Do It Yourself

Bucket Brigade Devices Explained

  • By Andy Martin @tonereport
  • December 18, 2013

Guitarists on a quest for wondrous delay tones are often faced with a choice between two worlds, analog or digital. It’s easy to see the benefits of digital delays; longer record times, near exact replication and other creative perks like reverse playback.  However, the modern guitarist doesn’t always follow the newer is better mantra. Those who are seeking the ‘organic’, warm repeats or classic tones usually seek out a bucket brigade delay. Since this early solid state technology is somewhat elusive, I think it’s about time we look into the BBD delay and what it brings to the table for musicians.

What are BBD Chips?

Without getting too technical, Bucket Brigade Devices are comprised of a series of capacitors that store an electrical charge, from your guitar signal, and pass them along the “bucket brigade” line at a rate determined by an internal clock. Just as water in the bucket can spill from one fireman to the next, the signal degrades and ends up only a fraction of what it started out.  There is also the inherent issue of clock noise which is notched out with a low pass filter, the reason why analog delays generally don’t reproduce frequencies above 3 KHz. Well, what’s so great about rapid degeneration and darker repeats? I’d have to guess that it’s the element of realism that attracts us to these archaic devices. Think about yelling across the Grand Canyon and you might get my drift, “hello, ello, lo”…or perhaps “umberella, ella, ella!” These characteristics of bucket brigade technology also lend a warmer tone to delay based effects like vibrato, chorus, phaser and flanger.  But as technology advanced along with the modern player’s needs, digital delays became standards on pedalboards and recording studios everywhere.

A high quality digital delay produces a transparent tone by means of an analog-to-digital converter, signal processing (DSP), then conversion back to analog. They produce a repeat with the same frequency range as the source opposed to one that is filtered. Since noise levels and artifacts left on the audio are also minimal, a crystal clear delay can be achieved. However, it’s this uncolored echo that often leave people with the words “brittle” or “sterile” when making up their minds about digital delay. The reason for this unexpected disapproval is the manner in which those repeats carry on. Analog repeats will decay into a darker, dirtier state while digital can continue to infinity with a consistently identical repeat. 

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