Preservation of the classics involves a collection of not just the well known entries into any effects category, but also a marked timeline of alternate technologies as well. These days, digital and analog are essentially the two technologies from which to choose, but long ago, things were much more complicated. When effects were purely mechanical was the sink-or-swim era of guitar periphery.
While all such technologies eventually got their due in modern times, even among musician circles some such devices were rare. I’ve talked to hundreds if not thousands of old guitar heads and only a handful of them knew about all the available mechanical devices back when they were playing honky tonks. While some people knew about “that sound” on Chet Atkins records, not many knew it was a tape machine. And with that said, tape delay ended up being “the” sound of vintage delay, and became known as the gold standard; the yardstick to which all forthcoming delays must be measured.
Only those truly in the know back then even knew about oil can or magnetic drum delays. Of course now we are all informed, we even sell a handful of them. Among those alternate delay technologies, the two most well-known are the Tel-Ray and the Echorec. There are some excellent reproductions of those two units made (wink wink), and for many, that’s fine. But we are sound seekers! We must seek out the esoterica of the esoteric! Today, we’re talking about the Arbiter Soundimension.
There’s a lot to be said about this unit, so I’ll just dive right in. Ivor Arbiter originally invented the logo for the Beatles)and sold musical instruments in the UK. Eventually he partnered with Fender and the two did some business together. One such simultaneous release was the Arbiter Soundette, which Fender released under the same name. Not content with that, Arbiter released a beefier version, the aforementioned echo unit, complete with stereo ins and outs.
Though it’s been cataloged in literature as a tape unit, it is definitely not. The Soundimension utilizes a magnetic drum, similar to the Echorec and produces a wonderfully dark, moody tone perfect for dub. In fact, one made its way to Studio One Records in the Carribean, where legendary Jamaican producer Sir Coxsone put one to heavy work on a ton of old dub tracks. He used it so much that his studio band took of the unit itself; they were called Sound Dimension and played on tons of releases helmed by Coxsone. Well-known acts that released albums on Studio One were the Skatellites, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Toots & the Maytals and many other heavy hitters.
While the echo section of the Soundimension is essentially the reason why analog delay is a cornerstone of the dub genre, the preamp was something else entirely, and the Soundimension’s circuit topology is a component geek’s dream.
Apart from his adventures in graphic design and music retail, you might recognize Ivor Arbiter’s name as one-half of Dallas-Arbiter, the name adorning the bulk of vintage Fuzz Face units. While his companies helmed several other lesser-known effects, the Fuzz Face was the one that got all the accolades. And if you’re as into fuzz as I am, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the parts that make those things tick: a set of NKT275 germanium transistors.
If you’ve ever tried to put together a vintage-spec Fuzz Face, your inclination likely began and ended with trying to locate a pair of vintage NKT275s. Simply put, as far as pedal electronics are concerned, these parts are the rarest of the rare, and you’d better be prepared to push triple digits just for two, and multiply it by four or five to get a proper “Fuzz Face pair.” This is of course dependent on finding that many.
The Soundimension has an entire circuit board littered with NKT275s, 11 to be exact. It’s as close to a literal goldmine as an old circuit board can really get . . . I know what you’re thinking but man oh man, I can’t imagine hacking up something that sounds this good, even if I were to replace them all with equivalent parts. It’s just not in the spirit of the Cabinet!