Difference Between Reverb and Delay

Reverb and delay are both very similar effects, and almost every guitarist will have at least one of them on their pedalboard. Both are time-based effects that each affect your sound differently and work well in various scenarios. But should you use reverb? And when should you use delay?

In this article, I will break down everything you need to know about these sound effects, describe the best scenarios to use each, and point out some of my favorite reverb and delay pedals.

What is reverb?

Reverb is a natural sound effect that occurs when a sound wave bounces off of hard reflective surfaces in a room. Imagine walking into a large open auditorium and clapping your hands. You will likely hear a slight echo as the sound bounces from wall to wall until it eventually dissipates. Musicians usually want a controlled amount of reverb to make their voices and instruments sound organic. Reverb pedals essentially mimic the naturally occurring sound, allowing your guitar to sound like you are playing in a large open space, even if you are not in a room with good reverberation.

What is delay?

Delay works similarly to reverb and also occurs naturally. Delay effect pedals mimic an echo sound. So if you are in a large enough space (a large cave or a tunnel, for example), the sound waves may have enough room in between surfaces that each reverberation has an individual sound. This results in a slightly quieter copy of the original sound directly after the first sound is made.

Delay pedals do precisely this. They copy the sound that goes into the pedal and then play back this sound one or more times a few milliseconds later.

Key similarities between reverb and delay

  • Both delay and reverb are time-based effects that create different types of “echo.”
  • Both delay and reverb add depth and make your instrument and set-up sound bigger than it actually is.
  • Both are common effect pedals that many guitarists have on their pedalboard.

Key differences between reverb and delay

Copies the sound input exactly and replays it a few milliseconds laterEmulates a large open space such as an auditorium
Long reflection or reverberation time. Sounds like 2 separate soundsShort reflection or reverberation time. Sounds like a fuller extended version of the original sound
Used sparingly during guitar solos or parts of a song that need effectsUsed frequently throughout songs by guitarists to add depth

When to use reverb

Reverb sounds best with chord progressions and not with individual notes.

Reverb can be used in many different ways. At its simplest, reverb adds depth to your sound and makes your guitar sound like it is in a much bigger space. For example, if you want your guitar to have a long reverberation time and sound like you are playing in a church, a reverb pedal is an excellent way to make this happen.

Even the most subtle reverb settings add a ton of ambiance to your sound. However, you can get much more experimental with the settings, especially on higher-end models.

When should you avoid reverb?

You should steer clear of reverb during the parts of a song that need to have a clear and punctuated sound. If you put too much reverb on during a riff that requires a more precise sound, your guitar will sound muddy, and the pedal will not have the right effect. Reverb tends to sound best with slower music, so I would not use it for upbeat riffs.

When to use delay

Delay sounds best with individual melody notes and not with chords.

Delay should not be used nearly as much as reverb. It is a common misconception that these pedals do the same thing; instead, they have a varying influence on your sound. Delay sounds great on the main riffs of a song, solos, and improvised grooves. The copied sound has less of a muddying effect as reverb, so with a slight delay, you can improve your lead riffs without blurring your tone. Delay is used by most lead metal and hard rock guitarists.

When should you avoid delay?

Avoid using delay in slower songs or when playing chords. While the effect can be used for chord progressions, it will not generally sound as clean, and the rhythm and sound can get muddled.

Don’t use delay if you are going for a natural reverb sound, as delay pedals have a more synthetic effect on your guitar.

My pick: reverb pedal

TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2

One of my favorite reverb pedals is the TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2. This pedal has an awesome sound with a huge variety of reverb settings as well as the ability to customize the slots on TonePrint. Check out my full review of the TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 for more information!

My pick: delay pedal

TC Electronic Flashback 2

TC Electronic didn’t stop with their world-class reverb pedal. They released a revolutionary delay pedal as well. The Flashback 2 is super fun to mess around with and can be used for various genres and playing scenarios. Check out my review of the Flashback 2 for a more in-depth breakdown of the product.

Can you use delay and reverb at the same time?

Absolutely! Delay and reverb can both be used at the same time. It will take some time to adjust the settings of each pedal for them to work together, but the pedals can definitely be used together to form extra ambiance. Placing your delay pedal before the reverb pedal is the most popular order, but don’t be afraid to experiment!

Wanna lean more about effects pedals? Check out my extensive guide on the different types and how to use them.