Roland, RE-201 Space Echo, 1974 - Francis Monkman / Florian Pilkington-Miksa (Curved Air)


RE-201 Space Echo
Serial Number: 
The Story Behind

The earliest sound effects were strictly studio productions. In the mid to late 1940s, recording engineers and experimental musicians such as Les Paul began manipulating reel-to-reel recording tape to create echo effects and unusual, futuristic sounds. Microphone placement ("miking") techniques were used in spaces with specially designed acoustic properties to simulate echo chambers.

In 1948 DeArmond released the Trem-Trol, the first commercially available stand-alone effects unit. This device produced a tremolo by passing an instrument's electrical signal through a water-based electrolytic fluid. Most stand-alone effects of the 1950s and early 60s such as the Gibson GA-VI vibrato unit and the Fender reverb box, were expensive and impractical, requiring bulky transformers and high voltages. The original stand-alone units were not especially in-demand as many effects came built into amplifiers. The first popular stand-alone was the 1958 Watkins Copicat, a relatively portable tape echo effect made famous by the British band, The Shadows.

The Roland RE-201 Space Echo is truly a Vintage (1973) piece of music technology with lots of appeal even today. It's not a synth, but a Tape-Echo machine for creating true analog echo effects. The RE-201 is a simple system in which a small loop of tape records an incoming signal and immediately plays the recorded sound back over a couple playback heads before being erased over by new incoming audio. A real analog system with warm, gritty and almost noiseless operation, the Space Echo can provide warm, unpredictable and highly tweakable echo effects.

There are twelve settings to adjust various tape loop speeds, number of repeats, levels, intensity, etc... It can even generate some of its own feedback loops for instant sci-fi effects. It features a built in spring reverb for even more classic analog effects. The RE-201 not only has Vintage appeal but is still widely used to get those dubby, slightly unpredictable, musically analog echo effects. 

It was not just Curved Air that pioneered this legendary echo/delay unit. It helped Pink Floyd take their music into the stratosphere likewise, it helped Robert Fripp/Brian Eno realise their dreams, Conny Plank or any German Prog/Psych band of the period you can bet had one of these, Radiohead used it extensively on OK Computer [that noise loop at the end of Karma Police]... its legacy continues to reverberate through the music business to this day, with Boss recently re-packaging the device as a foot pedal. 

The case is in vintage Rock ’N’ Roll condition, with light signs of scuffing around the edges from handling on the road back in the day. It has not toured since the seventies & remains in full working order Lifting the hinged lid on top exposes the heart of the machine, its tape transport system. Inside there is a record head, three separate playback heads, and a variable speed motor. The single tape loop spools freely into a tape chamber, with a plastic cover over the top to protect the tape in full working order.

The device comes from the private collection of Florian Pilkington-Miksa, aka the engine room and drummer extraordinaire for the pioneering British Prog-Rockers Curved Air. This original 1974 Japanese RE-201 Roland Space Echo - the very device that was used by their guitarist Francis Monkman on the band's reunion tour in December 1974 and which spawned the magnificent 1975 "Live" LP recorded live at Cardiff University & Bristol Polytechnic in December '74. This was the most cutting edge and sophisticated portable tape echo device on the market at the time. It is built like a tank, seemingly beamed down from space, but easy to transport and both reliable and roadworthy unlike any tape reverb/delay before it. It remains in fully working order.

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