Reel Deal: The Echoplex Tape Delay Now and Then

Echoplex tape delay units have been a salient element in the tone of guitar greats since their introduction in 1961. In the early days, there wasn’t another game in town when it came to discreet and portable echo units which accounts for its early usage. It's long-term iconic status, though, comes from its expansive echo capabilities and gritty tonal character. Speaking about his time with the Police, Andy Summers has said, “That changed the sound of the band once I got the Echoplex.” Fellow Echoplex enthusiasts include Neil Young, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and Tom Verlaine. Verlaine used the preamp of his EP-3 model sans echo “just to goose it up” in reference to his heroic guitar tone on Television’s legendary LP, Marquee Moon.

The treasure hunt associated with chasing down a fully functional and affordable Echoplex has opened up a market for boutique and larger scale effects builders to put their own spin on a timeless design. Whether original or homage, players have quite a few choices when they want to attain those classic warm repeats.

Take a look at some key options to consider if on the hunt for the preamp or echo functions of the one and only Echoplex.


Echoplex EP-1 and EP-2 Tape Delay

These are the oldest and most sought-after of the original units due to their utilization of vacuum tubes as well as their historical significance. They were produced in the early- to mid-'60s and can be found in brown or grey leatherette boxes. Generally, they only say Echoplex and make no mention of the company responsible for making them (Market Electronics) or distributing them (Maestro). Some say the tubes make these models the king of the heap. However, they are notoriously difficult to service and will set you back more than a few duckets.


Echoplex EP-3

The EP-3 is the Echoplex sound of the '70s. It used solid-state technology and designed by Mike Battle, the creator of the aforementioned tube versions. They tend to be more reliable than their predecessors and can be found for much cheaper. The FET preamp in the EP-3 is the circuit that players and builders reference when they talk about bypassing the echo all together and using the Echoplex exclusively as a preamp. The EP-3 comes in a black box and most have the multi-colored Maestro logo on the front. They will also say "solid state" right above the "sustain" knob on the control panel.

Maestro Echoplex EP-3 Solid State Tape Delay: Andy's Vintage Picks

Echoplex EP-4

The Maestro Echoplex EP-4 is the least sought-after of the vintage designs. They are solid-state just like the EP-3 but were not designed by Mike Battle, and have notorious issues with build quality. The EP-4 is also known to have well-intentioned design flaws that degrade and compress audio signals in a way that is generally not desired. You know you are looking at an EP-4 if it comes in a black box and says "Maestro Echoplex" in two-tone black and silver on the front. The control panel will have an LED input meter and a new set of tone controls. Unlike the EP-3 there is no sound on sound feature. All that being said, it still sounds like an Echoplex and can be found for a bargain.


Fulltone Tube Tape Echos

Fulltone was the first boutique brand to step up and produce a true tube tape echo based on the EP-1 and EP-2. These use 12AX7 vacuum tubes and nail the vibe of the original Echoplex units without the noise and reliability issues associated with them. The Fulltone Custom Shop has also announced that they are producing a Solid State version with the EP-3 preamp circuit intact.


Catlinbread Belle Epoch

While not technically a tape echo in any sense, Oregon builders Catalinbread have done a really great job of creating a pedal based on the EP-3 with a small footprint and big tone. Though a digital pedal, they have reproduced the EP-3 preamp circuit faithfully and were thorough in capturing the nuances of the EP-3’s sonic architecture and behavior. Great for the touring musician or someone that wants the Echoplex sound without having to take home a big box that costs big bucks.

Catalinbread Belle Epoch EP3 Tape Echo Emulation | Reverb Demo Video

Dunlop EP101 Echoplex Preamp

A number of years ago Dunlop bought the rights to the Echoplex name and started a lot of buzz on web forums about the possible reissue of the famed tape echo. The EP101 Preamp is a true bypass replica of the infamous EP-3 circuit and only product to come out using the Echoplex name since Dunlop acquired it. Boasting a gain boost of +11db it does one very specific thing and does it very well. At $119 it is by far the cheapest thing on this list and a great buy for someone in search of the EP-3 preamp tone without a need for its echo capabilities.


Xotic Effects EP Booster

Similar to the Dunlop option, the Xotic Effects EP Booster delivers a faithful replication of the preamp section of an EP-3 in a small footprint pedal. This pedal has earned a reputation as an all-purpose tone enhancer, and has received substantial praise from the pedalhead community since its release. It's layout is simple with just one tone knob and internal dip switches to control the EQ curve. The result, however, is a mystical replication of the original EP-3 preamp, which expands and bolsters the natural tones of your amp, guitar, and other pedals.

Xotic EP Booster | Reverb Demo Video
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