Please note: this article is about a very specific niche of reverb pedals that emulate spring circuits found in vintage amps. If you are interested in more experimental, reverb based effects, check out our Best Ambient/Shoegaze Reverb article or this pieces on the Best Hybrid Reverb Pedals with Modulation and Fuzz/Distortion; if you are looking for more versatile stompboxes, refer to this article about Multi-Mode,”Do-It-All” Reverb Workstations.
Updated on 07.08.2020
Reverb is arguably the most useful effect in music, allowing musicians and producers to create a sense of space for individual instruments and entire mixes. Guitarists have been using it since at least the 1950s, when the first standalone spring reverb units began to appear. Even if you don’t like your guitar swimming in ambiance, you most likely appreciate the added depth that even a touch of reverb can add to your guitar tone.
The earliest artificial reverb units were nothing more than open chambers, usually in a studio’s basement or airshaft, into which a loudspeaker would pipe sound. A microphone would pick up the resulting reflections, which would be added to the original signal to produce a natural-sounding reverberation.
The Spring Reverb Variety—How It Works
Since the late 1930s, reverb has been duplicated in a number of more space-efficient ways, including with metal springs and metal plates. This article will focus on the spring reverb effect, which is based on a design featuring springs in a little tank like the one pictured below. The guitar signal is sent to the springs, which then vibrate. A pickup mounted inside the tank picks up those vibrations and sends them back to your amp, where they’re blended with your signal to generate a sound similar to the natural reverb we experience in an actual room.
The spring reverb is an effect associated with the electric guitar sound of the ’60s, brought to fame, in particular, by surf music, and facilitated by reverb circuits built inside many Fender amps from that decade. The first Fender Reverb Unit was introduced in 1961 and reissued in 2016.
Popular Spring Reverb Pedals with actual Springs
Let’s face it: It’s nice to have a range of different reverbs to work with, but for many music styles, a simple spring reverb pedal will suffice. For many years, guitarists could choose from a number of digital spring reverb emulations, but these days several companies are packing real spring units into devices like the Spaceman Orion, the ScreaminFX Uverbia Real Spring and the Demeter Reverbulator RRP1 among others. Granted, they’re large, but if it’s true spring reverb you seek, nothing less will do. Click on the thumbnails to see a video of each pedal.
You can read a more in depth article on these pedals on this Tone Report piece.
Popular Spring Reverb Pedals without Springs
Humanity seems to have a problem with carrying bulky and heavy stuff. That’s why shortly after the spring reverb became popular, many pedal builders started looking for ways to recreate that sound in a more portable format. They soon found ways to emulate it, first through analog circuits and later through digital ones, which, in recent years, have become more and more realistic and lush sounding.
Here’s an interactive gallery of some of the best analog or digital spring-less pedals emulating spring reverb. This list only includes reverb-only pedals.
Best Mini Spring Reverb Pedals
For those with space (or budget) issues and simple needs, one of these mini pedals might be also worth a look. Oh, and no, there’s no trace of real springs in these, in case you are wondering…
Best Spring + Tremolo Pedals
The combination of tremolo and spring reverb is a classic match found in historic amps of the ’60s—and countless classic records. Some of the best spring reverb pedals on the market recreate this marriage, so we couldn’t ignore them in this article, even though they are a little more than just “spring reverbs.”
Finally, we couldn’t help but award a bonus entry here to the feature-packed Knas Ekdhal Moisturizer spring reverb, which is not exactly a pedal (no footswitch!!!) but can be placed on a board. It’s big, it’s beautiful, and it’s expensive. But it may be just right for you.
You can compare four of the pedals we listed—the Boss FRV-1 ’63 Fender Reverb, Catalinbread Topanga, J. Rockett Boing and Subdecay Spring Theory—in this one handy video.
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Article by Christopher Scapelliti and Paolo De Gregorio