I’m a big fan of tape echo. I own a Fulltone Tube Tape Echo and it’s one of my favorite pieces of gear. Tape echo is a magical thing.
Those that have spent time with them begin to think of them as part of the instrument rather then just an effect. They’re very musical.
Here is the El Capistan in action create lush tones.
Like many before me, I tend to go through withdrawal when I can’t take my echo on a session or gig. Because of it’s size and fragile nature, I prefer not to fly with a real tape echo.
For this reason I have been on a search for a delay that I could be happy with when I can’t take my TTE.
I’ve heard about the Strymon for a while and finally ordered one. I wasn’t holding my breath just because of past experiences.
When I received the El Capistan I was pleasantly surprised. They really did figure it out. It wasn’t a glorified digital delay at all. Thank you!! Finally.
They put a lot of thought into the nuances that real tape echo owners crave.
Many companies claim to have a “tape echo” in a pedal. Often, I get one delivered only to send it back within days.
Often manufactures just roll off the top end of the echo and make the feedback swell and get dirty as a quick copy of analog. This is just the tip of the iceberg for recreating a real tape emulation.
Here is an example of the El Capistan with slap back:
The construction on the Strymon is superb. The metal housing is really light. I was expecting the pedal to weigh twice as much as it did.
The switch and jacks are solid. Sometimes I get concerned when I see little throw switches on pedals. Because of touring, it’s important to for me to have robust gear. Anything small and fragile will get obliterated.
However, the throw switches on the Strymon are really strong and not flimsy. They didn’t cut any corners on the build quality.
It takes a few days to get to know the El Capistan. There are several tape heads and modes to choose from. It’s more complex then most delay pedals.
I wouldn’t say it’s hard to get a good sound out of. In fact its quite easy. It just takes some time to fully understand each of the options and recall them on a live gig.
The Wow and Flutter control is one of my favorites. It’s here that you can dial in some of that sweet modulation that only a tape echo has. This is one of the areas many other’s fail. Others have simply just added chorus to the deal and called it flutter. Sheesh. That doesn’t cut it. Strymon nailed it.
Wow and Flutter knob all the way down:
Wow and Flutter knob all the way up:
Tape Age allows you to dial in the brightness of the repeats. You can get clear repeats or nice gooey repeats.
Here is the Tape Age knob all the way down:
Tape Age knob all the way up:
The El Capistan has some hidden tweaks (secondary functions) that allow you to further cater the pedal to your tape fetish. Options like Tape Bias, Tape Crinkle and Low End Contour are a fantastic addition.
I wouldn’t be un-common for me to have a few tapes on hand for a recoding session. A new one and an old one for variance in sound.
I also have a second capstan that has a section sanded to get more wobble.
Pick Me Upper
Strymon also added the option for a +/-3db boost. This is great because a lot of us would use our tape echo to push the front end of our amps. I only wish there was a way to keep the boost on while the pedal is bypassed. Future consideration?
One of my favorite features of the Strymon El Capistan is the the tap tempo button acts as a feedback freeze. Meaning, when pressed it’s the same as turning the repeat knob all the way up. Brilliant!
That simple feature is saving me from bending over the “play” the repeat knob. When I use a real tape echo, I place it on a stand next to me. This allows me to reach the repeat knob while playing.
Strymon really raised the bar here. They were traditional with the sound ,but thought ahead for modern use.
You can also do some fun quick “sampling”. Check out how I was manipulating the repeats via the tap button:
The El Capistan comes with what I think of as an emergency “Spring Reverb”. This can be a real life saver when dealing with backline.
Even though my rider states what amps I want on tour, I still occasionally show up and there is a lemon onstage. It’s in these cases I wish it was a physical lemon and not the supplied amp.
Even though I may not have a verb on my pedalboard, I’m not screwed. The spring sound is quite good on the El Capistan.
Spring in action:
Modern Dance Class
A couple of other things worth mentioning is the tap tempo option and expression pedal jack. With an expression pedal you can control Time, Mix, Tape Age, Repeats and Wow and Flutter.
It’s nice to have vintage sound with modern features. The two worlds have met perfectly on the El Capistan.
One thing that nobody can truly replicate is an echo that includes the sounds of the preamp. I don’t fault Strymon for this. I think that it’s possible it can’t be done. Especially for the Tube Tape Echos I like.
That would really be my only negative comment on the El Capstan. And, it’s not really negative because I didn’t expect this could be replicated. They nailed every other little quirk of a tape echo!!
The El Capistan is not a cheap pedal. I paid $325. at 30th Street Guitars in NYC. Considering how many other delay pedals I purchased and wasn’t happy with, I was happy to pay the price.
Once you touch and use the pedal, you understand the price. It’s still way cheaper then a real tape echo.
The El Capistan is a very musical delay. This is the first echo in a pedal I can’t live without.
Gear used in all examples:
Strymon El Capistan
Victoria 3115 amp
Fender American Standard Stratocaster
Cascade Fat Head II with Lundahl transformer
Avid Mbox Mini