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How Bucket Brigade Chips Changed Guitar Forever

Guitar Pedals With Bucket Brigade Chips

If you’re a gear obsessive like many guitar players out there, you’ve probably heard about bucket brigade chips—the legendary chips that allowed for convenient and practical analog delay pedals, as well as other effects like chorus. But if you’re a new player or don’t compulsively research guitar gear history in your free time, you may not know about these famous chips that changed the guitar world forever. 

Bucket brigade devices (BBDs) revolutionized the guitar effects market, helping make some of the best sounds and music ever. While bucket brigade chips may not be as revolutionary now as they were a few decades ago, it’s important to remember their innovation and importance in the guitar world. In this article, we’re going to break down what bucket brigade chips are, where they came from, and how they changed the guitar forever. 

Delay Before Bucket Brigade Chips

Before talking about bucket brigade chips, it’s essential to understand what delay was like before bucket brigade chips. The first delay effects used by guitarists were created by using studio tape machines in the 1950s, adding a short delay to get a slap-back effect like you can hear on Elvis’ That’s Alright. While this was a great innovation, the effect was stuck in the studio and unable to be used live. 

Soon after, multiple other innovators began to create portable tape delay machines, allowing guitarists to utilize delay wherever and whenever they wanted. These tape delays, such as the Echoplex and Echorec, enabled guitarists to easily use tape delay on stage, and with more control and flexibility than the delays created in the studio. Guitarists like David Gilmour and Chet Atkins used these delays to create some of the most iconic music of the 60s, and 70s. The Pink Floyd classic Time is a great example of Gilmour using a tape delay, especially during the iconic solo.

While these delays create incredible sounds and are still coveted to this day, they had two big flaws—they were very large, and they were unstable. These delay units, while portable, weren’t exactly convenient. They were heavy, cumbersome, and didn’t fit in a pedal. On top of that, they broke or ran into issues very frequently, and fixing them was not an easy task. Though players and their techs dealt with these issues, it was only a matter of time until delay was made a more accessible and reliable effect. 

photo courtesy of Plasma Music Limited

What Are Bucket Brigade Chips

In 1969, F. Sangster and K. Teer created the Bucket Brigade device, which eventually allowed for compact and great sounding delay pedals (as well as other effects). Without diving too much in the mechanics of how these electronics work (this article is great if you want to understand how they work on a more technical level), let’s try to explain what BBDs actually are in plain english.

The term bucket brigade comes from the old fire fighting technique where people would pass along buckets of water until they reached whoever was at the fire. BBDs work in a very similar way; each capacitor takes a snapshot of the signal (a bucket of water), and then passes that off to the next capacitor (next person in the brigade). Eventually, the signal (the bucket) reaches the output (the fire). The early BBDs used in pedals like Boss’s DM-2 and EHX’s Memory Man had 1024 capacitors, allowing for ample delay time as the signal snapshot is passed from one capacitor to the next. 

However, this process does have some inherent issues. As the signal keeps getting passed from capacitor to capacitor, there is signal loss as well as noise introduced to the signal. Engineers then added compression and a filter before the BBD, as well as a filter and expander after the BBD. This resulted in a thicker, more analogue sounding delay that ended up becoming a classic guitar effect. 

Still, BBDs are not without their flaws. Because of their analogue nature, they are still somewhat limited compared to modern digital delays. Even with the effects added by engineers, they have a time limitation. With a long enough delay, there will be noticeable signal loss. They also cannot fully catch up to real time, so perfect real-time double tracking isn’t quite possible (though it can close enough for effects like chorus and flange). 

While delay was the focus of BBDs, it also enabled many other guitar effects. It made a rotary speaker sound possible without needing an actually rotating speaker, allowed for chorus and flanger pedals, made double tracking pedals possible, and much more. 

photo courtesy of Music Radar

How They Changed Guitar Forever

Given everything that’s been said, it shouldn’t be hard to see why bucket brigade chips changed guitar forever. They allowed an entire generation of budding guitarists to experiment with effects that were previously limited to the studio and those who could afford expensive tape delay units like the Echoplex, and they made effects like delay and rotary speakers much more convenient and practical. 

A guitarist who truly exemplifies how bucket brigade chips changed the guitar world is U2’s the Edge. Though many like to joke about the Edge’s frequent use of pedals, his playing with U2 was innovative and took advantage of what BBDs had to offer. He used a BBD, an EHX Memory Man to be specific, to create spacious soundscapes that inspired countless guitarists. This clip from It Might Get Loud is a great example of how bucket brigade delays changed the world of guitar and guitar playing. 

The Fall and Rise Again of Bucket Brigade Chips

Despite their incredible innovation and impact, bucket brigade chips would fall by the wayside in the mid to late 80s. As digital effects were introduced to the market, bucket brigade chips were no longer necessary to produce effects like delay, flange, and chorus in pedal form. Digital effects allowed for longer delays, more control, and more expansive sounds. Many artists, including the Edge, began to take advantage of digital effects and what they had to offer. While there was still a group of guitarists dedicated to the older BBD effects, they had largely fallen out of use in favor of modern digital delays. But like many things in the guitar world, people would eventually start to miss the unique qualities of older gear. 

By the 1990s, some boutique companies started using new old stock (NOS) bucket brigade chips to create small runs of pedals. Though these pedals were expensive, they eventually led to an increased demand for BBD pedals. By the mid 2010s, there was a whole wave of new BBD pedals widely available, and for a more affordable price. To this day, brand new bucket brigade pedals can be found online and can be heard on countless performances. 

Conclusion

Bucket brigade chips were a revolution in the guitar world that allowed for effects like delay, flange, and chorus to be used on stage and by those without deep pockets. Their distinct sound and practicality earned them a place in the arsenal of pros and amateurs alike. Though they briefly fell by the wayside as digital effects took over, bucket brigade chips stood the test of time and once again became a popular option for effects and pedal

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