Other Equipment

What to know about buying an Echoplex?

1

I've found a reasonable deal on an EP3. The unit appears to have been serviced recently and comes with some extra parts (and a new tape cartridge). I've read everything I could find on them and everything seems to check out.

Just wondering if there are any gotchas or red flags to look out for with these. I'm very comfortable with working on amps and electronics, and pretty good with mechanical stuff, so I'm not too worried about maintenance.

Are they really the magic boxes that they seem to be? Does the maintenance and upkeep eventually outweigh the magic? I'm an avid 35mm photographer, so I'm no stranger to sacrificing a little bit of convenience for a little bit of magic.

Thanks for any and all opinions.

Also, since it worked with my last two posts like this, if anyone has a tape delay they're trying to unload, let me know.

2

They are magic. I’ve owned and used one for close to 28 years. Quite reliable. The overDrive quality is so unique and simply fantastic Enjoy.

3

YOU will love owning an Echoplex. For the reasons you mention - electronics experience, mechanical aptitude - plus the fact that you're fearless but not foolhardy. You'll identify with the machine in the sense that, once you have some hands-on (and I know you've already done the background research on how and why it is what it is), you'll develop an instinctive sense for what it can do, what it can't do, when it's happy and when it's headed for trouble.

Not everyone should own an Echoplex. They do require ongoing (but not obsessive or burdenson) attention, and someone who expects pedal-like ruggedness, reliability, predictability - who is oblivious to old concepts like preventive maintenance and respecting the nature of the particular machine at hand - should not own an Echoplex.

Are they magic boxes? They certainly were when it's all we had that did that thing they do. But what WE were hearing (or at least I was hearing) was the intention of the effect. That is, just plain clear discrete echoes. All that other stuff that came along with the Echoplex's particular solution to that intention - ie, the "warmth," the darkness, the degradation, the wobble, etc - I wasn't crazy about. When there were no alternatives, I'm not sure ANYone loved all those artifacts. Our ears tuned in to the magic of the repeats peats peats eats and focused on that - until the noise and warble swallowed it, and then the tape itself.

About the time I'd reached the limit of my patience and forbearance with keeping an Echoplex going, analog and then digital delay became available in portable formats and at popular prices and I went that way and never looked back.

Pedals that specifically emulate Echoplex, or the Space Echo, or any particular other delay device of yore seem to me not only to try to optimize the unique good quirks of past delay technologies, but distill the bad parts out. They have less background noise; the warble, wobble, dirt, darkness, drive, runaway oscillation, tape crinkle and dropouts, generational signal loss and frequency squeezing are all emulated and thus controllable. They can be mixed in for color without our having to truly worry the machine might really swallow the tape and we'll have to dig it out, open the cartridge and splice the tape back together to make it through another gig. Now, in other words, we can focus on and enjoy the characteristics which arose as side-effects or unwanted by-products of the limited technology of the time.

But these pedals have also helped create and perpetuate a kind of fetishistic fascination with the machines of yesteryear, feeding the nostalgia of us old goobers and taunting the young into a kind of second-hand nostalgia for an age they never experienced firsthand, and its machinery. It's steampunk pedaling for the new century.

When I listed my Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer 200, bad 80s Hammond - and even first generation sample players - on Reverb, I was at first surprised that virtually all the interest was from guys in their 20s, I suppose the same demographic that's helping drive a resurgence of interest in recording with tape machines, and playing actual LPs. I swar tew GAWD it frosts my cornflakes that analog synthesis has made such a massive comeback. Same reasons, I think.

To be fair, there's something engaging and erector-set satisfying about the tactility of direct involvement with actual machinery (even if it's analog electronics), about real knobs and dials and tubes, about equipment that physically gets warm and smells good. Those characteristics aren't really effectively imitated in digital or software formats; the skeuomorphic attempts are sometimes faintly humorous. (Load up a plug-in of a classic compressor, and there it is on your screen with a mockup of a well-used front plate, actual knobs, glowing tubes, etc. And why? NONE of that has anything to do with how it sounds - and when the originals were made, the way they looked and felt were simply an intersection of form following function and the prevailing industrial design modes of the day.)

While musicians of all ages (with allowances for individual tastes) may love the sound and texture of electro-mechanical keyboards - Rhodes, B3, Wurli, Conti, Farfisa - or of tape delays, I find that most guys who actually used them in anger "back in the day" have shed a dry tear in their honor, cleaned them up lovingly one last time, then grunted and sweated them into packing materials, hefted them into the van and down to UPS, nursed their backs that night, and then not missed them much when they were gone.

I'm not here to argue about the relative sound quality of the originals vs modern emulations - and certainly there is something inimitable in the actual personal experience of the gear.

But there always were many more out-of-tune and ill-voiced Rhodeses, Wurlis with dead keys, B3s with grunting Leslies and noisy contacts, and Echoplexes with crinkle, dirt and warble than there were units functioning as intended. And man did that stuff get abused during transport and setup. Why wouldn't it? Either the scrawny, gig-tired and possibly chemically altered musicians barely had the ass to schlep the stuff (and thus banged cabinets on every piece of furniture and doorjamb between the stage and the van and the garage) or beefed-up beer-fueled roadies threw the stuff around to prove their virility. And no one felt like unloading the durn van when it was cold and wet outside, so we'll just leave everything in there till practice on Tuesday, howbout it?

ANYway. Just saying the ownership experience had a degree of raw physicality that even owning a Twin or a Marshall stack only hints at. God forbid the bass player had a dual-cab SVT. And of COURSE he did. By the time all that got loaded, and there was still a hole somewhere back in there for the Echoplex, just sling it in there and let's GO.

And look...now all this sounds like a kind of perverse uphill-in-the-snow-both-directions nostalgia for the good ol' days.

I'm good with all the "emulation" now available at a tiny fraction of the weight and bulk, and dead consistent and reliable. Durn Strymon El Capistan is like an enveloping sensual symphony of everything I ever enjoyed about an Echoplex. And if I want more broken than Strymon lets things get, there are plenty of dirty noisy lo-fi electronics in pedal form.

I have a little pedal called the Clari(not), an undistinguished noisy dark analog delay whose one superpower is the ability to emulate tape actually coming off the spools (but somehow remaining in contact with the heads) and spilling out on the floor. (I'm thinking of selling it because it turns out I don't enjoy that sound much more than I did when it was actually happening on my Tascam 2-track.)

Tape deck misfunctions. I think of a track on King Crimson's 1974 Starless and Bible Black, called "The Mincer" which ends when, the band in full improv, the tape deck eats the tape. You hear the warbles and the crinkles, the tape breaks, and that's the end of the song.


Really, I'm not denigrating the Echoplex. You're going to have a perfectly sane, balanced, and informed approach to it, enjoy it musically for what it is, and get a kick out of the machinery. You'll be able to keep it running as well as you like - and probably even be organized and foresightful enough to let one cartridge degrade in quality and keep a clean one around, so you can switch between those sounds.

It may inspire you in the way that only hot analog electronics and magnetic tape can (especially when it has a slight air of the anachronistic and exotic). It will probably appreciate in value while you own it.

You're its ideal 21st century custodian. Go for it!

4

You've had better luck than me, Fred. I've owned plenty and they have all fallen into the British sports car level of required maintenance. Nothing else sounds like one when in proper working order though.

5

I have this little pedal that is supposed to sound like the EP pre-amp and I think it sounds nothing like the EP at all (it's called Xotic EP Booster).

That is a great little pedal, and it was a mainstay on my board for a decade or so - just recently given a vacation, which could lead to retirement if the Wampler EQuator parametric works out. I reason the para can provide the warm mid boost the EP did, and so much more, making it a more productive pedalboard citizen (though it’s a bit bigger).

And yeah, full agreement. There’s nothing about the EP Boost which made me think Echoplex. I bought it without knowing it was meant as a plex preamp-alike - I just heard a demo where it fattened and warmed the tone of a clanky Strat, and was instantly sold. Wasn’t till much later I realized “EP” meant EchoPlex.

In fairness, there’s a trimmer inside to permit adjustment of the EQ center, and I’ve never turned that. Maybe there’s a plexier setting.

The real Echoplex preamp is as much a part of the effect as is the Space Echo’s pre, the emulation of which was the cornerstone of Tavo’s Nocturne Brain empire. His pedal is more distinctive than the EP though.

6

At one point I have five of them -- one was kool tube model. Those had bit of gain. Still solid state ones are great and they have to be tweaked up but long live Echoplex

7

Buy it! You could always sell it if it’s not want you want. I’d love to have one but not many made in 240v and not something you can easily just change the PT on.

I’ve got a copicat at the moment but have had strymon and even recently a Boonah. While the effects on these dsp effects sound superb they all did something unpleasant to the high mids in my tone. So I flipped em at a lost but at least I knew they weren’t for me even though most folk love em. I’d be interested to try the clari(not) that PRoteus mentioned.

I love analog delay but the tops roll off in the repeats. With the tape echo the tops seem to remain clear and bottom drops off. I didn’t notice this was the difference until I heard the Reverb demo of the echoplex ( playing holiday in Cambodia) and then tried it out with my copicat vs MXR-118 and was true.

I think I can hear the strymon unpleasantness to the upper range I was talking in this vid comparison between tape and strymon

8

Knowing how to clean and degauss/demag tape heads, and how to splice tape might be a good thing. Where to oil moving parts(and where not to) would also be helpful.

9

I see what you're saying Tim. The fact is, I already have delay pedals I like--of all voices: digital, analog, tape, clean, spacey, quirky. I don't need any more.

Having built my own tape delay (or at least, assembling the disparate pieces required to accomplish the same task with the same materials), I can totally imagine the relief one would feel after living through the tape era and them being introduced to digital effects. No quirks, no muss, no fuss.

I've lived most of my life in a digital world. Yeah I can remember using cassettes, rotary phones, TV antennas, typewriters, but those are very much childhood memories, only marginally more real to me than seeing those things in a movie. But maybe my age isn't the whole story. From my first experience plugging a guitar into an amp with reverb, I've been fascinated with these electromechanical devices. Being able to see the thing that does the thing, to hear the reverb spring when I lug my amp up the stairs, having to start the damn motor in a Hammond organ, to watch the tape go around, hearing the bump when the tape splice passes the head, gives more meaning to the results. If those same results can be got from a black box, even when the results are identical (as they pretty much seem to be with digital devices these days), cheapens the experience to me, as if the results aren't earned.

Maybe that's all pretentious hipsterism. I do, after all, listen to vinyl records purchased on the internet. I learned how to fix my 1948 Ciroflex camera from a YouTube video. Digital is obviously a great thing, as central to my life as food or music, so I don't think it's entirely a "second-hand nostalgia" as you call it, or yearning for a simpler world I never knew. I think I just like the tactility of the thing. As a scientist, a handyman, a tinkerer, I like watching the wheels (reels?) turn. I like bringing these devices back from their hibernation. Their age is just proof they were built to last. They're rare, and special, and used to be such a huge part of people's lives (I'll save my musings on antique cameras for another time).

I sold two Strymon pedals to afford the Echoplex.

10

You're handy, the price is right, there's nothing wrong with it : buy it. If you're lucky and it's a good one, they're not as much of a hassle as everyone says - mine runs great, sounds great and has only eaten tape once in the fifteen years+ that I have it. I do have to add to that mine was retired from stage duty long ago, and it's a studio/recording/fun at home box for me.

There's nothing out there that sounds and feels like an echoplex, and believe me, I've looked!

Things to watch for : the condition of the heads. If those are on their last legs, I think you're probably SOL as far as getting replacements.

11

I don't think it's entirely a "second-hand nostalgia" as you call it, or yearning for a simpler world I never knew. I think I just like the tactility of the thing.

Nosir, I get that for you it's not just the nostalgia.

Actually, since most of the results we now get from inert, silent artifacts with no moving parts or apparent mechanism seem akin to magic, the living, tube-driven, overheating, clanking Goldbergian world of actual physical machines could be called more complicated. There's already a huge divide between those who use digital devices as if they were utter magic, without the faintest appreciation for "what's under the hood" and those who understand how the underlying substrates of circuits, microprocessors, programming and interface actually work.

That divide will get wider; those who can manipulate the digital domain will be divided between black and white hats, agents of control, anarchy, order, liberty, chaos in shifting roles. Everyone else will live in their world: puppets, pawns, playthings, players, passive recipients of both the beneficence and the malevolence of the digital elite.

In the "old days," when more of our world was populated with clearly mechanical (and electromechanical) devices, we could all at least enter partway into the domain of the machine. To some extent, most were at least a little "mechanically inclined" - could see and understand the logic of the way things worked, diagnose and effect repairs. In that more complicated physical environment, I think we were more attuned to what made things tick.


It's interesting to me that the current trend in design of digital devices is away from skeuomorphism - away from making the digital "analogy" of the former real thing look in any way like it. Software and interfaces have gone from putting up 3D-looking approximations of real items from our past to dry, matter-of-fact flatness with no attempt to acknowledge the artifacts on which the functions are dimly based. Our interfaces are becoming less literal - as in borrowed from "real" things - and more conceptual.

The reason - and the accelerated result - is that "these kids today" don't know what a telephone was, a little black book, a tape recorder, a folding map, a reverb tank, a stat camera, border tape, pasteup board, etc. In one inevitable (and finally conclusive) argument, there's no need they should know. Functionally the new stuff so replaces and transcends its physical models that it just brings along useless historical baggage to insist that a new graphic designer know anything about the conventions of setting lead type, or that a child know what a telephone was. Those metaphorical interfaces were training wheels for us aging first pioneers from the actual into the digital; they helped us understand the new functionality.

Eventually, and probably rightly, those transcended progenitor artifacts will be museum-pieces.

Coming back down to music, I've seen software synth and plug-in interface design go from frank and (I thought) exuberant, loving, and entertaining attempts to make the screen look like a 3-D rendering of physical gear - to flat, shadowless, detail-free outline drawings of lines, circles, and other basic geometrical shapes which provide the barest, most efficient surface on which to use finger or mouse to make adjustments.

This at first seemed like devolution to me; Apple's original strength in the market - co-opted by Windows - was to incorporate imagery from the "real" world into metaphoric interfaces. Textual directories became folders, the disembodied arrow on the screen was a finger, etc. Computer geeks generally disparaged the "graphic" OS because it imposed a fictional layer of fuzzy interface goo onto a command-based textual environment in which the user issued cryptic commands as directly as possible to the processor.

So it initially seemed odd to me that Apple would lead the way in starting to strip away the details of that interface protocol. In the audio realm, where most plug-in developers are still making little screens that look like the thing being emulated, Apple dispenses with all that in the AU plug-ins, which are nothing more than function names with fields for numeric entry. The AU compressor, for instance, has far more parameters and functionality than any hardware comp I've ever seen - and I can't use it, because it turns out I didn't understand what was going on under the hood in a compressor as well as I thought I did.


But I digress. I've digressed from my own digressions. (In the old world of actual ink-and-paper publishing my spontaneous impressionistic brain downloads would never find a reader. In the crazy world of the future in which I live, however, I can deploy limitless electrons and spray pixelized digital ink across the world, with no one to vet, edit - or, possibly read - my disspewtations.)


As a scientist, a handyman, a tinkerer, I like watching the wheels (reels?) turn. I like bringing these devices back from the dead. The device's age is just a bonus. They're rare, and special, and used to be such a huge part of people's lives (I'll save my musings on antique cameras for another time).

Exactly. This is all completely honorable. At various times I've collected antique radios, low-end cameras, clocks, kitchen appliances, cars, and for much the same reason: to touch the physical world of past technology, to relive the magic people felt when the devices were new.

And after you've spent enough time, had enough experience, in those domains, you may tire of their compromises and quirks and come to re-appreciate the brave new digital analogs. Or not.

The last piece I let go, because no matter how good the emulated versions are (and they're very very good), they still can't touch the aural effect of being in the same room with the real thing, was my little Leslie cab. Somehow you just can't imitate what it does in a room - nor do recordings capture it, for that matter.

After you get the Echoplex under your belt, you'll need a real rotary speaker.

12

Nah, you get the theremin next.

13

I keep getting tempted by the TC helicon alter ego pedal. So I can go through the flavours of echo plex's, copy cats, Binson's etc,. But really, I only ever use slapback echo with one or three fast repeats.

Tempted to try it on a master bus for mixing something in the style of Bopping High School Baby by Don Willis....many have tried, most fail. Guess it was a tape truckin round the room. Sorry, no intention to derail, always curious about echo and how it was done

15

Theremins. Can't be emulated. Gotta be the real magical thing. They're a blast, especially when loaded with effects.

I built one from a PAIA kit, and it lives at my son's house now. Maybe I'll get it back.

16

Theremins. Can't be emulated. Gotta be the real magical thing. They're a blast, especially when loaded with effects.

I built one from a PAIA kit, and it lives at my son's house now. Maybe I'll get it back.

– Proteus

An hour spent with a theremin, distortion and delay/reverb will get you there. More fun than.... anything really

17

A lap steel under the same conditions comes close, though.

But yeah...theremin, Echoplex, overloading Leslie. Done.

18

Fun! I need to dust off my Echoplex

20

It's the ultimate hands-off musical experience.

21

I used a Univox tape machine in the late 70's and it served me well under constant use.

22

Hi Otter. Please let us know how it goes if you get it! Love to hear your thoughts

23

You'll be the first to know, Señor Castro. It's going to take a little while, maybe a week or more. I travel a lot for work, so I have to find a good time to make the deal.

24

Much appreciated, Otter! Love your work.

25

A Leslie on stage is a wonderful thing, People love to watch things go round and round. At one point I tried tow mini leslies, one going horizontally and the other spinning vertically, each on a different side of a stereo gig. With two it was a little much but I had to try it. Horizontal


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