PreSonus Blog

Slapback Echo—Elvis Lives!


John D. made a comment in my Sphere workspace, which hosts the companion files for The Huge Book of Studio One Tips and Tricks: “How about a tip on how to create the original Elvis echo from his Sun Studios days? I really love that sound.” Well John, we take requests around here! So here ya go.

I asked the internet if anyone knew the time in ms for the slapback echo Elvis used. The various answers didn’t seem right, so I went to the source, and analyzed Elvis Presley’s “I Don’t Care if the Sun Don’t Shine” and as well as Carl Perkins’ “Her Love Rubbed Off” (he also recorded at Sun Studios). After measuring the duration for three repeats and dividing by 3, the answer was around 135 ms (fig. 1).

Figure 1: Measuring slapback echo time for the Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins songs.

The analog delay has all the parameters needed to achieve this sound (fig. 2).

Figure 2: The “Elvis Lives” analog delay settings.

The time is, of course, 135 ms. Feedback is 0.0%, because the echo was run through a separate tape recorder. It didn’t sound like the echo was being re-routed back to the input on the recordings I heard, but it might have been, and later recordings did do this…so choose what works best for you.

The Color controls are important. I pulled back the lows just a bit, as well as the highs, because 7.5 IPS recorders don’t have as crisp a high-frequency response as 15 IPS machines (but who knows how the echo tape machine was aligned?). When you listen to these recordings, you’ll often notice some distortion, so kick up the Drive control as desired. 6.0% was about right for my taste. Adjust Dry/Wet for the desired amount ratio of echo to dry sound.

You’re probably wondering about the Speed and Amount controls. I decided what the heck, I’d add some mechanical tape flutter. 15 Hz corresponds to 7.5 IPS, and the amount seemed reasonable.

Does it really sound like that famous echo effect? Well, at the risk of great (and possibly irreversible) public embarrassment, I donned an Elvis impersonator outfit, put on 50 pounds, and did my approximation of a 50s-style vocal for “That’s All Right, Mama.” True, I didn’t write the song—that honor goes to Arthur Crudup, who recorded it in 1946. But it’s under 30 seconds, for educational purposes, transformed (done digitally by someone who doesn’t sound even remotely like Elvis), and doesn’t diminish the market value of the music. I think we’re cool from a Fair Use standpoint.

And there you have your vintage slapback echo. Yes, I do take requests—I’ll be here all week, don’t forget to tip your servers, and remember, every Thursday night the Chez PreSonus eatery in Baton Rouge has its famous 2-for-1 gumbo special! See you soon.