5 Pro Tips For Using Reverb & Delays On Guitars

Greg Wurth

Greg Wurth is a Grammy Nominated, Gold & Platinum award winning producer, working as Manager and Chief Engineer at L.A.’s Mothership Studio and Patigonia Studio. His credits range from Steve Vai and Tony MacAlpine to Tracii Guns to Jim Florentine & Don Jamieson, 2Cellos and Mary J Blige. He has been Steve Vai’s Engineer for 10 years. A lot of his time is spent in the “Harmony Hut” studio in Encino, CA where they currently do all of Vai’s projects. Here he shares 5 tips for using reverb and delays on guitars.

Steve Vai Recording Session

1. Always record a DI track

If you are the type who likes to record guitars with effects in the chain it's a good idea to record a dry DI track for safety.  I have gotten a lot of tracks from people who commit effects to tape but then want the guitar to sound more present in the mix.  If you have a DI it's possible to re-amp it or add a guitar plugin so that you can blend in a dry take to balance with your wet track. If not then you're stuck.

2. Tempo

Sometimes it's tricky to get a reverb or delay to sit well in the mix.  For example if you have a delay on a guitar that is perfectly in sync to the tempo it's possible that it will be masked by other things in the mix. I find it useful to select delay times that are slightly out of the tempo of the track.  This way the effect will poke out in areas where there is space. For reverb it's a bit different and you may try to mess with the pre-delay for a similar result.  It takes a bit of tweaking to get it just right but it's a very useful trick for me.  Also it's very effective to pan the send in the same position as the source track so that it sits in it'd intend place.

3. Listen Pre-Fader

When I set up my effects sends on the console (or ITB) I always start with the sends set to pre fader.  I do this so that when I am dialing in a setting I can mute the source track and only listen to the wet signal that is being returned.  It's really helpful because this way you can hear exactly what the effect is doing. On guitars (and most everything) I like to roll off low end before hitting the reverb or delay so I usually insert and eq or filter to remove around 100-250 hz.  This way you aren'y emphasizing low end with the effects which can cause problems in the mix.  Also I like to eq and compress the effects so that when blended it sits well in the mix with out battle too much with other elements.  Once I am happy with the sound I remove it from pre fader and dial in the amount to taste.

Steve Vai Recording Session 2

4.  Wider Or Fatter

If you want to make a guitar track sound wider using a delay then try to adjust the delay time independantly on each side which gives you a "stereo" image that sounds very 3D.  Alternately if you want it to sound more mono than it's best to keep the delays matched on each side.  If you want to make the guitar track sound fatter I would use minimal repeats of the feedback for delay or low decay times on reverb.  For tracks that are slower in tempo or call for a more dramatic feel I like to use longer decay times for the reverb and also I add more feedback on delays so that it repeats longer.

5. Wet & Dry

My favorite trick for using reverb and delays on lead guitars (and Vocals)  allows you to keep it sounding upfront in the mix while still adding quite a bit of delay and reverb.  This is achieved by sending the track to a delay return then sending the delay return into a reverb. This way the reverb is only effecting the delayed track leaving the dry untouched.  The result is very fruitful b/c you'll find you can add a ton of reverb while still having that dry upfront sound that cuts through the mix.