As guitarists, we’ve all been subject to gimmickry of some kind or another. Over the years, there’s been quite a handful of devices marketed to us from Velcro-laden stick-on accessories to a variety of gels and oils. And although that exact sentiment may ring true with you, even in this calendar year, the gimmickry was afoot well into guitar’s early days. If you think something like a directional cable is silly in the year 2021, imagine what kind of snake oil they were pushing back in guitar equipment’s salad days. One such invention was brought forth that remains an anomaly to this day, but definitely one of the best of the bunch. This is the Tel-Ray Ad-N-Echo.
Though you may not have heard of this unit, you’ve definitely seen its algorithms featured on multi-mode delays, and you’re probably familiar with its color scheme and how it permeates the effects world even today. Even if both of those are nos, I’m positive you’re aware of its place in effects history, if not by the Tel-Ray name, by the colloquial “oil-can delay.” It came to be known as this for its guts, which literally consisted of a can of oil with some other electronic bits and bobbins. Before we talk about what’s in the can, let’s dip back a little further in the effects timeline.
Evolved from modified reel-to-reel tape decks, the first mechanical delay device debuted in the ‘50s, with Ray Butts building them into a guitar amp, called the EchoSonic. Soon, many dedicated tape devices came out, such as the Echoplex. Binson released a magnetic drum echo, the Echorec; this device also included playback and record heads. Other devices came and went featuring both of these configurations, but in the ‘60s, two brothers—Ray and Marvin Lubow—created an entirely new way to delay a signal.
By the time this Ad-N-Echo came out, the first tape delays were starting to need real servicing because they were assembled with tons of moving parts. And with tons of moving parts comes tons of component wear. Musicians and studio guys alike were in constant search of replacement parts, which may have contributed to the sales of the Ad-N-Echo (Adineko). The idea of an easily-portable and less-finicky delay unit that didn’t need as much upkeep was one that many other companies saw as novel and as such, Adineko units were sold under several different brand names back then. Aside from that, it sounded unique and awesome—thick, moody repeats that seamlessly melted into one another.
Opening up the back of the unit reveals a can-like device that’s filled with electrolytic oil and equipped with a motor, flywheel and pickup which rotates inside the can, generating echoes as the fluid rotates in the can. The input signal is applied to the rubber belt via a charged wire brush, which then rotates with the motor and deposits a stored voltage onto the belt. Normally this charge would be lost to the surrounding oxygen but the oil keeps the stored charge on the belt and into the rest of the circuit. Two tubes prep the signal and amplify it before and after the oil can, depositing it into the output jack and into your ears.
As the Adineko technology progressed, Tel-Ray eventually discovered a way to emulate a Leslie rotating speaker using the Adineko. Not ones to be short on jokes, the Lubow brothers changed the name of Tel-Ray to Morley as a pun on the Leslie name (it’s “more”-lie, not “less”-lie, har har). This was perhaps more impactful than the delay, as real Leslies were cumbersome and extremely unwieldy.
The legend of the oil can delay has made its rounds on several units; the Alter Ego 2 and X4 released by TC Electronic in collaboration with ProGuitarShop (cough that I helped on cough) not only took its color scheme and graphics from the original Tel-Ray unit, but included an absolutely awesome oil can patch inspired by and A-B’d with the genuine article. And some other company may have come out with a direct adaptation, but I can’t remember who…
One thought to cause cancer, the oil that actually makes these things go was in extremely short supply and even though many players are into some pretty remote corners of guitar esoterica, hunting for rare oil was a bridge too far for all but the most rabid fans. During this time was when second-hand sales were at their lowest, and shops couldn’t give them away. Somewhere down the line, someone discovered that UCON LB65 oil was an appropriate substitute that didn’t make you sick and was readily available through Dow Chemical. Soon, these units left the shelf as quickly as they arrived there.
Though it certainly isn’t the most practical unit in the cabinet, it’s a special piece of effects history that reminds us of our history and how innovation trumps almost everything else, no matter what field you’re in.
Catalinbread Adineko based on the Tel-Ray Ad-N-Echo.