Strymon El Capistan dTape Echo Review
I bought this pedal in 2012, after listening to and trying out many other delay pedals, this won in the end for lots of reasons. It has everything I want in a delay pedal including tap-tempo, an analog sound, sound on sound looping and even a spring reverb built into it, but without the maintenance of a real analog machine.
3 different Tape Head types:
In this mode you get 3 different delay lengths, short medium and long, this depends on where the mode switch is set, A, B or C.
This emulates a multi-head analog tape echo such as a WEM Copycat or Roland Space Echo, so you can select different head combinations, for example heads 1 & 2, heads 2 & 3 and heads 1& 3. The heads create different echo times and perfectly recreate a real analog magnetic tape head set at differing lengths along the tape loop, in this mode you can get some sounds that would be close to impossible with a real analog machine, it goes a lot further with the possibilities.
This is supposed to emulate an echoplex style sliding record head, when you move the time knob the delay time changes, it is at double speed in mode A, normal speed in mode B and in mode C it goes into Sound on Sound mode. When in sound on sound mode you can get either 10 seconds of tape loop time with the time knob set to the left of 12 o clock, and 20 seconds to the right. Where it gets really interesting is you can create pitch shifting effects by recording in the long sample mode, then shift it an octave higher and double the speed, this can create some pretty crazy psychedelic sounds, not unlike the Beatles experimental years.
Adjusts the delay time
Adjusts the wet/dry mix
At the left it sounds like a perfectly calibrated tape echo with only minimal loss to the high end, fully to the right and it sounds dark and vintage, like a 50s machine.
controls the amount of echo repeats, can get into uncontrollable feedback once you go beyond 3 o clock, you can get some nice ambient style echos a bit like reverb just below 3 o clock.
Wow & Flutter
This can go from being very subtle to being a deliberate chorused sound, in many ways it sounds more pleasing than chorus because of the warble randomness it produces. I usually keep it set to 12 o clock.
There are some interesting secondary functions available by holding both footswitches down at the same time, this means you can unlock hidden features or make adjustments.
This is a very vintage sounding spring reverb, much like one from the 1950s or 60s, you also have the option of turing it off completely, you adjust the mix by using the time knob in secondary mode.
+/- 3dB Boost/Cut
Use this as a way to make the pedal boost or cut the volume by up to 3dB.
Low End Contour
Controls the low end frequencies. Set to the minimum for extended low end frequency bandwidth. Set to maximum for a high passed, magnetic drum style repeats.
Adjusts the tape machine from under biased to over biased, this changes the feel of the echo quite a lot, you can have an optimally biased machine, or an over biased machine which has less headroom and lower volume, and it also sounds more compressed.
This effectively controls the age of the tape, you can have a fresh new tape, or an old mangled beast that is all chewed up, and everything in between.
another important feature to add is that if you hold down the TAP switch, it will go into infinite repeats creating a feedback loop which you can then change the pitch of with the time knob, think of early pink floyd, it also increases in volume and compresses just like a real analog machine would.
My first ever guitar pedal was a vintage WEM Copycat from the 1970s that I bought second hand from a friend in secondary school. I know what a real analog tape delay is supposed to sound like, the strymon gets so close to the sound that I genuinely can’t tell the difference. It can also emulate many different kinds of analog tape echo’s, whereas the real thing can only do one thing and most of them are one trick pony’s, not without their maintenance issues. If you are looking for a modern echo, this might not be your best choice, but if you want a deliberately analog sound that can emulate classic tape echo pedals, with spring reverb and sound on sound looping, this is still one of the best choices even in 2017. What I love the most about the El Capistan is the limitations it imposes on me as a guitar player, instead of giving me too much choice, this can create more inspiring playing and sounds.
written by Ben Tyreman 30/06/2017