Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Guitar Echo Units By Singapore 60s Music Maker Jimmy Chng

DECIBELS (L to R - Jimmy, Charles, Patrick, Steven)
Ⓒ Copyrights Reserved.


My thanks again to Jimmy Chng, one of the best drummers during the Singapore 60s pop music era, for this article:

Hi Andy,


A decade back, after contributing the article on DECIBELS pop band to your blog, you had generously invited me to join you as a team writer. I replied that I wasn't up to it but added this comment - “Nevertheless should I recollect any interesting stories pertaining to the 60s pop scene, I’ll let you know.” And to that, your response was - “I shall always be waiting for your next tale pertaining to the 60s pop scene.”

Ten years is a pretty long wait by any measure. However, as the saying goes - " Patience is bitter but the fruit is sweet." And so here's my next tale pertaining to the 60s pop scene. 

With the year of the Rabbit, here's wishing you good health and happiness in the coming lunar new year and the years ahead. Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Best regards,


With the lunar new year fast approaching, I willed myself to tidy up the little store room of my HDB unit. It has been filled to the brim over the years (think hoarder?). Sifting through the clutter in the tiny storeroom, I was pleasantly surprised to find a remnant of DECIBELS pop band’s musical instruments - a WATKINS COPICAT ECHO unit!

Apart from two Hofner guitars (a bass and a lead) which I had passed to my elder brother a long time back, the rest of the other instruments had either been discarded/damaged or given away. I remember that I sold the drum set to the Foo Chow Methodist Church in Race Course Road through a colleague of mine who’s a member of the church. This was way back in the mid 70s. 

Watkins Copicat Tape Echo
YouTube video from: blondegraemey

In the early years of our local pop band history, the WATKINS COPICAT Echo Unit was a sought after add-on to the basic guitar amplifiers that most aspiring bands could only afford. Before the introduction of echo effects producing equipment, guitar amplifiers had only the tremolo/vibrato effect feature built-in. Guitar amplifiers with built-in reverb feature soon followed.

Arguably, it was the Shadows that popularized the echo effects in pop music with their iconic recording of APACHE although the tape echo unit used by Hank Marvin for the recording wasn’t the Watkins Copicat Echo Unit.

DECIBELS’ first Echo Unit - a pre-owned

Two other brands of echo units were also available in Singapore. One was the Schaller and the other, the Swissecho. I do not remember which of these two brands was more popular but most fledgling bands would start off with the Copicat and later “upgrade” to one of these. So too did DECIBELS, as our band subsequently “upgraded” to a pre-owned Schaller unit like the one pictured below:

Schaller Echo Unit


Dunearn Secondary Technical School Concert:

DECIBELS was the main band in attendance for a concert held at the Dunearn Secondary Technical School sometime in the mid 60s. I cannot remember if the concert was held to mark the school’s opening or for some other event. I had received a call from a school teacher by the name of Mr. Lai (can’t remember his full name) asking if our band would like to perform at the concert. Incidentally, he (Mr. Lai) had participated in one of the RTS talentime contests singing his very own rendition of “Isle Of Singapura” to the tune of "Isle Of Capri". 

If there are readers out there who are former students or teachers of DSTS and had attended the concert, hopefully some of them would be able to provide additional information about the concert. 

The guest band for the concert was Willy Jokers. Up to that point in time, our band did not have any echo unit. We only relied on the tremolo and reverb effects that came with the Fender amplifier. The COPICAT Echo unit which the DECIBELS band eventually owned was acquired from Willy Jokers.

As in any article, this post deserves comments. Please...

[Latest: 12 comments within 2 hours of posting. Thanks guys.]

Charles and Jimmy [right] having some fun 
before the DSTS concert. Ⓒ Copyrights Reserved.

Jimmy Chng 
article, photographs.
Ⓒ Copyrights Reserved.


Anonymous said...

Echo units back in those are a must for every pop group.The shadows n the Vultures were the ones who made it so popular. I was still in primary school when i first heard guitarists using it.. It makes the guitar sound so uniquely beautiful..after awhile it exploded in Spore. Every guitarist was not complete without it.


I remember I used to cut tapes to fit on the Echo Unit for my guitarist SONNY LEE of THE ZODIACS. You gotta keep changing the Tape. Like the one they used on the old reel-type tape recorders!!!


I can't remember, there were two brands. One with the tape running. If the tape comes loose or what, the repetition goes haywire.

One brand was WEM, not able to remember the other one.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Oh must use tapes? I didn't know that.
I thought the tapes can be used throughout the duration of the Unit itself.
Thanks Cedric

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

You're very savvy Paul.
I didn't know band do such hard work.
They must be technically sound too.
Thanks for the explanation.


Hi Andy,

Never had to use an echo unit with my group in the 60s with our repertoire being mainly from groups like, ROLLING STOES, SMALL FACES, PRETTY THINGS,MOODY BLUES, etc.

My gear those days... Wah Wah and Fuzz Box.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Ivor.
I didn't know that. Your comment shows that these particular groups don't need echo-type gadgets to accompany them.

With CELLS UNLIMITED your group will go down in SG's music history too, like Jimmy Chng's The DECIBELS but both playing different genres of 60s music.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

With reference to ANONYMOUS above.

Thanks to JALANI, pianist extraordinaire, whose comment about the popular usage of such gadgets, has just been received today.

Thanks to all other commentators too. This article is so explosive [using Jalani's term] that there are immediate replies to it.

I must thank JIMMY CHNG again for his very interesting article. It's a subject I am unfamiliar with.


Nowadays various technical gadgets, smaller in size, have replaced these ECHO UNITS.


Thank you Jimmy Chng for sharing.

While it is no surprise that many musicians and bands had to support themselves, your article gives an insight into how they had to skimp and save just to get hold of the state of art gears and cutting edge music technology back then!

We can never have it any worse than our music veterans did then, and for that; I salute them. Technology has now enable full time musicians and novice [like me] to get an edge and a head start in the art. And it is a little unfair for me, a latecomer and a self taught 'musician'; to be able to jump right into the act.

But technology aside, the rich and varied life and experience of our veterans can never be replicated. With their willingness to share their tales [and of course thanks mainly to your blog Andy]; future generations with be able to relive those memories and be proud of the legacies of our rich musical history.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

There you go Jimmy.

You can see how your article has aroused the interested of Wen Hing, who's so adept and familiar with music gadgetries that he does his own originals, recorded in his own little studio at home.

Thanks Wenhing for another articulate comment about our music tapestry.



One of the many ECHO gadgets in use today.
It's one tenth or less in size.


I used a Swiss Echo with the MELTONES. Clean played mostly SHADOWS. With the MOTIF and STRAYDOGS My volumes were all full on to get my sustain also we used a treble booster by into a fuzz box to create continuous sustain.


Back in the late 60s I used to perform in the bar like champion bar Toby's Paradise we used to use that SELMA ECHO UNIT for our local singing on the PA system so we get some echo when we sing; later in the 70s we bought ROLAND, reverb, echo unit, made in Japan and we, use it for local...

You know what Andy, after 50 years I still have that unit reverb. I will send you the picture of the unit someday...


I remember Willy Jokers.

Silver Strings started with the SCALLER ECHO UNIT which produced your spaceship introduction sound for your signature song FIREBALL XL5.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanking all friends and fans who responded. It's incredible how music makers still remember the gadgets they had to use to fulfill their dream of that super sound from their own band.

Let me explain Audie Ng's "spaceship introduction sound". I love the song that used to appear on 60s TV, a marionette cartoon series called, FIREBALL XL5. The song was engaging and suited our youthful style then. So we got together and I sang it.

David Chan, our lead guitarist then, experimented with the SCHALLER ECHO UNIT and managed to produce the Fireball spaceship sound.

And those who knew the Silver Strings then, will remember...


Yazid Hassan
Andy Young tis is tube echo.i had tis

Andy Young
Yazid Hassan thanks for sharing. Yes they were very popular then.

Michael Lee [Sydney, Australia]
I couldn't afford a proper WEM echo. I only had one without the casing, a self built post amplifier; reverb-amplifier. Fender's was pre-amplifier input.

Andy Young
Michael Lee, thanks to your technical knowhow and for contributing your expertise.


In my opinion Swiss Echo was the more popular because as mentioned before Schaller was very hot when used and the tape drum was harder to replace and more expensive.

Andy Young
Michael Lee, thanks for sharing your relevant piece of information. I never knew this... Appreciate.


Strong, brave, solid sound.
Wasn't perfect.
But then it was the 60s.



Jalani Mohamed
Stephen Han
Yip Dick
Colin Colin
Charlie Bogosoff
Yen Chow
Moody Cash
Ser Kiong Tan
Chee Chien
Peter Cheong


Lara was a frequent guest artiste on the Early Bird Show in the late 60s. She was signed by Cosdel [S] and managed by Foo Soo Yin, who was my partner for the Sunday Morning Shows.

The Trailers, also a regular, was also with Cosdel, managed by Tommy Low, now known as Low Tom on FB.