Although he claims to play guitar more like the late George Barnes than Les Paul, comparisons between Del Casher and his “adopted uncle” Leo reveal two outgoing youngsters who have played music all their lives, learned the ins and outs of technology while taking it a step or two further and show no signs of retiring or even slowing down. A wealth of musical and related hardware knowledge and nearly 50 years of experiences turned into a few hours of phone conversations, from which this interview has been assembled. A shared interest between the interviewer and the interviewee in musical trivia and asides cheerfully led to the talks off the subject on more than one occasion, requiring a condensed version here to keep to the topic of Ecco-Fonic. His willingness to retrieve prototype units, papers and promo records, as well as share his firsthand knowledge of the subject is greatly appreciated. For more on Mr. Casher’s fascinating story, including his association with the Vox Wah-Wah, Elvis’ Roustabout, Roland’s first guitar synth, etc., see Willie Moseley’s interview (VG, January, February ’97).
Vintage Guitar: Let’s start with the Fender Ecco-Fonic flyer from mid ’59 (sent to Casher by the author).
Del Casher: That must have been something I wasn’t aware of. I was really enthralled by this, even the logo was an earlier version. Possibly Ray Stolle had contacted Fender, he had the Ecco-Fonic stuff in the back room of his TV shop.
It was really short-lived. It wasn’t in the ’58-’59 catalog and it wasn’t in the ’60 catalog. It was just in the eight-page ’59 DownBeat insert and this flyer. I don’t think it was in any of the price lists. Anyway, look where the wheel is placed, for the delay time…
That wheel, I don’t know if that was a wheel. Ray didn’t have the movable arm around the flywheel. He was doing a thing where there was a tape loop and it moved sideways, left to right. I wouldn’t have wanted to get onstage with it.
Maybe it controlled the tape speed, hooked up to a pot.
That could have been it. By the way, Fender did come out with the Ecco-Fonic concept again much later, but that was Automata, after Bob Marks took over, after Milton Brucker.
(laughing) We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Who was responsible for the Ecco-Fonic? The company men?
Ray Stolle was a guy who had a little TV shop on Sunset and he was trying to make this machine work, with a little tape loop. And he had limited resources, it wasn’t working really well; I didn’t think much of the unit because it wasn’t stable enough. There was a guy named E.S. Tubin, he had some financial backing, like an industrialist, and he set up a factory in Los Angeles, on Vermont Avenue, and he knew I was playing, performing with the Three Suns. He said, “Look, I’d like to have you help me get this off the ground. What do we do with this thing?” I’d had the idea, when I lived in Hammond, Indiana (mid ’50s). I thought, “Gee, if I could glue some tape around a turntable, and put the heads around the table, I’d have it!”
So I talked to several of my older friends, who were engineers, and they said that’s a great idea, but I was trying to get through college, things like that. So, Eddie (Tubin) liked the idea and they built one. The idea was to have a cylinder so there would be no tape flutter, so it was stabilized. He said, “That’s a great idea,” and I said, “If you make the playback head swing around in a cylindrical fashion, then your echo could be any speed you wanted.”
Yeah, which the EchoSonic that predated the Ecco-Fonic didn’t. He had, in the patent, specified that you should be able to move the head. And change the tape speed.
That was the main point I told Tubin, was the problem there with slowing the tape down increased your chances for wow and flutter. And if you slow your tape down, the fidelity goes down, the biggest problem with tape loops was you wanted the highest natural fidelity. I said, “Get it at the maximum speed and then don’t change the speed because your quality would change.” 7-1/2 IPS was the absolute slowest you could possibly go. The way you change your echo was with the spacing, with the [distance between record and play heads].
Back to Stolle and Tubin…
Ray still had the thing, originally. Eddie Tubin put the money behind him to build the Ecco-Fonic – that was with the circular device – and they built me the prototype in ’59; in December I took that unit to Las Vegas and then Japan. We had the biggest-selling album in Japan, called The Three Suns In Japan, and we went there to perform. And I had it, it was like a little suitcase, behind my Fender Amp, so when I stomped on the pedal, that just blew the Japanese away. They thought it was all coming out of the amplifier. Of course, when we played Vegas nobody cared ’cause they were all gambling! But when we went to Japan, I didn’t realize we were really huge there. We’d have like 5,000 people at these concerts. Eddie Tubin said, “Make sure you let the people know in Japan.”
An interesting thing was that our “roadie,” the gentleman who loaned us our Hammond B-3 – the only B-3 in Japan at the time – was renting us this organ for every show and he was always telling me, “I’d like to buy that from you.” And everywhere we went, he would say, “I want to buy that from you,” and I kept telling him “No, no, no!” Many years later I met him in the U.S. and he said he still had pictures from our tour. Turned out he was Mr. Kakehashi, president of Roland.
How long did Mr. Tubin run Ecco-Fonic?
Eddie Tubin was bought out about a year later by Milton Brucker, who was a very wealthy man, but for some reason he was fascinated by this Ecco-Fonic. He sent Joe Maphis and I to the NAMM show, doing promotions. I did one, I still have my itinerary, on Ecco-Fonic stationary; (reading) leave United States, Monday evening, February 27th, 1961, go to the Statler Hotel in New York for Sacks & A