Everything in one’s collection can essentially be classified into one of three categories. There are pieces that one must have due to sheer rarity, there are things one must have due to historical provenance and there are things one must have due to them sounding utterly and completely badass. A very select few fit all three categories, and this is one of them. This is the Binson Echorec.
Because every nut and bolt of this machine has been covered a million times over by those that have disassembled and reassembled them hundreds of times, let’s talk a little bit about popular bands throughout history and how they influence the gear industry at large.
Since electric rock music began, so did the need for gear acquisition. Before then, players simply collected stringed acoustic instruments. And while there are certainly rabbit holes to observe in the singular instrument arena, electric guitar commodified sounds in addition to tones. An instrument stable of varying degrees of quality was now just one part of the larger puzzle; players need amplifiers too. These amps varied in tone and feel just like their stringed counterparts, and so different combinations yielded different results. Soon, musicians had many possible combinations of tones from instruments and amplifiers. And when effects entered the mix, collectibility entered the mix. As more and more bands changed the landscape of electric music, the need to acquire the same combinations of gear those bands used increased proportionally. And so did the price.
Based solely on popularity, anyone outside the industry might think that the Beatles have a kung-fu grip on gear price inflation. Some might also say the Rolling Stones. While those are certainly viable options, the clear-cut leader in responsibility for gear value inflation is Pink Floyd. Guitars, amps and especially effects skyrocketed in price based on any loose association to Floyd. One of the most egregious examples is that of the EMS Synthi Hi-Fli, an effects unit purchased by David Gilmour back in 1972, now worth tens of thousands of dollars. Some 300 production models were ever made, making it a double whammy of value. Gilmour’s personal Synthi Hi-Fli can be found in rotating museum tours, with the last one concluding in 2004.
Gilmour’s reach extends to varying degrees of inflation across numerous pieces of gear, such as Colorsound Power Boosts, “Civil War” Big Muffs and even Boss HM-2s, pedals best known for their Swedish death metal sounds. This brings us to the Echorec, one of the most recognizable pieces of Pink Floyd mythos.
While the most memorable iteration of its stateside counterpart, the Maestro EP-3, was a solid-state device, the Echorec relied on vacuum tubes running at 250 volts, for a rich, warm tube preamp that prepped the signal for a series of mind-altering echoes. Back when it was released in the mid ‘50s, the sounds were relatively standard compared to what was going on in recording studios, but before long, the Echorec featured some very unique “multi-tap” delay sounds, due in part to several precision-oriented playback heads centered around the crux of the Echorec’s technology, the magnetic drum.
Unlike magnetic tape, this drum was made of specially machined wire carefully wrapped around “the drum,” a rotating disc surrounded by tape heads. Each piece of wire was machined such that a flat surface was ground against the cylindrical wire to create a better surface for magnetization. This drum had to be routinely oiled in addition to regular servicing of rubber moving parts. As one might imagine, these parts are only getting harder to find, many service operations have exhausted their stock and specialists are literally spread across the globe. Getting one that’s in a state of complete disarray running again is a group effort.
As such, the second hand market for these is just as chaotic as it sounds. Several broken models have been harvested for spare parts, and most of them belong to serious musicians that aren’t likely to “discover” them in an attic and list them on eBay for a pittance. Finding one in any condition is difficult, and unless it’s been routinely serviced for 50 years, you can nearly guarantee that it won’t fire right up. And if you are looking for one that has been babied, be prepared to pay through the nose for it. Several companies licensed the Echorec technology, but none of the non-Binson Echorecs are inferior to the original, they just don’t carry as much panache.
Of course, David Gilmour isn’t the only musician to have used an Echorec. John Bonham used them on drums, and Hank Marvin of criminally underrated band the Shadows famously used one (and is responsible for the Zoom 508’s Echorec emulation back in 1997). Delia Derbyshire, the composer of the original Dr. Who theme used one in the studio. But none of these people played “Interstellar Overdrive,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Time” with one, and that’s what you have to thank for the unattainability.