REVIEW: DigiTech TimeBender delay
DigiTech has a long history of innovative pedals (in the mid 90s they released various stompers which added compression or delay to distortion, and let’s not forget how the Whammy Pedal revolutionised lead guitar). The TimeBender seeks to combine traditional delay effects with some completely out-there ones, with a control interface that practically demands creative experimentation. Now, I love a good delay pedal (my current favourite is the MXR Carbon Copy, a very different beast to the TimeBender), so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on the TimeBender for a few weeks of testing.
Features include controls for Tone, Repeats, Modulation and Pattern. A Voicing knob cycles through 100 different pitch shift intervals so instead of simply repeating your notes the TimeBender can play them back at different pitches altogether. You can set delay times with a knob or with the footswitch on the right, and you can alter the delay intervals further with a Multiplier button so once you have the tempo, you can start messing around with the rhythm too. You get 5 seconds of delay time, and modes include Digital, Analog Variable Speed Tape, Moving Head Tape Dynamic (ducking) Digital, Dynamic (ducking) Analog, Dynamic (ducking) Tape, Time Warp (wide delay time modulation) Reverse, Envelope (chopping delay), 20 Second looper and Strum modes.
Around the back are stereo inputs (!!!), stereo outputs (the left inputs and output jacks double as the mono versions), a jack for the optional 3-button FS3X footswitch and an expression pedal jack for any mono (tip/sleeve) passive expression pedal. (DigiTech says any volume pedal in the 100 kOhm – 500 kOhm range with log taper will work as well.) An expression pedal lets you morph between different settings for a given delay type, voicing, and time pattern, giving you control over parameters such as delay time, tone, repeats, and modulation.
You’re definitely going to have to read the manual if you want to get the most out of the TimeBender. For instance, the pitch shift parameters are listed in a combination of numbers and letters: 2O means the input is shifted down 2 octaves; 7L means the input is shifted 7 tones down the scale (I guess the L means ‘lower’), U means unison, and 3H means the input is shifted three tones up the scale (so H probably means ‘higher’). You can use your ears to find your way around to a certain extend but it certainly helps to at least know how a 4th sounds different from a 5th, for example.
As someone who uses an analog delay pedal quite a bit, I was eager to compare the TimeBender’s Analog mode to my MXR. The TimeBender’s simulated version of analog delay is very authentic, with the right level of frequency roll-off and subtle mush, while the tone isn’t quite as excitingly unpredictable and ratty sounding as my analog pedal. It’s a kind of ‘neat’ version of the analog delay sound, and I’m sure that players who like the warmth of an old school bucket-brigade pedal but aren’t into the noise and chaos lurking beneath the surface will be way into the TimeBender’s take on the effect.
The Moving Head tape delay will give you Jimmy Page Echoplex sounds, with lots of vintage vibe but with modern touches such as the option of adding modulation and greater tone control. Lots of fun using an expression pedal with this one! The Ducking modes (when the delay effect fades up to its full preset volume when you stop playing, and fades down again while you’re actually playing) are perhaps the smoothest I’ve ever heard. In the past I’ve sort of shied away from using this effect because the fade-in is usually too abrupt and jarring, but the TimeBender’s Ducking settings are not just usable, they’re downright stunning, working especially well if you’re using a mono rig where you don’t have the luxury of diverting repeats to different speakers to maintain the clarity of each voice.
The TimeBender’s Strum mode is probably my favourite setting. Hold down the pedal, strum or pick a rhythm, and release the pedal, then when you play a note the repeats will follow the rhythm you just strummed, (up to six notes worth). If you combine it with the pitch shifting this becomes much more than just an extremely useful ambient effect – it becomes an entire essential songwriting tool. If The Edge can do what he does with regular, fixed-time, non-pitch-shifted delays, imagine what he could do with rhythmic repeats which play back different notes.
Envelope mode chops up the input almost like an arpeggiator on a keyboard, and there are some genuinely freaky sounds attainable by the Reverse and TimeBender modes which remind me a little of some of Steve Vai’s more extravagant audio experiments such as ‘Alien Water Kiss’ from ‘Passion And Warfare.’ Come to think of it, the pitch shift delays also allow you to get those ‘Ballerina 12/24’ sounds without spending $4,000 on a rack processor.
Let’s not forget the Loop mode. Some folks will surely buy the TimeBender for this feature alone. You can record, play back, and overdub loops up to 20 seconds long (mono only). The manual points out that you can “record a bass line with the voicing set to an octave down (8L), and then set the voicing to unison and play over the looped bass line. Also, with an expression pedal, you can store a unison voicing in the toe position and an octave down in the heel position, and switch between your “bass” and guitar on the fly.” Craziness. I had a grand time using the TimeBender in conjunction with my guitar’s pickup selector and tone controls to create an ambient soundscape to jam over, but you can use it for a lot more than the kind of bad new age music that seems to come out of me whenever I mess around with loops.
My only beef with the TimeBender – and it’s not a very big one – is that it would be nice to have a dry output jack so you could send an un-delayed sound to your main amp while sending stereo repeats to left and right rigs. If such hi-tech wizardry is important to you though you can easily use a signal splitter – even a stereo chorus pedal with the effect turned off could do the trick – then just shut off the volume of the original note using the TimeBender’s Mix knob.
While it helps to know some music theory to get the most out of the TimeBender, even if theory’s not for you there’s still room to stumble upon interesting and exciting new sounds. Whether you want very high quality delays to set-and-forget or a hyper-intelligent, sophisticated delay, the TimeBender is well worth the money and time.
CLICK HERE to buy the DigiTech TimeBender Delay
Here’s a demo of the TimeBender by ProGuitarShop.