Looper's Delight> Mike, can you tell us something about your background before the Echoplex? How did you become interested in electronics, and what training and education did you have in that field?
photo by Greg Burgoon
I love the subject of Radio. I started building crystal sets when I was 8 years old. I lived in a small town far from crystal's reach. So, I was very happy when the first radio tube (201A) was being sold to the public. They were much more sensitive than the crystal. They cost $8.00 each.
My dad worked in the coal mine. Food was all we could afford. But I was lucky because my neighbor was a very nice young man in his twenties. We were in his dad's cellar and I saw something on a top shelf. He said it was a radio he had started and got stuck on it. So it sat there for a couple of years. I asked him what he wanted for it. He laughed, knowing that an 8 year old had no money for these parts and didn't want to tear it up and throw it away. He said, "Mike, I'll make you a deal. If you come down to visit my mother every Sunday, when I come back next Sunday, if it's working, it's yours."
I got a hood made from an orange crate style or bread board. It'll be a condenser, coil with no wire on it. Where will I get wire? What size? How much do I need?
There was a 2 inch space to fill! I started to ask the old timers what to do. One told me to take the wire out of some old battery run equipment. I took the wire from the fields out of a Model T Ford horn.
I still needed parts. A grid leak, a 2 meg. Ohm resistor. A 250 mm capacitor. Now it was all there and I began to wire it together. I finished on Saturday night. I hooked up the batteries and earphones and KDKA Pittsburgh came right in!!! It was 60 miles away.
I was hooked! It was all mine!
My next door neighbor was just as excited as I was! That's how the Electron Bug bit me.
I began repairing radios and other household appliances.
I could not finish High School. Money was short so I had to find a job. There were none either.
The year was 1941 and I was drafted into the Military. They needed Electronic Techs, so I fit right in. After Basic training, the Captain told me to take two radio men and go to Fort Benning Georgia to radio controlled airplane school. Everyone backed out so they volunteered me into duty. We flew remote controlled unmanned dummy target planes for gunner practice. They had a 10 foot wing span and flew at 100 mph. After six weeks, I went back to Army camp. I took my two helpers to Kansas to replace a crew that was not doing well. I got things going too well! So they wanted me to re-enlist after 3 years.
I came home and went to school on the G.I. bill. I studied FM, AM and TV. I got a Bendix Radar License and Diplomas in First Class Telephone (FCC), FAA, Bendix Radar, and Army Signal Corp Radio Chief Engineer for Radio Station WOHI.
LD> Were you a musician?
MB> I am no musician.
LD> How did the Echoplex idea first come up? What was your motivation for doing it?
MB> A good friend played through a tape recorder with an extra play head a short distance away. This picked up the played sound to give out a second version. You could not change the gap between the heads so it was No Good!
He wanted to be able to change that, hence, the sliding head.
LD> How was the Echoplex concept pitched? Was it intended for musicians, or aimed at broadcasting, or something else?
MB> It was made for the guitar players. After they heard it, everyone picked it up. Radio and Movies are still using it.
LD> Can you tell us about the technical development of the Echoplex? What were some of the key design choices made?
MB> The EP-1 was a great leap to what the guitar players wanted. However, combining the instrument volume and the echo volume in the EP-2 really pushed it ahead. The drawback was the lever to engage the pinch roller. If you left it on and not running, the roller would develop a flat spot and thump when you started again.
The new TUBEPLEX has a solenoid operated capstan to eliminate the problem with flat spots.
I'm working on a noise circuit to eliminate tape noise completely.
Also, I'm developing a small PC board unit to retrofit all older Echoplexes. I hope to get a Patent for that.
LD> Was there a lot of trial and error and experimentation, or did the design come together quickly?
MB> From the start till now took many years.
LD> Did you patent any of the ideas or design innovations in the Echoplex?
MB> The EP-1 was patented in 1964.
LD> At some point the Echoplex design changed from the original tube based unit to a solid-state design. Were you part of that change? What were the motivations for that?
MB> Everyone was going to solid state. I was working at Market Electronics in Cleveland, Ohio. They told me to make a Solid State model of the Echoplex so I developed the EP-3. It was the best solid state Echo unit on the market. I did not like that direction, so I left the company. I preferred tubes. Tubes have a warmer sound, so the Musicians tell me.
LD> When did the first Echoplex units reach the market? How many were made in the early years?
MB> We sold the first 500 units to C.M.I. in Chicago in 1959. The Echoplex was sold through Chicago Musical Instruments, CMI.
LD> There were other delay devices available in the same period as the Echoplex. How did the Echoplex compare to those? What led the Echoplex to be so successful in comparison?
MB> No one has made an Echoplex but Mike Battle. The others all just hooked on to an already Flying Kite.
One magazine said, "Battle built a better mouse trap." That was great to hear.
LD> The Echoplex has been used by many famous musicians, and been a part of many famous recordings. How do you feel about that? Does you have any anecdotes to share about meeting any of the famous users of your invention?
MB> The best Musicians in the business used the Echoplex. Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Jimmy Page and Joe Walsh, just to name a few.
Once I went up to Les Paul's home to visit. I stayed over night at Les's house, not knowing Les was a practical joker. In the middle of the night, a black snake crawled into my bed. I blamed it on Les's twisted sense of humor but he denies it to this day!
LD> The business and ownership history of the Echoplex is not very clear. Can you tell us about that? Did you design the original as part of a company, or were you on your own?
MB> The Echoplex is Mike Battle owner and no one else owned any part of it.
LD> What do you think of modern advances in technology, like Digital Delays?
MB> I know nothing of Digital Delay. All I know is you buy and you use what you like.
I am no musician.
LD> Are you involved in any other current project?
MB> I am still in the repair business and have Battles Manufacturing.
I'm making a better style tape cartridge.
LD> And of course, the question we always want to know at Looper's Delight, what is your preferred brand of Single Malt Scotch?
MB> What the hell is Single Malt Scotch, I drunk Crown Royal with water!
I want to thank all you guys out there that have sent me letters of praise for the time tested Echoplex.
Also Check out the new Tubeplex.
LD> Do you have any words of advice for today's engineers and inventors trying to create musical innovations of their own?
MB> Advice for new inventors; Just work and sweat!
Keep Rockin ! MIKE BATTLE