I remember purchasing my first Space Echo in "perfect working order" on Ebay some years ago. I had never used a tape echo before, nor even heard of a Space Echo, but based on the advice from UK producer Steve Orchard who I was recording with at the time, I decided to take the plunge. I felt more relaxed about the purchase as I had studied electronics in the past and had previously worked as an electronics technician repairing various types of equipment including TVs, VCRs and other tape machines so I had a good idea of what was going on inside of these things.
I received the RE-201 and turned it on, IT WORKED!!! .. well kind of, it needed a good clean and service. I did all the normal things like cleaned the heads, lubricated the pots and jacks etc.
I had a recording session booked the following week so I decided to order some new tape loops as the RE-201still had the original tape in it and it looked worn, it did still sound good though. I ordered two replacement loops from a seller overseas as they were the only ones that were selling them at the time. The new tape loops arrived a day before I was due in the studio, so I was all set.
When I got setup in the studio I quickly got my other gear ready and decided to replace the tape loop in my RE-201 so I was ready to record. I pulled out the old loop quickly scrunched it up and threw it in the bin (first mistake), then I installed the new loop in the unit and turned it on. BAM! I had echo with a good solid output and I was ready to record. After a few takes I noticed some wow and flutter (pitch variations) was present on the echo signal and a few hours later the tape jammed up in the transport and the new tape was stuck to the tape heads. I pulled the tape away from the heads and turned the unit back on and everything was fine again for about 10 minutes before the tape jammed again. I removed the tape loop and installed the second new tape and the same thing happened. After 10 or 20 minutes I could hear the wow and flutter and shortly after that the tape would jam and stick to the heads again. I couldn't even try the original tape to compare it as I had stupidly thrown it in the garbage. I would have gone dumpster diving to find it but I had crumpled it up well and truly before I threw it out !!
Well in the end, the RE-201 was not used on that session and I would not get to use it properly for a while after that, but I will continue on.
When I returned home I put the RE-201 on my bench and decided to take a look. I had emailed the tape loop supplier about the problems I was having and he seemed quite surprised and assured me he had never had a problem with his tape ever. So I started to have a look around the tape transport and suspected a faulty roller. I could not find where to buy a replacement roller and after enquiring with Roland spare parts they informed me that they had sold out of the roller 10 years previous. I wasn't going to give up on this unit as my personality (OCD) wouldn't allow for it, so I decided to make my own roller, and that is how Echo Fix was born. I did some research on rubber rollers and made my first batch.
I installed a new roller on the RE-201 and although the new roller made a big improvement, after 10 minutes or so, sometimes and hour I would hear the wow and flutter coming back and shortly after a squealing noise, then the tape would jam again!
What I had learnt from my electronics repair training, was that it is usually the simple things that are the most likely cause or the problem. I would get a item in for repair with lots of weird faults and you instantly start conjuring up all the components that could be faulty, when in fact 90% of the time it was just faulty power supply rail or a leaky capacitor, you know, something simple and common.
After thinking about it for a while I kept coming back to the fact that this tape echo sounded great when I first received it and it was only when I replaced the tape loop that I had any of these problems.
I started searching around the internet like many people have done before me in search of the correct tape for these units. I found a website that claimed BASF LGR50 was the best tape so I ordered some and tried it out. It was ok for a while, the echo signal was quite weak and it would not self oscillate even when the intensity level was at 10. I knew this tape was not correct for these units as it worked but did't sounds anywhere close to the sounds of the unit with the original Roland loop. After more testing the LGR50 didn't lock up as fast and wow and flutter took a while long to become apparent but it did still fail and it lasted nowhere near the time it should have. What I did find out is that 99% of the information on the internet about correct tape for the Roland Space Echo is wrong.
This put me on the hunt to find the correct tape for my RE-201 and I have researched the tape extensively. My RE-201 was on and running for days on end, constantly searching for a tape that would equal or exceed the performance of the Roland RT-1L tape loops.
I am very happy to say, I have found the correct tape for these classic machines that is long lasting without wow and flutter and that actually has a slightly higher output and is longer lasting than the original Roland RT-1L tape loops. The tone is perfect also! Original roland tape loops still work well but they seem to shed and gunk up the heads, which is never good. My tape, will self oscillate a little bit earlier as well, which is a great thing!
A good proportion of the repairs that we receive here at Echo Fix have incorrect tape loaded in them, which is the initial reason the unit was sent to me for repair. I would always suggest this as a starting point when looking to fix a problem. Of course these machines are now at least 35 years old so they can always do with a good clean and general service. Incorrect tape loops seem to be a big problem out there and I shudder to think of the amount of units that have been binned or parted out when the main problem was in fact the tape loop. Other important parts are the rubber roller and motor bearings as well. When defective these can cause excessive wow and flutter.
By far the best thing to do is a full service on these units which includes replacing the tape loop, felts, rubber roller, feed bearing and tension spring. The good thing is, anyone handy with tools can do it themselves and it doesn't involve opening the unit up.
Here is a link to our Full Service Kit with Updated Green Roller - https://echofix.com/collections/frontpage/products/roland-re-201-full-service-kit-with-green-felts-and-green-roller-for-re-201-re-301-re-101-re-150
I have found this kit to fix 90% of the problems with the Roland Space Echos. The other 10% usually have an electronic fault or component failure. They have a bad rep for being unreliable but as long as they are serviced correctly they are actually very reliable. There are lots of these units available for sale "fully serviced" but if all the parts that are listed above are not replaced then in my opinion it is not a good service at all.
I receive many emails asking me what tape I use but unfortunately I don't give this information out.
Shane Fritsch - Director & Tape Echo Nerd @ Echo Fix Australia