The Dunlop EP101 Echoplex Preamp is the most recent and most tantalizing product with "Echoplex" proudly emblazoned on its face following their acquisition of the Echoplex name many years back. I think every guitarist knows that their wildest dreams would involve something a little more… let's go with "tapey," from that long-ago acquisition. Still, Dunlop doesn't miss a trick. There is a thriving market in, as Dunlop cleverly calls theirs, "tone conditioners:" pedals which basically just reshape the sound subtly to try to match the characteristics of the old EP-3 preamp circuit. It was the first and arguably the best sounding solid-state Echoplex, and that is firmly where Dunlop has put their efforts in designing the EP101 Echoplex Preamp pedal. It is designed to be as sonically accurate to the classic unit as possible, while still offering some extra, neat features. In my view, they largely succeed, both in terms of verisimilitude and in plain old cool factor.
One Knob, Many Uses?
Your first impulse when seeing a pedal with a single knob and an advertised range of "up to 11dB" of signal boosting is probably to wonder just exactly how nice the boost sounds. Well, good news, the boost sounds quite nice – and it would be a shame if it didn't, so kudos to Dunlop for making sure that box is solidly ticked! Many guitarists over the years have used either an Echoplex preamp or some other form of "always on" special sauce, this will fill that role. In this case, expect an enhanced midrange, a little added treble sheen, and some lightened bass. Fans of the EP-3 sound should recognize those characteristics as being quite true to the original unit. Points to House Dunlop for accuracy there, but they go a step farther and give you some control over the preamp, too: it'll even lightly overdrive when cranked, which is a first for a truly authentic sounding EP-3 preamp simulator circuit.
Another "hidden power" of this pedal hit me the way many good ideas tend to: I was playing with some gear, thinking about what I like to hear, when suddenly a combination fit together like a pair of puzzle pieces cut just for each other. Cue the "eureka" moment! It's an Echoplex Preamp pedal, right? Well, how about I run it in front of a delay? What followed was an indeterminate amount of time with a lot of smiles and probably the best sounding delay tone I've ever had with pedals, ever, in my life. Thanks to its gain range, you can even make up for a delay pedal that may not want to keep up with your guitar's signal when engaged.
So what all can you do? Condition your tone, enjoy some light drive with character, or polish your delay. One knob, many uses!
What We Like: Surprising versatility. This is more than just a boost! Run it as-is and get an authentic take on a classic "special sauce" always-on sound, drive it for some unique very light crunch, or take a tip from its original incarnation and put it in front of your favorite delay for a really fantastic tone.
Concerns: Okay, it isn't a do-it-all pedal, by a long shot. But is it pretending to be?
Tone: If you like the classic Echoplex EP-3 "bypassed" sound, or want to really spice up your delay, this is a great tool.
Build Quality: I'm really liking what I've seen from Dunlop lately. Smart choices all around should inspire no concerns about build quality.
Value: While it is very affordable, nonetheless it is also a one-knob pedal with a really specific sound. Fans will be very pleased, while those looking for a general boost should consider the fact that this was designed to nail one specific tone.
Overall: Dunlop owns the Echoplex name, and what they will do with it in the future is anyone's (exciting!) guess; but for now, musicians can enjoy a great sounding with this authentic take on the classic EP-3 preamp tone, with several cool uses. It won't be for everyone, but at the price, it's definitely something to keep an eye on if you're even remotely interested in the concept of the Echoplex preamp sound.