Effects pedals like delays aren’t often used by bass players. They are seen as more of a guitarist's thing.
But delay pedals can certainly be used by bassists who want to add an extra dimension to their sound. And bassist pedalboards are growing larger by the day. The trick is finding a delay pedal that sounds good with a bass guitar.
5 Best Delay Pedals for Bass
1. MXR M169 Carbon Copy
MXR’s Carbon Copy is one of those truly iconic pedals. It’s been a fixture on countless guitarists' pedalboards over the years.
After spending some time with it, I completely understand why the Carbon Copy is such a popular pedal. It is an incredible little delay pedal and can create both short, staccato-like delays as well as those long and wide echo-like delays. Tonally, the Carbon Copy sounds great.
Some delay pedals can be a bit bright and almost robotic. But the Carbon Copy has a nice bit of warmth to my ears while maintaining a bright and clear tone. The decay is also very natural and not that sudden cutoff that I often experience with other delays.
The Carbon Copy has a fairly standard selection of setting controls - Mix, Regen, and Delay, but what sets it apart is the mod button. This adds modulation to the already outstanding delay effects. I would describe it as a sort of chorus/flange effect.
The delay turns into a very spacey sound, a sound that I am always a big fan of. I like the otherworldly atmosphere it creates during calmer, ambient parts in songs. The mod button just further increases the scope of a pedal that can already go so far.
The modulation can also be adjusted with two internal trim pots, but I did find it to be a little awkward to use these tiny pots. My only other complaint would be that the LED is a bit too bright and might be a bit distracting on a dark stage.
Overall, I don’t think there are many delay pedals out there that can compete with the Carbon Copy. It’s just a fantastic pedal that packs a lot of punch in such a conveniently sized package.
2. Boss DD-8
Boss pedals are always an easy choice in my opinion. They are excellent pedals and the Boss DD-8 is no different. It is an updated version of Boss’ DD-7 delay pedal.
The DD-8 is a very feature-rich pedal. Apart from the standard settings to adjust delay timing and amount, the DD-8 also has 11 different delay types. From a standard analog or digital delay to a sparkly shimmer and a glitch to create weirder sounds - the DD-8 can do almost anything.
I mentioned that digital delay pedals can often feel robotic. Their delay effects feel very rigid and have sharp, abrupt decays. The DD-8 luckily doesn’t suffer that same fate.
The delay on the DD-8 has that very precise nature of a digital pedal, while still feeling natural enough so that it doesn’t become lifeless.
The DD-8 also has an impressive max delay time of 10 seconds. This lets you set your delay to short and accurate repeats, my favorite is a dotted eighth to really long and epic sounding repeats.
You can even enable a carryover switch at the back of the pedal that allows the delay to keep going after the effect has been bypassed. I like this feature as it creates this bleeding effect where a previous lick or melody you played overlaps with a new one.
Another feature that I really love is the added looper. This lets you easily add basic overdubs by holding down the footswitch or double-tapping it while playing. You can even add an external footswitch to the DD-8 for greater control.
I think the DD-8 is an impressive update to an already incredible delay pedal. There is nothing I don’t like about the DD-8 and I think most people will have a hard time finding any major faults.
3. TC Electronic Flashback 2
The TC Electronic Flashback 2 is another great update to an already fantastic delay pedal. The Flashback 2 is a bit more than just a fresh coat of paint and some better sounding effects.
There are a number of changes that have been made that really sets the Flashback 2 apart from the original, in my opinion. The first major change is with the effects themselves.
The number of delay types has been reduced to eight and a new crystal delay added. The reason for the reduced number of delays is because the Flashback 2 now has three TonePrint settings instead of just one.
TonePrint is a fantastic feature that lets you customize three of the delay settings on the pedal. You can either download an artist preset or use the TonePrint editor to create your own.
The list of artists is pretty extensive. My favorite presets were Bryan Beller’s groovy “Aristo Dance” and Debra Killings’ smooth “Brazilian Waterfall”. These are just two of the bass specific delays.
This feature really opens up the possibilities for unique sounds in my opinion and I almost wish more delay pedals had this feature. I would gladly sacrifice two or three set delays if it meant I could replace them with my own.
The second big feature of the Flashback 2 is the MASH footswitch. This makes the switch act more like an expression pedal and you can shape the sound of your delay on the fly.
It is a very cool feature, but I definitely didn't find it to be as accurate as a normal expression pedal. I also had to try and be delicate when using it if I wanted the delay to be shaped smoothly.
TC Electronic has also kept the delay subdivision switch. This lets you accurately set how notes are delayed between quarter-, eighth-, and my beloved dotted eighth-notes.
The Flashback 2 also has a 40 second looper, but it isn’t as easy to use as the looper on the DD-8.
4. DOD Rubberneck Analog Delay
The Rubberneck Analog Delay is a surprisingly powerful pedal from DOD, who have long been one of the minor names in pedal manufacturing.
The first thing I noticed about the Rubberneck is its larger footprint. I know that many delay pedals these days have a range of tonal options that necessitate a bigger chassis.
However, I generally believe that smaller pedals are more efficient in a live setting. I usually use the standard Boss pedal sizing or the Phase 90 sizing as a guide. For example, the MXR Carbon Copy is Phase 90-sized.
The DOD Rubberneck, on the other hand, is about twice the size, lengthways, of most of my pedals. Fortunately, it is packed with features that make up for its broader footprint.
Chief among these is the easy-to-use built-in tap tempo. Want to set the regeneration rate on the fly? Simply tap your rhythm out on the right-hand footswitch and you’re ready to go.
This pedal is also very easy to use, which sets it apart from most other large-bodied delays. The three big knobs are the most important controls. Then the smaller dials and switches are for lower-priority tone control, like gain and rate/depth.
I appreciate this prioritizing of the pedal’s layout, as it makes dialing in sounds follow a clear sequence.
I didn’t have to spend minutes on end crouching above the pedal to lock in the sounds I wanted to test out. A couple of tweaks earned me a Memphis-ready slapback bass tone that could have come out of Sun Studios in the 50s.
Some analog warmth and preamp boost got a workable impression of a 70s tape delay, and a few major spins of the knobs later created a truly spacey noise machine.
You can treat this delay pedal like an instrument in its own right, but most bass players will truly appreciate the ease of use in getting workable bass delay tones from the pedal.
The main detracting factor for this amp is its power supply. While most pedals are happy to take a standard 9v power, you’ll need a 150 mA power supply to make this pedal work.
I’ve been assured that you can get one as an option when you order the pedal, but it’s something to keep in mind.
5. Keeley Caverns V2
The original Keeley Caverns earned a reputation as the delay aficionado’s go-to pedal. The Caverns V2 is larger than the first iteration of the pedal, and instead of Plate Reverb, has a drippy Fender-style Spring Reverb.
With the Caverns V1 now out of production, if you want to use one of the world’s most versatile and powerful delay units, the V2 is your best bet.
First things first: the Caverns does more than just delay. It has a full suite of classic reverb tones on offer, too, from chilly digital reverb to surf-rock spring reverb.
The large footprint of this pedal is necessitated by the sheer number of dials on its chassis. I’ll be honest: I find this level of complexity pretty overwhelming. I don’t know any musicians who want to fiddle about with dials and switches live.
However, I can’t deny the quality of sounds this pedal offers. It’s pretty easy to dial in a workable reverb or delay tone. Even the vastly different tones on offer all sound good.
Want some simple country-bass slapback? Done. Big, roomy, 80s reverb? Done. Spacey, trippy echoes? Done.
It will take some practice at home and possibly some writing down of your most workable settings, but you could feasibly use the a single Caverns V2 across a wide variety of gigs.
If you’re a gigging bass player, you could easily set the Caverns differently at three gigs and have three different echo tones, all sounding great for the genre you’re playing.
Most Caverns players are those who want to use this pedal for wide, sweeping, psychedelic echo effects, and the Caverns V2 offers that in spades.
I do, however, think most players would be selling themselves short to limit their Caverns use to a single sound.
My favorite feature on this pedal by far is the warmth dial. You can control how much analog warmth - as distinct from low-end frequency - you have in your signal.
On guitar, this is a welcome feature for accessing those comforting old-school delay sounds.
On bass, I was wondering how I lived without this feature before. You can get a lovely analog sound without your bass tone becoming overly muddy or washy.
Overall, an excellent, if demanding, pedal for any working bass player.
Delay Pedals and Bass Guitar
Since delay pedals and most pedals, in general, aren’t really marketed specifically for bass, it can be a bit confusing to find exactly what you're looking for.
Effects Pedals Aren’t Just for Guitars
I think the biggest challenge for most bass players is knowing whether or not a pedal is going to sound good with a bass or create a garbled mess of noise.
A lot of bass players will swear by certain brands or advise against using any pedal that doesn’t outright say that it is meant for a bass. I have heard a lot of bassists say that guitar pedals just make bass sound bad and they should be avoided.
I don’t believe that is the case, though. From my experience, as long as you’re using a good pedal, it is going to sound good. My simple rule of thumb is that if it sounds good on guitar, it will sound good on bass.
Use Pedals Sparingly
I would recommend using effects like delay on a bass a bit more sparingly. I have seen bassists push their effects pedals as you would with a guitar only for the sound to come out very distorted and messy.
The bass is also more of a rhythm instrument. It is there to lay down the foundation of a song and by adding unnecessary effects, that foundation can become very shaky. Only use effects on bass if it serves a purpose and adds to the song.
Sometimes, however, your genre of music demands certain pedal usage.
For example, many genres sound much better with some light slapback on the bass. Old-school rockabilly benefits from slapback. Bass delay can also be a huge sound for reggae and dub music.
It all depends on the sound you’re chasing.
Analog vs Digital
The original delay units, like the Copicat and Echoplex, were tape machines that recorded and replayed your signal in real time. These analog machines were bulky and required expensive tape to keep running: they were almost exclusively used by big touring bands.
They often had a preamp to boost the tape signal. This, and the character of the tape itself, changed the sound of the instrument played through the delay unit.
Then, in the 80s, digital echo units became available. These did not color the tone of the instrument and were more affordable, which is why so many 80s recordings have a dense reverb sound.
These days, almost all delay units are digital, but some will have the analog delay name. This just means that they emulate the distinctively warmer sound of an analog tape delay.
Both sounds can be beautiful, and both are useful to many bass players. I recommend finding a pedal that offers analog and digital tones.
Delay vs Reverb
Delay and reverb are the two main types of echo effect used for guitar and bass.
The two effects are similar, and one can be used to create the other, but the terms are not interchangeable.
Delay simply copies your signal and replays it at the desired time interval, often (but not necessarily) at lower volume. Each repeat tends to be quieter than the last.
Reverb emulates the effect of sound waves bouncing off a surface all at once. Sufficiently advanced delay pedals can sound like reverb, with dense, closely packed repeats.
Reverb pedals, however, cannot emulate a relatively dry delay sound as well.
For bass, reverb, and reverb-style delay, are typically more commonplace and more useful than haunting, swooshing delay sounds.
That’s why some of the pedals we recommend in this list, including the Keeley Caverns, feature both reverb and delay sounds. This gives you the best of both worlds, and the ability to sculpt your tone to your own taste.
These are just a handful of the delay pedals out there, but they are some of the best delay pedals for bass I have ever played with. I think one of these should find a perfect spot in your bass rig!