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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Slap Back: Don’t Delay

posted by on April 17 at 12:40 PM

slap.jpgKevin Suggs is with us today to talk about slap back delay. Kevin is KEXPís in-studio live performance engineer, and has spend two weeks alone with Cat Powerís Chan Marshall recording her for You Are Free.

Delay is an effect that can bolster a mix and widen an instrumentís sound. Basically, delay takes your audio signal and plays it back after the set Ďdelay time.í The delay time can range from several milliseconds to several seconds. Delays can be echo-like, see reggae dub: itís like this MON-mon. SEE-see? JA-ja. Delays can mimic loops if set to repeat, or they can wash out longer like abstract ripples.

When the delay time is very short (40 to 120 milliseconds), itís called a slap back delay. The term slap back refers to the use of a single echo. The slap back is just loud enough to be heard as a discrete echo, right behind the instrument or voice itís put on. Slap back is very popular in 1950s-style rockabilly recordings.

Mr. Suggs, can you slap dat ass for me? I mean, talk some slap back delay? What do you think of when you think slap back?
Suggs: I think of early Elvis and all the Sun Records stuff from the 50ís. Sounds like Elvis is singing in a cave. They were using tape delays back then so getting a longer delay was a bit trickier. John Lennon loved it as well, but his were a bit shorter, almost a doubling effect. Iíve done a few rockabilly records and I just keep the vocal delay time set at somewhere between 140 and 150 milliseconds. Seems to work great for most of those up-tempo tunes. Keep the feedback or repeats down. You just want one quick slap and thatís about it. I find it can work well with more modern rock vocals too, but set the delay at around 160 or so. That takes it out of that rockabilly place yet still has the same effect. Try it on instruments as well. It can put a little bounce into a track that needs to jump.

Whatís the trick when you use it on instruments? Iíve heard you use slap back on keys, and it totally makes the song. They sound so full, so rad.
The trick there is to get the delay time right. To do that I solo up the snare and put the delay on it till I find the correct subdivisions that donít mess with the rhythm. Then I put it on the keys. Itís probably a bit longer than a slap but not much. More like quarter notes rather than eighth or sixteenth notes. Also I think itíll have a few more repeats to it. When I put slap on vocals I don’t always go for an exact subdivision, I just use my ear. Vocals are a lead instrument and don’t always follow closely to the rhythm of the rest of the group.

RSS icon Comments


NICE-nice POST-post. Kevin is the MAN-man.

Posted by Franklin | April 17, 2008 2:13 PM


If i can ask, which delays do you prefer? What types gear? I want to try this, do I have to have Pro-tools or some expensive plug in?

Posted by ZQuestioner | April 17, 2008 2:18 PM

In my experience, slap Back echo works best when the delay or echo device you are using takes a bit of the top end off the repeats so as not to get too intermixed with the original signal, making it muddy. Tape echoes, like the echoplex or the space echo, are great for this because the tape will give the echo repeat tone a slightly duller sound in the treble response, and its certainly what they were using back in the day, as Kevin says. Analog, bucket-brigade delays work well too...the electro harmonix memory man is perfect for those John Lennon style vocals. You can make this work with a digital delay too in the studio, just make sure whatever aux channel send the delay is going into you've eq'ed that channel to take some of the high end's not perfect but it's close...

Posted by dan | April 17, 2008 2:22 PM

Boy oh boy... Kevin and yourself offer a plethora of techniques and approaches to this. I have done much experimenting and application of delays over the years, and I had not really thought of taking the high-end out of the delay channel... very interesting that he considers that mentionable. I am going to record in Manhattan in two weeks with the sound guy at BB King's club, where I will try a mellow (not sharp)_slap delay.

Posted by WOLF BLITZER: SPECIAL REPORT | April 17, 2008 2:44 PM

1 & 2, I think the slap back would be more like KEVIN-n. We're talking milli here.

Posted by trent moorman | April 17, 2008 2:44 PM

Milli Vanilli?

Posted by WOLF BLITZER: SPECIAL REPORT | April 17, 2008 2:48 PM

No, Milli Vanilli-i.

Posted by Stop | April 17, 2008 2:52 PM

My own personal definition of "slapback" delay extends up to as much as 250-300ms, but Kevin is right on the money- it all depends on the tempo and style of the material you're using it on.
My fave for many years has been an old Lexicon PCM41 digital delay. About 185ms & 2 repeats and that's what put the Elvis in all of those amateur Elvis contests that we did at the Crocodile.

Posted by Jim Anderson | April 17, 2008 5:25 PM

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