Posts Tagged ‘tape echo’

Studio Reel-to-Reel Tape Dynamics and Double-Tracking White Paper

Posted by Ethan

Deco Tape Saturation and DoubletrackerOur journey begins with some of the earliest recording studios. The introduction of reel-to-reel tape machines and the creative engineers that used them brought on some of the fattest sounds imaginable. From the inherent warmth and luscious tape saturation—to the forgotten art of how these machines were manipulated—they are capable of creating a huge range of beautiful, distinctive, and enveloping sounds.

When we began this project of researching the technology, mechanics, and methods used, it was an important reminder that these machines really were the first effects pedals—they just wouldn’t have fit on your pedalboard!

The result of this in-depth study of tape are the sounds and technology found within Deco Tape Saturation & Doubletracker. Pete Celi, our Sound Designer and DSP Engineer illustrates the research and sound design process in the White Paper below.


Studio Reel-to-Reel Tape Dynamics and Double-Tracking White Paper

The inherent warmth of reel-to-reel mixing and mastering tape decks is well known and still highly regarded today. Described as making tracks sound ‘fatter’, ‘fuller’, or ‘punchier’, the intrinsic properties of the record/playback process create a level- and frequency-dependent dynamic response. This allows for transparency at low levels, with a reduction of harsh high frequency spikes on transient attacks and a harmonically rich low end. Running two decks simultaneously creates a host of sonic possibilities that benefit from the tonal enhancements produced in the record/playback process.

Tape Signal Coloring


The professional reel-to-reel machines designed in the 50’s and 60s were high-fidelity units built to accurately record and reproduce full-range audio signals. The NAB and CCIR recording standards in the US and Europe respectively called for a flat frequency response through record/playback process with minimal harmonic distortion. With that in mind, it seems like there’s not much opportunity for ‘coloring’ of the sound. However, the sound was shaped by a number of elements that result in dynamic equalization effects and saturation effects.

Record and Playback Equalization

Although the overall process has a flat response, the individual record and playback operations themselves are far from flat. The magnetic properties of the tape and self-erasure effects from the record head result in a loss of high-frequencies when recording, while the playback process lends a further high-end rolloff due to speed-dependent gap-loss effects. Low frequencies can experience a boost on playback due to a phenomenon known as ‘head bump’ that is dependent on the tape width. So how do we get a flat overall frequency response? Through an EQ process known as Pre-emphasis/De-emphasis.

The natural high-frequency rolloff of the playback heads is partially offset by equalization in the playback amplifiers. The remaining high-frequency loss of the playback process, plus the losses of the recording side, are equalized by boosting the high frequencies prior to recording. The equalization on the recording side is known as Pre-emphasis and the equalization on the playback side is De-emphasis. The overall response of the recording side (tape plus Pre-emphasis) has a boost in high frequencies, while the playback side (tape plus De-emphasis) has a corresponding cut in high frequencies. This scheme helps to reduce tape hiss issues. The low frequencies were also given a small boost/cut treatment to reduce low-frequency mechanical noise and any power-related hum in the NAB standards. The figure below shows the individual and combined frequency responses.

Figure 1

Fig:1 Record, Playback and Combined Frequency Responses



Furthermore, the introduction of noise-reduction circuitry in the mid 60s adds additional dynamic boost at various frequencies when recording, with a corresponding dynamic reduction during playback to further reduce tape hiss. The general ideas is – boost before recording and cut after recording to minimize noise.


Tape saturation characteristics are determined by a combination of many factors, including tape formulation, bias signal and track width. The 1965 NAB specifications stated that 3rd order harmonic distortion should not exceed 3% at peak levels (6dB above nominal level) . Their goal of course was for a sonically accurate record/playback system, and 3% third harmonic distortion on peaks is still very ‘clean’. In an effort to maximize signal-to-noise performance, recordings were generally done at the highest possible levels without noticeable clipping. Depending on the dynamics of the material, the transient peaks might experience much greater than 3% distortion. So, what happens when those VU meters are pushed further into the red?

Under normal operating conditions, a small amount of 3rd order harmonic distortion is present which contributes to some of the low-end warmth of the tape. Third-order harmonics increase appreciably as the recording level increases and fattens up the lows and mids, adding higher odd-order harmonics as the level is further cranked. The high frequencies (already boosted by the pre-emphasis curve) will be pushed harder into limiting while their distortion components will be largely inaudible but will contribute to intermodulation distortion during playback. Along with the tape saturation, signal path components such as transformers or tubes will also impart their sonic signature as they are driven harder based on circuit design parameters. Let’s see what happens when we put the whole system together.

Pre-Emphasis + Saturation + De-Emphasis = Dynamic Fatness

This is where the magic happens. In the absence of saturation and signal compression (when the signal level or recording level, or both, are low), the pre-emphasis and de-emphasis combine to preserve the the frequency and amplitude response of the input signal. When the tape is saturated (during peak transients or when the record level is cranked up), the effective high boost of the pre-emphasis is diminished as the tape cannot record larger signals. This results in a ‘flattening’ of the response of the recorded signal on tape. On the playback side, the playback heads and de-emphasis curve will roll-off the high frequencies, resulting in an overall spectrum that has reduced high end.

Figure 2

Fig 2a: High Bandwidth Signal Input Spectrums



Figure 2b

Fig 2b: Spectrums Recorded onto Tape (Blue dash is Pre-Emphasis EQ)



Figure 2c

Fig 2c: Output Spectrums After Playback (Red dash is De-Emphasis EQ)



From a tonal standpoint this means that harsh high-frequency peak transients, e.g. from hard strums or pick-attacks, are fattened by not only the dynamic amplitude-limiting of tape saturation and compression, but also by the effective dynamic frequency-limiting of the playback process. This, along with the 3rd-harmonics of the lower frequencies serves to add punch and fullness to the sound in a subtle but effective manner. Turning up the recording level intensifies this effect and rewards dynamic playing.

Double Tracking Effects


Double-Tracking effects are achieved by combining two copies of the same signal in various manners, creating effects that include thru-zero-flanging, comb-filtering, chorusing, doubling, echo, and split-stereo effects. While the legendary Les Paul pioneered the techniques and concepts of double-tracking and multi-tracking effects, the effects were popularized in music recorded in Memphis and London in the 50s and 60s.

Slapback Echo

How it was Done in the Studios

The input signal was routed to two decks simultaneously. The 1st deck records the input signal, along with the playback signal signal from the 2nd deck. The tape speed and distance between the record and playback heads of the 2nd deck determines the echo time. This arrangement allowed for real-time live-performance echo to be created and recorded for vocals and guitarists as they tracked their parts in the studio.

Figure 3

Fig 3: Slapback Echo




The echo time was fixed based on the tape deck’s physical head distance, but most decks allowed for a half-speed option, so the delay time could be doubled by running the machine at the slower setting.

Inverting the phase of the echo deck creates a subtle difference in the low-end response that can sound more natural in some applications, as the sound-wave is inverted in a physical reflection.

Thru Zero Flanging and Comb-Filtering

How it was done in the Studios

After recording the original signal, it was played back while the sync signal (record head output) was sent to the 2nd deck’s input. Both deck’s playback outputs were mixed together while the lag deck was sped up and slowed down, creating a dramatic sweeping comb-filter effect as the lag deck crosses through ‘zero delay’ time relative to the reference deck.

Figure 4

Fig 4: Through-Zero Flanging




Because both playback heads were being monitored, the effect had an inherent delay from input to output and hence tape-flanging was not a real-time effect, meaning not able to be used in a live performance situation.

For static comb-filtering effects, the decks are run with a constant offset lag between them.

Through-zero flanging was typically used on a full-range mix as the high frequency content intensifies the effect of the high frequency comb-filters, which is where the action is as the lag approaches ‘zero’. Similarly, it sounds great with heavily distorted guitar signals.

Another set of tonalities can be had by inverting the phase of the lag deck so that the signals experience a cancellation instead of a reinforcement as the delay approaches zero.

Tape-Chorus and Doubling

How it was done in the Studios

The chorus and doubling effects used slightly longer delay times that do not cross through-zero but still required using the sync signal from the reference deck to send to the lag deck. Chorus will typically run the 2nd deck at a lag time between 10ms and 30ms, with slight manual manipulation of the deck speed to modulate the delay time for movement in the sound. Doubling effects would be achieved around 40ms to 60ms with or without additional speed modulation.

Figure 5

Fig 5: Tape Chorus and Doubling




A phase inversion of the lag deck will produce a different response most noticeable in the low end. Experimentation determines which polarity sounds ‘better’ in a given environment.

Stereo Splitting Effects

Double tracking techniques were also used to create stereo effects from a single track using the same methods as above, but with the output of one deck going to the Left channel and the other going to the Right channel. Instead of being summed electronically through a mixing console, the decks are ‘mixed in air’ acoustically. This creates a very different effect as the three-dimensional acoustics of sound and reflections means that the complete cancellation and reinforcement of electronic comb-filtering does not occur when the signals are mixed acoustically. With both decks in sync at zero lag, a slight modulation of the speed of the lag deck creates a subtle panning movement between the channels due to the precedence effect. Increasing the lag time creates a spacious stereo chorus. Further increases in the lag time result in natural doubling and slap effects where the echo is physically displaced from the source.

Figure 6

Fig 6: Stereo Splitting Effects




With zero lag and no modulation, a phase-invert switch on the lag deck acts as a channel phase switch which can come in handy with dissimilar cabs, or amps or speakers that may be wired out of phase. At longer lag times, a phase inversion will give a subtle change in tonality and stereo image.

Les Paul: The Original Doubletracker

Posted by Michael

Les Paul and Mary Ford - The original doubletrackerYesterday, we piggybacked off of Pete Celi’s Premier Guitar article and, with the aid of the Omega Studios and David Goodermuth, demonstrated how a reel-to-reel tape machine can be used to double-track a song portion and create a flanging effect.  Today, we’re going back to double-tracking’s original innovator, Les Paul, whose experimentation with multi-track recording and early tape effects such as slapback echo (which he achieved by using two tape decks and mixing the playback from one deck with the recorded signal on another deck) opened up new sonic possibilities and pushed the boundaries of popular music.

In fact, as you’ll hear in this video, many folks who had heard Les Paul’s music at the time were under the impression that his music was reliant on “studio magic” and could not have been created by just one or two people.  Well, call it studio magic, but Les Paul had the skills as both a musician and a sound engineer to create recordings that were vastly ahead of their time.

Enjoy this awesome time capsule of Les Paul and Mary Ford showing off their chops as musicians while demonstrating their groundbreaking, multi-track recording techniques.

Pete Celi’s Premier Guitar Article – A History of Doubletracking

Posted by Ethan

Our own Pete Celi is at it again—tracing today’s popular guitar effects such as flanging, echo, and chorus to the early days of tape recording studios.threepedals_WEB

In his recent Premier Guitar article, “State of the Stomp: A History of Time (-Based Effects),” Pete elaborates on how, starting in the 1950s, savvy engineers created new audio effects by experimenting with double-tracking:

“(Flanging, chorus, and echo) originated as double-tracking effects, used to create the impression of two parts when in fact only one part was performed. They all work by creating a replica of a signal, and then mixing the original and the replica together with slight timing differences between the two.”

Throughout the article, Pete sketches out a progression of these time-based, double-tracking effects, exhibiting enormous respect for both the engineers and the vintage equipment that helped create these new sounds.  While he admits that sound technology has come a long way over recent decades, Pete understands that, while it is his job to push guitar effects forward, it is crucial that he also admires the special nuances and unique characteristics of these early, tape-based, double-tracking effects:

“Nowadays we have enormous computing power available on a single chip. Still, when creating modern double-tracking effects, we often invest much effort in replicating the sound and soul of the . . .  time-based effects painstakingly developed by the recording engineers of the ’50s and ’60s.”

For the full story on how these double-tracking effects developed, read Pete’s full article here.

Frippertronics – A Retro Look at Sound on Sound

Posted by Michael

Although it was not the first account of experimenting with sound-on-sound tape looping, Frippertronics, the brainchild of guitarist Robert Fripp (and fellow artist Brian Eno), remains an important breakthrough in the practice of live looping.

Remember, you can enter the El Capistan’s Sound on Sound Mode by setting your TAPE HEAD switch to SINGLE and your MODE switch to C!

Artist Feature: Sound on Sound with El Capistan

Posted by Angela

El CapistanA few weeks back Hugo did a blog on Sound on Sound with El Capistan. I thought it would be fun for this Artist Feature to take a look at what you have been doing with Sound on Sound. Check it out below.

What better way to start off than to double up the looping! Here is Dennis Kayzer looping with TimeLine and adding in some fun Sound on Sound loops with El Capistan.

BigMachineWriting takes us on a musical decaying journey. Enjoy :)

Elias Checco put together this fun reggae jam with the added bonus of Mobius in the mix.

And you don’t have to just play guitar, check out this funky bass loop by Arthur Wouters.

Westlenz gets loopy!

Krayuns shows in 15 seconds how to drastically change your Loop

iamneff posted this loop

And then two hours later post of the same loop

Do you have a video or song featuring El Capistan Sound on Sound? Please share below.


Vintage Guitar is giving away an El Capistan dTape Echo!

Posted by Ethan

Enter to win an El Capistan at Vintage GuitarLooking to add some vintage tape echo sounds to your rig? This month, our friends over at Vintage Guitar magazine are giving away one of our El Capistan dTape Echo pedals.

Head on over to the Vintage Guitar website, register to be a member of their site and to enter to win. Good luck! :)

Enter to Win!

More about El Capistan:

Nate Walcott from Bright Eyes

Posted by Ethan

Nate Walcott's pedalsNate Walcott is an arranger, composer, keyboard player, and trumpet player. He is a member of the band Bright Eyes, and also plays in Conor Oberst’s Mystic Valley Band.

Nate recently sent us a few photos of his live setup. He is utilizing a blueSky reverberator in his Hammond pedal board, and an El Capistan and Ola Chorus & Vibrato in his Rhodes pedal board. He will also be adding a Lex to his setup over the coming weeks.

In addition to his time with Bright Eyes, Nate has also toured with Lullaby for the Working Class, the Autumn Defense, Rilo Kiley, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. In the studio, he has contributed arrangements to artists such as Maria Taylor, Pete Yorn, Cursive, The Faint, Rilo Kiley, Rachael Yamagata, and The Concretes.


Here’s a video of Bright Eyes performing Jejune Stars live at Lollapalooza, August 5th, 2011:

El Capistan Sound on Sound looping tips

Posted by Ethan

El Capistan dTape EchoIf you have an El Capistan on your pedalboard, you’ve probably spent some time having fun with the Sound on Sound mode. This mode is a complete recreation of a sliding head style mechanical tape loop system. It’s not a standard digital looper, so there are some pretty cool possibilities here.

I’ll be going over a few tips and tricks that you can use to make the most of this tape-style looper.


How to enter Sound on Sound mode

To enter Sound on Sound mode, select Single tape head Mode C. When you enter Sound on Sound mode, the machine is already recording, just like a real tape echo machine. El Capistan Sound on Sound mode is like having a tape-based looper inside a pedal.


How to splice and bulk erase your loop

You can instantly “splice” your own custom tape length in real-time. Press Tap once to set your splice ‘in’ point, and press Tap again to set your splice ‘out’ point. You can do this as you play or after you’ve recorded material to the loop. Pressing Tap a third time completely erases the tape and resets back to the original loop length.

» Click here to read the rest of the article »

El Capistan gets Premier Gear award from Premier Guitar Mag!

Posted by Terry

As you may have seen in the November issue, El Capistan won the Premier Gear award from Premier Guitar Magazine. We are extremely honored.
… both about the award and that they did an additional write up in the current December issue of Premier Guitar. How cool of them!
Read it here:

Premier Guitar loves El Capistan!

Posted by Ethan

We’re very honored that Premier Guitar has deemed El Capistan worthy of their Premier Gear moniker, and extremely proud that it has received 5 out of 5 stars. They call El Capistan “one of the most ambitious and clever applications of DSP we’ve seen in a stompbox.”

Read the review!

Huge Racks Inc is giving away an El Capistan!

Posted by Ethan

Win an El CapistanOur friends over at Huge Racks Inc are giving away an El Capistan dTape Echo! Head on over to their site and enter to win. Registration to their forums is not required but suggested!

Giveaway ends November 1!

enter to win!

Pete Thorn El Capistan video demo

Posted by Ethan

Pete Thorn, guitarist for Melissa Etheridge, Chris Cornell and Don Henley, recently put together a very cool El Capistan dTape Echo video demo. He’s only had the pedal for a day or two and already managed to whip together this excellent demo. Check it out!

blueSky and El Capistan – drippy, shimmery music video

Posted by Ethan

Hey everyone… You may know me as the Strymon marketing guy, but i’m also a guy that spends way too much time writing songs and making videos. Here’s a piece I put together the other day that starts out with an old Univox drum machine running into both blueSky and El Capistan. The knobs slowly get cranked up all the way to create a wash of drippy shimmery drum machine echos.

I decided to turn this drum machine effects noise fest into a more involved piece, so I added piano, guitar, drums, vocals and some synths. El Capistan is also used heavily on the Roland Juno-6 and Yamaha DX21 synth parts. Hope you dig it.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor / El Capistan

Posted by Ethan

David Bryant from Godspeed You! Black Emperor just sent us a few photos of his El Capistan at The Pines recording studio.

links: >> the pines recording studio >> godspeed you! black emperor

El Capistan - David Bryant of Godspeed You Black Emperor

El Capistan - David Bryant of Godspeed You Black Emperor

El Capistan - David Bryant of Godspeed You Black Emperor

Win an El Capistan dTape Echo!

Posted by Ethan

Congratulations to Scott H. of Boulder Creek, CA! The El Capistan is yours. Thanks to everyone that entered, stay tuned for the next contest! :)

Enter to win an El Capistan dTape EchoYes, that’s right. You have a chance to win a brand new Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo. No purchase necessary to enter or win. The winner will be chosen randomly from the list of qualified entrants. Hurry, the contest ends September 1, 2010. Ok, go!

The rules:

  • Click the ‘Like’ button on the top of our Facebook page or on our Facebook link below.
  • Enter the contest form below.
  • That’s it!

The prize:

El Capistan
Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo pedal!

The terms:


Enter the contest:

Congratulations to Scott H. of Boulder Creek, CA! The El Capistan is yours. Thanks to everyone that entered, stay tuned for the next contest! :)


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