I wanted to share an interesting story and historical piece for you, our dear readers. First some background on the Echoplex tape echo. If you haven’t played through an Echoplex, they are truly legendary tape echo units and should be experienced. In the 1960s and 1970s, when you wanted echo, tape echo was the way to do it. When smaller solid state echo pedals emerged during the mid ‘70s using Bucket Brigade Device (BBD) technology, they were convenient, but lacked the ability to produce long repeat times versus what a tape delay could offer (most analog solid state delay pedals were limited to just 300ms. of delay time). They also sounded different.
Still to this day, many artists remain faithful to the tones that tape echo units can provide. Tape echoes provide a mild chorus-like or pitch shifting effect due to the wow and flutter of the tape. They also have a warmth and natural decay that digital delays cannot produce since a digital delay simply converts the signal to exact repeats – and feels a bit sterile in the process.
Eddie Van Halen used an EP-3 tape echo unit on the first several classic Van Halen records. It can be heard doing slapback sounds on “Ain’t Talkin Bout Love” as well as runaway spaceship sounds at the end of Eddie’s famous solo, “Eruption”.
Recently I had been repairing a number of pedals for George Lynch and after I returned the last batch to him, I asked, “O.k. so what else have you got for me?”
Truth is, I had gone through a recent and difficult end to a relationship just prior to the holidays, so I was genuinely hungry to keep my mind busy with whatever projects I could.
George replied, “Well, I’ve got a basketcase. It’s Eddie’s old Echoplex he used when Van Halen was still rehearsing in David Lee Roth’s basement at his dad’s house.”
Two words entered my mind: Holy Shit.
I grew up on Van Halen and being able to now get a chance to repair something that he once used was an honor. And what great timing it was to be able to work on it post break-up and during the holiday season as a perfect distraction.
I told George I’d love to check it out and see if I could get it running again. George acquired it from one of Ed’s old techs and it hadn’t been working in decades. George had it in his collection and for whatever reason, he also wasn’t able to get the unit repaired. Hence, he labeled it his basketcase. Besides, George already had his own earlier tube model EP-2 Echoplex that he used on the early Dokken records. So I asked him to give me a shot at fixing it.
When I received the EP-3, I opened it up and it immediately felt like something Eddie would own. It was beat up, and the case itself was wrapped in tape to hold it together. It was also modified with the sustain (echo repeat) knob removed and in its place was the power on/off switch. A jack was then added so that an expression pedal could be patched in to allow for a foot-controlled runaway echo effect (likely for the end of Eruption). The original faceplate was missing and in its place was now a group of stick-on labels made from a Dymo home label maker.
The inside of the unit was original other than the modifications made for the sustain jack and power switch. The unit had several problems but long story short, was fixed. The electrolytic capacitors dated back to 1972 and 1973 were changed. It most notably had a direct short on its circuit board near the power supply, along with several components being way out of spec. Lastly, the motor itself was incredibly dirty and didn’t run. After troubleshooting the issues and making the necessary repairs, I also cleaned and demagnetized the tape heads, and installed a new tape cartridge.
I plugged the EP-3 into my Soldano SLO, cranked it up and began to play the opening riff of “Ain’t Talking About Love” and then went into dropped D and started on “Unchained”. It was glorious fun and I loved bringing Eddie’s old EP-3 back to life.
(Quick 30 second clip play-testing through the EP-3 below)
After noodling for another 30 minutes or so, I turned off the power to the EP-3 and the Soldano and just sat and stared at the beaten up EP-3 box in front of me. I had just played through something that was owned by the man who most influenced my own guitar playing when I was a teen. A true legend and a creative genius. The EP-3 had been dead for decades and now, here it was, in my own house now getting a second shot at life.
I packed up the unit and sent it on its way back to George, knowing full well that he’ll be using this for years to come for any number of his numerous musical projects. Yes indeed, 2017 is starting off to be a great year.