Some effects units are so unique and beloved that they are instruments unto themselves. More than just a stompbox that adds a particular noise, they seamlessly integrate themselves into a rig and become a part of the player. The Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man is one of those pedals. The Edge used it to great effect in U2’s early recordings, and Radiohead’s resident pedal wizard Ed O’Brien uses one alongside his Strymon Timeline. In a video featuring O’Brien and TheGigRig boss Daniel Steinhardt, O’Brien says taking the Memory Man off your board is like “taking your soul away.” It is telling that the Memory Man—with its fairly large size and special power requirements—still justifies a spot on even the most advanced pedalboards alongside powerful digital delays with incredible analog emulations. Its warm, modulated echo creates luscious soundscapes effortlessly and it is dually capable of providing staccato rhythmic patterns or subtle background washes. The Memory Man as we know it is the product of evolution over time, so let’s go back in time and take a look at the various incarnations of this epic echo.
Memory Man Solid State Echo/Analog Delay Line
The initial offering was a simple, three-knob pedal with Blend, Feedback and Delay knobs. A Boost switch allowed for more presence while Direct and Echo outputs gave it wet/dry capability. Maximum delay times reached slightly over 300 milliseconds, which was par for the course for analog delay pedals around that time. There’s nothing fancy about this one, but it was the first in a great line of pedals.
Deluxe Memory Man Solid State Echo/Analog Delay Line
The second version offered a Level knob, cool red and blue graphics, and a Squelch (leave it to EHX to label something “Squelch”) switch intended to control undesired feedback along with noise reduction circuitry. EHX claimed a max delay time of 400ms, but this is always debatable, as individual units can very greatly.
Memory Man Solid State Echo/Chorus
This edition saw the Memory Man go back to a three-knob format. Gone were the Squelch switch and dry output. In their places was an Echo/Chorus switch and a Boost In jack which offered a slight hike in gain. Echo and Chorus could not be used at the same time, so you have to pick one. Not unlike some Tootsie Pop wrappers, this version had stars on the dials to help users find optimum chorus settings.
Stereo Memory Man Stereo Echo/Chorus
The next installment saw the return of the dry output in place of the Boost In jack. It was also the first version to feature a Status light to indicate whether the effect was engaged or bypassed. Everything else remained the same.
Deluxe Memory Man Echo/Chorus/Vibrato
Then, one day, it all came together. Perhaps someone in Mike Matthews’s mad scientist lab laid out all of the previous Memory Man pedals and thought, “What if we just shoved everything into one pedal?” They did just that, and the most beloved version of the Memory Man was born, a sweet amalgamation of its ancestors that paved the way. With a whopping five knobs, wet and dry outputs, two LED indicator lights, and a Chorus/Vibrato switch, this was the big one, and is undoubtedly one of the most popular and sought after pedals of all time.
Deluxe Memory Man Echo/Chorus/Vibrato XO
The current version of the Memory Man adheres to EHX’s effort to make its offerings more pedalboard friendly. The modern, smaller version has six knobs and zero switches as well as wet and dry outputs. The sixth knob controls the depth of the chorus or vibrato, essentially replacing the Chorus/Vibrato switch on the previous model. Some feel the sound is not quite on par with original models due to the discontinued Panasonic MN3005 chips contained in its predecessors, but the XO still offers warm, gooey, modulated echo that melts right into your ears.
Deluxe Memory Man Tap Tempo 1100
This is the ultimate Deluxe Memory Man. As the name implies, it has tap tempo and is capable of providing over a full second of real analog delay (delay times can get much longer with the use of the tap function, although they will become extremely lo-fi) utilizing new old stock Panasonic bucket-brigade chips. In addition to those updates, it features an effects loop, allowing various pedals to affect the delay repeats, as well as an external tap switch input and expression pedal capability. The expression option lets players control delay time, feedback, blend, modulation rate, or modulation depth. If that wasn’t enough, it features five different rhythmic subdivisions. It can also be powered with nine volts, compared to the necessary 24 volts of previous models. In short, this is the Memory Man you’ve been looking for. Sadly, it has been discontinued, which means you’ll have to pay a pretty penny if you want to get your paws on one.
Deluxe Memory Man Tap Tempo 550
The 550 shares all the features of its blue brother with the exception of the longer delay time and is the model that is currently available today. For not too much more than the standard XO version, it’s a great option for players who love to tweak knobs but still want an authentic analog delay.
Related Siblings: Deluxe Memory Boy, Memory Boy, and Memory Toy
Designed to achieve similar sounds at a more modest price point, these versions occupy the bang-for-your-buck corner of the Memory Man world. The Deluxe Memory Boy has a feature set similar to the tap tempo Memory Men. The Memory Boy has expression pedal capability, and the Toy is a straight up, three-knob delay with a modulation switch. If you want to get close to the Memory Man tone but aren’t convinced you need the real deal, these are a great choice and are very affordable.
Weird, But Cool, Stepbrother: Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai
A Memory Man in name only, this digital delay and looper pedal does everything from crystal clear modulated three-second delays to haunting, filtered reverse echo. It isn’t going to give you the classic Memory Man sound, but it is a cool pedal worth exploring.
Not counting the Boys and Toy, there are eight versions of the Memory Man. Which one is right for you? Do you desire lush, modulated echo? Do you want total control over every facet of your delay pedal? Perhaps you’re a set it and forget it type player who just needs to add a little space to your dry tone? Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a Memory Man for that. One of the most fabled pedals in all of guitardom, it is still being made today, and still sounds totally awesome. There’s a reason so many players have one no matter how many cool digital delays—or full-featured analog delays, for that matter—emerge on the scene. As a delay pedal, it is peerless, and it is truly an instrument on its own that will find a welcome place in any musical setting. If you haven’t tried a Memory Man, make it a point to do so at some point in your life, and thank me later.