Choices for a delay unit run the full range of vintage to new-school, analog to digital, antique tape echo to multifunction modulation unit. If you’re looking for crystal clear echoes that can be extended to near-infinite repeats, digital delay is the way to go. However, many players still opt for analog units. While they’re capable of fewer repeats, these direct descendents of reel-to-reel tape echo units tend to be warmer and feature a gritty “decay” as their repeats gradually lose clarity and consistency.
Just as overdrive goes back to the Tube Screamer and fuzz goes back to the Big Muff, the venerable grand-daddy of analog delay pedals is the 1970s-era Electro-Harmonix (EHX) Deluxe Memory Man. Utilizing bucket brigade chips, the Deluxe Memory Man packaged the full warmth of tape units into a small pedal size. Instead of the literal decay of fading tape echo, EHX added a preamp circuit for gritty overdrive, as well as adjustable chorus/vibrato modulations. By the time The Edge stomped his Deluxe Memory Man for U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the unit was a true classic.
1970s Deluxe Memory Man can easily run $500 or more on the used market, as can models from EHX’s rebirth in the mid-1990s. Although the company has re-released the unit in a new pedalboard-friendly size, most analog buffs agree that it doesn’t compare to the originals. However, there are other amazing analog delay and tape echo pedals that approach the magic of vintage EHX in different ways. Check out the best 9 right here!
BBE Two Timer Analog Delay ($150)
For great analog delay with no frills at a good price (you can find used models for well under $100), the BBE Two Timer is a great pedal. Although lacking the modulation and preamp of more faithful tape echo simulators, it is still warm, easy to use, and in a chassis that is pretty much bombproof.
The Two Timer’s major strength is that it is two delay units in one. It has two separate delay time controls and a footswitch to jump from one to the other. Set one dial very short, and the other long, and you can easily switch from Sun Records slapback to spacy Pink Floyd shimmers.
Catalinbread Belle Epoch Tape Echo ($210)
The Belle Epoch is Catalinbread’s homage to the Maestro Echoplex EP-3 tape echo unit. In order to simulate the unsteady flutter of signal-to-tape, this pedal has controls for both modulation and “record level.” It also has a delay time that can be as long as 800ms, much greater than that of the Deluxe Memory Man’s ~440ms, and approaching infinite, sustaining, self-oscillating levels.
The final cherry on top of all these gritty tape features is the inclusion of a preamp boost. Like the EP-3 and the EHX, it alters your guitar tone in a great way, whether you’ve got the echo turned on or not. Catalinbread makes a great analog delay/echo pedal, and at a very reasonable price.
DOD Rubberneck Analog Delay ($357)
DOD’s Rubberneck has many of the original analog features of the Deluxe Memory Man, plus a couple more. It’s got adjustable modulation for the delayed repeats, and a tone control that can act as EHX’s much-loved drive/boost when turned up. These modulations and drive all serve to boost an unmistakably warm, 100% analog delay.
If you want to kick your delay up a bit more, however, the DOD has the capability to take your sound into full-on psychedelic realms with its namesake “Rubberneck” feature, which adds some trippy sweeps and dives to the modulations. Tap tempo, delay time up to 1.5 seconds (nearly triple the EHX), a “tail feature” that retains fading echoes after switching the unit off, and even an effects loop for tailoring your own modulations in the echos all secure the Rubberneck as an old-school analog pedal with limitless modern adjustability.
Ibanez ES2 Echo Shifter ($215)
You don’t hear too many non-Tube Screamer Ibanez pedals, especially not in the world of analog delays. But the ES2 Echo Shifter is a heavyweight for earthy, decaying analog echoes in the style of the Memory Man or other tape echo simulators. With adjustable modulation and Feedback/Mix controls that can approach the grit of the EHX’s preamp, this unit excels at producing warm, warbling echoes that sound straight out of the ‘70s.
It goes a bit beyond the Memory Man, with longer delay time (up to 1 second) and tap tempo (which is actually digital), but the ES2 is a well-grounded vintage echo machine. Even its physical chassis is comfortably retro right down to the hospital green, sliding delay time control, and faux-wood side panels.
JHS Panther Analog Delay (~$300-500)
Although no longer in production, JHS’s original Panther delay pedal sought to preserve all the magic of the Deluxe Memory Man, and if you’re lucky you can still find used models for a bit less than EHX units (more recent “Panther Cub” and “Panther Cub v2” units are also available, with most of the same features but in a smaller chassis).
The modulating chorus and vibe effects on the Panther can go deep and lush, and the eight bucket-brigade chips give an incredibly warm, dark delay up to 1 second. If you’d like something more in the brighter, BOSS-style genre of delay, the unique “chirp” toggle will give you a crispier sound. Apart from true bypass and added tap tempo, this is a very faithful homage to the Deluxe Memory Man.
MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe ($240)
MXR’s Carbon Copy Deluxe boasts many of the features that made the original Memory Man so great. Most notably, it has modulations on the delay signal that can produce lush soundscapes of chorus and vibrato.
But there are plenty of features in the CarbonCopy Deluxe that can put it comfortably into a modern pedal board: tap tempo, a “bright” button, expression pedal input, a dry kill switch, and internal line/instrument level switches that allow it to be placed before an amp, or within an effects loop. All these features make this an endlessly adjustable unit. The only feature it lacks is the EHX’s original preamp.
MXR/Dunlop EP103 Echoplex ($285)
Like the Belle Epoch, MXR’s EP103 reproduces the sound of the original Echoplex EP-3 tape echo unit with a rich grittiness. Tape echo units were (and are) finicky. Depending on the age and stretch of the tape, the modulations of the delayed echoes had distinctive warbles and flutters that, while inconsistent, added to the organic nature of the effect. The EP103 reproduces these tape sounds by way of an on-demand “Age” switch.
Like the original Deluxe Memory Man, the Maestro EP-3 features an excellent preamp drive/boost. Unfortunately, the EP103 lacks this boost, but the good news is that MXR also makes the EP101 ($170), devoted solely to this subtle but essential boost. Put the 101 and 103 together on your pedalboard, turn on the “Age” button, and you’ll have a great analog rendering of vintage tape echo.
T-Rex Replicator Jr. Analog Tape Delay ($820)
Delays like the Deluxe Memory Man and the Echoplex were originally intended to simulate large, expensive, and unreliable tape echo units, simply trading their magnetic tape reels for analog bucket brigade chips. The chorus/vibrato modulations that these units incorporate actually have their origins in the unsteady, organic warble of taped echoes decaying into an ethereal nothingness. It all comes back to tape.
In pedal-speak “delay” and “tape echo” are often used interchangeably, but few companies have actually produced board-friendly pedals that contain reels of tape for the real thing. Enter T-Rex, a Danish boutique manufacturer whose Replicator Jr. pedal uses cassette-sized cartridges of tape for the most authentic tape echo pedal possible. It’s pricey, but the warmth, saturation, and lo-fi nature of the Replicator Jr. put it well beyond any other pedal on this list. Plus, it’s still more affordable than a vintage tape echo unit. If you can find a used original Replicator, you’ll have the added luxury of working with two overlapping playback heads.
Wampler Faux Tape Echo v2 ($240)
In reproducing vintage tape echo sounds, Wampler’s Faux Tape Echo delves just slightly away from a purely analog path. The pedal’s delay line is digital, but everything else, like tone and modulation, are completely analog. This gives you a versatile delay unit that is well-rooted in classic tape echo machines.
The Wampler’s Rate and Tone controls make it possible to dial in echo modulations that, while not textbook chorus and vibrato like the Deluxe Memory Man, can still be as subtle or over-the-top as any beat-up, stretched tape echo unit. Unfortunately, there is no preamp like the original EHX (or Echoplex for that matter). If you don’t need tap tempo, used models of the Faux Tape Echo v1 are still available for under $200.
If you’re interested in a legit analog tape echo simulator in the tradition of the Deluxe Memory Man, look for these factors: the echo/delay itself, chorus/vibrato modulations on the echo, and a drive/boost preamp. In doing so, you can find your perfect analog delay from our selection. As a reminder:
- Pedals that nail this trifecta of features are the Belle Epoch and the EP103 with the additional EP101 boost. If you want tap tempo and other extras, go with the ES2 or Rubberneck.
- If you’re not concerned with preamp boost but still want lush modulations to your delay, go with the Carbon Copy Deluxe, Panther, EP103, or Faux Tape Echo.
- If vintage analog delay with no modulations or boost is all you’re looking for, the Two Timer will fit the bill, or if you’re feeling saucy, splurge on the Replicator Jr. for real tape goodness.