Echo Units of the Greats

An echo is a reflection of sound that arrives in the listener’s ear some time after the original sound. It occurs in nature when a rock hits the bottom of a canyon. Bats, dolphins and whales use it to communicate. Guitarists use it to dramatic effect by adding ambience and color to songs with various delay devices. Guitar echoes come courtesy of tape machines, analog pedals and digital programming, providing a wide array of rhythmic patterns ranging in sound from subtle slapback to wild oscillation. It is one of the most used and beloved effects by guitarists, and some have used it to shape their signature sound.

David Gilmour, John Martyn, David “The Edge” Evans, and Jonny Greenwood all have something in common - besides hailing from the United Kingdom. Echo plays a significant role in their signal chain, making the work of Pink Floyd, Martyn, U2, and Radiohead rich with atmospheric grandeur. Here is a breakdown of some epic echo units and the guitarists that love them.

Binson Echorec - David Gilmour

The Echorec differed in construction from its tape-driven peers. Instead of magnetic tape, it used a spinning metal disc driven by an AC motor to give a unique tone. With roughly 300 milliseconds of available delay time, the Echorec had three settings: Echo, Repeat, and Swell. Echo mode produced shorter slapback sounds, Repeat mode offered standard delay, and Swell mixed overlapping delay lines for a reverb effect.

The Echorec was a fairly complex device, with three separate inputs and outputs, as well as six preamp tubes. It also featured the ridiculously cool ‘eye’ input level indicator, a glowing orb in the center of the unit. Six knobs controlled level, feedback, input volume, bass/treble, mode, and various combinations of the playback heads. Due to the nature of its construction and shorter delay time, the Echorec had a unique, modulated echo tone. Gilmour eventually moved on to digital units for more precise timing, but the Echorec is all over early Pink Floyd.

Maestro Echoplex - John Martyn

The Echoplex is the classic tape delay device for guitar. Designed by Mike Battle in 1959, it used magnetic tape, combined with recording and playback heads, to create everything from quick, faux-reverb slapback to longer, ethereal delays. While early versions had preamp tubes, later incarnations - perhaps most famously the EP-3 - were solid state.

In 1970, it wasn’t uncommon for guitar players to use tape delay. Martyn, however, used it with his acoustic guitar, creating a sound all his own. Combined with fuzz, wah, and a phase shifter, Martyn became the architect of unique sonic landscapes driven by rhythm. Martyn used EP-1 and EP-2 tube Echoplexes at different times during his career. Sadly, we lost Martyn in 2009, but his legacy lives on through his musical contributions and the unique approach contained therein.

Electro-Harmonix Memory Man - The Edge

Perhaps no guitarist is more ubiquitously associated with delay than David “The Edge” Evans, guitar player for Irish rock band/living legends U2. In U2’s early years, Edge used a simple setup consisting of his guitar into a Memory Man into a Vox AC30. Since then, he has moved on to a complex rig with multiple racks of effects including precise digital delay units. Despite all that, whenever I think of U2, I still think of the Memory Man, and it can cover a lot of ground if you’re looking for U2 tones.

There are several versions of the Memory Man, but the Deluxe Memory Man is the best choice to get into U2 territory due to its available chorus and vibrato. The pedal is a legend, and I always find it interesting to see a Memory Man alongside other super-capable digital delay modeling units on various pedalboards; there’s a reason it’s a classic.

Roland RE-201 Space Echo - Jonny Greenwood

Jonny Greenwood delivers jagged, jarring riffage and solos in Radiohead, but he also creates otherworldly effects and haunting arpeggios with the help of his Roland RE-201 Space Echo. Like the Echoplex, the Space Echo uses tape. Unlike the Echoplex, it has multiple playback heads and built-in spring reverb, adding to its cavernous capabilities. Greenwood uses both on various songs.

According to The King of Gear, an authoritative site on Radiohead’s gear, Greenwood retired his Roland unit in favor of the Boss RE-20 due to maintenance issues. The RE-20 is a great pedal and is of course designed to emulate the early Roland units. His use of the Space Echo varies, as he turns it on for some songs live (i.e. Optimistic) that he did not use it for in the studio.

  • Essential Sounds: Subterranean Homesick Alien, In Limbo, House of Cards
  • Alternatives: Boss RE-20 (also used by Greenwood as a replacement to his road worn Space Echos)

What echo is essential to your sound, and what artists have inspired you? Whether you’re a rockabilly fan or a shoegazer, echo is a staple for many musical genres, and it unlocks creative potential for those who are willing to fiddle with knobs and switches. Play on!


comments powered by Disqus