Pedals Inspired by the Maestro Echoplex

The Maestro Echoplex has long served as the benchmark for guitar delay tones, not just for vintage slapback and tape echo, but for delay sounds in general. From the clear, yet warm quality of its repeats, to its penchant for musical oscillation and modulation, to the luxurious sparkle and boost generated by its legendary preamp, the Echoplex still reigns supreme in the minds of many guitar players, over 50 years after it was first commercially released. The list of famous users is lengthy and impressive, with Brian May, Chet Atkins, Andy Summers, Eddie Van Halen, Neil Young, and Jimmy Page counting among many other six-string luminaries that have made extensive use of this device's luscious echoes and distinctive tonal contours. It has even seen plenty of use outside the confines of the guitar universe, becoming a staple effect for recording and mix engineers, keyboardists, bassists, horn players, and other adventurous musicians.

Maestro Echoplex

Because the Echoplex has been so popular for so many years, finding a used one is not a difficult prospect. Finding a used one in decent working condition, for a reasonable amount of money, is much more challenging, but still far from impossible. The real difficulty in owning an Echoplex (or any other vintage tape delay) comes in keeping it maintained, finding replacement tape cartridges, and having the mental mettle to gig with a rather delicate, expensive piece of vintage musical gear. Obviously, even though we all love the sound, owning a real vintage Echoplex is not practical for everyone.

Despite this fact, all is not lost for Echoplex fanatics that find themselves ill-suited to the responsibility of vintage tape delay ownership. The vaunted legacy of this king of all tape delays means that its tonal qualities have been lovingly reproduced in all manner of rugged, affordable stompboxes. Some of these pedals mimic its thick tape delay tones, while some reproduce the richness of its preamplifier circuitry, and others even manage to do both. This is a trend that is just beginning to bloom in the effects world, and the future will likely see many more effects like these come to market, but in the meantime, here are handful of our favorite pedals that are directly inspired by the Maestro Echoplex.

Xotic EP Booster

Perhaps the most popular of modern Echoplex-inspired pedals, Xotic's EP Booster doesn't address the echo aspect of the unit at all, instead focusing on reproducing the famed preamp circuit of Maestro's EP-3 model Echoplex. The EP-3 was the first solid-state version of the tape delay, and enjoyed the longest manufacturing run from 1970 to 1991. As such, it was also one of the most widely used. It formed an integral part of the tonal foundation of players ranging from Eddie Van Halen to Jimmy Page, and much of the sonic magic it imparted was due to its wonderful preamplifier circuit, which added a rich high-end sheen even when the delay was turned off. Some players who didn't even care to use the echo kept EP-3s in their signal chain just for the preamp's legendary sweetness. With Xotic's EP Booster, one can achieve this same effect with a much smaller monetary and spatial investment. The EP Booster recreates the EP-3 preamp in a fun-sized enclosure, offering 20 decibels of discrete, FET-based boost, with internal switching for selecting between classic Echoplex brightness, and a flat, full-frequency push. It sounds remarkable, is very affordable, and is perfectly suited to any rig that could do with some added clarity and upper harmonic richness.

Strymon El Capistan

The El Capistan is a benchmark of delay tones on its own, and has done much to enhance Strymon's well-earned reputation as the modern day standard bearer of digitally-derived ambience. As one might guess from the clever name, it specifically recreates the warm tones of various tape echo machines, from professional quality recording decks found in studios, to classic effect units like the Roland Space Echo, and of course, the trusty ol' Maestro Echoplex. The El Cap's main Echoplex-inspired voicing is engaged by flicking its Tape Head switch down to the "single" setting. From there, one can choose from modes A, B, and C, which mimic various states of the Echoplex, including the EP-3's famous "Sound on Sound" looping mode. Controls for Tape Age and Wow & Flutter allow the user to add in varying degrees of grime and other artifacts of advanced age, tape degradation, and the all-around funkiness that is inherent in any elderly analog device. And because it's a Strymon product, the El Capistan also has a number of other hidden functions tucked away in its nooks and crannies, including a virtual tape bias control, tape crinkle, boost/cut, and a mighty fine spring reverb to complement its lush repetitions. Strymon's El Capistan is an all-consuming sonic playground for tape delay nuts, and when paired with a good EP-3-style preamp pedal, it captures the essence of a real Echoplex with remarkable realism and clarity.

ClinchFX EP-PRE

ClinchFX EP-PRE

ClinchFX is an Australian company that has recreated a bang-on copy of the EP-3 Echoplex preamp circuit in pedal form. First designed way back in 2007, the EP-PRE mimics the distinctively non-linear phase response of its inspiration, as well as its characteristic feel and equalization curves. The result is a simple one-knob pedal that offers varying intensities of the Echoplex preamp flavor as one turns the knob clockwise, attenuating bass response ever-so-subtly, while adding a mellifluous harmonic complexity that makes the guitar pop out of a mix and become three-dimensional. The EP-PRE is no boost, although it does increase apparent loudness by several decibels. Its real function adding the exact same color and depth that Maestro Echoplex owners know and love, but without the necessity of owning a rickety old vintage tape delay. For those that want boosting capabilities as well, ClinchFX also makes the EP Plus, which combines the EP-PRE with up to 18dB of clean boost.

Catalinbread Belle Epoch

"So," you may be thinking, "there are a few pedals that recreate the Echoplex EP-3 preamplifier circuit, and there is at least one that directly mimics its echo tones; why not combine these concepts into one pedal that encompasses the entire Echoplex experience?" It seems the crew over at Catalinbread was thinking this very same thought when they dreamed up the Belle Epoch. Catalinbread had already made the impossible possible by distilling the Binson Echorec's singular magic into a compact stompbox enclosure, so the obvious next step was to do the same thing with the Echoplex. The Belle Epoch is a success on all counts, meticulously duplicating everything from the signature response of the preamp, to the percussive nature of the degrading repeats, to the modulated sounds that could result from random mechanical anomalies or chronic maintenance issues. It even simulates the weird noises the EP-3 makes when it tries to catch up to the user's movement of the delay time slider. The Catalinbread Belle Epoch is the most comprehensive and lovely sounding recreation of the Maestro Echoplex experience we have yet seen, and apparently it was even good enough for legendary tone wizard Eric Johnson, who reportedly swapped out the real Echoplex on his touring pedalboard with a Belle Epoch.

Chase Tone Vintage Secret Preamp

Kyle Chase of Chase Tone is known among the nerdiest of gear nerds for his exacting replications of vintage amps and pedals, often built with NOS components for the ultimate in realistic vintage recreation. His company's Vintage Secret Preamp is a remarkably well built EP-3 preamp clone that goes beyond other, similar pedals in several ways. Firstly, it runs at 22 volts internally, which is the same voltage as the actual EP-3. Secondly, it offers two switchable modes for both the brighter, early EP-3 sounds, and the darker, later-era tones. Thirdly, it is built with the same NOS capacitors and resistors found in EP-2 and EP-3 Echoplexes. These features add up for a truly realistic EP-3 preamp feel and sound that is unlikely to be matched by similar designs. Like many Chase Tone creations, the Vintage Secret Preamp is a limited production item, so get one while you can.

Dunlop EP101

Dunlop's EP-3 inspired "tone conditioner," the EP101, evokes a powerful sense of Echoplexiness with its appearance, which recreates the original Echoplex logo on the face of the pedal (only Dunlop can do this, as it owns the rights to the Echoplex name). Kick it on and that sense becomes even more powerful, as the EP101 brilliantly summons the elusive, euphonious voice imparted by the Echoplex EP-3's preamp circuitry. The EP101 goes a little further in the boost department than the original, offering up to 11dB of extra output, for a taste of rich, juicy drive. Stick it in front of a good delay pedal, and you have a recipe for classic tone that every guitarist should experience.

The Maestro Echoplex is certainly one of the most important and influential guitar effects of all time, and its sound and feel have set a lofty standard for tonal excellence that few other effects have matched. I predict that the current trend towards replicating various aspects of this multi-faceted and eminently musical machine is just the tip of the iceberg, and that the future will bring many more pedals, multi-effect units, and software recreations of the Maestro Echoplex's complex, colorful personality.

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