WEM Shadow Echo
It’s tough being a curator of all this business. On one hand, it’s important to recognize the nuance of the history of equipment, but the compulsive side makes one want to collect every variant of every unit. While that’s certainly doable with some of the more readily available units, sometimes there are just too many. For example, the Big Muff was released in hundreds of variants, and only the most rugged collectors would begin such an undertaking. Some pedals such as Boss’s various offerings come in a handful of varietals; a full set of CE-2 graphical and hardware permutations takes little time to collect. For solid-state devices, this is simple hide and seek, but tube-equipped devices take a special touch and an enormous magnifying glass. Today, we’re looking at the WEM Shadow Echo.
Solid-state units are easy to tweak and release anew. Look at the Big Muff again as an example and how many versions were released. While there were just four distinct graphical eras, the total circuit versions numbered in the dozens. Most of these versions feature simple resistor, capacitor and transistor swaps. Nothing of merit was added to the circuit, and some subtractions were made that didn’t warrant a circuit board redesign. This is what makes the sheer amount of versions somewhat overwhelming. Who’s to say that there aren’t more undiscovered out there somewhere? Now, imagine if we could say the same thing about entirely unique engineered tape echoes—different chassis, different circuits, different topologies. This is the story of the WEM Copicat and thusly, the Shadow Echo.
In the age when the Echoplex, Space Echo and Echorec are “household” names, it’s downright perplexing that the Copicat isn’t in the same conversation. The Echoplex was released in five distinct versions, the “Echoplex” (retroactively named the EP-1), the EP-2, EP-3, EP-4 and EM-1 Groupmaster. And while most gearheads are familiar with most of them, those same gearheads would be remiss to name a single individual model of the Copicat family tree. And there were at least 14 of them!
America’s fascination with magnetic tape goes way back, with the humble tape echo occupying a healthy swath of that. It ended sometime in the ‘70s, when solid-state analog delays began creeping into the gear pipeline. But in England, Watkins Electric Music hired Bill Purkiss, who designed the Copicat under the direction of Charlie Watkins (the “W” in WEM). Inspired by repeated phrases in the song “Come Prima” by Marino Marini which was released in 1958, WEM began manufacturing the Copicat that same year, One of the earliest Copicats found its way into the hands of Joe Moretti of Johnny Kidd’s band, and made its way onto “Shakin’ All Over,'' a hit song in England and Europe. After this, the rest was history. Though production started in 1958, WEM was cranking these things out large numbers and in various forms well into 2010. Yes, you read that right, over 50 years!
Like the Copicat itself, my particular unit was named for another UK export that never quite gained traction in the States—the Shadows, and more particularly, Hank Marvin. While Marvin is more noted for his use of multitap delay, WEM produced a unit bearing his band’s name: the Shadow Echo.
Often thought of as a “budget” model because it utilizes one less valve than its predecessors, the Shadow Echo delivered a one-two punch of marketability and a lower price point. And with that said, the Shadow models are extremely rare, and one of the rarer Copicat models. Mine is equipped with a full complement of old Mullard tubes and produces one of the most buttery overdrive tones I’ve ever heard.
If you’re an effects history buff like me, you’ve no doubt heard of Ray Butts and his EchoSonic amp; lord knows I’ve written about it. As a quick recap, it was a rudimentary tape echo built into an amp. Butts made less than 70 of them. Charlie Watkins, by contrast, stuck the Copicat circuit into anything that would have it. WEM’s Scout and Power Cat amps featured one front and center, while the Deep Blue amp housed a whole Copicat within a recessed area of the speaker cabinet’s rear panel.
If you’re looking for tape loops, Charlie himself sold them on WEM’s website up until his passing in 2014. And though I’m waxing poetic about the Copicat here in this piece, Mr. Watkins is and was an incredibly important figure in music history for a myriad of other products, including the first widely-sold PA system that centralized the entire band’s instruments, keeping them from plugging into the same Marshall 1961. Though he isn’t exactly a household name, he should be; you likely have him to thank for keeping your bass player out of your amp’s Vibrato channel. And this is why these stories are told.