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Are Roland Tape Echoes Reliable?

(spoiler: yes, but…)

We often get asked if we consider Roland Space and Chorus Echoes to be reliable; a reasonable question, given that they’re around 40 years old.

More experienced readers [You mean older? Ed] will have spied Roland RE-series machines in the studio, looking iconic, but cast aside in favour of something more reliable/quieter/pedalboard-friendly. Many will have experienced poorly-maintained, heavily used/abused machines, usually with incorrect or decrepit tape loops. Many may also have been given the impression that that limited performance was all they were capable of. Soundgas service/test around two hundred machines a year and collectively we have many decades’ experience with Roland echoes. Below are some thoughts on reliability and why, with all tape echoes, it is very much a case of ‘you get what you pay for’.

But before we get into that here’s a time-lapse video showing our tech Doctor Huw servicing one of our RE-201 Space Echoes:

Are you experienced?

So we sell a lot of Space Echoes. So what? An immediate advantage to you when buying from a business selling as many as us is we are constantly refining our processes and systems. We never stop learning from and about the machines, and from our customers’ experiences with them. We guarantee everything we sell, so it costs us a great deal if something goes wrong with one of our echoes after worldwide shipping. That definitely focuses us on making them perfect and rock solid and our return rate due to faults is very low indeed.

We only buy in machines which appear to have had below average use and are in good cosmetic condition: this is an immediate advantage from both sonic and reliability perspectives. Low hours means less head/motor wear; good cosmetics suggests easy lives not spent in sweaty studios heavy with smoke or being kicked around on tour. Tape echoes that have had 40 years of hard use are increasingly difficult to restore to a high standard. Many people (myself included) wrote RE-201s off for so long – the experience was only of abused machines that rarely performed well (if at all) and languished in studio corners looking iconic, but sounding pretty bad (I swapped my first one for a pristine 501 that ran beautifully and didn’t hum).

Over the years, we’ve seen just about every possible issue arise and have improved our service schedule to iron out preventable faults before they leave our hands. Huw’s experience keeping echoes performing at their best on the road and our extensive knowledge of the pitfalls of sourcing and sending gear all over the world – combined with our shared studio experience – means our machines not only work well on arrival with our customers, but that they should continue doing so for many years to come. We also guarantee that our Roland echoes sound as good as can be achieved with 40+ year-old machines – as close to factory spec as possible.

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The Doctor will see you now

Doctor Huw, our main in-house echo tech, is a living legend who’s repaired and cared for these machines for nearly 25 years (often upside down, in the dark and with a torch in his mouth onstage in the middle of a gig). Initially BBC-trained, Huw’s skills and knowledge have been tested and honed out on the battlefield as a live tech with many years on the road with the likes of Portishead, Massive Attack and Robert Plant. His wide experience and knowledge of repairing and improving old gear hasĀ seen our Roland tape echoes go from strength to strength in recent years, culminating in us supplying Roland themselves with machines for their recent Cause And Effects show in London (read more about that here).

Of course once you get your perfect machine you need to look after it and we will deal with tape echo care in a separate post. And don’t forget that tape is crucial…

For now here’s the moment when Al Breadwinner got his Space Echo back into his wonderful set up after it had been tweaked and tuned by us. He’d had it for more than 10 years and said it had never sounded like this šŸ™‚

"loving the echo, every unit has a different style and attack and space echos are one of the best for me. I have been using a mixture of copicat, a very old digital delay and various tape machines for a while, but think this will be the main delay now." Al Breadwinner / The Bakery Studio

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Thanks for reading. This post is one of a series on the Roland tape echoes we are compiling into an online resource for tape delay fans and users. Other instalments includeĀ talking about tape, how to choose the right tape delay, care and maintenance, and some secret tips and tricks.

More Roland Resources:

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Roland Tape Echo

Start here for all of our information about Roland tape echoes. We're specialists in these machines and have been obsessed with perfecting them for many years.

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