It’s not often that you see a tape delay with a radically different tape transport like the one used by the EM-88. Not only is this one different from most other tension tape loops around (for one thing, the tape length is much longer than any other I’ve seen), but it’s also quite a departure from all the other Guyatone tape delays I’ve seen, which either use an 8-track tape (like the Guyatone EM-808D) or a Sony RE cartridge (like the EM-77), the exception being the EM-78, which seems to be a direct ancestor of the EM-88.
Increased tape length means more fidelity, and less frequent tape replacement; consequently, the EM-78 and EM-88’s transport design addresses the two main weak points of tension loops. Very interesting design… if it works!
The EM-88 has a respectable amount of features: variable speed, tone control, wet only output, fairly spread out tape heads for longer delays, and also includes a spring reverb (not present on the EM-78), which sets it apart from many other units in this range, and also makes it the most ‘complete’ Guyatone tape delay I know of. Additionally, the front plexiglass panel is lit up by two lights on each side, which makes it look pretty cool in a dark room or on stage. There’s also a ‘echo / chorus’ selector switch that looks very promising, but unfortunately the ‘chorus’ setting is nothing more than a ‘zero feedback’ mode (the delays don’t regenerate), which sounds exactly like putting the ‘repeat’ knob at zero.
The unit sounds very good, has a good headroom, but mine suffers from a good amount of wobble. More on that in the next section…
Technical Info / Service Notes
When I first got my EM-88, I plugged it in, played through it, and got a very, very drunk delay out of it. The tape speed was so unsteady that I couldn’t get anything but ‘special effects’ out of it. So I proceeded to the usual cleaning, which the unit badly needed. The previous loop of tape had glued itself to the heads, there was black rubber dust everywhere, the rollers were all dirty… I had to spend quite a lot of time cleaning the heads, because the tape residue was stuck there really strongly:
After I’d cleaned up the whole tape transport and replaced the tape loop, I still couldn’t get a steady delay, so I opened up the unit and checked out the insides. And I found this:
What you’re looking at is the spring providing tension to the main tension roller (the lower left roller, see fig.1 above), which has been tampered with in a quite unusual way, probably in order to increase the tension. I imagine that the original spring didn’t need to be ‘tied’ to that screw on the left, so perhaps it lost some tension over the years, I’m not quite sure. Anyway, I played around with this improvised adjustment feature, and could get the tape to stabilize somewhat, but it never got steady enough to be considered a ‘decent’ tape movement.
Next my attention was drawn to the pinch roller/capstan section of the transport (top left, see fig.1). It actually consists of a rubber roller connected to the motor, upon which a much smaller rubber roller is applied, thus squeezing the tape and making it move. That tiny pressure roller can be disengaged, and is ‘put on’ using a similar spring as the one pictured above. The spring can be set to anyone of three notches, providing very levels of tension to the system. I tried all three of them, and found that the more pressure I put on, the steadier it got… but unfortunately the highest pressure setting wasn’t enough to make the tape run at a steady speed.
I decided to apply pressure to the small roller with my finger, and found that as soon as I did it, the delays became as steady as can be, and the EM-88 was suddenly very well behaved, just like my best tape echoes. So now I found a way to solve the problem: just replace the spring with a stronger one, and I’ll have a super steady tape echo. I haven’t done it yet, though!!
|Guya Co. Ltd. (Tokyo, Japan)
|Tension tape loop
|6-position mode selector + echo/chorus switch
|3 (mic, instrument, line in)
|2 (output, line out)
|Wet output only
|Yes, through 'line out'
|Can be disengaged manually for storage
|3-position tone switch
|Echo on/off footswitch jack