Maestro EP-3 Echoplex
Kicking around the space, we have the Cabinet, the shelved, yet enclosed space bound by wooden doors and walls. You’ve by now read about the items therein, and they are truly great. But next to the cabinet, we have the glass case, the one filled with items whose very presences are inspiring. One such is one of the most classic effects of all time, and one of the best pieces of the entire collection: the Maestro EP-3 Echoplex.
There’s some kind of nasty rumor going around about tape echoes; every piece of copy about them suggests that “tape delay” is some dark, moody thing. And some of it is. But the Echoplex decidedly is not. Known for its bright, percussive repeats, the Echoplex brought tape echo to the masses. No longer a tool of country studio musicians, the Echoplex found its way into the hands of some of the most influential artists of all genres, from Andy Summers of the Police and Eric Johnson to the scalding licks of Eddie Van Halen and East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys.
All the way back in 1961, Mike Battle (and perhaps others) developed a working riff on the insanely popular EchoSonic, a tape echo machine integrated into a whole amplifier. This original EchoSonic machine was slow and painful to build and an arduous task to maintain. The man behind this machine, Ray Butts, simply couldn’t keep up with demand and tapped out with less than 80 units built. Despite this limited number and difficulty of construction, the EchoSonic lacked some of the most basic amenities one might expect to find on a modern echo unit. One such accoutrement was a movable tape head, which in turn varied the delay time. Another was durability; the EchoSonic left its tape spinning out in the open, susceptible to the elements or rowdy concertgoers. Thusly, the EchoSonic lived in studios.
When Battle put pen to paper, the results were a hit. He patented the sliding tape head and sold it to a company called Market Electronics, who pushed the Echoplex through Maestro as a distributor. Maestro, much like Univox years later, put its name on the Echoplex as a symbol of partnership and also to lend credence to the product, as it had close ties with Gibson. An upgraded Echoplex called the EP-2 came out soon after (thus retroactively naming the Echoplex the EP-1) and selling them until the end of the ‘60s.
This leads us to the EP-3, the first transistorized model and the one with the now-legendary (and reproducible) preamp circuit therein. For as good as these sounded and how integral they became to the players that embraced it, Battle hated it. Though Market Electronics was one of the most stubborn manufacturers with regards to adapting to solid-state gear, Battle was more stubborn, making the design and then selling off his position. Nevertheless, the EP-3 became the unit and is, for all intents and purposes, the Echoplex. Some players may not even know the other two exist. But the third model, with its now iconic aesthetic, became the stuff of legend.
While the preamp is extremely simple, it is mighty; some players lugged the whole kit and kaboodle to gigs just for this preamp circuit, opting to never engage the delay. Like the Fuzz Face, the Echoplex preamp makes great use of an extremely low parts count—just 11. The secret lies in its nonlinear phase response, which boils down to delayed harmonic content that makes the good stuff jump out in the mix. As you pick, high frequency harmonics leap out, especially those within the guitar’s frequency sweet spot. Delicious.
So fervent is the cult of the Echoplex that some 60 years later, aftermarket parts have become commonplace and some amp techs have added tape echo repair and restoration to their list of services. One such wizard is Portland’s own Bryan Sours, who receives Echoplexes from all over the country for servicing.
Even though he hated it, Mike Battle’s legacy lives on in the Echoplex and in the minds of everyone that pictures one whenever “tape echo” is mentioned. It is a machine that commands attention and respect. And respect like that is always earned, never given.