The best tape echo pedals act as musical time machines, transporting players back to the golden age of rock 'n' roll with their warm, shimmering echoes and hauntingly beautiful soundscapes. Today, the tape delay pedal market is more competitive than ever, with a wide range of options from the biggest brands to choose from. That said, for us, the most valuable pedals build on the technology that's come before, seamlessly blending echoes of the past with the modern features demanding contemporary players are looking for.
Today, we take for granted just how easy it is to add a little depth to our sound through delay. Back in the day, if you wanted to spice up your guitar tone, it involved rather large and cumbersome tape units – a far cry from just stomping on a pedal. These retro units would record the input sound onto a loop of magnetic tape and then play it back a short time later, creating the famous echo that captured the hearts of many players.
So, whether you're a purist looking to add an authentic vintage vibe to your playing or a modern player seeking new and innovative sounds, this guide to the best tape echo pedals has you covered. We have do-it-all options from Catalinbread and Strymon, a vintage throwback from pedal giants Boss, as well as affordable stomps from TC Electronic and NUX. So, no matter your style, budget, or available pedalboard space, you'll find your next tape delay pedal here.
We've also included some handy buying advice at the end of the guide if you fancy taking a deep dive into what makes this style of delay so special.
Best tape echo pedals: Our top picks
Drawing its inspiration from the celebrated Maestro Echoplex, the Catalinbread Belle Epoch delivers the quintessential tape echo tone without the inconvenience of real tapes! With a dedicated Sway/Mod control, you can customize the exact amount of tape flutter on the repeats to your desired needs. Simply put, this pedal is mega.
One of the latest tape echoes on the scene is the newly released Boss RE-202 Space Echo. Perfectly designed to recreate the magic of the original RE-201, this is the ideal unit for those looking for a modern interpretation of a retro classic that's made by the original company.
Now, we are fully aware that tape delay isn't exactly a cheap effect, so we've been sure to include a few affordable options – and chief among them is the TC Electronic Gauss Tape Echo. This inexpensive stomp delivers all the vintage tone you need with an added Mod switch which brings that much-loved worble to the repeats.
Best tape echo pedals: Product guide
The original Echoplex EP-3 was beloved by many, with rock legends such as Joe Walsh, Brian May and Eddie Van Halen counted among the thousands of players who relied on the bulky and unwieldy unit to achieve their tone.
For those seeking to recreate this mythical sound – without the fuss and astronomical expense – the Catalinbread Belle Epoch has got to be one of the best options available today. Catalinbread sought to modernize the glorious EP-3, shrinking the unmanageable unit into a pedalboard-friendly format that still retains the quirks that make the sound of the Echoplex so iconic.
From the preamp to its penchant for self-oscillation, the Portland-based pedal company has spent a lot of time and energy mimicking every aspect of this iconic delay unit.
The new Boss RE-202 Space Echo is a triumph. Perfectly reproducing the sounds – wards and all – of Roland's historic echo unit while also going way beyond the possibilities of the original, this is everything you'd ever need in a delay pedal.
As you'd expect, Boss has elevated the original design, bringing it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, with extensive control over every aspect of the sound, as well as 127 memories accessible via MIDI, tap tempo, reverb tail carry over and even a dry mute option.
So, if you've longed for the influential tone of the Space Echo, then the new modernized Boss version is most definitely for you. For us, this pedal is out of this world.
Read our full Boss RE-202 Space Echo review
When it comes to the best modern tape echo pedals, Strymon's El Capistan tops many player's lists, and for good reason. Providing a triad of tape machine types in one relatively small box, this high-tech stomp provides users with extensive control over everything from tape quality to machine health as well as other handy features.
The new and improved V2 builds on the celebrated pedal's past success, incorporating new features that take this tape echo to the next level.
The El Capistan now comes with full MIDI implementation, meaning you can control almost every element of the pedal with a controller or DAW, courtesy of the EXP/MIDI jack or USB-C connection – and there are a whopping 300 MIDI preset locations available for loading and saving your go-to settings.
Strymon has also added a spring reverb – much like what is found on vintage echo machines – which adds to this pedal's magic, turning the El Capistan into the full package.
Yeah, that's right, yet another pedal based on the famed Echoplex EP-3 – but with how influential and beloved the original unit was, do you really blame us? EP103 is brought to you by Dunlop/MXR and is just about as simple as tape echo is ever going to get.
Housing just three controls – Sustain, Volume and Delay – Dunlop has boiled down the EP-3 to its bare essentials while still providing the warm, rich and wobbly delay sound you are hunting for.
Much like other entries on this list, the EP103 does permit you to alter the age of the tape, meaning you can make the repeats as dark and gritty as you please. Better yet, you also have the option of tap tempo, allowing you to sync up your delay perfectly without any fuss.
The folks over at TC Electronic are renowned for making well-crafted, brilliant-sounding stompboxes that don't cost the earth, and the Gauss Tape Echo is no exception. Furnishing players with the warm, fat, fluttering tones they'd expect from a vintage tape machine, the Gauss Tape Echo is a superb addition to any pedalboard.
Much like the Dunlop pedal above, TC Electronic has opted for a simplified control layout, with just three dials and a designated mod switch for adding that much-needed worble to the repeats.
So if you want to pepper your tone with the unmistakable sound of tape delay but you don't want to shell out a crazy amount of cash, the TC Electronic Gauss Tape Echo is the pedal for you.
Up until now, we've only covered clever imitations of classic tape delay, but with the T-Rex Replicator D'Luxe Tape Echo, we get the real deal. Combining Danish engineering and a true analog design, this pedal is one of our favorites on the market.
The beauty of the T-Rex Replicator is that it not only reproduces the tone and feel of the original units by using genuine tape, it does so in a pedalboard-friendly format that's easy to use, maintain, and is loaded with modern features.
With a single record head and two playback heads, this pedal can produce everything from snappy '50s slap-back to elongated delays and so much more. If you've never tried a delay with real tape inside, we implore you to give this one a go – although we do warn you, you may never go back to digital.
This mighty little delay from boutique pedal masters Keeley isn't strictly the most accurate tape delay on this list, but it sounds too good not to include. Perhaps it's more accurate to call this a lo-fi delay with added modulation than a full-on tape echo clone.
Don't get us wrong, The Magnetic Echo certainly gets you in the right ballpark with a warm, saturated delay tone that has plenty of vintage vibes – throw in a little modulation and you can get some wild tones out of this stellar pedal.
So if you're in the market for a tape delay that isn't trying to be an exact copy of an old-school unit, then you may want to give this one a go.
In case the color didn't give it away, this budget stomp from NUX wears its inspiration on its sleeve, drawing from a certain Japanese echo machine we've already featured in this guide – the Space Echo.
We must say, this affordable pedal blew us away with the sheer amount on offer here. While NUX faithfully recreates the hardware of the original, utilizing three playback heads – albeit virtually – it does stray slightly from the iconic unit by including modern features such as MIDI in and out and a phrase looper.
This pedal is a far cry from the basic mini stomps NUX is most known for, with the NDD-7 bringing a somewhat boutique feel to its extensive catalog. So, if you've never given NUX a chance, we implore you to start with this incredible delay.
To say the original Faux Tap Echo was popular is a bit of an understatement – this amethyst stomp has been spotted on the 'boards of Jason Isbell, Seth Morrison, Jake Bugg, Tyler Larson, and Charlie Starr, among many more.
The newly updated version brings the same signature tape worble but also includes new features that elevate this already astonishing pedal. The most notable addition comes in the form of a sub-divisions switch located in the center of the pedal. This allows you to effortlessly swap between 1/4 note, 1/8 note, dotted 1/8 and triplet delays at the push of a button.
Like a few other pedals on this list, the Wampler opts for a hybrid design, marrying an analog dry path with a digital delay. This results in a pedal that befits from the pristine clarity and longer delay times of digital but also retains the warmth and charm of analog.
Designed in conjunction with Milkman Sound, this petite delay unit is the perfect accompaniment to a reverb-soaked tube amp – delivering the slap delay that country players dream of and so much more.
The Milkman produces more than just a stellar echo; it also incorporates a fully independent clean boost, ideal for solos or left on as a natural-sounding preamp. The delay side of the pedal consists of a quartet of controls – Slap, Mix, Repeat, and EQ – which allow you to shape your delay to suit any mix, guitar or amplifier.
For us, this is a must-have for players who like to keep it simple. Come on, a Fender Telecaster, a pristine clean amp, and the Milkman delay – what more do you need?
Best tape echo pedals: Buying advice
What is tape echo?
Tape echo refers to the sound produced by the tape machines found in the recording studios of yesteryear. Early producers and recording engineers discovered that they could use a rudimentary technique of recording the incoming signal onto a loop of magnetic tape, and when this tape eventually passed the reading head, it would create an audible delay. The delay time was then easily manipulated by simply adjusting the speed of the tape machine and more repeats could be added by routing the delayed signal back into the unit.
Of course, it wouldn't take long before companies would catch on to this recording trend, and a short time later, commercial echo machines became available – with the Maestro Echoplex and the Roland Space Echo being among the most popular units.
Due to the mechanical way in which the delayed signal is produced, the tone of a tape delay is very distinct. The tape adds a warmth and saturation that's incredibly pleasing to the ears, while the motion of the tape can cause a wobbling effect to the delayed portion of the sound.
Over time, as the tape degrades and gets worn out, the sound of the delay would change, becoming less crisp and sharp. Even though this is technically a limitation of the old-fashioned tech, the sound has become so beloved that all modern reproductions will include this sound in some form.
Where should the tape delay pedal go on my pedalboard?
We'd like to start this section by stating that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pedal order – if it sounds good, it's right! That said, there are a few common setups that most guitar players stick to.
Usually, the delay is placed near the end of the chain, before the reverb pedal, but after overdrives and distortion. This placement will give you the most natural sound, allowing the delay to react organically to the incoming signal coming from your other pedals.
However, it is worth experimenting with the placement. Placing a delay/echo pedal earlier in the signal chain can deliver some very cool and unusual sounds – so move your pedals around and see what interesting tones you can come up with.
Related buyer's guides
You can trust Guitar World