Tag Archives: Delay

TC Electronic Flashback X4 Delay: Toneprints at the Power of 4

TC Electronic has done it again! Last year, they brought to the world the concept of “Toneprints”: pedals that could be “reconfigured” to sound like other pedals by uploading new profiles from your computer. Then they improved on the system by allowing musicians to upload toneprints directly from their phone to their pedals through their guitar pickups.

I have reviewed and demoed the Flashback Delay and like a lot of other guys (and girls), it got me thinking about how this pedal could be even better. It seems TC Electronic has been thinking about it too and the result is the Flashback X4 which is like a Flashback Delay on steroids. It has absolutely killer tones and is packed with control options: 4 footswitches, MIDI input and thru to integrate into complex systems and expression pedal input to control several parameters.

The Flashback X4 sports big knobs and four foot switches

It also comes with a lot of different delay modes and a few are new compared to the original Flashback: the 2290 + Modulation mode justifies the price of the pedal in itself, it’s properly amazing. There is also a Roland Space Echo simulation as well as a tube delay simulation, and others that I will list later. As always, I have prepared a video demo and without further ado, here it is:

Presets and 4 Toneprints

The Flashback X4 is fairly big, kind of like 4 Flashback delays put together. It comes with its own power supply but can also be powered by a regular BOSS style adapter. The Gator 8 supply that comes with my pedal board could power it without issues.

The X4 has got 5 big rotary knobs: Delay, Level, Feedback, Mode and Looper level. The first three are the usual suspects found in a delay pedal. The second one selects the mode while the last one is dedicated to the looper mode. A mini switch toggles between delay and looper mode. Before you ask, the delay can stay on when you switch to looper mode, and that’s really cool.  Another toggle switch allows for straight repetitions, 8th or dotted eighth (A.K.A. the U2 delay). It’s got mono and stereo inputs and outputs but can operate in mono of course.

Foot switches and Control Options

The 4 foot switches have different functions whether the X4 is in delay mode or looper mode:

  • In delay mode the first three are for switching between different presets. To memorize the current delay settings into one of the three presets, just hold a footswitch down for a few seconds. Very handy to keep three of your favorite delay settings. The fourth switch is a Tap Tempo switch which will set the delay time according to how fast you tap on it.
  • In Looper mode, the first footswitch activates/deactivates the recording, the second one plays/pauses the current loop, the third one plays the current loop once and the fourth one acts as an undo/redo pedal for the last recording
Using the expression pedal input, you can control the delay time, feedback level or delay level. There is also a MIDI in and a MIDI thru, handy for tempo synchronization with other MIDI devices (or a sequencer) as well as preset selection.
Because TC is full of surprises, you will find two small switches (aka “dip” switches) if you remove the back-plate of the X4. You can use those to go from “Tru Bypass” to “Buffered Bypass” or even have no dry signal at all.
The back of the Flashback X4: stereo inputs and out puts, expression pedal input, power supply input, USB port to upload Tone Prints, MIDI in and thru

The Flashback X4 offers the following delay modes, each with its own “tone” profile:

  • Tape: a tape delay effect, really well done, you can hear the flutter of the tape
  • Tube: a tube based echo tone
  • Space: a Roland Space Echo simulation, ah reminds me of the 80s!
  • Analog: an analog delay simulation where repetitions are distinctively darker than the direct signal
  • Analog + modulation: same as the previous one but enhanced by some chorus-y modulation
  • Reverse: the classic “Hendrix” effect where the delayed signal is played backwards. It might sound like a gimmick but it is actually quite effective to get a thick tone (see my video demo above)
  • Dynamic: in this mode, the delay is only heard when you stop playing. The idea is that if you play a fast lick, you might not want the delay to interfere. It might seems strange but it can be really useful.
  • 2290: no need to present what was TC’s flagship rack delay unit used by The Edge or Robben Ford. It’s very clean and digital (but in a good way)
  • 2290 + mod: same as the previous one but enhanced by a gorgeous chorus, I absolutely love this mode
  • Slap: a mode dedicated to Slap Echos (or Slapback delays). It’s a short delay loved by country guitarists but also by early rock guitarists to fatten their tone. It’s still effective today and I love this mode too
  • Lofi: it’s a mode where the repetitions are really dirty if this is your kind of thing.
  • 4 toneprints: there are four toneprint settings for which you can download “profiles” through your phone or from the TC Electronic Website.

The looper mode is highly effective thanks to the four footswitches. Press the left one and recording begins, press again and what you have just recorded will start looping. You can press again (and again) on “record” to layer recordings. It you don’t like your last recording, just press the fourth footswitch in order to undo it.

The second switch will stop the loop and let it resume whereas the third switch will play the loop just once (quite handy to do a nice ending for instance).

All about tone

What struck me when I plugged the X4 is the sound quality: it is outstanding. Not just “clean digital” in a cold way but really hi-fi in a good way. It totally respects the tone of your guitar and your amp, adding a beautiful effect to it. To me, the control capabilities, the presets or the four footswitches are really cool bonuses but really, the tones coming out of this delay are enough to justify owning it. DId I mention I could play with the 2290+Mod for ever?

So what’s next for TC Electronic? I don’t know but it sure will be exciting!

The TC Electronic Flashback Delay Pedal

The Toneprint series of pedals that TC Electronic launched earlier this year seems to be sending ripples throughout the fabric of the effect industry space continuum.

Not only do they bear the legendary TC sound quality but they also have a USB input to load ‘artist profiles’ that will change the caracter of the pedal. Before you ask, you cannot create your own tone print profiles (yet), they are made in the TC factory and can be downloaded for free.

I was in the market for a modern delay pedal that featured analog simulations as well as dotted eighth rhythmical delays with on the fly tempo adjustments. So I went to a store and tried the TC Electronic Flashback Delay. Let me say I was instantly taken away by the wealth of possibilities as well as the sheer tone quality. It had been a long time since I had come across such an inspirational piece of gear! I deliberately did not try the other pedals in the Toneprint series in order to avoid burning my credit card but the temptation was strong.

The TC Electronic Flashback Delay

Here is a review of the Flashback Delay featuring the obligatory video demo.


The Flashback delay comes in a compact format (think MXR compact) and is a true stereo pedal featuring two inputs and two outputs. It can of course be used in mono as well.

There are 4 rotating knobs: the classical level,delay time, fx level found on most delay pedals (see my post about the delay basics) and a 4th knob used to select the mode. The delay time goes from 20ms to 7s (yes 7000ms!).

The modes go as follows:

  • 2290: based on the legendary TC rack mounted delay used by the likes of the Edge or Robben Ford. It is a very crisp but powerful digital delay
  • Analog: simulation of an analog delay where each repetition is darker than the previous one
  • Tape: simulation of a tape delay, not as dark as the analog delay but still ‘warmer’ than the 2290 mode. It is definitely one of my favorite modes
  • Lofi: in this mode the repetitions get really dirty, I don’t find it really effective with distorted tones as it sounds like ‘dirt on more dirt’.
  • Dyn: this mode is clearly digital sounding with the special ability for the effect to be less present when you are playing and more present once you stop
  • Mod: another favorite of mine, a lush chorus effect is added to the delayed repetitions
  • Ping Pong: this a digital sounding mode especially designed for stereo operation. Repetitions are alternatively played on the right and left side of the stereo field (see my video demo below)
  • Reverse: for those psychedelic moments, the repetitions are played in reverse
  • Slap: in this mode, the maximum delay time is reduced to 300ms in order to emulate the slap echos of the 50s. Having it as a dedicated mode means you can switch from a long delay to a slapback echo just by turning the Mode knob
  • Loop: in this mode, the Flashback delay becomes a looper with overdubs. Note that it won’t be as sophisticated as a dedicated looper (no undo, no presets) but it is definitely a bonus to have this in such a small package
  • Toneprint: the tone print mode will activate whatever artist profile you have downloaded from the TC website and copied using your computer and the included USB cable. There is a growing collection of toneprints designed by guitar greats such as Steve Vai, Steve Stevens, Paul Gilbert or Ron Thal
Audio Tap

The Flashback Delay also features a little three way switch that affects the rhythmical tap tempo based delays. You can switch from quarter note to eighth to dotted eighth (the famous U2 delay).

This 3 way switch is particularly effective when paired with the “Audio Tap” functionality of the Flashback Delay. To activate it, just leave the pedal switch pressed until the pedal goes silent and strum your guitar to the desired “speed”. Release the switch and here you go, the delay time between repetitions is set to the “rhythm” of your strumming. Some of you might prefer the foot based Tap tempo feature that most other delay pedals feature but as I read once in a forum, TC has got a point in a sense that most guitarists are more precise with their hands than with their feet.

I did encounter a bit of an issue with the Audio Tap feature of the Flashback Delay when placed in the loop of my Marshall JMP-1 preamp. It seems than on the distorted channels, the loop lets some sound sip through even when the Flashback delay goes into Audio Tap mode and ‘blocks’ the sound. This is apparent in my video below. Note that this is a flaw in the JMP-1 and not in the TC pedal which goes completely silent when placed in a “normal” pedal chain.

Stereo Video Demo

Anyway, enough of my yakkin, here is a video demo. I have placed the flashback delay in the stereo loop of my JMP-1, the stereo ping pong or modulated delays are absolutely stunning (well, I think so) :

Gear used for the demo: Custom guitar made by Robin Bully and equipped with Schaller pickups, Digitech Bad Monkey used as boost (Volume on Max, Drive on zero, bass and treble on noon), Marshall JMP-1 used with clean and distorted channels. Recorded with a Micro-BR, no reverb was added but a bit of volume optimization and limiting was performed in Cubase for Youtube

Hidden Switches

Note that the Flashback Delay harbors two switches inside the pedal. The first one allows you to choose between True Bypass or Buffered (nice!) and the second one suppresses the dry signal in buffered mode to optimize the use of the pedal in effect loops.


How to use a Delay, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series of posts dedicated to the use of delay, I have shown how to create rhythmical effects “à la U2” by synchronizing the delay to the tempo of a song.  Today, in Part 2, I will first give you a few example settings showing how to fatten your tone using a Boss DD-3 and an Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man. After the videos, I will explain the differences between analog and digital delays as they both have distinct sounds and when it comes to choosing a delay pedal, the analog versus digital debate is still very much alive!

Fattening your tone: the “guitar hero” delay effect

Here is a personal favorite of mine, the type of delay that countless 80s guitarists used pretty much all the time to season their fierce solos. I have reproduced it using a Digital Boss DD-3 as well as an Analog, darker sounding Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man:

Gear used: American Classics Stratocaster with Kinman pickups -> Analogman TS9 -> Proco RAT 2 -> Marshall JMP-1 preamp plugged direct into the recorder

To recreate this type of delay using a software plugin or multi-effect, set a delay time around 350 ms, 3 or 4 repetitions and a mix level of about 25%. Results may vary depending on your exact equipment. As always, experiment to find out what you are most confident with and most importantly what the song you are working on exactly needs.

Fattening your tone: the slapback echo

I have written a complete post about it so I will only give the audio examples here. The slapback echo is the “mother of all delays”. It consists of only one short repetition. As simple at it may seem, it is a very effective tool as shown in this video:

Gear used: 78 Telecaster -> Proco RAT 2 -> Fender Champ

In the video, the slapback delay is generated using Cubase 5’s delay plugin with the following settings:

Slapback Settings

You can achieve the same type of tone with a Boss DD-3 and the following settings: Mode 200ms, E.LEVEL at 12 o’clock, F.BACK at 9 o’clock and D.TIME at 4 o’clock. You might want to vary the E.LEVEL or D.TIME to taste. It is easy to reproduce this effect with any other model of delay, just set the “delay time” between 70 and 200ms and the “feedback” quite low in order to have just one repeat.

Fattening your tone: Multitap delays

When one delay is not enough, use several of them! Known as “Multitap Delay”, the use of two or more delay units multiply the possibilities. Here I show the Boss DD-3 and the Electro Harmonix Memory Man together. Note that I had to reduce the delay time on the DD-3 compared to the first video, reason being that the previous settings were too close to the Memory Man and did not create enough of a swirl:

Gear used: American Classics Stratocaster with Kinman pickups -> Analogman TS9 -> Proco RAT 2 -> Marshall JMP-1 preamp plugged direct into the recorder

Again experimenting is the key here. I have used two delay settings that were quite similar but you can also use two delays with very different settings like a short one and a long one. At some stage, Joe Satriani was using three delays at once: one with a short delay time, another one with a medium delay time and a third one with a long delay time. It gave his tone almost a reverb like feeling.

The Analog vs Digital Debate

After seeing these demos you might want to go shopping for a delay pedal and must be wondering: “analog or digital?”. We have to go back in time in order to understand why there are several types of delays on the market.

Continue reading How to use a Delay, Part 2

How to use a Delay, Part 1

The delay is a favorite effect of mine. I remember the first time I tried one, I thought I was David Gilmour for a minute.  It is probably one of the most useful effects out there. It offers a world of possibilities but it usually requires some practice to master. I will explore the main uses of a delay in a series of posts. Part 1 is dedicated to the creation of rhythmic patterns using a delay and we will see how to recreate the basic “U2” delay effect. Later, in Part 2, we will focus on the ability of this fabulous effect to fatten your tone and discuss the differences between analog and digital delays.

The Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Analog Delay and the BOSS DD-3 Digital Delay, two very popular models
The Basics

What a delay does is repeat the notes you are playing on your guitar once or several times, each repetition being usually softer than the previous one. You encounter a similar effect in nature when shouting in a valley or a cave. The time between the repetitions can be chosen through a “delay time” setting on most units. It is usually labelled in milliseconds and ranges from a few milliseconds to several seconds for the most sophisticated models. The number of repetitions is usually defined by a “feedback” setting. Most units also offer a “level” or “mix” control which determines the amount of dry signal versus the delayed signal. Often, delays are also called echos. There is a difference though: delays can have an infinite number of repetitions whereas echos have a limited number.

To clarify, a delay unit should at least offer three settings: delay time, feedback and mix/level. More recently, delays have been incorporating many other settings which I mention further down.

Delay Time and Tempo

You will often read or hear that the delay time should be set according to the tempo of the song you are playing. I don’t think this is always true. If you are using the delay to obtain a rhythmical effect (think The Edge from U2 or Pink Floyd’s “Run like Hell”), then yes the delay time should follow the tempo of the song. But if you are using the delay to fatten your tone (as we will see in Part 2), I don’t think following the tempo of the song is so important.

Using the delay for rhythmical effects: the infamous dotted eighth

The Edge, U2’s guitarist, has made the use of rhythmical delay effects his trademark. In the beginning of  his career in the early 80s, he was already using a delay to make out as if he was playing more notes than he was actually playing. The trick was that the notes “played” by the delay were in sync with the tempo of the song which gave U2’s songs an amazing “pulsation”.

At the time, he was only using analog delays which means the settings had to be done “by ear” and that is not that easy. It also meant that the drummer had to play in sync with the delay. This led The Edge and U2 to drop the delay on their second album (“War”). It was of course back in full force on the subsequent albums on songs like Pride or Where The Streets Have No Name, probably helped by the arrival of digital technologies.

It is easier nowadays to get the same kind of effect using a digital delay unit or a software plugin which allows you to set the delay time to the millisecond. The basic “U2 delay effect” is obtained by setting the delay time to a “dotted eighth”. The feedback should be set so that you have about three or four repetitions and the level/mix quite high, at about 50%. Then, all you have to actually play are eighth notes, the delay will do the rest (see the audio examples below). Note that a dotted eighth is equivalent to 3/16th of a note.

Here is the formula to calculate the delay time so that it falls on a dotted eighth:

delay time in ms = (240000/tempo)x3/16.

Let’s take an example. At a tempo of 120 BPM, divide 240000/120, you get 2000. Multiply 2000 by three and divide by 16 and you get 375ms.

Here is an audio example at a tempo of 120BPM, WITHOUT any delay first:

Audio MP3

Then the exact same thing augmented by a delay set at 375ms, 3 or 4 repetitions and mix at 50% (I have used the delay integrated into my Boss MICRO-BR recorder with the feedback at 13):

Audio MP3

Pretty cool!

Some pedals spare you the cumbersome calculations and allow you to actually do this while playing alongside a drummer in real time, and without any prior knowledge of the tempo. They do so thanks to two extra features that most delay pedals don’t have: a “tap tempo” function and a setting that allows you to choose the delay time based on a “musical” subdivision (dotted 8th for instance). The Tap Tempo allows you to “tap” a pedal in time to set the value of the delay time “on the fly”.  So on these particular models, you can select “dotted 8th” and tap alongside your drummer and voilà, the delay should automagically be in time.

These models include the BOSS DD-20 Digital delay, the Line 6 Echo Park,the TC Electronic Nova Repeater or the super duper boutique high end Providence CHRONO DLY-4. A lot of pedals have got a Tap Tempo feature nowadays but not that many have the ability to select a “musical” subdivision. A note to BOSS DD-7 users: there are a few musical subdivisions (including dotted eighth) that can be selected using the mode selector, check out the manual.

Finally, know that the dotted 8th is not the only interesting subdivision, it is just one that has been used time and again on numerous hits. As always, feel free to experiment! There are two really cool websites you might want to check out if you are into using delays for rhythmical effects: this one by Tim Darling which deals with everything “The Edge” and this one by David Battino which is more generic.

In Part 2 of this series of posts, we will see how we can sound like a guitar hero by fattening our tone using a delay. Stay tuned!

Related Posts with Thumbnails