Catalinbread Belle Epoch – Faithful sonic recreation of the Echoplex EP-3 tape echo including the loved preamp.
The Echoplex EP-3 Tape Echo was used by countless guitarists including Chet Atkins, Duane Allman, Steve Miller, Gary Moore, Andy Summers and Jimmy Page to name just a few. The Belle Epoch is quite a different pedal from the Catalinbread Echorec which is based on the old Binson Drum Echo that was most associated with David Gilmour or Pink Floyd. Tape Echos generally differ in that that have more linear repeats and sound changes as tape ages adding more wow and flutter.
Original Echoplex’s are quite expensive collectors items. They are big and need maintenance for their tape drive. Not very practical for many players. Their are quite a few tape delay pedals available and I have not tried them all, but Catalinbread did a remarkable job with the Belle Epoch.
One of the most desired features of the old EP-3 Echoplex was its preamp. In fact many players would run their signal through the Echoplex without delays just for the sound of that preamp. The OLD Echoplex of course, was not “true-bypass.” Your guitar signal went through it’s audio path whether the echo was on or not. The dry guitar signal went through a relatively simple path of discrete pre-amp and on to a passive mixer stage and then out. But guitarists loved its slight boost and subtle tone-shaping added.
There are numerous pedals available that mimics just the EP-3 preamp. Catalinbread did some great work with the preamp sound of the Belle Epoch as well. In fact, you might find yourself using just the preamp section at times. Turning the Mix control all the way down and will only hear the dry signal that will add some touch-sensitivity.
The original Echoplex was not a “hi-Fi” unit. In fact, quite the opposite. As the echoes repeated, the signal got progressively degraded, losing low end and gaining a shiny, percussive top end with a bit of grit. This was one of its loved characters. Mechanically driven tape machine used to reproduce audio will suffer from “wow and flutter” especially when the tape ages. The Echoplex’s uneven motor speed, bumpy capstan wheels, and other mechanical issues would cause the tape speed to vary resulting in random slight fluctuations in the pitch of the echoes. EP-3 “lo-fi” sound was also a big part of what it sounded like. Many of the modern tape delay pedals can be a bit too pristine as the “wow and flutter of an old tape delay is hard to reproduce in a pedal. Bell Epoch does a wonderful recreation.
The Story from the Catalinbread site:
The Catalinbread Belle Epoch Tape Echo, has tape echo sounds so authentic you’d swear there was tape inside the pedal! Inspired by the Maestro Echoplex, EP-3 model, perhaps the most famous tape delay ever, the Belle Epoch features everything we love about the EP-3 in a small, maintenance free pedal format. We felt that a “tape echo” pedal was much more than just a standard digital delay with some “filtering” on the repeats. There are a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle traits of the Echoplex that needed to be implemented in order to be authentic. The preamp, the self-oscillation character, the ability to control the “record level” of the signal hitting “tape”, the wow and flutter, the way the repeats decay, the way the circuit interfaces with the amp and other pedals – all these things were important to get right. The original unit was used as a musical instrument unto itself and this is what we captured with the Belle Epoch.
Demos and idea behind the pedal from Catalinbread
Overview of Controls
Preamp – Famous for making your guitar sound better even when the echoes are turned off.
Quality of repeats – The Echoplex was not necessarily “hi-fi”. As the echoes repeated, the signal got progressively degraded, losing low end and gaining a shiny, percussive top end with a bit of grit. The first repeat is strong and then it gets more and more diffused as it repeats. And in a well-tuned unit, you could dial in the repeats “Echo Sustain” so that it would float almost indefinitely, or cross the threshold to self-oscillation
Record level – There’s a control on the EP-3 that sets how hard the tape gets hit. While this control was ostensibly used to optimize signal-to-noise ratio, set low it would give light and airy repeats and set high it would saturate the tape hard and give an awesome fat and grungy repeat tone.
Wow and flutter – We designed the Belle Epoch’s modulation control to simulate the daily mechanical irregularities inherent in original Echoplex units. This would typically include bumpy capstan wheels, uneven tape tension, uneven motor speed, humidity, and actual ghosts?
Head drag – The original unit had a unique quality that when moving the delay time slider it took a moment to catch up to the adjustment, creating a doppler like effect. The Belle Epoch reproduces this behavior while you turn the echo delay knob.