I can still remember the first time I listened to Steve Vai’s Passion and Warefare album. I was only 15 and had been playing guitar roughly 4 years and that album opened my eyes (or ears as it was) to a completely different approach to guitar. One in which the instrument was not limited by the laws of physics with pitches soaring well beyond conventional limits nor by the fact that we only have 10 fingers. I didn’t understand in my youth the complex rack units of pitch shifters, delays, and pitch shifted delays he utilized. As the years rolled by, I continued to lust after many of the unique effects Vai crafted on that album but it has always been cost prohibitive. Enter the Digitech TimeBender Digital Delay.
As you might expect from the title, or my prolonged intro, the Digitech Timbender is a device which offers not only a multitude of delay types but also the ability to intelligently pitch shift the delayed signal. So what exactly does that mean? Baby steps…let’s start with the general features and work our way up to that.
Now that you’ve got your basic delay set up, things get a little more interesting. As you might expect, tap tempo capability has been included. However, Digitech has also included a new technology called musIQ Smart Strum which allows you to hold down the tap pedal, mute your strings, and strum the tempo. Too Cool!
The TimeBender offers 10 different delay types: Digital, Analog, Variable Speed Tape, Moving Head Tape, Dynamic Digital, Dynamic Analog, Dynamic Tape, Time Warp (wide delay time modulation), Reverse, and Envelope as well as a 20 second looper. Think of the different types as your starting point with digital sounding the cleanest, analog and tape degrading with each repeat, and the head types having unique modulation and pitch artifacts emulating their real world counterparts. The dynamic (ducking) variations minimize the level of the repeated notes while you are playing to keep things sounding cleaner. Reverse is exactly what it sounds like while envelope is a very unique mode more akin to a tremolo or modern chopper type of effect than a delay. Once you’ve set a type, the TimeBender offers up the traditional controls over time, repeats, and mix. A (somewhat limited) modulation control rounds the high level features out.
Now that you’ve got your basic delay set up, things get a little more interesting. As you might expect, tap tempo capability has been included. However, Digitech has also included a new technology called musIQ Smart Strum which allows you to hold down the tap pedal, mute your strings, and strum the tempo. Too Cool! Digitech has also included a tone control which operates in a unique way. Rather than simply rolling off high end, 12 o’clock represents a neutral setting and clockwise rotation reduces bass response and counterclockwise reduces treble response. In concert with the preset coloration of each delay type, this allows a very fine level of control over the delayed tones. Another interesting control is the Multiplier which allows subdivision of the user set delay time. Nice touch…but wait there’s more! The TimeBender is also a multi-tap delay capable of up to 6 taps using the Time Pattern dial. Each notch on the dial has a symbol which depicts one of 11 rhythmic patterns. I could try to describe the rhythms of each but there’s really no point as pattern 11 incorporates the previously mentioned musIQ Smart Strum allowing you to strum whatever multi-tap pattern you want. This power becomes extremely apparent when using the envelope mode allowing you strum in a pattern for a syncopated tremolo effect. Sweet!
And now ladies and gentlemen, the pièce de résistance…intelligently pitch shifted delay. So what’s this all about you ask? It’s a unique effect like no other. For example, you could hit an open A string and set the delays to harmonize an A major chord. Think Ballerina 12/24 from Vai’s Passion and Warfare. It’s an almost ethereal effect which creates the illusion of many more notes being played than actually are. Pitches are controlled by the Voicing knob with 100 different options the majority of which trigger different pitches for each delayed note. Also, by setting the unit to the minimal time and minimum multiplier, the TimeBender can function as a standard intelligent pitch shifter pedal. Ah, but how does it know what key to play in? MusIQ to the rescue…you simply strum a chord and it automatically sets the key signature.
Well now that I’ve gushed on and on, I should take a moment to point out a few downsides to the unit. For all the power and tonal variety available, Digitech has only allotted 4 memory locations. Booooo! Granted, its expandable to 8 using an external expression pedal by allowed different settings for both toe and heel however that increases the already oversized footprint of the pedal. An even more glaring omission in my eyes is the exclusion of MIDI control, a feature which should be standard on a pedal of this caliber (and price).
The Digitech TimeBender Delay will very well be many delay aficionados dream come true. While the ~$299 price may seem high for a delay pedal, referring to the Timbender as just a delay is like saying Steve Vai can kinda play guitar. Honestly, it’s at a price point well below similar pitch shifting delay units (most of which are of the rack variety) and will more than likely be the last delay…and pitch shifter…and chopper you’ll ever need.
Pros: Unique effects and controls, most affordable pitch shifting delay pedal on the market.
Cons: No MIDI, limited presets