A peep inside the Strymon workshop

A peep inside the Strymon workshop

Pete Celi is the man behind the sound at Strymon. He was interviewed this month by Japanese publication "Effects Book" to talk about the inspiration behind the new Volante delay pedal. As you might expect, Pete really knows his stuff when it comes to delay and echo effects; so we picked up the conversation to share with you... 

EB
Can you introduce yourself?

PC
I'm Pete Celi, the DSP algorithm Designer and Sound Designer at Strymon. 

EB
”Volante” is a delay/echo with remarkable flexibility and usability featuring four virtual recording head that has ‘REC ON/OFF ’ and ‘FEEDBACK ON/OFF ’ switcher on each, which enables very subtle adjustment for recording level, panning of effect sound and the distance between heads. Upon creating this particular effect, what kind of usage were you as Strymon originally intended? Did you have any specific image like you want to recreate “such-and-such particular sound that was on such-and-such album”?

PC
The sounds that many associate with multi-head echoes are from the guitar tones of early surf bands like The Shadows and the Ventures from the 50's and 60's, and then of course the Pink Floyd albums of the 70's. The units used were quite varied, so we wanted to create something that would allow the user to capture all those experiences. 

EB
Multi-Head Echo/Delay has always been favored and widely used by not only guitar players but also recording engineers. We heard that Binson “Echorec” was originally developed as a hi-fi equipment for recording studio use, while models like  Watkins/ WEM ”Copicat” and Klemt ”Echolette” were perhaps more than often plugged into studio console and send/return on PA back in the day. It is interesting to see old Roland “RE series” machine is loved by creators of digital generation like dub-track makers. In the developing process of “Volante”, did you do thorough research with regard to how Multi-Head Echo/Delay has been historically utilized and perhaps adopted such result in the algorithm production? 

PC
We designed Volante so it can be used in any manner that anyone might use any other multi-head delay. We looked at the mechanics and circuit paths of multi-head units, and listened to many different applications to create the algorithms in Volante. Some applications make use of very high-passed repeats for example, so we made sure Volante was capable of those sounds as well with the range of the  'LOW CUT' control. 

EB
When you hear the name Binson “Echorec”, the first rock musician who comes to most peoples’ mind as utilized it onto guitar/keyboard playing and recording must be Pink Floyd. Without David Gilmour’s contribution “Echorec” could never be that outrageously expensive in the vintage market today. We heard that Mr. Pete Celi was (and perhaps still is) a Pink Floyd fan, so among all their recordings, which song(s) does he (or do you) feel most efficient to employ the great feature of Multi-Head Delay/Echo?   

PC
Many songs from the Album 'Dark Side of the Moon' have a guitar sound that is reverberant, showcasing the ambient nature of multi-head delays. The single-line guitar intro to the song 'Time' is a great example.

EB
How do you think the unique Drum/Disc mechanism of Binson “Echorec” influence on its Delay/Echo sound? Also, what did you care about the most when you replace it with digital algorithm? 

PC
The drum uses machined steel wire as a recording medium. It has good fidelity, and much of the color of the sound comes from the supporting circuitry, which had many tubes in the signal path, which added harmonics and some grit when driven harder. The  'WEAR' and 'MECHANICS' knobs create the artifacts that arise from old or misaligned media and mechanical problems. The mechanical warbling becomes a warped cyclic disturbance at the rpm speed of the drum as you turn up 'MECHANICS'. 

EB
We heard that the earlier model of Binson “Echorec” used a tube as a booster, and DRUM in “Volante” apparently recreates that audio spec. What kind of feel does the virtual tube circuit on DRUM add onto sound sources such as guitars? 

PC
It gives a dynamic feel to the delay repeats. Hitting the input harder adds saturation and harmonics to the repeats without making them much louder. It allows high regeneration to achieve a harmonically rich wash of sound. 

EB
Are we correct to assume that the distortion/saturation added by REC LEVEL on “Volante” occurred in the JFET analog booster stage? 

PC
Yes, that is correct. REC LEVEL controls the gain through the analog JFET circuit only before it is sent to the signal processor. 

EB
Regarding TAPE and STUDIO (as Strymon has explored through “El Capistan” and “Deco”) was the algorithm applied on “Volante” different from any of the aforementioned models? 

PC
Yes, the algorithms are not the same. We adjusted them to fit with the idea of multiple heads and a different control layout. The gain structure and signal path are modified from El Capistan and Deco. There are similar principles involved, but different implementations. 

EB
Among the three types of Delay/Echo featured on “Volante”, what other models did you research for the sound, mechanism and circuits regarding STEREO?

PC

None of the vintage multi-head echoes that I'm aware of had stereo capabilities. It was the advent of digital delays that brought stereo delay effects into the mainstream. We thought the inclusion of head-panning would be a great addition to the vintage multi-head echo experience. 

EB
’TAPE’ is a standalone type Multi-Head Tape Echo; we are aware that this genre has had many classic models containing distinctive mechanisms and circuits, such as Watkins/ WEM “Copycat”, Dynacord “Echocord”, Klemt “Echolette” and Roland “RE”. When developing “Volante”, among all the units you researched, which was the most influential? And exactly which spec Strymon valued most about that model? 

PC
The Roland Space Echo series influenced our decision to include a 'SPACING' control. The RE-201 has evenly spaced heads to create rhythmic delay patterns, while the RE-501 has the heads spaced relative to the 'golden ratio', producing ambient wash repeats when two or more heads are selected. The experiences are very different and we wanted to include both, along with everything in between. 

EB
’MECHANICS’ and ‘WEAR’ are both supposed to create a low-fi feel, or make it intentionally “dirtier” so to speak, but are we correct in saying that the former is a pitch modulation and the latter is a tone control? Or is it more complicated than that? 

PC
The 'MECHANICS' emulates the speed fluctuations of the recording medium, due to mechanical problems, such as bent spindles, friction, warped elements and, in the case of tape, splices and crinkles. The speed fluctuations result in pitch effects. They are not implemented as pitch modulation, but rather speed modulation.

The 'WEAR' knob accounts for the decreased ability to record and play back high frequencies as the heads and media get old and/or dirty. It is a frequency shaping control, with several different parameters happening simultaneously. 

EB
’SPEED’ switcher literally switches the speed of the machine, but it’s not only changing the delay time range, it also has a kind of organic relationship with ‘MECHANICS’ and ‘WEAR’. What made you decide to implement this parameter?

PC
For Studio Reel-to-Reel decks, it is a feature to allow for different speeds to trade off recording time for fidelity. The mechanics of the system are directly tied to the speed of the machine. We thought a SPEED switch was a good way to increase the delay time ranges and allow for different dynamics and fidelity as they naturally occur at different speeds for all three delay types  in Volante. 

EB
As mentioned in the beginning, with the four virtual heads on “Volante” you can adjust and set the ‘REC ON/OFF’, ‘FEEDBACK ON/OFF’, recording level, panning and the distance between heads. What did you feel was most important when you implemented all these parameter controls into the user interface?

PC

There are so many sonic possibilities when all these adjustments are available in a simple way. We thought the interface would allow for these adjustments to be easily made so the user can create their own sound.

EB
”Volante” also has many real time expression controls such as ‘INFINITY HOLD’, ‘SOUND ON SOUND’, ‘REVERSE’. Do you think these operations are must-haves for a modern delay unit? 

PC
We thought they would be fun to use, and the SOUND ON SOUND opens a whole new set of possibilities. I think these features make for a very complete product. 

EB
We found the reverb sound generated by ’SPRING’ to be very rich and real. Was that particular reverb algorithm developed solely for “Volante”? 

PC
Yes. It has some elements taken from the El Capistan spring, and also some from the '60's' reverb in our Flint pedal, but changes were made to allow for the different signal flow and gain structure in Volante. 

EB
When we raised the ‘SPRING’ level, it somehow felt like the saturation has become more dense. Are the delay and reverb connected in series? 

PC
The 'SPRING' algorithm has some saturation built in, as the vintage spring circuits were tube-driven. So as you turn it up, you may experience the spring sound contributing to a more saturated output. 

EB
We understand that you have tried every parameter setting you could think of during the developing process, but could you give us examples of how a player can actually demonstrate and feel the hidden potential of “Volante”? 

PC
Listen to a particular delay head combination with 'REPEATS' set pretty high and then turn 'LOW CUT' to maximum and 'WEAR' to minimum and listen again. Then change 'LOW CUT' to minimum, and 'WEAR' to maximum and listen again. Then try this with each of the three different TYPES. This will give you an idea of the large range of tone available. 

EB
For the beginners of Delay/Echo, “Volante” possibly seems to be a tougher unit to tame because it has so many controls. What kind of setting do you recommend for beginners wanting to get started with it? 

PC
Start with only PLAYBACK 4 and FEEDBACK 4 engaged, in EVEN spacing. This is a simple quarter note delay. Then add another playback head or feedback. Then go back to only head 4 again, then try some other playback/feedback combinations. Keep doing this. Then move the SPACING knob and continue experimenting. You will start to see how they work together to create a range of rhythmic and ambient sounds. 

EB
Strymon has precisely recreated various delay/echo sounds (like BBD Analog Delay, Tape Echo, Vintage Digital Delay) with additional functions that only digital effects units are capable of. And with the release of “Volante” it almost felt like you are coming to the completion of such a variable product lineup. How do you see the future of delay/echo products, do you think you will go in the direction of more specific, peculiar, fanatic-oriented models? Or should we anticipate more unexpected, groundbreaking new products to come? 

PC
There are many things that can be done with delay, and many great delay units out there. We are always working on new things, some of which turn into products, and some of which remain experiments for now, maybe to be used later. So I guess we'll see what comes next!

 

 

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