Rock Dinosaurs – T-Rex and the rebirth of the Binson Echorec
WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln
UPLOADED: 9th Jan 2018
“Listen, we ALL love gear. Every person involved in this project can’t get it out of their minds because of the nature of the unit. For gear heads and techs, this is just like going to Disneyland.” – T-Rex Effects December 2017
Tony Miln’s blog post today was going to be the first part in our forthcoming series on the Binson Echorec: buying, owning, using, maintaining – and tips, tricks and insights gained from a couple of decades spent wrangling these exotic Italian beasts. Here at Soundgas we receive almost daily requests for information/advice/parts for Binsons, so I intend to build up a resource for anyone who wants to learn more about these fabulous and wild (and sometimes downright dangerous) machines.
An interest in Binsons is most usually sparked by one or more of the following:
- Hank Marvin and The Shadows. For a particular generation, Hank Marvin was the original guitar hero – his signature red Strat and Vox amps partnered with Binson Echorecs shaped the distinctive sound of the Shadows.
- Pink Floyd: from the psychedelic sixties with Syd Barrett’s Telecaster and Richard Wright’s Farfisa both shaped by their Binson Echorecs on Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, to Roger Water’s Bass on Meddle and David Gilmour’s Strat on Dark Side Of The Moon etc, the sound of an Echorec is the sound of Pink Floyd.
- Led Zeppelin: Jimmy Page owned a Baby Binson and used it to shape one of the most famous/sampled drum breaks in history – together with a Ludwig kit, the acoustics of Headley Grange and some bloke called John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham – on “When The Levee Breaks”
- Michael Brauer (The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Coldplay, John Mayer, Aretha Franklin, etc) – the celebrated mix engineer counts an Echorec 2 amongst his incredible arsenal of outboard effects at Electric Lady Studios (Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland). Many of today’s top producers, mix engineers, artists and studios view a Binson Echorec as an essential effect for the unique sound they produce.
Personally, I’ve been besotted with the Binson sound for nearly twenty-five years now – my studio collection was well into double digits in the days before Soundgas was born. More on this in a future blog, but instead today is all about some very exciting news that T-Rex announced at last year’s NAMM: that they are working on a new version of the Binson Echorec. “That ain’t news!” I hear you say: they announced it, had a mock-up on display, and then… nothing.
Those of us well-versed in the ways of mechanical echoes – and particularly Binsons – should not have been surprised that development would not be swift. It’s hard enough designing, building and manufacturing a new tape delay of any kind in an era when so much of expertise and knowledge is disappearing fast, but with the Echorec this is multiplied a hundredfold. Almost nobody today can boast a complete understanding of the particular combination of mechanical design, engineering and manufacturing that is unique to the Binson Echorec. I know only too well how it has become almost impossible to find good engineers whose quality of work matches their understanding of the design and construction of these machines and who can rebuild a vintage unit to my complete satisfaction. There are precious few who even claim to be experts, but at present, I can count on my thumbs the technicians whose work I can personally vouch for.
Over the past twenty-five years, I have seen good Binson technicians dwindle. I learnt much from Eric Snowball of ESE Music (BInson UK) in my early years; following his sad passing some years ago, we purchased his remaining stock of Binson parts from his son, Matt. Some years ago, I found an excellent technician who, using my ‘golden’ machines (serviced by Eric) as a benchmark, steadily refined his work until he was producing the finest restored Binsons I’d ever seen (even improving on dear Eric’s work on one of mine). Sadly, we also lost him a few years back. I’m currently working with our excellent in-house tech, Doctor Huw, in planning training a new generation of Binson techs (anyone reading this who feels they should be involved, please get in touch).
So given the difficulties we experience in restoring Binsons, it’s hardly surprising that T-Rex’s progress is not as immediate as many would have liked. Their meticulous attention to detail, passion for, and indisputable dedication to their products are well-known: their reputation as one of the finest manufacturers of quality gear is beyond doubt. I, for one, am delighted that they are taking whatever time they require – we have recently experienced what can happen when a manufacturer rushes out a new product too soon and it’s not pretty. I want this new Binson Echorec to be everything we could wish for, and I am confident that T-Rex will deliver something that is truly worthy of the Binson name.
Their announcement before Christmas about progress to date on the new Binson Echorec was exactly what I wanted to hear. They talk of spending a good deal of time on ‘back engineering’ and rightly-so. Vintage Binsons are incredibly tricky to get right, and require careful handling and use: the new machine will be expected to withstand the rigours of use/abuse by a generation raised on solid state and digital delays, unused to the delicacies and foibles of mechanical echoes. To succeed in a world with precious few echo techs it will need to sound good, work reliably, and be easily-serviced (as required – and not too often): a good deal of clever design and engineering is required to tick these boxes.
That T-Rex have a machine with a functioning drum, heads, amplification, switching and filtering tells us that progress is being made. When I read that they are all fired-up about this project, and see talk about it being on 2018’s Santa list, it gives me a warm feeling inside. I for one can’t wait (actually I can, and happily-so, for a job well done); we at Soundgas are behind them all the way. I have offered our ears, minds and support whenever they are ready for our feedback.
So here’s to the good folks at T-Rex: God speed your fine endeavours!
Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.