, the delay to 9:00, Repeats all the way down, Depth all the way up and Delay time about 1/4 way up. Instant warm & woolly chorus.
Slap Me, Pappy!
A classic slap back delay has only a few repeats with a short delay time, usually around 110ms or so. I used my ears, and came up with a suitably vintage slap back.
Plan 9 From Outer Space
Turn up the repeats all the way, and the Vapor Trail will self-oscillate, sounding like a space ship zooming across the sky, or at least like Tommy Bolin on the old Deep Purple records. The Vapor Trail does this exceptionally well, although be careful, as it grows in volume. In this example, I varied the delay time, causing the pitch to change. I played with the Repeats knob too, so the volume wouldn’t get out of control. I also scared the daylights out of the cat.
So, what is that other jack for?
The Vapor Trail Analog Delay has an insert jack that can be used in various ways. You can send a delay-only signal to a separate amp or use an insert cable connected to a volume pedal to vary the volume of the delays in real time. This jack allows you to patch in effects that affect the delayed signal only, while leaving the dry signal untouched.
Phasers on Stun
Here, I put a phaser in the loop of the Vapor Trail, allowing the phaser to send the echoes spiraling, and leave the dry signal untouched.
I think I just built a time machine…
Putting another delay in the loop, and maxing both the delay times and feedback for both pedals might not be something you could use for the weekly blues jam. In fact, it might actually break something*. Which is precisely why I did it. Sometimes you just have to do something to see what will happen.
*You won’t break anything.
And then, a solo…
The last example here is a solo, over a backing loop. My delay has about 2 repeats, with the Mix at noon. I put the Rate and Depth knobs at noon, and the delay is at about 2:00. You can hear how it coats the notes in a bee-approved honey-tastic glow.
The Vapor Trail Analog Delay is a wonderful sounding analog delay pedal with True Bypass, so it doesn’t affect the guitar signal when turned off. It is capable of delay sounds of the past, and certainly of the future- that insert jack separates it from the rest of the field and allows you to treat the delays any way you want. It absolutely nails that tape echo sound without the hassle and expense of tape, and the shimmer doesn’t sound like it is layered overtop; it actually melds itself to the delay. The Vapor Trail Analog Delay comes with manual (including sample settings), rubber backing sticker for placing it on the floor, and velcro to affix to a pedalboard.
How do you use delay? What is the best recorded example of delay you’ve ever heard?