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Thread: NPD - Strymon El Capistan

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    Default NPD - Strymon El Capistan

    Iíve been talking about it for a long time now, but the opportunity to grab myself the highly coveted Strymon El Capistan delay, or should I say ďdTape EchoĒ finally presented itself on Friday and I was so quick to hand over my card details I didnít realise until Iíd already been mailed an invoice that I didnít even bother to ask for current price! Yeah I was that excited.

    Fast forward to yesterday and a neat little package arrived to the office, I know many of you have had the pain of eyeballing a new piece of gear across the work desk all day counting the minutes until you can get it home, so Iím sure you can imagine how focussed I was at work as knock off time approached.

    So anyway, letís start with first impressions because that seems like a vaguely logical place to start.
    The first thing I noticed is that itís quite a bit smaller than I expected. Iíve watched just about every YouTube clip of this pedal and yet still I was pleasantly surprised by how compact it is. Itís only a little bigger than a 1590BB (for you pedal builders) in width and length although it is a fait bit taller. Pretty impressive considering whatís inside, but Iíll get to that.

    There is no user manual included, Strymon instead going for a postcard style Ďquick start guideí and making the full manual available online. This works just fine as the pedal feels quite intuitive, however after enjoying the light-hearted tongue in cheek manual that came with my Boomerang III a little while back, Strymon could have used a printed manual as another way to showcase the personality of the brand. There is a Strymon sticker though! Also of note is the omission of a power supply for the Australian version. No issue for me as I have a custom power supply feeding my board anyway, but worth mentioning. There is also no provision for battery, likely due to power requirements, however my current delay (the amazing sounding GGG PT80 which is staying!) will suck a 9V dry in minutes anyway so again, not a big deal.

    ďYeah thatís all great, but plug the thing in!Ē I hear you scream.

    Right then, this is where it gets amazing.

    I dropped it in the spot where my PT80 lives, as second last pedal in my FX loop and just started messing about with the controls. Within minutes I had a pretty close approximation of the massive waves of ambient echo that feature heavily on most youtube clips. Simply amazing. Tweaking the wow and flutter and tape age knobs results in the tastiest hints of modulation and warms up the repeats like nothing else Iíve heard. Iíve got two quick clips coming up, but first a little sidetrack to talk about what this pedal is actually all about for those of you who havenít been obsessing over it for the past year like I have.

    Let me start with a massive statement. I have never heard a tape echo in real life, but the El Capistan sounds exactly, in fact let me caps that, EXACTLY, like what I think a real tape echo should sound like.

    Why is that relevant? Well because Iím not looking for ďAuthenticĒ because I donít know what ďAuthenticĒ sounds like, other than youtube clips of old echoplex units and the like. To me, having a pedal (or a guitar or amp) sound exactly like the sound you had in your head is the biggest win of all. Full points to Strymon in this regard.

    So you might have worked out by now that the El Capistan is a DSP based emulation of vintage tape echoís. Yes, plural because thereís not just one tape echo in the box, there are three. A fixed head type, a single head type and a multi head type. All behave and sound different, from quick sharp slap back to super slow warbles. But wait, thereís more! In a move that can only be described as ďcomplete awesomenessĒ there is also a sound on sound style tape looper! Considering I already have a Boss RC-2, a Boomerang III and a lo-fi loophole, I really didnít need another looper, but being able to make little loops full of wow and flutter and tape crinkle is certainly a concept I am completely down with. As if that wasnít enough, thereís also a built in spring reverb. Emulated of course, but these guys also make the incredible BlueSky reverb pedal, so not surprisingly, it sounds fantastic!

    So to review so far, we have three distinctly different tape echo machines, a tape looper, and a spring reverb, all in this little box. That would be awesome by itself, but they guys at Strymon have gone above and beyond with the modelling of analogue mechanical effects to the point that even the switches and knobs on the pedal behave like I imagine their electromechanical ancestors would behave. I wasnít prepared for that and it really impressed me! For example, on the single head machine you can switch the tape speed from ďNormalĒ to ďDoubleĒ, which in a real tape echo would, I believe, give you shorter, cleaner repeats. Now in a real machine with the inertia of moving parts, flicking that switch would cause everything to gradually speed up over a second or so, and much to my amazement, thatís what happens with the pedal too! Earlier on I said I thought the El Capistan sounded like what I imagined real tape echo machines sound like, well the controls also completely capture what I imagine to be the feel of an old tape machine (or in fact, three of them).

    So Iím loving the sounds and the feel of the pedal, what else? Well I also really appreciate the little ďextrasĒ it comes with. Itís like the engineers stalked every ďI want to build the ultimate delay pedalĒ thread on pedal builder forums and just built in all the wish list items. For example, hold down the tap temp switch and you get infinite repeats. You can switch between true bypass and ďtailsĒ mode (where the repeats fade out naturally when you disengage the pedal), thereís even a +/- 3dB boost/cut control. Want to control repeats with an expression pedal? No worries. You can configure the El Capistan to adjust any control with an external expression pedal. Need to switch between two delay sounds? Grab the favourite switch instead of the expression pedal and you have 2 El Capís in one!

    Negatives, there have to be some right? Well the fact that you can use an expression pedal OR a favourite switch could be annoying (I donít have either right now so not really a big deal) and the fact that there is only one preset is a bit of a limitation, however, I look at the lack of multiple presets the same way I approach my Boomerang IIIís lack of loop storage. It forces me to be creative every time, rather than just using the same delay settings (or loops) over and over. The only thing that I actually found a little less than awesome last night was the way you have to hold down both footswitches to access the secondary functions (Reverb, Boost/Cut, Tape crinkle, head bias, low end contour). Itís tricky to hold on to a guitar, press both buttons and turn a dial. There is also no real way of knowing where the secondary function buttons are positioned (How much reverb have I dialled in for example?). I donít have the easy answer, some have suggested concentric pots would have worked better, but I really like the knobs and the smooth feel of the pots they have used. What Iíll likely do is knock up a little box with a pot in it and use that in place of an expression pedal to control (perhaps) reverb. I did the same thing with my Boomerang III to control overall loop volume and itís worth its weight in, well plastic.

    So my overall impression after a few hours of messing with it is ďAwesomeĒ. It is probably the most impressive pedal Iíve built or bought. They arenít cheap at $399AUD, but they are a LOT cheaper and more practical than even one vintage tape echo. Dangerously Iím now eyeing off other Strymon effects!

    So anyway, two very basic little audio samples from my phone. I intended to record something decent, but I ended up just jamming away for ages playing with settings. Iíll likely do more recording with this (Iím thinking spooky soundscapes over old public domain films) but thatís for later.

    For now we have a few minutes of me turning knobs and strumming random chords in clip one. It's a little soft at first as I'm basically just turning knobs and listening to the wiggly bits. Then I bust out a couple of chords in no particular order and just let them ring so you can hear all the little details in the repeats. Amp on crunch channel and pedal is in the FX loop.

    Clip One

    Clip two is loads cleaner. Neck pickup into SHO (for some sparkles) then into clean amp. I couldn't really concentrate on my playing because I was too busy drooling over the sounds so apologies in advance for the random noodling.

    Clip Two

    So there you have it. If you would like to have a desk full of vintage tape echo machines in your rig, without paying vintage prices, without the maintenance hassles and without the lack of portability, you should be looking at the Strymon El Capistan.

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    Strymon happens to be one of the few pedal makers that have me seriously GASing. The El Capistan and the blueSky are simply amazing.

    Excellent review, Ch0jin! I'll have to listen to the clips from home since they are blocked at work, though.

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    Congrats!

    Strymon makes such great pedals. I have two - excellente!
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    Yeah I enjoyed your reviews of the Bluesky and the Lex Robert. I've had my eye on the Bluesky for a while too. Many of the ambient looper style artists on YouTube pair the El Cap and the BlueSky to amazing effect. I really need to put all further builds/purchases on hold until I get my second amp built though, as hearing this pedal is mono is amazing, but running it, in stereo into two amps? That's going to be very cool...

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    Very nice review. Thanks for the clips. I've been looking for a delay and boy have you got the GAS flowing!

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    One thing I missed in my review that is very much worth mentioning is the Mix control. Obviously nothing new to have a control to blend wet and dry signal, but on the El Cap, it works particularly well.

    In that first clip I have it set for just slightly less than 50% wet signal but as you can hear, the dry guitar signal comes through beautifully as the echo seems to hover in the background. I imagine, once I calm down a bit and try some less extreme settings, this will be a very nice little feature.

    and thanks Don, if this pedal doesn't give you enough GAS, Strymon make two other kinds of delay too! I was considering a Timeline, but the reality is I really wanted the tape sound more than anything else, and I already have a very nice sounding delay in my PT80 (based on the Ibanez AD80) so I figure with the two I can pull off basically any delay sound from a little clean reverb sound to a massive wobbling wall of doom!

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    One more little update. I suspected the three tape machines were based on real world versions, but I had to do some more reading to discover what they represent.

    So for the curious...

    Fixed Head Mode - Based on the concept of a reel to reel tape deck being used as a delay.
    Multi Head Mode - Based on units like the Roland Space Echo.
    Single Head - Based on the Echoplex style decks.

    The Spring Reverb was included likely because the Roland RE-201 Space Echo and the Fender Electronic Echo Chamber both had spring reverb tanks in them.

    Anyway, it's time to go see what noises it can make tonight when I introduce it to Mr Flanger and Mr Tremolo, and maybe even Mr Chaos Theory (my FSH-1)...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ch0jin View Post
    Anyway, it's time to go see what noises it can make tonight when I introduce it to Mr Flanger and Mr Tremolo, and maybe even Mr Chaos Theory (my FSH-1)...
    And don't forget to lay this over a scary Young Frankenstein video.

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    I have a stash of old Public Domain movies I found on the web a while ago that I sometimes use for video experiments actually

    I was playing around last night with a movie called "The Last Woman on Earth" because I thought the SCUBA scene would work of some ambient looping I was doing. Strangely when I check the YouTube upload this morning I found instead of the 720p I prepared, it's shrunk the video down for some reason..... I won't embed it here because I'll likely try it again tonight, but if your super curious the vid is on my YouTube channel HERE Sounds nice and spacey except for the one bum note towards the end that stands out like canine cajones.... I need to work on doing volume swells though. Seems everyone doing this kind of thing uses a volume pedal, but I might give the old guitar volume a go first..

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    That seems to be a well-regarded pedal, so congrats.

    Can you help me understand what the current craze is over tape echo? What's an example of that used in a song I might recognize? I can kind of understand the idea of digital versus analog delay, in that digital is so exact and tends to sound 'sharper,' right? So analog makes it a little more subtle. But I'm not quite sure I get the whole tape-echo thing. What does it do for you in a musical sense?

    Not trying to pick a fight or anything -- just curious.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ch0jin View Post
    I was playing around last night with a movie called "The Last Woman on Earth" because I thought the SCUBA scene would work of some ambient looping I was doing. Strangely when I check the YouTube upload this morning I found instead of the 720p I prepared, it's shrunk the video down for some reason..... I won't embed it here because I'll likely try it again tonight, but if your super curious the vid is on my YouTube channel HERE Sounds nice and spacey except for the one bum note towards the end that stands out like canine cajones.... I need to work on doing volume swells though. Seems everyone doing this kind of thing uses a volume pedal, but I might give the old guitar volume a go first..
    That is so awesome! I love your ambient sounds. That El Capistan sure is sweet sounding.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    ....Not trying to pick a fight or anything -- just curious.
    Hey Eric, Nothing confrontational about your post at all, so no worries about that.

    I can explain why I wanted a tape style echo really easily. I've had kind of a growing interest in ambient/drone style sounds from some of the YouTube guys I follow, and when the El Cap was released a year or more ago, it quickly replaced or was added to pedal boards that had Deluxe MM's and Line 6 delays on them. I headed over to the Strymon site and watched all the El Cap demo's and discovered right away that it helped to create the kind of "Lo-Fi" delay sound I had in my head, and was trying to get from my AD80 Delay.

    The Tape "sound" is everything from a slightly warmer (less high frequency response) version of what you get from any type of delay, through to a mangled, glitchy, AM radio sound. For me specifically, the whole ambient/drone thing is about creating layers of audio texture as a complex background and dropping in minimalist accents over the top using guitar, bass or samples. What I like about this pedal is I can tweak my background sounds to roll off high frequency response (and low frequency if I like) so that the background remains a background, and my accents sit nicely on top. I can even loop a phrase with one type of delay (say the echoplex model) then switch to another (like the more complex multi-head mode) and the notes I play over the top don't sound like they are coming from the exact same delay.

    Furthermore, as the background sound is a huge part of the ambient/drone sound, using the El Cap enables me to add things like random wow and flutter, tape crinkle and aged tape effects to that background "wash" to make it a little more interesting sonically.

    Lastly, I already have a really nice sounding delay in the AD80 kit from General Guitar Gadgets. It's kind of a hybrid beast, wrapping the analog circuit of the Ibanez AD80 around the PT2399 echo chip. It's digital enough to do super crisp, but analog enough to sound 'warm' and get a little glitchy with long delays (well I say long, but I'm still talking less than a second with the PT80) Pairing that one with the El Cap seemed like it would cover all delay sounds for me.

    Where would you hear real tape? That I'm not sure of, but I'm pretty sure Pink Floyd used tape based delay and stuff on Dark Side. Then again, prior to the invention of the bucket brigade IC, everyone who wanted delay used tape.

    I don't know if that really answers your question (as I've been typing bits and pieces between jobs) but at least it should give you an idea why I wanted one

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    Quote Originally Posted by bcdon View Post
    That is so awesome! I love your ambient sounds. That El Capistan sure is sweet sounding.
    Glad you liked it!

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    OK so I deleted that first video because it got borked up in the upload (Thanks for the comment tho Don!).

    I re-encoded it last night and it works in HD now! znot that I really needed to, considering none of the three source videos used are even remotely HD but at least it fills up the screen now.


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    That is a cool video! How did you make that video? Send the youtube link to Strymon - I bet they will love it!

    Sounds sweet too.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ch0jin View Post
    I re-encoded it last night and it works in HD now! znot that I really needed to, considering none of the three source videos used are even remotely HD but at least it fills up the screen now.
    Cool! (and a little creepy as far as the mood goes, which is not a bad thing)

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    Wow thanks guys! Honestly that was just a quick test more than anything, but I'm glad you guys dug it!

    Robert, The video was made in Adobe Premiere Pro (CS4 I think) My iPhone was almost flat so I just popped my video camera on the floor next to me as I was messing around in case I stumbled upon anything cool. Hence the angle

    To give it the effect it has, I took a scene from an old b-grade 60's film called "The Last Woman On Earth", it's public domain, so no worries about copyright, and layered that over the camera footage. I then stretched it out to 16:9 as the original film was 4:3 and dropped it's opacity to something like 40%.

    I then added some stock "Old Film" video loops I have over the top of all that. If you Google "old film FX, Damaged Film, 8MM 16MM" and the like you'll find some, I can't recall exactly where I got mine, but the one I used is about 60 seconds of really badly damaged film as a mov file. I just time stretch and loop it so it fits, and then adjust opacity to taste.

    Lastly I add titles, and to make sure they look kind of weather beaten like the rest of the film I drop them in under the damaged film track.

    Then in Prem I click export and select the YouTube HD preset and boom!

    I like the idea of sending something to Strymon too. I don't know if this video is quite up to par, but I plan to make more!

    Oh and in case anyone is wondering, yes, it took more time to make the film clip than it did to record the track :P

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    Are you still digging this pedal, or what? ;-)

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    It is quite simply the best guitar effect I have ever heard.

    I've been tweaking away with all the different tape machines and settings and there honestly isn't a bad sound in it.

    Lately I've been working on a cover of "Little Red Riding Hood" (I know, pretty metal right, I picked it up as a practice tune because it uses loads of open chords) using my crunch channel and the el Cap and it immediately became evident that as amazing as this pedal sounds with a clean amp, it sounds very, very good in the loop of a crunchy amp too.

    One of the best things though is that I could almost immediately emulate the quite distinctive sound this pedal produces in the YouTube clips that inspired me to buy it. Now the same can be said for my MicroPOG too, but the POG effect is more like an exotic spice to be used sparingly, whereas whenever I turn the El Cap off, I find myself thinking "Actually, lets just try something else" and turn it back on.

    I LOVE that just by turning the repeats control I can go from almost reverb-like delay to a massive background "wash" of sounds that you can play over and sculpt in real time. I also LOVE the way the controls emulated their analog counterparts. It's so cool to hear the tape speed up or slow down as you turn the delay time knob, it sounds so authentic it's ridiculous.

    The only negative points include the one I mentioned initially whereby you have to hold down both buttons to access secondary functions, and the lack of indication as to where the secondary controls are positioned. (Strymon do however provide a nice blank setup template chart you can use to record your own settings as well as a page of suggested settings)

    After a little fiddling I've also found that although Strymon say you can map any control to the expression pedal, I've found what they mean is "you can map any PRIMARY control to the expression pedal".

    I have a little "pot in a box" that I use in place of the expression pedal for my Boomerang (I use it to control overall loop volume, very cool) and I thought it would be cool to make another one and use it control the reverb or boost secondary functions of the El Cap, but alas, you cannot.

    They are very minor negatives though and are absolutely overshadowed by the awesome sounds this thing creates.

    Sure it's expensive at $399, but compared to some of the boutique overdrives out there costing similar amounts, the El Cap is massively better value. I mean c'mon, I built a copy of a King of Tone for well under $100 (Vs $235 asking price) in an afternoon. The El Cap has a 266MHz CPU and all kinds of zany programming going on. There's no way I could make something like that.

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