By Dave Eichenberger
Since the original tape delays were invented, people have been figuring out ways of altering the sound of echoes spewing forth from the output jack. People like Brian Eno have made a production career out of it, but lately, unless you connected your delay pedal to the aux send of a mixer, there was no way to alter the sound of an analog delay and just have the processing affect the echoes themselves. The Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail Analog Delay has your normal input, output, and power jacks on the top of the box, but on its side, you get a special jack for the effect’s insert function. This article explains what this insert function is, and how it can really make your delays stand out by doing things that used to take a lot more gear to do.
Start with a Great Delay
We start with the Vapor Trail, which is a great sounding analog delay. You get up to 600ms of warm sounding analog delay, with modulation controls where you need them: on the outside of the box with the other controls. You even get a blinky blue light that blinks in time with the repeats. Yes, you can make spaceship sounds as you play and twist the time knob. Yes, the sound is warm, but not so much that it gets lost. It is warm enough to not interfere with your direct signal, but not so warm to sound muddy in a dense mix. Great for slapback sounds with one or 2 repeats as well as self-oscillation as repeats approach infinity, the Vapor Trail already starts out as a great delay pedal. But then there is that weird jack on the side…that insert jack.
What is this insert jack you speak of?
The idea of an insert jack comes from something that every guitarist will have some familiarity with at some point in their playing life: a mixer. Basically, an insert jack on a mixer takes the sound out of one channel and sends the entire signal from that channel into an effects device (like a compressor for a singer) and then sends the signal back to the mixer with- get this- one cable.
The insert jack on the Vapor Trail works in a similar way. It takes only the wet signal (echoes) from the Vapor Trail and sends them to another effects device and then back into the Vapor Trail. To do this would normally take two jacks (one to send the signal out, and one to return the affected signal in). The Vapor Trail uses just one jack to do this. This jack uses an insert cable, which has a TRS (tip ring sleeve) plug on one side, and then splits into two TS (tip sleeve) jacks on the other.
Plug the TRS side into the Vapor Trail, the tip (usually the cable is labeled) plug goes into the input of your effects pedal, while the ring plug goes into the output of your pedal. Now the most basic use of this might be with a volume pedal. You can set the mix on the pedal pretty high, and use a volume pedal to vary the volume of the repeats. I do this all the time, riding the volume pedal to accent certain phrases. But this is on’y the beginning. I also decided to look through my bin of pedals and see what kind of affect other effect pedals might have on these repeats.
I plugged my Music Man Silhouette Special with an Alnico II Pro into a Fender Twin for these demos, and used a clean sound so you could hear the echoes cleanly. I set the I was just shy of all the way up on the Repeats knob. I didn’t use any modulation here, so the Depth knob was on zero. The Mix knob was up about halfway. Remember, that the effects below are only on the repeats, and not on the direct signal, which gives a very different sound than if the dry sound was affected too.
I dug out an old phaser that I love the sound of, and threw that in the insert of the Vapor Trail. It is a basic four-stage phaser, so it isn’t super wooshy or wobbly. Just enough to give the echoes some movement.
Tremolo olo olo olo olo
A Shape Shifter Stereo Tremolo comes in handy for this trick. I put the trem on a medium-fast pure triangle wave. A very cool sound for keeping the attack on chords, but using tremolo as a rhythmic element in the music. This was one of my favorites.
Sending the repeats to a 805 Overdrive had interesting results. As I was using the Vapor Trail in the effects loop of the amp, the 805 sounded different than I thought it would going straight into the power amp. A very cool, lo-fi sound that sounds like something is going to blow up really, really soon (my favorite kind of sound).
Wah Wah Repeats
Using a Wah pedal in the insert jack doesn’t overtake your signal the same way an in-line wah can. It is great for preserving the attack of the signal and getting some outrageous wahs wahs that would be way too fast to do it with your feet. My Wah pedal is from ‘82, and looks like it has been through a war. Still sounds great, though.
Build a Time Machine
Throwing another delay into the Vapor Trail’s insert jack is bound to send someone back or forward in time. I tested my knowledge of physics by maxing the second delay pedal’s repeats while twisting the Vapor Trail’s Delay knob- all while trying to play at the same time. This might be an ambient guitarist’s dream, right here. Add a long reverb and some pitch shifting, and I could write my next concept album based on escaping Titan’s giant mothy invaders.
Adding the insert jack to an already-great sounding delay makes it easy for us sound sculptors. I hate dragging out a mixer if I don’t have to, and if I can manipulate different aspects of the sound (the repeats) rather than the whole sound itself (the direct signal), it makes it much easier for a player like me to fit in with a band. By processing the repeats separately, you can have your direct signal untouched, and still cut through a mix while exploring new sounds that used to take up a lot more room to accomplish.
Who are your favorite effects-happy guitarists? What are some of you favorite songs with strange guitar sounds?