Oil-Can Delays from the 1960s

I knew about spring reverbs and tape echo, but until this morning, I'd never heard of oil-can delay, so I'm indebted to Joe for telling me about Tel-Ray: "Instead of tape, they used what looks like a tuna can filled with electrolytic oil. A tiny motor pulls a miniature rubber belt, spinning a flywheel armed with a pickup inside the can, acting like a recording head, sloshing it around in the oil to produce echo." These things were pretty mainstream in the early '60s - Tel-Ray licensed their designs to Fender, Vox and Gibson - so it seems extraordinary that I'd never heard of oil-can effects. The most popular myth about Tel-Ray is that the oil was carcinogenic and stuffed with PCBs. Geofex explain that the oil was made by Union Carbide, but isn't particularly toxic. A few years back, Bomb Factory released a Tel-Ray plugin for Pro Tools, but there doesn't seem to be any VST equivalent.

The Blue Tubes bundle from Nomad Factory ( http://www.nomadfactory.com/products/bluetubes/ ) includes the TLE-2S Oilcan Delay. This is available for most every plugin format. It's actually quite tasty sounding, especially good for doing that "John Lennon" type slap-back on vocals. There is a switch for setting the year which is kind of nifty. It is a bit of a pig on the CPU, though.
Here in the States, a similar beast was available in the '70s as a foot pedal in the Morley Rotating Wah, which used a miniature oilcan delay for a faux Leslie effect (I've still got one - don't know what they're running for on ebay, but it's a solid little spud).
Since I have built some of my own Oil-Can delays, I thought I'd add some more technical info:

Oil Can delays are basically large capacitors. If you're familiar with the idea of magnetic storage (i.e. Tape) then you know a charge is recorded and read. In our case, our charge is a bundle of conductive wires that brush up against an insulator. The insulator will hold charge temporarily, but will eventually dissapate charge off into the air. The Oil was used to further insulate and prevent signal loss. The brushes move through the oil, so read/write operations are still possible.

One of the little mysterys about the oil cans is that Tel-Ray put metal flakes of various types into the insulating oil apparently to increase the volume of the effect. So, you choose an oil based on its insulating properties, and then impregnate the oil with a conductor?? I have found that it increases the "Hall" effect of the echo. You can try different amounts of different conductors to impregnate the oil with, but at $200 a gallon.... I've found a gram of Iron Filings works nice for the original sound, while silver gave the sound I prefer.

I personally think they're awful unless you're looking to get a lo-fi effect. You'd be better off with either a good digital repro that's going to sound exactly like that oil-can reverb you're looking for, or using a good long-tail reverb if you aren't looking for that particular sound.

I use mine to get "Creepy/Distant" sounds. I have it hooked to a volume pedal so I can "fade in" with a distant/warbly/twisted Headless Horseman plays Fender vibe.

Note that the delay timing is dependant on how fast the motor moves the arm, meaning delay time is not anywhere near as settable as what DD-5 users would be used to.
Ry Cooder mentioned a couple of years ago in Guitar Player that he's a big fan of the oil can delay, and it's an integral part of his sound.
I found a fender tel-ray unit at a thrift store for 20 bucks...and it works perfectly, i later traded it to my guitar player roomate for an Ace tone tape echo which was way cooler!
Does it has something to do with "tank reverbs"?
If you have ever heard Vincent Bell and his beautiful WATER SOUND, would this be similar technology that he used to come up with his unique sound? Mr. Bell is the only one in the universe with this beautiful guitar effect. Check out his hit song, AIRPORT!!!!!
Post a Comment

<< Home
Music Thing on Twitter
    follow MT on Twitter

    Music Thing Hits:
    Music Thing Heroes:
    Music Thing Friends:
    My music gear for sale
    DIY Modular Synth
    Matrix Synth
    Create Digital Music
    Analog Industries
    Boing Boing Gadgets
    London Video Production
    Wire to the Ear
    Palm Sounds
    Noise Addicts
    Retro Thing
    Analogue Haven
    Music Thing Massive
    About Music Thing:
    Send tips to Music Thing
    About this site
    Music Thing Massive
    RSS Feeds

    Problem with the ads?
    Please let me know