Here in Portland, we have quite a few pedal companies. There’s Mr. Black, Spaceman, Subdecay, and about 50 other builders, including us of course. Needless to say, the city’s been doing “boutique” pedals for quite a while. One of our first heavy hitters in this world is Malekko, and they’ve been killing it for as long as many of us can remember.
With that said, last week we talked about digital delay and what it meant to the budding bespoke effects scene. You remember good ol’ digital delay—crisp, uncolored repeats with a delay time typically much longer than their analog counterparts. And that’s where we find ourselves. While digital delay typically requires a ton of coding knowledge, it wasn’t exactly available to the everyperson shop tinkerer until later, and we’ll get to that first “boutique” example in due time. But analog delay has always been available to tinkerers, and even as the first wave of small-batch pedals arrived, analog delay was not readily available among them. The problem was two-fold; the parts were somewhat difficult to source, and analog delays are among the most complicated of all pedals, requiring some fairly hairy engineering knowledge, when a handful of people among the first companies were just gearheads with no formal training. Even today, a boutique analog delay is somewhat rare.
Jump to 2006, and Malekko was formed by Josh Holley and Paul Barker, in response to Barker’s request for a road-worthy clone of his beloved yet super-rare Maestro Brassmaster. At the time, Holley was living in Austin, Texas and eventually he and Barker formed Malekko, named after a band they had previously started. Which brings us to this week’s pedal, a modern classic in every sense, the Echo Ex00 series. Four were produced—two 600-millisecond models and two 300-millisecond models. Ours is the E300 Bright, aka the E300B.
With the Ex00 series, Malekko had addressed both small-batch analog delay hindrances head-on. For one, Holley located an absurdly large stash of MN3005 chips—the IC that makes the Deluxe Memory Man and Boss DM-2 (among many others) tick. Secondly, Holley had enlisted the help of his father, a retired naval engineer. These two cleared hurdles worked in concert to produce two versions of the E600, with suffix “B” for “bright” and “D” for “dark.” Shortly after, the same hues were produced in 300-millisecond versions.
Despite being named bright and dark, the bright model is hardly “bright,” but rather less dark. It sounds perfect to these ears. While some echo units from back in the day sound murky or dull because of clock noise filters, the E300B is a truly stunning piece of equipment. Just as Malekko’s later pedals would prove, attention to detail is a hallmark of the company’s ethos.
Despite not being explicitly labeled as such, the E300B sounds pretty much like a real tape echo. This was after all the goal of the original analog units, to have a solid-state version of a notoriously finicky effect that musicians could take on tour without having to waste time or space on extra cartridges or belts. Though 300 milliseconds sounds rather meager, you may find yourself using only that much, and even less for an outstanding slapback tone.
The Ex00 series contains several goodies that were the stuff of real innovation in those days. Features like a switch for buffered bypass or true bypass came standard on these delays before many people knew what either of those things were. There’s an adjustable gain trimpot inside so you can get a little added boost when you kick it on. The remaining three trimmers are factory set and the manual is very clear about not touching any of them lest you ruin the device. Oh, and ours has a rubber cockroach inside.
So great was Holley’s cache of MN3005 chips that he was able to parlay them into several other echo devices, a testament to not only the size of the bundle but the confidence in the engineering. These chips are extremely rare and valuable today; a company called Xvive even bought the dies for the old ones and began producing them again. eBay auction prices for pedals that contained both MN3005 or something else during their lifespans always favor the MN3005-equipped devices.
Malekko moved to Portland shortly after the release of its flagship echoes and went on to release many devices, including its E616, likely the most famous of the bunch. But there’s just something about this Fantastic Planet-reminiscent unit that I just can’t find in many other pedals, even 15 years after the fact. And I’ve played more than my fair share. It’s just that good.