Tips & Tricks: Tape echo maintenance

A real tape echo provides an extraordinary sound and is a worthwhile investment for your guitar sound. Unfortunately the maintenance of a tape echo is not as simple as the care of a digital or analog delay pedal.

The tape

The delay is recorded on a tape and replayed by a playback head. Depending on how frequent and intense you use your tape echo you should change the tape. When you use your tape echo on stage and also in the rehearsal room it makes sense to keep a replacement tape with you.

Over time, the tape wears off and the sound of the delay will change: the delay of a new tape has more treble and sounds clearer while an old tape will produce duller and maybe even overdriven sounds with wow and flutter. And if the tape has ever got stuck it might create extreme modulation sounds.

The old tape should be kept save in any case (if it has been cracked it can be glued carefully on the backside). If you want to produce a modulated delay signal in the studio you can do this by using this old tape.
Recent tape echo emulations like the Strymon El Capistan do have a pot for this – as a real tape echo owner you change the tape instead.

Cleaning the tone heads

The permanent friction of the tape causes deposits, so the tone heads should also be cleaned occasionally. You can use a cotton swap and Isopropyl alcohol for this.
Never use alcohol to clean the rubber pinch roller because this will shrivel the rubber. For this part of the tape echo you better use special lubricants and rubber cleaner.

Demagnetizing

Now and then it is recommended to demagnetize the tone heads.
You can get a used demagnetizer for about 10, 00€.
It is important to remove the tape before you start to demagnetize the tone heads and please read the instructions of the demagnetizer.

Change the tubes

To vary the sound you can also change the tubes of your tape echo.
The 12AY7 only deletes the tape and should (as long as it works) not be changed to ensure that the delete function will work on without problems.
Both of the other tubes can be replaced at will and without biasing.
Depending on the brand you can create a warm and mid pushed or a clear and brilliant sound.

After use it makes sense to encase the tape echo so the tape will not get dusty.
Whoever observes this, will be able to enjoy the marvelous Sound of a real tape echo.
And for those who shy away from the effort, maybe a digital emulation that needs less care is more suitable.