Gear Review: El Capistan dTape Delay

This article is part of The Month Of Delay at the Real World Worship blog. All throughout the month of March we will be looking at different aspects of the delay effect in worship music.

BRAND: Strymon

MODEL: El Capistan dTape Delay. The El Cap is Styrmon’s attempt to make the ultimate recreation of vintage magnetic tape delays possible. It’s really 3 types of delay in one: Single head, Multi-head, and Fixed-head Tape delay with the ability to get Magnetic Drum sounds to boot. Think the Echoplex, Space Echo, and Echorec all rolled into one pedal.

COST: $300


PROS: Few pedals give you as many options at the El Cap. You can choose between it’s three tape heads: Single, Multi, and Fixed. Then each of those have 3 different modes (A, B and C) that affect the type of delay. For example you can choose Multi-head but then you have to choose which ones of those multiple heads will handle the repeats, just like on a Space Echo.

No only does this pedal give you a lot of styles, it gives you a lot of control. You have the standard controls like Delay Time, Mix, and Repeats, but you also have controls for Tape Age (how new or fresh the “tape” is vs how old or used it sounds), and Wow and Flutter (the natural modulation of a mechanical delay). But when you hold down the On/Off and Tap tempo buttons together you get a whole new set of controls. The Time control now controls a spring reverb (it’s not great but neither where the ones in the Space Echos). The Mix controls a +/- 3dB boost if you want to give more volume to the repeats. There are also controls for tape bias, tape crinkle (yes, that does exactly what it sounds like it does) and Low-End Contour. In short, you will have more control over the sound of this pedal than you will know what to do with.

Added to all this is a tap tempo that doubles as a momentary switch. So tap on it and you’ll tap out the El Cap’s delay time, but if you hold it down you’ll throw it into self oscillation that’ll make you want to listen to you’re favorite Radiohead record over and over. I actually found the momentary switch on this pedal to be the most musically friendly of any I’ve tried and found it to be one of things I missed the most after I sold mine.

There are two versions of the pedal. V2 has stereo In capabilities via a TRS cable and clickless switches which is a plus for worship players when stage noise is an issue. Also, I found that the secondary controls are easier to access when holding down two click less switches than two standard switches. In addition, if you add a Favorite switch (sold separately) you can save a preset making this two pedals in one.

CONS: All this control comes with a high learning curve. It took me several months of use before I really started to feel comfortable with dialing in the settings. Plus, this pedal is emulating vintage gear so it’ll have vintage issues. The two that stood out was the lack of quality from the spring reverb (use it sparingly) and the Delay Time knob works counter clockwise, which is how an old tape head would’ve worked but it’s counter intuitive to the modern delay pedal and take some getting used to.

Some people would count the high cost ($300 plus $50 if you add the Fav Switch) as a con, but I don’t. To match the different styles of tape delay found in the El Cap you would have to spend around $700 and buy at least 3 pedals.

HOW WOULD YOU USE IT FOR WORSHIP?: If there’s one thing the El Capistan didn’t do for me, it was U2. I could kind of coax some dotted 8th-ish sounds out of the pedal, but it’s not the El Cap’s forte. But as for everything else, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t get it to do, it was just a question of whether I wanted the Tape delay sound or something different.

Mostly, I found I either used it for lead boost or Coldplay like arpeggios (single head) or I’d use the multi-head functions for atmosphere and an ambient “wash”.  This pedal was great for “filling in the spaces” in songs with not much going on musically.

FINAL VERDICT: This pedal is expensive, and it may well be overkill for most of us, but there’s no denying that it’s a great pedal. Does it sound exactly like a magnetic tape delay as some claim? No. If the real thing is 3D, the El Capistan is 2D… but it’s really, really good 2D.

The obvious question is: why don’t I own this pedal anymore? Honestly, I sold it to fund purchasing a higher quality amp last summer. I came to realization that since the amp is the most important piece of our tone, that a pedal like this was luxury when my amp needed upgrading. I’m very open to the idea of owning one again, and it in no way reflects on the quality of the pedal.

This pedal will make you want to create, and if delay is a core part of your tone then you’ll have a lot of places to go with it. As I’ve said, the $300 price point is really a value for what this thing can do. The EC isn’t the best sounding Tape delay emulation out there, but it’s the best value, and the best Tape Delay pedal on the market. So buy it if you’re looking for a really great Tape Delay emulation, skip it if you just need a basic workhorse delay.

Check out the El Capistan Manual for a feel of all it can do HERE

Check out a demo HERE, HERE, and HERE.

2 thoughts on “Gear Review: El Capistan dTape Delay

  1. Pingback: TAPE DELAY | Real World Worship Leading

  2. Pingback: Gear Review: Empress Tape Delay | Real World Worship Leading

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