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The Univox EC-80 Project, Pt. 1

Since the People of the Interwebz have been so kind to offer information, insight, and detailed tutorials that I’ve found incredibly helpful in pursuing my various DIY projects, I thought I’d contribute by detailing my fix-it process with the Univox EC-80 and including links to many of the resources that I’ve found helpful. I hope all of the folks whose pages, words and images I link to will consider this blog post to be thanks and acknowledgment for all of the help they’ve given me!

So, back in early April I spotted an auction on eBay that caught my eye: a “not working, for parts or repair” Univox tape echo. I have  a saved search on eBay for broken guitar effects, and the Univox was listed under that; although it’s not exclusively a guitar effect, it is best known as part of the early Van Halen guitar sound, most specifically the ‘dive bomb’ effects at the end of Eddie Van Halen’s famous “Eruption” solo track on their first album. It’s no one-trick-pony, though. Browsing through YouTube I found some good demos of working EC-80s, and I was definitely hooked. I created a still-growing playlist here, if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLg9tD7zL7WpZKoyj_piyqvIDv-h39fm0S

I made what I thought was a low but possibly winning bid — about half of the supposed current value of the unit — and, what do you know, a few days later the old black box is on my kitchen table! My 3 year old assisted me in an initial “will it turn on?” test, the first step in the fix-it process: the power indicator light came on and, more importantly, the tape motor started whirring gently. Very good news.

univox tape echo

Plugging things into things

I’d already hit the interwebz via google and various guitar and gear forums for a basic primer on this unit’s issues and quirks. The biggest one seemed to be the scarcity of the Apollon HD-5000 tape cartridges that were the only exact match for the EC-80. My unit arrived without a tape (which I knew would be the case) but lucky for me gear DIYers had been working to find ways around tape issues for awhile. There were companies that made repros of the old Apollons,  would repair and/or put new tape in old or broken cartridges. Tape nuts had also posted instructions on repairing the Apollons DIY, and discovered that old PlayTapes would fit the EC-80 with some modification to the tapes or to the unit itself.

Hedging my bets, I nabbed a broken Apollon cartridge ($20) and two working PlayTapes ($10 each) off ebay; about a week later, tapes were in hand, and I was ready to see if this box was going to make any noise!

To be continued …

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