Welcome to the buyer’s guide where you can find everything you need to know to choose the best reverb pedal for you.
The Thing We Call Reverb
So, what exactly is a reverb? We know that the sound consists of different sound waves. When we are in a room (a studio, for example), sound waves reflect from surfaces around us, getting to our ears after a short delay. The delay is always there, even if it is so short as to be inconsequential. This effect is especially noticeable in a large space like cathedrals – we hear the choir even after the people stop singing. Slowly the sound gets quieter and quieter yet before disappearing completely as it reflects off of hundreds of surfaces. This effect is called reverberation, or reverb for short. To sum it up, reverb is the way sound waves reflect off various surfaces before reaching our ear.
Why Do You Need a Reverb Pedal?
Many musicians use reverb pedals all the time, but the settings are so low that you don’t even notice it. However, with the right setup, a reverb pedal may be a great tool to make your music more expressive, artistic. Reverb adds, let’s say, the third dimension into your sound, gives it more depth. You hear every note more naturally and clearly; your music is more natural.
Delay VS Reverb
First of all, let’s clarify – what is a delay and how is it different from reverb? A delay is basically an echo; a repeated sound. Imagine two children arguing. One says “You’re stupid!” The other replays “You’re stupid!” That’s a delay in simple words. For example, EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath V2 works similar to a delay pedal, but can also work as a reverb pedal.
Reverberation works a bit different. Reverb effect creates multiple echoes of one sound, which will be later absorbed by nearby surfaces.
Which one you should use? Well, it depends on the material that you’re working with and the result you’re looking for. Both reverb and delay are great for creating deep, multi-layered sound. To reiterate, a delay is a singular echo, while reverb is sound repeated and slowly receding. Another difference between the two lies in the interval between the sound and its echo, which barely exists in the latter. Yes, reverb can be considered as some type of delay but the time period between the actual sound and its delayed counterpart is almost non-existent. Of course, you can set up a delay pedal and have a reverb effect, but I think it certainly is easier to have a dedicated pedal from the start.
Types of Reverb: From A to Z
Let’s talk about all types of reverbs that you may find in a pedal setup.
As the name implies, ambiance reverbs aim to create the illusion of a room’s acoustic ambiance. Short decay times (0.5 sec or less), early reflections. EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath V2 has a wonderful ambiance effect. Ambiance reverb is usually used for creating a sound that is felt rather than heard.
A Chamber reverb mimics the acoustics of a tiny room. It creates quite an uneven timbre, but I know people who like this kind of sound. It introduces a lot of texture and sounds wonderful on all tracks. If you need an example, check out some classic rock records.
The name says it all: hall reverb emulates how your music will sound in large spaces such as cathedrals, halls or theaters. Pedals of this type offer a tumbler with which you can control the size of a room you’re «playing» in. Biyang RV-10 can be a good example of the room reverb. But be careful! This reverb should be used sparingly, as it tends to muffle and distort the music.
Pitch-Shifted aka Shimmer
A Pitch-shifted reverb is a technique of lowering or raising the pitch of the original sound to produce a feedback loop. If you have listened to much U2 since the mid-80s, you have heard it. If you are looking for this type or reverb, try Boss RV-6 pedal!
This type of reverb is mostly about a sheet of metal hanging in a box. I’ll explain. A metal sheet exists in two dimensions, correct? So, the echoes in it are the same density from the start of reverberation to the end. In a three-dimensional space (a box), there are discrete echoes at the front of the reverb tail and as the reverb tails out the echo density increases. Strymon: blueSky performs a great work with a plate reverb.
Spring reverb at the start used a real metal spring. Metal springs were jiggled by a little coil, with the jiggling captured by another coil at the far end. In a nutshell, spring reverb is an audio signal sent to one end of the spring, which creates waves that travel through the spring. It is a very common type of reverb, you can work with it using TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2, for example.
Where to Place a Pedal in a Signal Chain?
Different positioning of a reverb pedal in your setup can cause different effects. But the original setup is quite simple – do as nature does. How does the sound occur in physical space? Guitar amp distortion is made by turning an amp up enough to cause its circuits to overload, and any echo you hear appears after the sound hits surfaces around and comes back to your ear. So, logically a reverb pedal should be the last in a signal chain.
Even though it is a logical setup, don’t be afraid to experiment with your sound – who knows what may occur in your creative process!
Amp Reverb VS Reverb Pedal
One question that I hear quite often: if I already have an amp with a built-in reverb effect, why do I need a reverb pedal? Well, I have an answer. If you’re not satisfied with the sound of built-in reverb, you may want to have a separate tool. For example, if you have a tube amp with a real plate or spring reverb, you probably don’t need any extra setup. However, if you are an owner of a modeling amp with digital simulation, there is a possibility that the inbuilt rever effect doesn’t sound that good. Also, don’t forget that if you cannot control your built-in reverb it is practically unusable while playing on stage. Ask yourself: what do you actually want from your reverb pedal? Do you really need it after all?
Buffered Bypass or True Bypass?
True bypass means physical separation of the connectors when the pedal is turned off. This prevents any interaction between the signal and the circuit. The signal goes through the metal and not through the semiconductors. This should mean that the sound carries absolutely no loss when the signal passes through a turned off device. Therefore, signal loss is a non-factor. However, a true bypass has its downsides.
First one is a click when you turn it on. At the moment of pressing the button, we hear a distinct click in the amplifier. The use of old units and reverb with true-bypass is another painful subject. Turning them off, you will sharply chop off the tails — not in every situation, it has a musical effect. When using dozens of effects with true bypass, the signal will encounter high resistance provided by cables, connectors and switch contacts. The effect will be expressed in the weakening of the volume, as well as in the loss of high frequencies.
A buffered bypass turns a high-impedance signal into a low-impedance signal, allowing the sound to be restored after traveling over long cables and high-resistance pedals. It can positively affect the final sound. Try Boss RV-6 to hear the effect.
To avoid the tonal effects of an additional cable in a system, you need to buffer your guitar signal. True bypass is optimal for other effects after the buffer. However, if you have only one pedal in front of your amp, then it should use a buffered bypass.
How to Get a Maximum Effect from a Pedal?
After you have learned the basics of how to work with a reverb pedal, you might want some more advanced tips. Here are some useful tips for you:
- Level of Reverb. Always start your work by setting up all the equipment. It’s important to choose your ideal setting. Decide which level of reverb do you want to hear – will it be Hall, Chamber or Spring setting?
- Wet or Dry, Warm or Cold? Reverb pedals have knobs to fine tune the sound. An «FX» or «Reverb» allows you to control how wet or dry your signal will be. The higher the setting, the more intense is the reverb. With a tone knob, you can control the warmth of your sound. Try turning a tone knob all the way up to create an intimate atmosphere.
- Decay Time. Try to adjust how quickly your sound dissipates, use a decay knob. For example, a longer decay time will create a more reverberant effect if that’s what you’re trying to accomplish. Depending on the type of your music, you can go for very short echoes or long ones.
So, if you finally decided to get yourself a reverb pedal, I have one last advice for you. Be gentle with your music, don’t get too heavy on the effects. Sometimes just a touch of reverb is more than enough. But don’t be afraid – try, create and do whatever you want to do! Now, when you know all that basic stuff, go to the review part and find a perfect reverb pedal.
Let’s be honest, there are many pedals available. Find out which one is better, and especially the best is close to impossible. However, I tried to collect in this review all possible options for any technical requests, wallets and aesthetic preferences.
With all this information in mind, I hope you will find your perfect reverb pedal. Check your finances, decide which tech characteristics you want in your pedal. If you have a built-in reverb in your guitar, do you need a pedal at all? Which model you should go for?
I will definitely update this guide if any cool reverb pedals come out in 2019, so stay tuned and enjoy your music!