Digitech Guitar Effects - TimeBender Digital Delay

DigiTech’s TimeBender has at its heart a stereo digital delay with a maximum delay time of five seconds, but the range of delay and echo effects they’ve managed to squeeze into this little box goes way beyond what you would expect from a typical delay pedal. We’re all familiar with pedals that can model analogue and tape delay, so it comes as absolutely no surprise that the TimeBender does all of that, but there’s a lot more besides. It offers 11 delay types in total, including analogue, digital, movable-head tape (where the head spacing was changed to adjust the repeat pattern), variable-speed fixed-head tape echo (where the heads were fixed but the tape speed was adjustable), dynamic (ducking delays), reverse, envelope and ‘Time Warp’.
Beyond this, modulation and tone shaping may be applied to any delay type, and there are also further surprises in store relating to the flexibility of setting repeat patterns, the intelligent pitch options, and even loop recording. Provision is made for connecting an external expression pedal and footswitch, and for use with keyboards or in the studio there are stereo inputs and outputs on quarter-inch jacks, though mono in and mono out operation is also supported.

Simple and intuitive
On the rear of the TimeBender there are jacks for an external expression pedal and footswitch, as well as quarter-inch stereo inputs and outputs for use with keyboards or in the studio.
On the rear of the TimeBender there are jacks for an external expression pedal and footswitch, as well as quarter-inch stereo inputs and outputs for use with keyboards or in the studio.
Up to six delay taps are available, and in addition to preset repeat patterns and a delay multiplier used to fit the repeat rate to different note values, there’s a novel ‘learn’ mode that allows the guitarist to bash in a rhythm on muted strings and the delays will set themselves up to that pattern. If you’re more old-school, there’s also the familiar tap tempo pedal and time-adjust knob. Where you want to get more experimental, the TimeBender also has the ability to add either fixed-interval pitch-shifting or intelligent harmonies to the delay repeats. You also get a 20-second looper with overdubbing capability, and there are four user memories so that, unlike most pedal effects, you can store up to four of your favourite treatments. In loop recording mode, the available loop time counts down in the display. During playback, the playback position is indicated by a series of vertical bars that move across the display.
If all this sounds somewhat daunting, don’t worry, as the pedal is much simpler than you might imagine and, after a quick scan of the manual, its operation is very intuitive. The cast metal box houses two pedal sections. The first is for switching the delay on or off, or alternatively you can hold it down to get an infinite delay repeat. It’s also used in looper mode to select Record, Play and Overdub. Note that the looper applies any effects during playback, not during recording, so you can adjust the effects as the loop plays back. Another interesting point is that the TimeBender automatically adjusts the start and end loop points to get the smoothest loop, so unless you play something weird to confuse it, slightly sloppy timing will be dealt with on your behalf. When a loop is playing back, you can tap the left footswitch to start overdubbing, at which point the On LED will go amber and your playing will be layered on top of the current loop. The manual includes an excellent tutorial on using the looper, so there’s no need to go into deep detail here. The right-hand pedal is used for tap tempo, memory selection or strum-pattern entry, and in looper mode also handles Stop, Hold and Clear functions. To toggle between tap tempo and memory modes, you simply press down both pedals.
Above the pedal section is a surprisingly sparse control area with a small central LED display that can, among other things, show the delay time as milliseconds or beats per minute. A rotary switch at the upper left corner selects from 10 delay types (plus looper mode), while two knobs below adjust tone and repeats. There’s also a Delay Time adjustment knob for setting the delay times manually, plus a Multiplier button that offers six different note values. An LED flashes at the current tempo rate.
A chorus-like modulation can be applied to any chosen delay effect, and the control for this is divided into three segments labelled Slow, Medium and Fast. The position of the knob within its segment determines the modulation depth. When the Time Warp delay is selected, the Modulation knob instead adds synchronised pitch vibrato to the delay signal in three different sync ranges. The Pattern control provides 10 preset delay tap rhythms, with a setting for strumming in your own. The first strum is counted as the direct sound, with the following ones setting the repeat intervals, and if you input too many, the machine tries to rationalise them for you. The word ‘Good’ appears in the display for a moment if the strum detection has worked OK, otherwise you just get question marks!
The Voicing knob to the right of the display selects the scale intervals for having the delays controlled by the in-built intelligent pitch-shifter. In other words, the TimeBender can automatically change the pitch of the repeats and keep them in the key you’re playing in according to the scale type you set. A Store button saves the current settings into memory, and a wet/dry Mix knob controls the output effect balance from dry to 100 percent wet. When the Memory LED is lit, you can use the right footswitch to move to the next memory location. When the LED is off, you can use the right footswitch to tap in the tempo. Holding down both footswitches at the same time turns the Memory indicator LED on or off.
Other than the fact that some of the text is extremely small to make it fit on the panel, the controls section is very well set out. Power comes from a dedicated 18V AC adaptor capable of supplying up to 1.3 Amps, so this is one pedal that you’re unlikely to be able to power from a universal multi-pedal power supply. There’s no battery option, as the current draw is too high to make that practical. When the delay is bypassed, the dry part of the guitar signal bypasses the digital converters, so there should be negligible change in tone, although any delay repeats that are still sounding are allowed to fade out naturally.

Effects focus
Modulation and tone shaping can be applied to any of the 11 delay types.
Modulation and tone shaping can be applied to any of the 11 delay types.
Moving beyond the usual suspects, some of the effects require a little more in the way of description. Envelope delay may be used to create musical arpeggio or rhythmic ‘chopping’ effects, while the Dynamic delays drop or duck the level of the repeats until you stop playing, at which time they come back up in level — a good way to have a lot of effect without making the end result seem messy. The Dynamic repeats delay type is based on the Variable Speed Tape delay setting, but this time the ducking action adjusts both the level and the amount of feedback , which is good for cleaning up passages that need large amounts of feedback to generate a long train of repeats.
Unlike most reverse effects in which the reversed sections of audio are not related to the musicality of the performance, the TimeBender pedal tries to start its sections at the start of a note, which adds to the illusion of a real performance recorded and then played backwards. If you mix the normal and reverse sound and also use the pitch effects to turn the repeats into a musical scale, you can get some very ethereal things happening.
Patching in an external expression pedal, you are able to morph between two of your saved settings, while adding a footswitch lets you access the four user memories. The results of morphing can be interesting, but you just have to see what works, because not everything behaves predictably.
All the delay types — other than Envelope, Reverse and Looper — can be ‘frozen’ using a connected footswitch so that you can noodle away over whatever is in the ‘freeze’ buffer. Operating the pedal again puts you back into normal delay mode. Note that the Repeats knob normally adjusts the delay feedback, but in Envelope delay mode it instead controls the shape of the envelopes imposed on the input guitar sound. As the Repeats knob is turned up, the envelope first shortens, giving a percussive effect. But if you move past this point, it becomes longer but with a more even sustain section. Move further still and you get a slow-attack, almost reverse-envelope sound. Time Warp is similar to the Analogue delay emulation, except that the modulation is synchronised with the delay time and there’s more modulation depth available.
To set up a musical key for the pitch-shifting effects, turn the Pattern knob to any setting other than Strum, hold down the right footswitch and the current key will show in the display for a second or so. While still holding down the right footswitch you can strum in a chord and the key will be automatically extracted. You can use the pitch effects in all the normal delay types, even in Reverse, but for the automatic harmony engine to do its thing properly, you really need to play single-note lines, as chords just confuse it and some random pitch effects may result. Pitch-shifts may be scalic, triad-centred or fixed shift, with the latter working best with 4ths, 5ths or octaves. When the shift value is set to ‘U’, the delayed signal remains in unison with the input as per normal delay machine. The Root-Based Pattern delay setting is useful for creating arpeggios, as the first repeat is always in unison followed by the rest of the notes in the pattern. This way, if you turn up the Repeats knob, the arpeggio will repeat and you’ll hear the root note of the arpeggio during each repeat.
Cool or what?
As a straight-ahead modelling echo pedal, the TimeBender provides extremely plausible recreations of analogue and tape delay as well as digital delay, where the opportunity to add modulation makes it possible to create some seriously rich and fluid echo sounds very easily. The Reverse delay effect is as good as anything I’ve heard (and it is an effect I do use live), while the ability to tap in up to six repeats by playing damped chords on the guitar is really intuitive. Having four memories adds to the flexibility of this pedal when used live, as life is too short to start creating complex effects from scratch between songs!
When it comes to pitch-shifting effects, these can be used in a very subtle way or you can create outrageous U2-style riffs from a single note. As mentioned earlier, erratic behaviour can result from trying to play chords, and you do have to give some thought as to how you’re using the harmony feature to make it fit in musically, but overall it is a welcome and truly novel addition to the effects we all know and love. I’m sure everyone will come up with their own take on what works and I expect we’ll be hearing it on records before very long!
Though the stereo effects are most dramatic when you have stereo amps, most sound perfectly good in mono, but having a stereo input means keyboard players can use the pedal as well as those with mono instruments, which includes most guitars. Clearly, the applications for the looper are limited with just 20 seconds of loop time, but, again, it is nice to see such a useful function available in what is essentially a delay pedal. Similarly, the envelope chopping effects don’t stretch as far as those from the dedicated Boss Slicer, but they still sound very effective, with lots of user adjustment over the chopping envelope.
Comparing the TimeBender to a regular delay pedal is like comparing a top-of-the-range Swiss Army knife to a single-bladed pocketknife. The more you look into it, the more useful gadgets you find. And the more adventurous the player, the greater the rewards will be.

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