Catalinbread are masters at infusing classic sounds and unique parameters into newly produced stompboxes. Their entire pedal range is characterised by an appreciation for subtlety and control – an approach hinged upon authenticity and attention to detail. The Belle Epoch Tape Echo – their latest vintage throwback to pass through Mixdown’s doors – is a prime example of this very philosophy. This pedal is a recreation of Maestro’s highly influential Echoplex EP-3 tape delay effect. In offering echo, sound-on-sound functionality and the superb colouration of a quality preamp, it garnered use from the likes of Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page. This is why Catalinbread have gone to such great lengths to recreate its distinctive set of controls and sonic configuration in a modern unit.
ALL THE NOOKS AND CRANNIES
With the Belle Epoch, Catalinbread have left no stone unturned. The tone shaping presence of the preamp, the analogue warble indicative of tape delay, the ability to swing into self-oscillation and the natural way the repeats decay – it’s all here and in its original form. The EP-3 was renowned for its remarkable FET preamp that shaped tonal character without the use of echo. This is a key component of the Belle Epoch, which adds a little colour and a creamier character to your tone, along with a slight boost.
Catalinbread’s remake similarly captures the lo-fi charm of the original, with echoes thinning out and dissipating. The sonic irregularities typical to using a tape can also be accurately executed here. Put simply, it’s responsive as hell and whole lot of fun to use.
WINDING BACK THE CLOCK
It’s geared with five controls: mix, echo sustain, mod, rec lev and echo delay. The ‘rec lev’ knob is a measure for how hard the delay line is hit. When set to low repeats are understated, subtle and soft. Conversely, when set to high repeats are much more prominent, have more girth and greater presence. This also results in some lo-fi grit and crunch, the raw and rasping hint of distortion a product of ‘70s guitar tone. The ‘echo sustain’ knob controls the number of repeats. From minimum to noon it produces a fixed number of repeats that thin as they decay, responding in true analogue fashion.
Dial it in at 10 o’clock with the ‘rec lev’ set at 3 o’clock for warm echoes and a sweet crunch. When set to anything beyond 2 o’clock the ‘echo sustain’ leads to chaotic self-oscillation and raucous noise. This is where the ‘echo delay’ knob comes into its own, creating shifting soundscapes, warped rhythms and truncated noise sections in real-time. The mod knob is responsible for the amount of tape flutter and warble in the echoes. To emulate a realistic tape warble it is recommended to dial in the knob at 9 or 10 o’clock. What also produced great results, however, was elongating the delay time and maxing out the mod knob for emphatic, undulating curves.
REVISITING THE BEAUTIFUL ERA
Belle Epoch refers to the beautiful era in Western European history, dated from 1871 to around 1914. Catalinbread’s pedal is an ode to the beautiful sound of the ‘70s. By identifying what made the EP-3 so special – its sonic imperfections and vibrant operational oddities – they have done a fantastic job in staying true to the sonic beauty of the era.
For more details on the range of Catalinbread products, head to guitarfactory.net.