In terms of importance to the canon of effects, there are hardly any pedals above the humble digital delay. While that may seem like a stretch, digital delay ushered in a new age of stompboxes, where cutting edge tech infiltrated a notoriously stodgy realm. In an industrial field that still relies on tube technology, making the jump to affordable digital topology was a much welcome one.
Of course, as anyone who was around in the ‘70s and ‘80s knows, the framework for new technology starts in a large package and gradually gets whittled down in price and form factor. Our pedal today began its life as a much larger rack delay and found its way into a very familiar enclosure. This is the Boss DD-2.
In 1983, Roland was enjoying great success with its SDE 3000 digital delay. It was by all accounts a great unit, but there was a problem: Pedal “boards” were in the middle of a renaissance and huge rack setups were starting to become “studio-only” artifacts. The writing was appearing on the wall; racks were falling out of favor with the working musician that couldn’t afford them, and the idea of lugging a huge case around to every gig in addition to whatever else was starting to sound less and less appealing.
Roland decided that the technology of the SDE 3000 would be best served in one of Boss’s compact effects. Who could blame them? The idea looked so good on paper, and the idea of having a clean and clear delay pedal was rather unheard of in those days. There was just one problem: the parts were myriad and some of them were huge. How did Boss expect to cram a rack delay into a standardized package?
Now before I continue, what follows is a widely-circulated yet unverified account of what went down at Boss headquarters prior to the release of the DD-2. Ahem.
Rumor has it, once the higher-ups at Roland decided to move forward on the project of SDE miniaturization, they assembled the engineering team in a conference room. After explaining to them what needed to be done in no uncertain terms, many members of the team balked at the idea, citing the sheer size of the componentry and complex circuit board routing. And then, straight out of the Michael Scott playbook, Roland’s brass locked the door and told them not to come out until they’d figured out how to squeeze the SDE 3000 into a compact pedal. Hours later, the DD-2 was born.
While that may not be true, one peek under the hood will tell you that the construction of the pedal’s innards was no easy feat, and that something as optimized as that circuit board would have only been produced under extreme duress. It’s an entirely through-hole digital delay, with one huge chip spanning the width of the entire board. Insane.
An unintended consequence of the chipset was the frequency response of the AD converter, which topped out at 7KHz. This means that there’s a gentle high-frequency rolloff at 7KHz that sounds like a warmer digital delay, but not quite analog sounding. It’s a great arrow to have in the quiver if your guitar parts require a little extra warmth with supreme note retention.
When the price of the chips came down in 1986, Boss decided to rebrand the DD-2 to the DD-3. The change was purely cosmetic; rather than devalue the DD-X line right out of the gate by cutting the price after it was released, Boss slapped the “3” on the end while changing nothing else. At some point in the DD-3’s lifespan, Boss changed the chipset to a model that saved on costs and PCB real estate. With that said, there are versions of the DD-3 that contain what came to be known as the “long chip.” But because both units contain the exact same functionality, that fact is a collector’s footnote. Still, “long chip” DD-3s command a slight premium on the used market.
Digital pedals gave code monkeys equal footing in the music gear scene with the grumpy amp tech we all know, paving the way for present-day digital visionaries to create a new generation of effects units. While the digital boom that followed the DD-3 sucked up a lot of the ideas, nowadays chips are faster, more reliable and perhaps most importantly, much smaller. Polyphonic octave tracking was only recently mastered despite 30 years of technological advancement. It’s exciting to think what the coming years will bring, and the seed was planted with the humble DD-2.