Making A Tape Echo The Traditional Way

[Juan Nicola] has taken inspiration from the musician hackers of old and re-purposed a reel-to-reel tape recorder into a tape-echo for his guitar with a built-in valve amplifier (video in Spanish).

The principle is to record the sound of the guitar onto a piece of moving magnetic tape, then to read it back again a short time later.  This signal is mixed with the live input and re-recorded back onto the tape further back.  The effect is heard as an echo, and this approach was very popular before digital effects became readily available.

[Juan] installed a new read-head onto his Grundig TK40 and managed to find a suitable mechanical arrangement to keep it all in place.  He has since updated the project by moving to a tape loop, allowing an infinite play-time by re-using the same piece of tape over and over.

Turning tape machines into echo effects is not a new idea, and we’ve shown a few of them over the years, but every one is slightly different!

Both versions are shown after the break.  YouTube closed-caption auto-translate might come in handy here for non-Spanish speakers.

12 thoughts on “Making A Tape Echo The Traditional Way

    1. That’s not bad. How hard could it be to trick it to read and write in analog.. Surely doable. Probably could ditch most of the synchronization stuff and simply run the spindle at a constant, stable speed. Maybe could do it with a tiny old laptop HDD, maybe shove it in a pedal…

      1. I did exactly that in the late 80’s with a full height 5-1/4 floppy drive. Even cut a second window in the floppy jacket to place a 2nd fixed head. Speed control on drives of that era were adjusted with a 10-turn trimpot.

        Hours of fun and an interesting “effect”, but the fidelity was never good enough to use it as a guitar or vocal effect…at least to my ears.

        In retrospect, more aggressive (ac) bias might have helped… magnetic media intended for digital storage benefits from formulations with square hysteresis.

      2. Look up Edison Voicewriter. I had one once from Purdue salvage in the 80’s. That included the big chassis of tubes on the floor. Kept your desk warm in winter. I never heard it operate the guy before me lost the only disc for it. I thought it’d make a different kind echoplex.

    1. People that say things like this generally don’t realize what they are saying IMHO.

      “Just learn X, I did it, it’s easy!”, just because it was easy for you, does not mean it will be easy for others. People have different abilities and will learn certain things faster or slower. I’m generally pretty quick at understanding new technical things. I can learn a new programming language at insane speeds.
      But try to teach me a new spoken/written language and you’re putting me on a multi year task to even grasp the basics. Somehow that just doesn’t stick with me.

      And that goes for any skill, some people can draw and learn that fast, others can do music. Project management. Teaching. Any skill will be learned at different rates by people, and that makes it more or less accessible.

      So, yes, I am very greatful for auto-translate, even if it’s not the best translation. Just like you should be glad that other people are making software/art/music.

  1. Back in the day at my small-town AM radio station, we used a modified Fidelipac tape cart with no “end” marker to delay live audio 7 seconds, so we’d have time to pull the plug if one of the callers on a call-in show tried to cuss on the air. Same principle as what is going on here, just a bigger tape loop.

  2. Back in my college days we had cassette tape players. As a practical joke we had the tape record the phone and then with a delay feed it back. The conversation went something like this:
    Person “Hello”
    Tape “Hello” (tape played it back)
    Person “This is John”
    Tape “This is John”
    Person “That’s right”

    And so on. Had great time with it.

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