The EPROM OS upgrade and slider for my ESQ-1 arrived in the mail today! The chip upgrade allows for access to “hidden” waveforms for new sound possibilities, and smoother operation. The new slider is to replace the old dusty and scratchy data-entry slider, that doesn’t really work anymore. I should have bought an extra one to replace te volume slider as well, ah well.
I finally got around to opening up my Ensoniq ESQ-1 digital wave synth to give it a clean, change the backup memory battery, and to see if I could fix the MIDI out, which was completely dead.
Upon opening it, I found that there was a hell of a lot of dust in there that needed to be cleaned out, which was somehow pretty fun to do, getting the dust-buster in there and spraying the hell out of it with compressed air. I changed the battery (that was older than I am and a type of battery that’s long out of production) to a battery clip containing two rechargeable batteries. Apparently I’m not supposed to do this, that the rechargeable batteries will need a power source to keep them charged always, but not overcharged, and that rechargeable batteries will defuse themselves after a few months without power. I’ll see how it goes anyway, I’ve still got the memory cartridge that will keep a lot of my patches on it anyway. I managed also to fix the problem with the MIDI out socket! There is an aluminium chassis that must be removed to get to the battery, and whomever had removed that in the past must have done so carelessly, as there was some scrape marks on the PCB and that there was a single broken resistor! I replaced the resistor and the MIDI out now works fine, allowing me to sit my Doepfer Dark Energy on top of it and play that and the ESQ simultaneously. Which is pretty cool.
With that whole process, not only did I have a bunch of fun, but I saved myself having to lug my pretty heavy vintage synth across Melbourne, and saved myself a hundred bucks or so and the time I would have to wait to go and get it back. DIY is always pretty rewarding, I recommend trying it!
I’ve ordered the OS update chips and some new sliders online, as soon as they come my synth with be at an all new level of fun and usability. New “hidden sounds” wave forms to use, and sliders that will be accurate. Can’t wait! It will be like having a whole new instrument’s worth of inspiration just by doing some simple web research and having a tinker. Have a tinker with your shit! It’s worth it, yo!
Here are some pictures.
With much enthusiasm I will be reviewing my favourite piece of equipment, the Roland RE-201 Space Echo.
The Space Echo was created in 1973, and production ran for a keen 17 years, up until 1990, and is widely regarded as one of the most popular and most successful tape echo units ever produced.
The range of effects available pre-1973 was very limited, and the Space Echo was something that arrived giving musicians a great, flexible, arrange of new possibilities in sound at an affordable price, giving people a plethora of chorusing effects, self-oscillation, complex delay patterns, and cavernous spring reverberations. Before then people had wah, distortion and phasing to play with, but BBD circuits for chorusing and delays, digital processors and so on was something yet to come. With the Space Echo’s three input channels, a three-spring reverb, 12 reverb/echo modes, and independent EQ of its affected sound, the Space Echo must have come as an awesome addition to a musician’s sonic palate. There’s no surprise Roland had such a success with the Space Echoes. They look pretty sexy too.
I’ve now owned three RE-echoes, the first one bought when I was living in Finland. I bought it to fill my soul, I felt the need to do something new and fresh with myself and my music living in a new country, I wanted something that would help push the kind of psychedelic music that I wanted to write – being very into krautrock, The Mars Volta, Boris and Radiohead at the time – and the spacey that I ordered from japan filled that void in my heart in a way that makes me feel ever nostalgic to think back upon. This particular unit must have been a later made model (they made them up until 1990), one that came with a cleaning kit and had thumbscrews to open its lid, like in 501 models. This first space echo was the best sounding echo that I’ve played through, I’m not exactly sure why, but there was such gritty clarity to the sounds this thing produced, and the rhythmic elements of each different setting were strong and clear. Unfortunately, towards the end of my stay in Finland, as I was running out of money i had to sell my buddy in order to pay rent. I sold it to a guy who worked in a music shop in Turku who was putting together a vintage studio, and wanted to put the Space Echo in there. A nice new home.
The sounds of this first Space Echo that I bought can be heard (recorded onto a mono cassette then recorded from that onto my computer) on this improvised track:
It’s a shame I don’t have a higher quality recording of this unit, as it sounded really awesome.
I didn’t get my next one for a couple of years after that, at a point where my cravings for space travel could no longer be ignored. I sold my huge and explosively loud Roland Jazz Chorus 4×10” 160 watt amp (another piece of gear that i sorely miss! And that i coincidentally saw being used at a gig recently!) for my second space echo (and my first synth too!) that was again imported from Japan. Having not experienced the troubles that people have with space echoes with my immaculate last echo, I now understand some of the pain that people go through. This echo was older than my first, probably an early 80s model judging by its condition, and seems like it hadn’t ever been used very much, probably sitting in storage most of its life. At first after plugging it in I was disappointed about the lack of richness in the echoes produced, the preamp was sounding great, but the effect was lacking something. And then the motor stopped running. Luckily I was able to find a good tech reasonably easily (who I now use for all my synth servicing), and he was able to get it working pretty quickly, and added an erase-head bypass/sound-on-sound, which gave me even more creative options! This tape echo sounds great, but still doesn’t surpass the sound quality my first echo. This one needs a little more attention too, I have to oil up the pinch roller every so often. But this one still meets my needs of hyperspace travel, with a much dirtier feel than my first one. I’ll probably replace the tape soon also, see where that brings me. I run everything through this thing, something that my brother criticizes me for regularly.
This is an early demo that I made not long after having this one returned from its service, a tape loop was recorded by switching off the erase-head and playing with the motor speed:
My third space echo was a 501 Chorus Echo model, imported from mexico, one that I unfortunately never even got to try. My idea was to run guitar through the gritty 201 continually, and run everything else through the balanced and much cleaner and clearer balanced-out 501 via my mixers aux send-return effects loop. This much space echo would have slingshot me through a wormhole into the unknown and endless outer reaches of space where I’d be forever lost and searching for intelligent life. I had bought it at a time when I couldn’t really afford it (as i often do when it comes to gear that seems like a good deal), and had bought it in an ‘as is’ condition, the chorus and reverb worked and the motor was clearly running the tape, but it didn’t produce any echo sounds. This time I took it to my tech who after some weeks of testing it out told me that there was some serious damage to the PCB of the tape heads, and that there wasn’t much he could do other than recommend finding a tape specialist. So after doing lots of research and sending a lot of emails, I came across a nice old guy who specializes in restoring old reel to reel tape recorders. So I sent my echo off to him to see what he could do. He did a lot of cleaning and testing, but eventually concluded that the repairs he would have to do would outweigh how much the whole thing was worth, and that I’d be better off finding another one for spare parts and put the best of each together, or to sell it. Fuck. I did some more research and found a guy in Sydney who repairs Space Echoes especially. I emailed him to find if he had any spare 501 parts, and that if he didn’t/wasn’t able to fix it, I asked him if he’d like to buy it for spare parts. He said that he didn’t have spare parts but suggested that I send him my 501 to have a look at anyway. After it arrived he had a look and told me he’d be able to fix it, no worries, but of course at this point, which was a few months after I’d originally got it, I’d wasted the rest of my money on my Roland RS-505 Paraphonic synth, and was running extra low on cash waiting in between two jobs, so I decided to sell it to him. Regrettably, he fixed it a week or two later, and emailed me to offer back to me for sale (at a pretty good price), to which I had to say no. I saw it on eBay the next day, and it was sold to some guy in New South Wales. Sad for me.
The space echo is more than just an echo effect, this thing has a physical presence, and personality of its own, and each one I’ve played through feels different. It’s a mostly simple piece of equipment that provides me with endless inspiration and defines the reasons why I love vintage gear over newer or digital stuff. This thing is a piece of music history, hailing back to a time where this sort of effect was new and exciting. It’s big and looks cool, it has been used by a lot of amazing musicians over the years, with its sweet preamps and juicy effects, rolling motor and tape hiss, it has its own personality that seems to give life to anything I play through it. You can keep your tape-echo simulators, I’ll lug my Space Echo with me wherever I go.
This is what it sounds like when I run everything through my current 201. Distorted drums are from overdriving the Echo.
Video and sound demos coming hopefully soon.
I’m on the lookout for a 301 or 501, and would be interested in trying a Korg Stage Echo. Please feel free to contact me if you have one for sale or wish to give me a freeby!
Thanks to Gordon Reid from Sound on Sound for a little history on Roland; http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/nov04/articles/roland.htm#14, and to Wikipedia as well.
This machine is intended to open up my drumming possibilities, not only will it be a great way to incorporate sampled beats and phrases, but it will be a better MIDI controller for my Vermona DRM1 analogue drum machine than my old Roland TR-505, and most of all, it will be a great tool to be able to sample myself and put together a live, loop-based performance! Electro Harmonix 2880 Super Multi-Track Looper + Akai MPC1000 (with hardware and software upgrades!) = loop heaven.
Stay tuned, I’ll let you know how I go figuring out how to use this thing!