How To Use Delay: Slapback Effects

About Slapback Delay

Slapback delay is a very popular type of delay as it can be used in a few different ways. From doubling up your licks to make them sound thicker to harmonizing over the top of yourself, the slapback can give you a lot of freedom as a guitarist. All good delay pedals will allow you to set a slapback effect so essentially everybody will be able to play all of these exercises.

TC Electronic Flashback Mini

If you have an analog delay pedal, you have a limit to the maximum slapback time as explained later. If you have a digital delay pedal, you shouldn’t have any problems with time limits on your delay. Go through each exercise in order and try to copy each one perfectly. Listen to the recorded examples to hear how your slapback delay should sound. At the end of the lesson, you can check out reviews to good quality delay pedals that allow you to set a slapback delay.

If you don’t already have a delay pedal, I highly recommend you get one as they are a voted ‘must-have’ guitar pedal for every guitarist.

Slapback Delay Settings

Let’s look at how to get a slapback delay. The key component to a slapback is that the delay only repeats once. So if you play a note, that note will repeat once. This is different to a standard delay which will repeat multiple times and gradually fade away. A slapback is one very clear repeat. Here’s how to set your delay pedal to achieve a slapback delay:

Dry/Wet mix: 50%

The Dry/Wet mix is the balance between the delayed signal and the original signal. If you set Dry/Wet to 0% (if your pedal uses a knob this would be turned all the way to the left), you will not hear any delay as it would be 0% delay (wet) and 100% original (dry). To achieve a slapback delay, you ideally want a perfect balance between dry and wet. So if you set the dry/wet mix to 50%, the delayed signal will be the same volume as the original signal.

Delay timing: Quarter note delay (eg: 600ms at a tempo of 100 bpm)

This setting might be labeled as ‘Delay’ or ‘Delay Time’. This is the time it takes for the delay to repeat the signal – in other words, the gap between when you play something and when the pedal repeats the sound. With a slapback delay, you have plenty of flexibility over how you set your delay time. You can have a very short slapback or a long one – it depends on how you use it.

In this lesson, we will use the slapback delay in a rhythmic way. We want the slapback to fit in time with what we are playing so we will set it to a very specific time. The exercises in this lesson are based on 100bpm and the slapback delay will be set to one quarter note length. One quarter note at 100bpm works out to 600ms. So if you have a delay pedal that allows you to set a specific time in milliseconds, set it to 600 ms.

After you learn these exercises at 100bpm, you can try playing them again at a higher or lower tempo. To do this, you need to work out exactly what to set your delay time to or else it won’t fit with the tempo. Use this delay time calculator to work out the delay time for any tempo.

Feedback: Turn it as low as possible so it only repeats the sound once

This is the most important setting to get a slapback sound. If you have a digital delay pedal such as the TC Electronics FlashBack, you can simply set it to the slapback setting without needing to worry about adjusting feedback. Otherwise, simply turn it to the left until you only hear one repetition. Some pedals may call this ‘Feedback’ while others will call it ‘Regeneration’ or ‘Regen’.

Exercise 1

The purpose of this exercise is to get you used to play in sync with the delay. If your pedal doesn’t allow for precise settings then this exercise will quickly teach you to play in time with the delayed signal.


Slapback delay exercise 1

Note: All of the audio examples in this lesson will play the exercise once without delay, then again twice with delay activated. This way you can hear how the exercise sounds with and without delay.

The rests at beats 2 & 4 allow you to clearly hear when the delayed signal plays back. The end result is that you will hear constant eighth notes without any overlap. Once you can consistently play this without any timing problems, try higher and lower tempos.

When played properly this exercise should sound as if there is no delay at all. In other words, it should sound like one guitar playing constant eighth notes. That’s the effect you’re going for here.

Exercise 2

This exercise is essentially the same as Exercise 1 with the main difference being the embellishments used. It’s basically showing you how you can take a simple idea such as the first exercise, then turn it into something more musical.

Slapback delay exercise 2

After you can consistently play this exercise try coming up with your own embellishments based on Exercise 1. Make sure you don’t overlap with the delayed signal.

Exercise 3

This bluesy sounding lick makes use of the slapback delay to essentially harmonize the part and create a thicker sound. Again, this uses a quarter note delay so your timing is important or it won’t sound right.

Slapback delay exercise 3

In the first bar you will hear that the delay makes it sound like there is a bend at the start of every beat. The delayed bend harmonizes with the same note the bend started on (eg: 18th fret on beat 2) so you end up with an interesting clash.

Exercise 4

This exercise demonstrates how the slapback delay can be used to create a harmony over your playing. In this example, the quarter note delay creates a harmony of thirds. You will easily hear the difference between a Major third harmony and a minor third harmony while playing.

Slapback delay exercise 4

A slow tempo sounds best for this type of exercise, but how slow you can go depends on your delay pedal. For example, if you use an analog delay pedal, the chances are you won’t be able to set the delay to any longer than 600ms which is equivalent to quarter notes at 100 bpm. If you have a digital delay pedal, practice using a really low tempo so you can really hear each note harmonized in full.

Exercise 5

This is essentially the same as Exercise 4 with the main difference being that now you’re playing the full scale. The notes are all still harmonized in thirds because now you’re playing eighth notes – so every note is harmonized by the two notes before it.

Slapback delay exercise 5

Exercise 6

This is where the slapback delay really comes to life. This technique is called ‘violining’ due to the fact your guitar will sound a lot like a violin. A wide range of guitarists use this technique from Eddie Van Halen all the way to Yngwie Malmsteen.

Slapback delay exercise 6

To play this technique, you need to practice turning the volume knob on your guitar on and off with every note. So you pick the note with the volume at zero, then roll the knob on using your little finger, then roll it off to zero again. If you have never tried this technique before you might want to practice it slowly without the delay until you get used to it. The technique becomes very difficult at a high tempo so if your pedal allows a longer delay time, set it longer and play this exercise slower. It will take some practice to time the volume knob rolls or else it won’t sound right. If you listen to the audio example you can hear that every note smoothly rolls in and out very quickly.

On the second repeat of the audio example, you can hear the slapback delay harmonize with the original notes. If you play out of time, these notes will blend together so listen out for a sort of pulsing sound on each volume swell.

This effect sounds great at a slow tempo with long notes. Add in other effects such as reverb to create a bigger sound similar to actual violins in a symphony.

Getting The Right Delay Pedal

As mentioned earlier, there are countless delay pedals to choose from. The right pedal for you is one that will give you the flexibility you need. The main choice to make is whether you buy a digital or analog delay pedal. Each type has their own benefits and pitfalls. For example, analog pedals often have excellent quality sounds but are very limited with the maximum delay time and the flexibility available. On the other hand, digital delay pedals can give you all the flexibility you need, but some of them aren’t the best quality in terms of sound.

Check out my detailed guide on the Best Delay Pedals here to learn more about delay pedals and popular options.

Check out each pedal to compare the different features and it should be clear what features are useful to you and which ones you don’t need.

Slapback Delay Summary

These exercises were designed to teach you how to think about slapback delay. Instead of randomly playing without thinking about the timing of the delay, you will now know that if you match the delay time with your tempo, you can achieve a great rhythmic effect. These exercises only used a quarter note slapback but of course, you can set your slapback to any note length. Try playing these exercises again with an eighth note delay and see how it changes the feel of each exercise. Some will work and others won’t.

If your delay pedal allows you to set a specific delay time in milliseconds, use this delay time calculator to work out the correct delay times for any tempo.

Try to come up with your own licks and exercises with different slapback settings and think about how you can use slapback delay in creative ways.

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