One of the greatest effects for electric guitar is also one of the earliest—the tape echo unit.
While the Echoplex, which electrical engineer Mike Battle and guitarist Don Dixon developed in 1959 and brought to market in 1961, wasn’t the very first commercially available tape echo, many guitarists still consider it the best.
Of the various tube Echoplex units from the Sixties (EP-1 and EP-2) and solid-state units of the Seventies (EP-3 and EP-4), most guitarists prefer the EP-3 for its preamp (which Dunlop recently duplicated with the EP101 Echoplex Preamp pedal), quiet performance, and enhanced sound quality of its delay signal, which was cleaner and brighter than that of the tube echo units.
No wonder that the EP-3 was the preferred choice of countless pros during the Seventies and Eighties, including Eric Johnson, Brian May, Jimmy Page, Andy Summers, Eddie Van Halen, and many other highly respected players.
Tape echo units fell out of favor as analog and digital delay technology became less expensive, and the bulky size, constant maintenance, service issues, and increasing scarcity of tape also didn’t help either. But for some players nothing else ever sounded quite the same or as good as a genuine Echoplex—until now that is, with the introduction of the EP103 Echoplex Delay.
The EP103 offers the same echo effects and controls as the original EP-3 Echoplex in a compact pedal format that’s the size of a Phase 90, plus a few new features such as an Age mode, selectable stereo or mono modes, an optional tap tempo control, and more. All that’s missing is the sound-on-sound feature, but that’s what loopers are for.
Like the original EP-3 tape echo unit, the Echoplex Delay pedal provides a relatively simple set of controls, consisting of Sustain and Volume knobs as well as a Delay knob that dials in delay times from 40 to 750 milliseconds, similar to the Delay slider that adjusted the placement of the record/erase head on the original tape unit. The Volume knob also provides a push function that engages the Age mode. By holding the Volume control down for about two seconds, users can adjust the Age mode to dial in darker, warmer tones and increased “wow and flutter” modulation that replicates the sound of worn-out tape. The final Age setting can be locked in, allowing users to access it instantly just by pressing down the Volume control.
An internal switch allows users to select a stereo output mode that sends dry and wet signals to separate terminals of a TRS splitter cable. Users can also engage a true bypass relay that cuts off the delay effect when the bypass switch is engaged or a buffered trails bypass mode that allows the delay trails to continue after the effect is bypassed. A wet mode is also available that sends the wet signal only to your amp. The EP103 can store all of these advanced mode settings using a simple knob setting and pressing procedure to access startup mode. The EP103 also includes a Tap jack for the optional MXR M199 Tap Tempo switch, which increases the maximum delay time to four seconds.
The original EP-3’s echo effect has a characteristic lush, three-dimensional sound that combines delay and warm, natural-sounding reverb. Most digital emulations of this effect sound comparatively flat, but the EP103 absolutely nails the EP-3’s unique character. The Age control is the key to much of this charm, providing the perception of depth and a distinctive pitch warble that’s similar to chorus. Chords sound rich and lively, while individual notes retain body and punch. The echo effects also sound great in front of a distorted amp and maintain excellent definition and clarity.
LIST PRICE $285.70
MANUFACTURER Dunlop Manufacturing, jimdunlop.com
• The Age mode replicates the warm sound and chorus-like wow and flutter of aged tape to provide truly accurate analog tape tones.
• The optional MXR M199 Tap Tempo switch adds a tap tempo function and increases the maximum delay time from 750ms to four seconds.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The drop-dead gorgeous effects of the original Echoplex tape echo live on again in the wonderfully versatile EP103 pedal, but without the maintenance, cleaning, and other headaches associated with a vintage tape echo unit.