It’s time to get sleek! To get the fancy hairdo, put on your suspenders, and jump on your favorite shiny shoes because Rockabilly is in town!
But huge side brows and daring dancing moves apart, we’re about to dig deep into one of the best-kept secrets of the genre. I’m talking about slapback delay; a difficult thin line to walk between echo and delay.
Moreover, it’s such an uncanny, specific, rockabilly-ready effect that it needs to sound just right to do the trick. I went the extra mile (with the top down on my ‘60s Cadillac) and tried a bunch of analog delay pedals to find the right ones.
If you’re ready to rock, roll, dance, and shout, then your next slapback delay is surely on this list.
The Best Slapback Delay Pedals for Rockabilly
Table of Contents
1. Way Huge Smalls Aqua Puss
Way Huge was a legendary brand founded in 1992 by George Tripps. The company disappeared in 1999 and these pedals are currently made and distributed around the planet by Jim Dunlop.
To begin with, the new, smaller Aqua Puss enclosure is a great idea because it can fit even the smallest spots. I mean, I have a couple of delays on my board to play different things and they all take up precious real estate. Also, construction-wise this pedal is built like a tank. It’s one of those brushed aluminum chassis that feel soft and sturdy painted in swell light blue.
Let me tell you that I tried all the pedals on the list with the same Gretsch White Falcon with a Bigsby tremolo. So, the first thing that I heard when I plugged this was the wobbly sound that’s like watery; like liquid echo.
I know it might sound a little odd at first, but the moment you hear it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
Most of this pedal’s mojo comes from the analog circuit. It enhances dynamics, retains warmth, and adds natural harmonics to the sound.
I set it to a slapback effect and played some Brian-Setzer-approved moves (from the Stray Cats era, of course) and the effect was tight and fast with me. Every note had its percussive effect and the entire time, you could hear everything I played.
Perhaps the only thing I didn’t like about this pedal is that it doesn’t have any headroom. Therefore, it’s kind of a one-trick pony because the second you turn off your Tube Screamer, you realize you can’t play any clean stuff with it.
Other than that, it’s warm without being dark, and very reactive to the playing. It makes a great companion for Rockabilly tones.
2. TC Electronic Echobrain
TC Electronic is a brand that’s famous worldwide for having cutting-edge technology and leading the innovation field quite often. Perhaps that’s why you might be surprised to find it on this list. Yet, besides the groundbreaking digital technology, TC also makes an amazing analog delay that’s 100% rockabilly approved: the Echobrain.
The enclosure is road-ready and the size is very usable in modern-day pedalboards. The brown color reminded me of the Funkadelic song: “Maggot Brain”. Also, the true-bypass design makes it a great choice to keep the sound of the pedalboard at its cleanest. This is very important if you play pristine clean, heavily compressed tones.
The sound you get from this pedal at this price point is completely unexpected. It’s way too warm to be in this category. Furthermore, the clean headroom is great for playing different styles.
After playing with it for a while and making it self-oscillate to have more fun, I set it to slapback. The result was a tight, clear, rhythmic trail following my footsteps all over the fretboard. Although it isn’t as warm as other pedals on this list, those cost at least twice as much.
If you want a great pedal at a great price that’s road-ready and true-bypass, this is the one. For something warmer with more studio-quality sounds, perhaps you’d be better off with another one.
3. MXR M169 Carbon Copy
I just might be a tad biased with the Carbon Copy has been my go-to analog delay pedal choice for years. Nevertheless, for this task, I tried to look at it as if it was the first time I played it. Let me fast forward to my conclusion, I fell in love with it again.
But let’s rewind to the beginning. The thing that I like the most about the Carbon Copy is that it sounds mellow, dark, and warm. The moment you engage it, you feel the trail that follows you adding natural harmonics and beautiful overtones to the resulting sound.
The forgotten spec on this pedal is the “MOD” switch, which you can regulate from the inside of the pedal with a simple screwdriver. This adds another sense of dimension to the playing.
But I went for the big prize and set my Carbon Copy to slapback to play some White-Falcon-worthy lines. I knew it already, but I reaffirmed it: the delay is tight! Yes, it follows you on every speed change, weird chord, fast scale, or bend.
Also, it’s very reactive to the pick attack.
Finally, I know that for some, the Carbon Copy is too dark. You can get the MXR M292 or Carbon Copy Deluxe that comes with the MOD controls as regular knobs and a bright switch to add high-end to the sound. This is especially needed if you play with a Les Paul and an SG and you want to compensate.
My recommendation is to try it, it might not be your cup of tea, but it’s a great pedal.
4. JHS The Milkman
What happens if you rent a big room and lock inside a mad amplifier scientist and a groundbreaking pedal company? Well, what you get is the JHS The Milkman; nothing short of a rockabilly machine. I mean, when I took it out of the box and saw one of the knobs was called “Slap” I was immediately convinced.
Plus, the retro labeling and the bright colors are very coherent with the way the pedal sounds.
So, I intended to start slow so I dialed in my Deluxe Reverb ’65 RI to be pristine-clean with no reverb. The “Slap” knob is how long the delay is and the “Mix” knob is how much delay you have on the resulting sound.
At its longest, I mean, with the “Slap” knob cranked, the rhythmic element of the slapback is at its absolute best, in my opinion. It’s not at all lush but bright and percussive. There’s something about the low end when you mix it with slapback delay that’s just uncanny.
But when I engaged the boost, this whole new side of it came alive. It’s a loud, fierce boost that can drive any amp. That being said, it cleans very well with the guitar’s volume knob.
Perhaps, the only caveat about this pedal is that it is a very specific pedal for a very specific sound. Therefore, it’s not versatile and it doesn’t cover many styles. In other words, it does one thing, but it does it wonderfully well and with a very small and friendly size.
5. Boss DM-2W Waza Craft Delay
I think you’ve played through at least one version of Boss’s benchmark delay, the DD-3. It was one of the first digital delay pedals in the market and it’s still being made today. You can buy it virtually anywhere around the globe.
This delay, though, it’s not to be confused with a regular DD-3. This is no ordinary digital Boss pedal.
The Waza Craft series of high-end pedals by Boss is quite remarkable. Indeed, these noise and color machines are built in Japan by specialized teams. This pedal in particular, the DM-2W tries to recover the glory of the old Boss Delay pedal. The one before the digital era.
First, I tried the pedal in the “Standard” mode. This is closer to the original with a maximum of 300ms, which is more than enough for rockabilly slapback. Speaking of which, the sparking highs and tight bottom end were there all the time the delay was engaged.
That was something that called my attention and is both good and bad news. On the good side, this Boss DM-2W has a built-in internal buffer which helps the pedalboard signal chain a lot. On the not-so-good side, it’s not a true-bypass unit.
This second mode, called “Custom” takes possible delay settings to 800ms and has somewhat of a more modern, colder, and brighter sound. For me, it was more of a The Edge kind of sound with the pick attack.
In sum, this pedal is built like a tank, and although it’s not a true bypass, it makes a great slapback among many other sounds.
6. Electro-Harmonix Slap-Back Echo
I guess the name of the pedal says it all, right? Well, although not everybody knows it, Electro-Harmonix has been around for decades (it was founded in 1968). Yes, the huge psychedelic movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was partially shaped by this company’s extremely wild creations.
This pedal is no exception to that legacy. Indeed, the first thing that hits you about this pedal is just how small it is. If you’ve ever seen the original, you’ll know it’s huge. But that’s not all because the company was able to fit a completely analog delay with three settings in a mini enclosure and also add a completely analog gain knob as well.
That was a great aspect of this Slapback Echo, it takes very little real estate but gives you many possibilities.
Next, I loved the “Gain” knob on every setting because you can just use the “Blend” knob to have less delay and use it as an overdrive pedal. Furthermore, it’s great to stomp on it going into a solo.
Perhaps, the only thing I have to say about this pedal is that it changes the original tone of the instrument quite a bit. In my way of seeing things, that’s something positive because I really like the resulting sound. On the other hand, purists might find it too invasive.
That being said, the rockabilly tone in each of the three delay settings, short, medium, and long was very accurate, tight, and usable.
If you want an instant rockabilly pedal in a small spot on your pedalboard, this is a great choice.
What Else Do You Need to Play Rockabilly?
The slapback delay on its own isn’t going to give you the tone you need to play rockabilly. It will add a layer of fun and a layer of mojo, but still, you need the right amp and guitar to go with it.
Let’s dive right into that information, shall we?
The world of rockabilly guitars is undoubtedly reigned by Gretsch hollow-body electric guitars. These are the closest you get to a Cadillac in a guitar size. We could easily speak about players like Eddie Cochran or Brian Setzer and the big Gretsch immediately comes to mind.
Although these are pricey and hard to maneuver, the tone is otherworldly. For a mid-budget, you can buy the Electromatic Series, like the Gretsch G5422TG Electromatic. It’s a much more affordable version of the Gretsch G6120TFM-BSNV Brian Setzer Signature.
But that’s not the only instrument you can choose to play some righteous rockabilly tones. Indeed, the twang of the Fender Telecaster is also very welcome in the Rockabilly world. There’s something about the pick attack and the maple neck that takes you straight to the Rockabilly world.
Perhaps, the guitar that better represents that tone is the Fender American Vintage II 1951 Telecaster. That being said, you can come close with a Fender Vintera '50s Telecaster, or even a Squier Classic Vibe '50s Telecaster.
Although those are the most common, let’s add honorary mentions:
- Epiphone Casino
- Epiphone Riviera
- Gibson ES-175
- Gibson ES-335
- Fender Stratocaster
- Gibson Les Paul Deluxe
- Gibson Les Paul Special
There’s no doubt about it, rockabilly requires valves. Yes, valve amps are needed to make those lead lines and chords pop out of the music and haunt your senses. But we’re not talking about Marshall’s grit and midrange. On the contrary, we’re talking about clean amps with a lot of headroom. You guessed it, Fender amps.
Well, in my opinion, the best mid-wattage Fender amp ever made is the Deluxe Reverb ’65 RI or its bigger brother, the Twin Reverb Amp ’65 RI. That being said, you can also get very close with a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe or Blues Deluxe amplifier. Even a Fender Blues Jr. would do.
Let’s also do some honorary mentions.
- Fender Princeton
- Orange Tiny Terror
- Laney Lionheart
- Marshall 1974x
- Fender Bassman ’59 Reissue
Rockabilly is all about having fun, looking cool, and dancing the night away. The slapback delay is as important to the genre as the hairdo, the moves, or the shiny shoes. I mean, for true rockabilly tones, you need to be playing with that trail behind your notes.
The pedals above are the best in the market to do just that. Some do many other things, but you’re guaranteed a 100% rockabilly tone with any of them.