Since assimilating Damage Control Effects in 2009, Strymon has wasted
no time expanding its already excellent line of compact pedals. Units like
the fantastic blueSky Reverberator (see Strymon pedals review in PG
2010) revealed Strymon’s prowess in crafting analog-inspired sounds using
DSP (digital signal processing) technology. And the El Capistan dTape
Echo, which tackles the challenge of capturing the warm, chaotic irregularities
and imperfections of tape delay that we love, is one of the most ambitious
and clever applications of DSP we’ve seen in a stompbox.
Features Fit for a King
Like the rest of Strymon’s pedal line, the El Capistan comes packed with
parameter control options that will delight any serious tweaker. The
controls common to most delay pedals—Time, Repeats, and Mix—are
included. There’s also a Tape Age knob that adjusts the amount of
simulated degradation in the repeats, effectively emulating the sound
of tape heads rubbing against a worn out, scratched tape. The pedal’s
Wow & Flutter knob alters the amount of modulation.
Two switches called Tape Head and Mode are located at the top of the
control layout. Tape Head changes the type of emulated tape head,
switching between Fixed head (vintage studio tape delays), Multi head
(akin to a Roland Space Echo or Watkins Copicat), and Single moveable
heads (like a Maestro Echoplex). The mode switch assigns different
configurations to those head types: different head combinations on the
Multi, tap tempo rates for the Fixed head, and tape speed or Echoplex-style
sound-on-sound settings on the Single head.
All of these options could leave any player dizzy with possibilities.
But Strymon didn’t stop there. Holding down the Bypass and Tap
footswitches changes the function of each knob, creating a whole
new menu of parameter controls, including low-end contour on delay
repeats, simulated tape-bias variations, an internal spring reverb, and
even simulated tape crinkle.
The El Capistan has stereo outputs, as well as a jack for an expression pedal,
so if you run a dual amp rig, or like to record huge stereo guitar tracks, or
want to change delay time on the fly with a pedal, you’re good to go.
Tone to Die For
I toyed with this overflowing box of time-warping possibilities using a
2008 Fender American Stratocaster and a Mesa/Boogie TransAtlantic
head with matching 1x12 cabinet, and A/B’d the pedal with an old
Roland RE-201 Space Echo.
Flipping to the Strymon’s Multi head setting and selecting Mode A, I
played some light arpeggios and was pleasantly surprised at the unit’s
touch sensitivity. When I really dug into the strings with a full band
behind me, it was great to have the El Capistan feed off of my changing
attack patterns, especially when I was laying back to create more
space for the band I was jamming with.
I wanted to see just how well the pedal stood up to the famed Space
Echo, so I hooked up a Morley A/B/Y switching box to toggle between
the two. The pedal’s feel, response, and overall tone were often every
bit as musical and organic as its venerable ancestor. In general, the
signal coming back from the Space Echo’s tape was a little grainier, an
effect I could approximate with the El Capistan’s Tape Age control. But
when I needed a little more clarity to go with the irregularities and character,
the El Cap delivered in ways the Space Echo could not approach.
Strymon’s application and refinement of DSP is impressive. Few analog
creatures are as random and imperfect—and treasured for these imperfections—
as tape delays. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a pedal that
does a better job of making the musical aspects of such imperfections
controllable, practical, and so expressive. The applications this pedal is
capable of could fill a review many times this length. So, if you’re in the
market for a great tape echo emulator, don’t hesitate to check out an El
Capistan for yourself. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
you want one of the finest tape delay
emulators on the market today.
only an original tape delay will do.