Binson Echorec Varispeed Modification

Guide to Binson Echorec Varispeed Modifications

We now offer varispeed modification on most of the Binson Echorecs we we sell. But, if a standard Echorec was considered adequate for Barrett, Gilmour, and Page, why would you modify a vintage Echorec with a variable speed motor? This article covers some of the “why” and also takes a look at the “how” of augmenting vintage Binsons…

Binson Echorecs were all manufactured with a fixed speed motor and Binson founder, Dr Bonfiglio Bini, together with his principal engineer, Scarano Gaetano, created something very special with their considerations for the fixed head spacings of the Binson Echorec.

The four playback heads on an Echorec 2 offer delay times of approximately 75ms, 150ms, 225ms, and 300ms. Dr Bini chose these spacings to create musically-related delay times: if the longest delay tap is a quarter note, then head three is a dotted eighth note, head two is an eight note, and the first head a sixteenth note. The shorter repeats are perfect for classic slapback delays, as heard on countless rock’n’roll and rockabilly records (and much beloved of John Lennon for his vocal sound). U2’s The Edge created his signature sound using patterns akin to the longer two heads on the Echorec 2.

The longer rhythmic delay intervals are extremely inspiring and can be heard on many classic Pink Floyd recordings from the early days with Syd Barrett, through to Dark Side Of The Moon and beyond. Pete Townshend told me how he’d wanted an Echorec ever since he saw Syd play with the Floyd at the UFO Club in 1967. According to Pete, Syd played one chord into two Echorecs and the band jammed along for half an hour to the resulting oscillations…

Here’s how a good Echorec T7E should sound:

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Watching Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii, you witness Echorecs employed by David Gilmour on guitar, Roger Waters on bass (‘One Of These Days’ owes it’s opening bass riff to the Echorec) and Richard Wright on keyboards. Indeed this film is essential viewing for anyone asking themselves why they want to buy a vintage Binson Echorec. Many of Gilmour’s guitar parts, and Pink Floyd’s songs rely heavily on the rhythms created by the fixed-head repeats of their Binson Echorecs.

This caused some trouble when, on arriving in the USA to tour, they found running European Binsons at a US mains frequency of 60hz resulted in significantly-shorter delay times and thus faster tempos. Phil Taylor (David Gilmour and Pink Floyd’s long-serving guitar tech and curator of Floyd gear) told me how he had to stay up all night after the first rehearsal modifying the head spacings on all their Binsons so they’d play at the correct tempo for the American tour!

Echorecs manufactured for the US export market (under the Guild name) had motors with smaller diameter spindles which altered gearing ratio to retain the signature Binson tempo. A European Binson will play around 20% faster in the USA, and a US export machine about 20% slower in Europe.

It’s not just guitarists who found inspiration in those distinctive Binson Echorec echoes: Jimmy Page employed one on John Bonham’s drum kit when recording Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange. While that now-legendary stairwell played a big part in the epic drum sound on ‘When The Levee Breaks’, it was a Binson’s repeats that inspired and contributed to Bonzo’s famous rhythm.

Why Modify A Binson Echorec With Varispeed?

If a standard Echorec was considered adequate for Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Pink Floyd, Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, why would you wish to modify a vintage Echorec with a variable speed motor?

While in the fifties, sixties and seventies, it was quite normal for an echo to have a fixed repeat rate, today’s musicians are used to being able to ‘tune’ their delay repeats to the song tempo. Indeed a variable speed motor opens up the potential of these machines – enabling them to lend their distinctive sound to songs played at a wider range of tempos.

Put simply, it widens the scope of what’s possible from a Binson Echorec, and with the significant cost of buying a well-restored example, it makes sense to not be limited by a fixed speed motor.

Below are a couple of our demos with modified machines. Scroll to the bottom of this article for more.

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A very special head on a very special Binson. This Baby is a rebuild project Dr Huw has been working on. This is the wet-only output (some of the original signal remains – we need to add a buffer amp circuit to remove all traces, which is the next step) on the slowest setting on the super-slow varispeed (see how slowly the disc is turning). For some reason (to be investigated), head four adds a great metallic clanging tone to the repeats that I just love. Looks like this one will have to join the Soundgas Studio collection, but don’t worry – Dr Huw has a couple more Baby rebuilds coming soon.

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Dr Huw’s favourite super-slow Baby Binson Echorec is about to go on a long journey. Here @declan_kitts and @joel_kidd bid a fond farewell with the input cranked for that unmistakeable saturated Binson sound. Using a slower disc speed setting means a loss of fidelity, but there’s magic down in those depths… Take good care of our Baby, @_jeremyt

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A couple of clips of the MPC-1 and varispeed Binson (swipe for the second clip). The MPC-1 is working, but needs a service – should sound much better. The Binson is just undergoing final testing – super slow varispeed is sounding good.

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How Do You Varispeed A Binson Echorec?

I’ve been researching varispeeding Echorecs for almost as long as I’ve had one of my own. The late, great, Eric Snowball of ESE Music used to use a (now unavailable) Trident motor for his varispeed conversions, but at the time I couldn’t afford that option. I’ve worked with several Binson engineers over the years, a couple of whom had their own solutions, but who were not prepared to share that knowledge further.

One simple solution is if you own a machine with a DC motor – many of the later solid state models had these fitted as standard. These motors can be fitted with a variable speed control with very minimal additional work and run very well.

However, it’s the classic valve machines which are of the most interest to many people and these are fitted with AC motors: varispeed conversion requires the fitting of a new motor and varispeed control. This is a not-inconsiderable operation and many factors have to be taken into account when designing an appropriate solution, for example torque, motor noise, size and reliability.

Some engineers’ solutions involve modifying the Echorec chassis to fit a new motor – our standard varispeed option uses a motor that requires some chassis modification. Some time ago, I asked our in-house echo guru, Dr Huw, to investigate the definitive Binson varispeed solution. We knew we wanted a reliable and stable motor that did not require any modification to the chassis of the Echorec, and that it needed to run reasonably-quietly as well as performing well at very low speeds.

After a great deal of experimentation and much time spent trying and discarding various potential motors, Dr Huw came to me with what is now our Super-Slow Binson Varispeed Motor. This motor runs stably down to a virtual standstill. Naturally at greatly-reduced speeds, the bias changes to the point of significant loss of fidelity and ability to oscillate. In other words, it gets properly gnarly when pushed into distortion at slow speed and should be viewed as being for experimental sound design rather than extremely laid-back Shadows covers. This is precisely why I pushed for a super-slow motor: regular users don’t need to venture that low down the dial – it offers the full functionality of a standard varispeed – but has the added appeal of the super-slow speeds for longer, darker, dirtier repeats.

At seriously slow speeds, you get to hear the individual nuances of each head and preamp – heads that appear very well-matched at regular speeds reveal their character at the low speeds – on some machines this can result in strange metallic resonances. Anything that adds an extra flavour option into the mix.

So if you’re a guitarist wanting to use your Binson Echorec in the more traditional manner, you may find our regular varispeed serves you perfectly well, but if you occasionally veer off onto darker, stranger musical paths, maybe the Super-Slow option makes more sense for you. And if you’re into sound design, electronic or experimental music, then it’s a no-brainer: pair it with our wet-only output modification and marvel at the dark sound of a wire-wrapped drum passing the heads ponderously.

If you want to know more or discuss which machine is best for your needs then get in touch. See some of our Echorecs for sale here, however many of our Binson machines are serviced and modified to order – contact us to find out what we have in the Doctor’s waiting room now.

More Super-Slow demos below. For more background and information – check out our other Binson Echorec Resources.

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Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.

 

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The quest for (im)perfection continues… We’ve been working through some new varispeed options for Binson Echorecs. Many users expect something that adds flexibility without significantly degrading the sound quality, and most of our conversions keep things firmly in that territory. However, some recent machines have featured motors that run at lower speeds. Naturally this results in less fidelity and fewer repeats as the speed reduces. This certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but for those who want a wider palette of options, then an ultra slow motor could be interesting. Dr Huw called me into his workshop just before we headed home for the weekend to show me this: a very exciting development. This Sound City Echomaster should be ready to go soon – we need to run some tests, but I think it’ll be a lot of fun and capable of taking things into very dark and dirty territory …

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Can you make #techno with just two pieces of gear and one finger? What would be your choices for a minimal set-up? Baby Binson and Korg 700S works for me…

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Proper weird and wonky beats with the MPC-1 and a gnarly super-slow varispeed Binson Echorec 2.

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Which Binson Echorec?

Looking to buy a Binson? At the time of writing many of the machines that feature in the image above, and in the demos below, are available on the site. You can see the Echorecs we have listed for sale here, but if you can’t find what you need then please get in touch; most of the valve T7E and PE 603T machines sell on a pre-order basis and rarely make it to the site.

Binson Echorec Mountain

Which Binson Echorec?

I’ve been a Binson head for approaching a quarter of a century now, and have owned and used many examples from all eras of production: from a stunningly over-engineered early T5E dating from the late fifties, to the less iconic (but still very useful) solid state echoes produced in the late seventies/early eighties. All have their place as inspiring recording, mixing and performance devices.

I can’t remember a time when we’ve ever had such a large selection of restored Binson Echorecs for sale on the site. A customer recently contacted me to say “I’ve wanted a Binson for years, but which Echorec model should I buy?”. Here’s a brief guide and a few personal thoughts.

Echorecs were primarily designed for guitars, vocals and keyboards, and were much more stable than contemporary tape echoes. They can sound stunning on a wide variety of sources, and it’s fair to say that our Binson customers span a very wide range of musical styles and genres. Below is a brief clip (and below that the full YouTube track in stereo) of Matt Morton making great use of his Soundgas Echorec 2…

Yes. @mattmortonmusic promised us some video of the killer valve Binson Echorec that he just got from us. Think it’s fair to say he delivered. Wow. 

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In The Beginning…

Echorec T5E

These early machines are very often badly worn and require a good deal of work and parts to become truly useful again; in my early days I must’ve bought nearly half a dozen before giving them up as a bad idea. It’s a different story today: with access to replacement parts and talented Binson engineers, we’ve had several superb examples – the last of which went to the legendary Blackbird Studios in Nashville.

Binson Echorec T5E. Stunning-sounding early valve machine with varispeed mod. Joel, our resident guitarist, is off, so you get my hamfisted efforts. Enough for you to hear how good this machine sounds.

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A good T5E is stunning for guitar – warm and thick with tone for days – but it’s also a strong contender for anyone looking for a smoother vintage echo sound, as the demo below demonstrates perfectly.

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Echorec Baby

I love Baby Binsons. There, I’ve said it. I had two for years, with serial numbers that were exactly 100 apart. I recorded much of an album by a singer songwriter friend through my Baby Binson and it sounded amazing on everything.

Syd Barrett used and abused an Echorec Baby in psychedelic era Pink Floyd. Pete Townshend told me about wanting an Echorec ever since seeing Syd play at the UFO Club in 1967. According to Pete, Syd played one chord into two Echorecs and the band jammed for half an hour to the oscillating repeats…

But it’s not just guitars that sound epic with a Baby. Jimmy Page employed one on John Bonham’s drum kit when recording Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange. It wasn’t just the sound of the famous stairwell in When The Levee Breaks, the Baby’s repeats not only inspiring Bonzo to play that legendary beat, but also adding to the ambience and feel.

Big Baby. Proof that you really can’t beat old analogue gear for sheer levels of filth that never get harsh. Here I’m brutally overdriving the input of this Baby Binson while the MPC-1 undergoes final pre-shipping testing (it’s fine and shipping out to its new home in NYC). The Baby is just back from a service with our in house echo specialist, Dr Huw and is sounding very good indeed…

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I can recommend a Baby Binson to anyone: cheaper and simpler than the bigger machines, with shorter repeats (down to a smaller diameter drum), but with masses of vibe and character. Whether you’re a guitar player, electronic musician or studio engineer, a fully-functioning Baby is always going to bring you great joy.

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Echorec B1/B2

Updated versions of the Baby in a larger case and with the bigger wheel, also used in the Echorec 2, these machines can be a more economic route to the valve Binson sound. Hank Marvin used one in The Shadows for many years, as well as his long-serving Baby. They can sound truly immense on drums/beats and with added varispeed, they’re a monster proposition.

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Echorec 2 T7E

The daddy. Stunning-sounding valve preamps, plus the fluttery reverb-like Swell function, all housed in that iconic case. If, like me, you were raised on a diet of Pink Floyd ‘Live At Pompeii’, ‘Meddle’ and ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, then the sound and look of this machine will be very familiar. This is the model everyone wants, and the one seen in many top recording studios around the world. Also later produced as a solid state unit, which while still very good (and capable of some immense overdrive), is not as desirable as the valve version.

A good valve Echorec 2 is a thing of magnificence and wonder, as composer Matt Morton recently discovered: “The echo sounds absolutely stunning, and it’s extremely inspiring to work with – within a few days of receiving it, I had already used it on several cues.”

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Dan and Mick of That Pedal Show used one of our Echorec 2s (currently for sale) for their epic Wet/Dry/Wet episode: ‘It just makes the guitar sound BIG’. here’s Mick testing/getting lost in the same Binson in our studio:

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Echorec PE 603-T

An Echorec 2 in a larger, more road-ready metal case, with individual buttons to switch the initial echo and repeats for each head. The valve version is every bit as desirable as the Echorec 2, but more solid state units were made (by which time quality was starting to slip – they can require a lot of work to be right); some 603 variants look very similar to the 603 T, but with reduced functionality. However a good valve 603 is a monster.

Another stunner of ours that wowed That Pedal Show the first time they borrowed one of our machines for their Echorec pedal shoot out:

Sound City Echomaster

A solid state B1/2 – capable of some awesome distortion and great effects, especially useable with varispeed mod. Good introduction to the Echorec.

Dec and Joel are getting set up for their Wednesday afternoon office jam, when they dig out various pieces from the Soundgas Stock Room and make noises (office perks). Love the sound of the Sound City Echorec and Small Stone…

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Echorec EC-3

A later solid state machine that can be tricky unless well-serviced, but like the Echomaster above, a great introduction to the Binson sound.

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Binson EC-3, Stix Drum machine and mystery effect. The Stix isn’t 100% right, but we’re loving the crackle from the sliders here. The Binson sound fantastic with beats. But what’s the mystery effect?

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Echorec EC-6; PE 603T-6; A 605 TR-6

These six head solid state machines offer a wide range of echo rhythms and effects, again overdriving like demons when pushed. Seriously cool devices for electronic adventurers. Add varispeed and they’re in another realm of creativity and sonic skulduggery.

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Echorec PE 603 STEREO

We’ve only ever had one of these rare beasts, and restoring it nearly broke our Binson tech at the time. Two memory systems and twice the circuitry squeezed into the same space normally filled by a single channel, circuits made from cut down pieces of boards from a regular 603, and no schematic available! It sounded amazing, but sold before we even had the chance to become properly acquainted. Not for the faint of heart.

And that’s it for now. I could (and no doubt will) go on and on about these machines. And, with so many machines sold, we have an almost endless supply of demos. If you want to see them as they appear then our instagram feed is the place to be. And if you have comments, questions or Binson war stories then they are more than welcome.

For more information about buying vintage Echorecs (and the modern pedal emulations), please see my earlier blog, ‘Why Buy An Original Binson Echorec?’.

Are you looking to buy a fully-restored and guaranteed Binson Echorec? At the time of writing many of the machines that feature in the demos above are for sale. You can see the Echorecs we have listed for sale here, but if you don’t see what you need then please get in touch; most valve T7E and PE 603-T machines sell on a pre-order basis and rarely make it to the site.

And we also have a growing Binson Resources section on the site which includes links to further useful resources for on these machines.

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Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.

Grampian Type 636 – Believe the hype…

We recently had the Grampian 636 you see below come up for sale by sealed bids. This blog post is about that unit, as well as some history and technical information about these superb, legendary machines.

If you are looking to buy a Grampian or have one to sell in any condition please get in touch.

We also compiled all the demos of this Grampian into this Youtube playlist.

UPDATE: Much of the information in this blog has now been updated and expanded in our new Grampian Type 636 section. Head there for all the history, links to resources, and (soon) information about the first production of our Soundgas Type 636 clone…

I first encountered one of these unprepossessing grey boxes while trawling ebay many years ago. As ever, I was looking for inexpensive old effects that would sound different to the run of the mill stuff everyone else was using. At the time, plug-ins were taking advantage of greatly-increased computer processing power, and the rise of impulse response-based plug-in reverbs saw people starting to ditch their ‘obsolete’ hardware units. Always a good time to pick up quality gear if it’s deemed to be going out of fashion. The engineer who was mixing my album was getting good results using a variety of reverb impulses; one of his favourites was of an old spring reverb. It didn’t sound much like a spring to me. I’m sure he’d have been horrified had I suggested we use a real one – they were very much out of favour at the time – deemed too crude and noisy to have any place in a self-respecting ‘modern’ production.

This set me thinking about springs – my love of reggae dates back to the time when punk and dub formed an unlikely alliance and I’ve always had a fascination for the sound of early dub pioneers such as the great Lee Scratch Perry. My Roland RE-201 Space Echo had fallen our of favour since I’d acquired a pair of very clean RE-501s (tape echoes were also quite unfashionable by then – too noisy/unreliable – and could be picked up relatively cheaply). The 501 is very clean-sounding and is great for synths, or for late 70s or early 80s guitar tones (think Wall-era Floyd or the Police) – but wasn’t going to deliver the grit and character I’d got in mind.

I spotted a Grampian Type 636 on ebay – it looked ancient and I had no idea what it was or what it did, which immediately sparked my interest. A quick search via Ask Jeeves or Yahoo! (this predated Google’s ubiquity) suggested that the great Pete Townshend had used one back in the mid/late sixties for his guitar distortion. This persuaded me to bid and it was soon mine for the princely sum of £52.

Here’s one of several shots of Grampians in Pete’s set up that I subsequently found:

When it arrived, it was in ‘vintage’ condition and my first challenge was to locate a store that could supply me with the massive and almost obsolete lantern-type battery to power it up. This accomplished, I marvelled at the massive amount of noise and minimal amount of signal produced. It was some time before I could find someone who’d attempt to repair this strange antiquated box which had no schematic, and which appeared to have been somewhat haphazardly hand-built. The germanium transistors were noisy; finding the right NOS components that had fared better over time than those in my Grampian again took time.

Eventually it was returned to me by a tech muttering curses and advising I never again darken his door with another one of those monstrosities. He also was less than complimentary about its noise floor, performance and build quality and suggested I’d wasted my money and his time as it was about as useful as the proverbial cocoa-derived fireguard.

Back in the studio I again marvelled at the unwanted noise and began to think he’d been right. Until I ran a synth through it. And then a guitar. Boom. Yes, it was hellishly noisy (it’s less-so now as I later found a tech better-equipped to get the best out of it), but that glorious, richly-harmonic distortion was like warm fuzzy sonic crack; I was hooked. Thus began a quest for things germanium that continues to this day.

Not only does it do humungous distortion/overdrive (use the different inputs for various degrees of filth), the amazing timbre of the spring tank just nails that vintage spring tone that you’ve heard on countless classic dub sides. It’s probably the most effortlessly-authentic dub spring reverb you’ll ever hear. The reverb combined with distortion, and the limiting circuit that uses the overload lamp to draw current, can yield rich new sounds and tones, transforming wimpy weakling signals into gargantuan sand-kicking-in-your-face behemoths.

I later found a second, mains-powered 636, that sounded very different, but still very good. It’s entirely-likely that no two units will sound the same today (and possible that they never did) – at least that was my excuse for keeping one of each. That and the fact that they weren’t too costly.

Sadly, the days of finding these previously well-kept secrets at pawn shop prices seem long gone. It’s been over three years since we last sold one – to Al Breadwinner of the Bakery Studio, who promptly posted his Grampian Dub live dub mix on YouTube –

– which is perhaps as convincing a reason for their subsequent rise in popularity and scarcity as the fact that Lee Perry used one in his Black Ark Studio in Kingston, Jamaica.

I asked Pete Townshend about his original Grampian 636 last year and he told me he still has two – both modified for him with balanced ins/outs by Pepe Rush in 1967 (and no, he wasn’t selling either).

Buying this Grampian:

A Grampian 636 is the most requested item on the Soundgas Gear Wanted List – we have a long list of people eager to get their hands on one. So when a long-standing customer asked us if we wanted to sell his for him, we jumped at the chance and felt the fairest method outside ebay was to sell by sealed bids on this serviced and fully-working Grampian 636 – that process has how happened and the unit is sold, however if you are interested in hearing when we get another then get in touch with any questions via the contact page. Demos of the unit, one of which is below, were posted to our Instagram feed.

Tech Spec:

The mic input has both balanced and unbalanced input options, and there are two auxiliary channel inputs – the 10mV/50k ohm input is great for guitar and also for maximum distortion levels – the second input is 500mV/1M ohm. Output is rated at 1V 600 ohms. There are controls for on/off via a toggle switch, Reverberate which controls the spring reverb level, and input gain controls for the Mic and Aux Channels linked to the Overload lamp circuit. This unit is 240v mains powered, some run on 9v ‘lantern’ type batteries.

The Soundgas Snare Springathon on YouTube compared 14 different spring reverbs and featured both of our battery and mains units – and you can also read the full Spring Reverb blog here.

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Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.