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El Capistan Sound on Sound looping tips

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.

How to change loop speeds

El Capistan gives you the choice of two tape speeds. Turn the Time knob to the righ of 12:00 for normal speed, turn it to the left for double speed. You get 20 seconds of looping time in normal speed, and 10 seconds in double speed. Like an actual tape machine, double speed gives you a higher fidelity recording.

How to carry over Mode A and B sounds

The Single Tape Head machine consists of three different modes, A, B, and C (with C being Sound on Sound mode). Each of these modes are essentially one machine with three different settings. Each mode shares the same tape loop, and like a tape echo machine, the tape is a fixed length. When you enter Sound on Sound mode from modes A or B, the machine is already recording, and will play back anything previously recorded to the tape loop in modes A or B. So, if you had been playing a cool drone part in mode A or B, you can enter mode C and have that part available to loop over and add other parts.

How to control tape loop audio degradation

The Sound on Sound mode acts just like an Echoplex-style tape loop. Each pass of the loop is played back and then re-recorded to the tape. This will cause regenerative tape saturation and audio degradation with each loop cycle. You have total control over this severity of the audio degradation using the tape/tone controls.

How to get the cleanest loop

If you’re after a very clean and minimally-degrading loop, try using these settings:

– Set the following controls to zero: Tape Age, Wow & Flutter, Low End Contour, Tape Crinkle. This will provide the cleanest, newest tape, along with a new, well-maintained tape machine sound.
– Set your Tape Bias to 9:00 (approx 20%). This is a slightly under-biased machine that will provide the cleanest sound.
– Set your tape speed to Fast (turn the Time knob to the left). The faster tape speed offers higher fidelity.

You’ll still get some tape-style degradation, but it will happen much more slowly with these settings.

How to have a constantly evolving loop

If you turn the Repeats down to just slightly below maximum, older parts of the loop will fade away slowly as you play new material.

How to turn off overdubbing

By default, El Capistan ships in non-Trails mode, which means when you press BYPASS, the effect turns off without any delay trails. This also affects Sound on Sound mode. When you press BYPASS in Sound on Sound mode, the loop stops. You can change this functionality by powering up El Capistan in Trails mode. This allows the delay trails to continue even after you press BYPASS. This works in Sound on Sound mode as well, and allows your loop trails to continue even after you press BYPASS.

If you want your loop to continue infinitely after pressing BYPASS, make sure to set REPEATS to 100%. When bypassed, the loop will continue but overdubbing will stop. That will allow you to play over the loop without overdubbing.

To put your El Capistan in Trails mode: Unplug the power to your pedal. Plug in the power while holding down BYPASS. When the pedal powers on, let go of BYPASS. Repeat this process to go back into non-Trails mode.

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16 Responses

  1. Great tips and tricks! What I love about this pedal is that you can do so much with it, amazing!
    Wish I would have a El Capistan, it will improve my music so much. When the money is there, I would definitely buy it!

  2. Great demo’s. I didn’t know it did all this!. I bought a tape delay pedal. I got a reverb, boost and a looper pedal thrown in. Thank you Strymon, you are better than my wife 😉

  3. This is still FREAKIN’ AWESOME in 2015!! Bought my El Cap 5 months ago and just discovered the sound-on-sound feature, thanks to the long-lived 2011 blog post. Strymon, you guys are awesome!!

    1. So glad to hear the blog helped out 😀 Thanks so much. Enjoy exploring your El Capistan. Please share if you post a song on your soundcloud!

  4. Thank you for these videos!I do have a questionnn.
    Ok, when I am doing a solo acoustic show, I love using the looper on the el cap. However.. when I finish the loop, and want it to stop looping (without turning the mix or repeats down because I need again later in the song, and I can’t do that in the middle of a song).. it will randomly freak out and start looping random stuff while I am singing.. have you had this problem, and is there a fix?
    I also need to note, that I want the loop to continue when I press bypass because I need to play over it…without continuing to loop audio. But when I want the full loop to end..I don’t want random loop blips.. I hope this make sense… hahah thank you for your help.

    1. @Tim Riordan – On the El Capistan, Record is always active if the pedal is set to the Sound-on-Sound looper and the effect is ON. The TAP switch is used to set the 2 splice points (Loop Beginning and Loop End) to play over and over, and hitting TAP once more performs a bulk ERASE of the tape. However, if the TAP light is OFF, but the effect is still ON, the El Capistan is still recording. You would need to bypass the pedal so that it no longer records as you play.

  5. I think the “How to change loop speeds” section may be a bit screwy. It says to “turn the Time knob to the left of 12:00 for normal speed, while the “How to get the cleanest loop” section (& the User Manual) say to turn the Time knob to the left of 12:00 for double speed.

    1. @Richard – Thanks for the heads up on this. 🙂 I went ahead and fixed this in the blog to reflect the correct information.

  6. Hi!
    Is it possible on other delay settings that soud to sound to push bypass but that the delay is not cut off instantly? That the feedback continues after the effect is bypassed.

    1. @Cedrik – Yes, this is possible if the pedal is set to analog bypass with trails mode. To change the bypass mode, press and hold down the BYPASS footswitch, then, plug in the power supply to the pedal. This will toggle the bypass mode and it will remain in this mode for all future power-ups until you perform this procedure again.

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