Tape de­lay

Computer Music - - Make Music Now -

The de­lay ef­fect is ubiq­ui­tous in pop mu­sic. From Buddy Holly’s slap­back to the Edge’s dot­ted echoes, there are few clas­sic records that don’t have some kind of de­lay pro­cess­ing in play. All DAWs in­clude built-in de­lay ef­fects, and there are plenty of free op­tions around. It can be a quick and easy sonic sweet­ener, or the ba­sis upon which an en­tire com­po­si­tion can be built.

Yet de­lay wasn’t al­ways so easy to come by. The echoes on many clas­sic records were cre­ated us­ing me­chan­i­cal means, the only way to cre­ate the ef­fect be­ing to use a loop of tape on a reel-to-reel tape ma­chine. This tech­nique was of­ten used by avant garde com­posers such as Karl­heinz Stock­hausen.

Sim­i­larly, Abbey Road en­gi­neer Ken Townsend fed sig­nals into a sec­ond tape ma­chine for de­lay, and then var­ied the sec­ond ma­chine’s mo­tor speed to cre­ate the now fa­mous ADT (Au­to­matic Dou­ble Track­ing) ef­fect so beloved of John Len­non. This was also used to pro­duce flang­ing – more on that later.

Need­less to say, a ded­i­cated de­vice was needed and, in fact, prod­ucts of this sort were avail­able long be­fore the Fab Four set foot in Abbey Road. Amer­i­can Ray Butts de­vel­oped his tape-based Echosonic in 1953: built into a gui­tar amp, it was cham­pi­oned by 50s icons in­clud­ing Chet Atkins, Carl Perkins and Elvis Pres­ley gui­tarist Scotty Moore, who used it on ev­ery record he made with The King for 13 years.

By the end of the 50s, other man­u­fac­tur­ers had joined in, among them Brenell, who pro­duced a van­ish­ingly rare de­lay based on their pop­u­lar Mk5 recorder…

The Echoplex

The most fa­mous tape de­lay emerged in the 60s. First pro­to­typed in the 50s by elec­tron­ics whiz Mike Bat­tle and gui­tarist Don Dixon, the Echoplex was de­signed to pick up where the Echosonic left off. The first pro­duc­tion Echoplex hit stores in 1961. A year later, the patent (and Bat­tle and Dixon’s ser­vices) were picked up by a com­pany called Mar­ket Elec­tron­ics, who dis­trib­uted the Echoplex through yet an­other com­pany, Mae­stro. It be­came known as the Mae­stro Echoplex. The Echoplex fea­tured some true in­no­va­tions. A tube-based unit, its sound (with or with­out echo) was warm and invit­ing, but its big­gest con­tri­bu­tion was its slid­ing tape head, a de­sign that en­abled the user to ad­just the de­lay time. Ad­di­tion­ally, the Echoplex housed its end­less tape spool in a plas­tic car­tridge, pro­vid­ing pro­tec­tion for the tape it­self, and mak­ing re­place­ment some­thing of a dod­dle.

The orig­i­nal (and retroac­tively named) Echoplex EP-1 and its fol­low-up, the EP-2, were even­tu­ally su­per­seded by the solid-state EP-3, again de­signed by Bat­tle and Dixon. Alas, Bat­tle was not im­pressed by the change in sound and sold off his in­ter­est. Oth­ers, how­ever, were thrilled with the EP-3 and it be­came some­thing of a stan­dard, thanks to users like Jimmy Page, Brian May and Andy Sum­mers.

Fur­ther vari­ants of the Echoplex would later fol­low, but by the mid-1980s, dig­i­tal de­lays had eclipsed their clunky tape-based coun­ter­parts (there was even a dig­i­tal Echoplex, that would be re­leased as an Ober­heim prod­uct by Mae­stro’s even­tual owner Gib­son).

Space is the place

In the in­terim, Mae­stro had faced stiff com­pe­ti­tion from other man­u­fac­tur­ers of­fer­ing their own ver­sions of tape echo. Re­lated prod­ucts from Korg, Mul­tivox and WEM proved pop­u­lar, but it was Roland who made the big­gest im­pact with their Space Echo line.

Roland’s Iku­taro Kake­hashi had re­leased the Echoplex-in­spired, solid-state EC-1 Echo Cham­ber un­der his pre­vi­ous brand, Ace Tone, back in the late 60s. A few vari­ants fol­lowed.

By the end of 1973, Mr Kake­hashi had formed Roland, and pro­duced the RE-100 and RE-200, both of which added spring re­verb to the menu. Th­ese were fol­lowed in 1974 by the RE-101 and RE-201 Space Echoes, both of which dis­pensed with the short tape loops of their pre­de­ces­sors in favour of a lengthy un­spooled bit of tape that moved freely be­neath a clear plas­tic top panel.

The Space Echo line would be sold for an as­tound­ing 16 years, be­com­ing cher­ished by both gui­tarists and elec­tronic mu­si­cians alike.

Ded­i­cated to de­lay – hulk­ing tape-based tape echo units like this one were a fa­mil­iar sight in the loud ’n’ loopy 70s

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