Whether you’ve tinkered with a vintage tape unit or experienced a modern digital rendition of the classic, you know there’s nothing like that warm, warbly echo that gracefully fades into the distance. Images that jump to mind include the Binson Echorec, Echoplex, and Roland Space Echo. But what were some of the less famous but equally formidable tape units of days past?
This week, I dug deep into gear history to try and find tape units that might not have made as big of a mark on the heritage of guitar gear, but still occupy an important place in the development of tape delay technology.
Vox Short Tom Echo
To call this one a b-side might be a little unfair. After all, when Jimmy Page wasn’t making the most of his Echoplex (or at least the preamp!), he was known to rock this all British tube-driven echo. Originally designed by Jennings Musical Instruments, the Short Tom made it’s debut in the 1966 Vox Catalogue. While this might have been new to the printed page, Vox had been tinkering with tape delay devices since 1959. But where’d this tech come from? Jennings purchased some preliminary designs from the Italian builder Meazzi and developed them further for Vox. Not terribly dissimilar to the more famous Italian builds of Binson, the Short Tom also featured a variation of metallic tape on disc technology to record and repeat guitar sounds.
Korg SE-300 Stage Echo
I’ll admit it, I love Korg gear. So, when I discovered they built an echo box back in the day, my head almost exploded. While Roland had a four-year head start on the echo game with the release of the Space Echo, in 1977 Korg went to market with their own variation of the effect. In the end, the Korg SE-300 Stage Echo didn’t reach the popularity of its Roland counterpart, but it did have certain assets. For example, its delays were exceptionally long (up to 1500ms) and expertly clean, giving off an almost hi-fi feel that was unparalleled in that day. Korg also innovated by making an echo device that appealed to players of multiple instruments. For example, the SE-300 included a “sound on sound” feature that allowed synth and string players to build complex, multi-instrument echoes and oscillation. Given where we’re at more than forty years on with ambient music and synth-guitar collaborations taking center stage, I say we petition Korg for a reissue!
Univox EC-80a Echo Chamber
If you’re a fan of vintage, cartridge based video game systems, you might be into this delay unit. The Univox EC-80a Echo Chamber—at times known as the Brat Echo—is a small footprint unit that had almost 8-track like cartridges you’d plug in the back to get your sound pinging and ponging. Originally built and sold out of Japan in the 70s and 80s, the Echo Chamber had interchangeable tapes of different lengths, offering play and experimentation times of between 120-180 seconds. Lo-fi, spacey, warm, analog goodness, it’s all there, just pop in a cartridge and play.
We wouldn’t be where we are in music or gear today were it not for tape delay. While some powerhouse builds dominated the scene, the rise of the echo effect was a collective effort that included many other designs and a few unsung heroes.