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.
MODEL: Belle Epoch Tape Delay
DO I OWN IT?: No
WHAT IT IS: The Belle Epoch (Wonderful Era or something like that) is Catalinbread’s attempt to digitally recreate the vintage Maestro Echoplex (EP-3) that was used by many classic guitarists such as Jimmy Paige both for it’s delay effect, and it’s pre-amp circuit that acted as a light overdrive or tone booster. To that end the BE not only features delay, but an analog pre-amp circuit. It is also designed to be able to before your dirt pedal or a dirty amp setting just like the original EP-3 did. This is different from most delays who have a recommended placement after the gain pedals or in a dirty amp’s effects loop.
This is the first review that I will write which will be almost entirely negative. Up until now, every review has been positive. It’s not that I ignored a pedals flaws or that I didn’t acknowledge when a pedal had issues, but even then, even if a pedal didn’t work well for me, or a in most worship settings, it didn’t mean that it was a bad pedal. The BE is something different.
Let me start off by saying that it doesn’t sound bad per say. I wish it did sound bad because it would make the writing easier. But does it sound like a tape delay, specifically an Echoplex style one? Is it worth the high price point of $200 for a pedal that only does one trick, and in my opinion, doesn’t do it well? You be the judge.
PROS: Catalinbread designed the BE to go in front of a dirty amp or gain pedals just like the Echoplex would have back in the day. That’s a really useful design feature and one that I wish more delays would implement. It also has tried to capture the tone sweetening qualities of the EP-3, although if this was all you want, the Xotic EP booster is pedal for you.
One of the really great things about this pedal is that they made it in a size that is friendly to smaller pedalboards. You can put this pedal on your rig without kicking 3 other pedals off.
The final pro is that you can choose between running it at 9 or 18v. I love that option. I’m a big fan of 18v in pedals. I run my plimsoul at 18v and my Moonshine, Superbolt and Deep Six all have internal charge pumps to get 18v which I think helps make those pedals. Admittedly I’ve only played the BE at 9v. I’ve heard from some that running at 18v makes a huge difference but none of the 18v demos I’ve seen on YouTube indicate that for me.
CONS: The biggest con with this pedal is the sound. It sounds like a digital delay that’s been voiced to sound and act like a Tape Delay. If it was the Tape setting on a multi feature delay pedal like the DL4 it wouldn’t be bad. But it’s not. This pedal only has one goal, to sound like a EP-3 tape delay. If the EP-3 is 3 dimensional, the Strymon El Cap is 2D and the BE is a 1 Dimensional digital tape delay in my estimation.
The other con is control. The BE’s controls are the same controls that you would find on an EP-3. The only problem is that other factors in the sound of a mechanical tape delay like how new or old the tape is, or the tension of the tape, etc can’t be controlled with the BE. It’s kind of unavoidable to compare the BE with the Strymon El Capistan because of a $100 you get several other types of Tape Delay, plus control over the mechanical factors like Tape Age and Bias.
HOW WOULD YOU USE IT FOR WORSHIP?: With 80-800ms of delay, there’s pretty much no way that I couldn’t set this pedal up for worship. Slapback, ambient, atmosphere, rhythmic, lead booster. I could probably set all these sounds up fairly easily. But if you want multiple sounds over the course of a worship set list you’ll have to redial each time because there are no presets, and you’ll only be guessing on the delay time because there is no tap tempo. Lack of features is understandable in a pedal that ‘s trying to emulate a vintage unit to the letter, but if you don’t get the sound right, you better have the features to cover and the BE does not.
FINAL VERDICT: The Belle Epoch is representative of how I feel about most Catalinbread pedals I’ve come across, in that while I like the concept, I’m not super big on the execution. It’s not personal, I want those guys to keep making pedals, especially attempts at vintage, out of production gear. One of these days they’re going to make something I want, but with the BE, today is not that day.
If you need a versatile delay for your worship guitar rig, the Belle Epoch is a one trick pony. If you really want a solid sounding tape delay, then pay the extra money and get the El Capistan. If you want something for Hillsong/U2 style delay you probably want something in the digital or analog categories. If you want something for atmosphere or ambience again, there are many other delays out there that will do a far better job. If you really love the sound of the Belle Epoch, and don’t get why I don’t like it, then please, by all means, ignore me and trust your ears. At the end of the day, if it works for you and it helps serve your church and God in music then that’s all that matters.