A Favorite Pedal: Strymon El Capistan

So here’s another favorite guitar effects pedal of mine, the Strymon El Capistan:

Strymon El Capistan
Strymon El Capistan

This a very nice machine. It’s a digital signal processor with software to emulate an old-timey magnetic tape-based echo machine, like the Echoplex. The Echoplex is fragile, has very limited delay time, and over time the tape would get stretched, worn out, wrinkled, and generally start to sound very weird. El Capistan emulates all the weirdness (except the fragility!), and adds a few more features. My favorite feature is the quite good spring reverb emulation. Here is my guitar dry (guitar → El Capistan → speaker emulator → mixing board → Garage Band), and then again with the reverb on and a tiny amount of slapback (very short) echo:

Here’s a snippet of “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb with the reverb and slapback:

A good echo pedal must have a tap tempo feature (the button on the left), allowing you to set the delay time by tapping your foot. Here I use it to repeat what I play, delayed by a dotted eight-note, to do a fake version of “Frame By Frame” by King Crimson:

Another great feature of Echoplexes (that El Capistan emulates — of course) is that it had multiple playback heads, allowing you to get multiple echo times from the same input signal. Here I use it (with the spring reverb too) to do a pretty bad rendition of the introduction of “Fight The Fight” by Living Colour:

For “Fight The Fight” I used El Capistan’s stereo output feature which adds a wonderful sense of space and a bit of a ping-pong feeling to the multi-head echo.

El Capistan can do almost anything you could want from an echo machine, but that makes it complicated. It has a sound-on-sound mode that I can only occasionally figure out — but it sounds great when I get it. (Dammit Jim, I’m a software engineer, not a pedal doctor!) If I can reliably understand how to make it go I’ll post another sample using it.

For simplicity and immediate gratification, I recommend the unstoppable Boss DD-7 delay. (I have 2, and could definitely put a 3rd to good use.) But for hours of wacky fun and classic Delia Derbyshire sci-fi sounds, you want El Capistan.