Epic Guitar: The "Dotted 8th" Echo Technique

(Image credit: Cindy Moorhead)

Back in the day when we budding guitarists were trying to learn tunes and licks from recordings, there weren't any YouTube tutorials, isolated tracks, on-pitch time shifters or online tabs...nothing. All we had were our ears and hopefully a really good guitar teacher to point us in the right direction.

I remember, early on in my playing, coming across certain guitar licks that sounded almost physically impossible to play. They were just too smooth sounding, with notes in incredibly intricate sequences. My first exposure to this sound was on Yngwie Malmsteen's "Blackstar," during the improvised solo directly following the acoustic intro. I simply had zero idea how this was done. Van Halen's "Cathedral" also had this sound.

Luckily, one of my guitar teachers knew exactly how to get it and told me it was produced using a delay pedal, but the notes had to be played in a certain rhythm and tempo with the delay to achieve the effect. So I ran out that day and got a delay pedal; it ended up being the BOSS DD-2, the world’s first digital delay in a stompbox form.

That incredible echo sound was achieved when playing straight notes, like a basic quarter-note pattern, but timing it so the first "echoed" note would fall in between the second- and third-played note, creating a dotted 8th-note rhythm (not an exact analogy, but think of a horse's gallop/"William Tell Overture"-type rhythm).

More examples of this great technique would be Paul Gilbert's "The Echo Song," Nuno Bettencourt's "Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee," Cacophony's "Desert Island" solo (at 3:05) and Buckethead's "Big Sur Moon." It's all really beautiful stuff.

Now for the solo on MaelstroM's "13 Within a Circle." I employed this echo technique with a "call and response" arpeggio—scale—arpeggio—scale motif.

How To Calculate the Delay Setting:

The tempo of the solo section is approximately 146 BPM. Keeping that tempo in mind, here's the formula to get the desired dotted-eighth “Cathedral" echo effect. Take 45 and divide by your BPMs (in this case 146), and the answer is your delay setting in milliseconds. 45 divided by 146 = .308, so that's 308 milliseconds

I was happy because 308 also happens to equal Yngwie's Ferrari 308, so my digital delay life had come full circle. What is crucial to remember for this effect is that the repeats or feedback on the delay should be zero and the volume of the delayed note should be the same exact volume of the original played notes. In other words, there should be no difference between volume of the played notes and delayed notes.

The Solo:

The "13 Within a Circle" solo is in B minor with alternating arpeggios and scales in a simple i—V—i—V progression. It eventually modulates to B major for a patented Bach cycle of 5ths: a B Maj, E min, A Maj, D Maj pattern, and concludes with a Beethoven inspired G major, B minor, B dim/F, F# major progression. The B dim/F is substituting for a C# dom 7th, which would be a secondary dominant in this case and adds a nice tension and resolution for the whole progression.

I've notated the examples as dotted 16ths instead of dotted 8ths. I know... I talked about dotted 8ths all along, but don't let this confuse you; it's really just based on what you consider the quarter note BPM (146 or 73), and since this solo section is actually the half time "breakdown" of the song, I've decided to notate them as 16ths. If it makes you feel better, pretend they're dotted 8ths. The formula for dotted 16ths is 22.5 divided by your BPM, so in this case 22.5 divided by 73 = 308. It's the same thing.

The Rhythm:

Inspired by Death's Chuck Shuldiner, the first part of the rhythm is very reminiscent of "Cosmic Sea," from their groundbreaking album, Human. The rhythm guitar then starts a descending bassline, outlining the aforementioned Bach-like cycle-of-5ths pattern in B major with the bass notes descending, and an ascending chordal "melody" counterpoint.


The "dotted 8th" Echo Technique is great to experiment with and can open up sonic doors for you that may have been previously closed. The key is to lock your playing with the delay time. Check out the examples I mentioned earlier by Gilbert, Bettencourt, etc., as each one is another "take" on this amazing technique.

Joey Lodes is the guitarist in MaelstroM. He has lectured at Juilliard, was selected to perform at the Guitar Gods Festival in 2016 with Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen—and his guitar work has been included in courses for TrueFire.com.

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