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  • Exploring Time-Based Effects (Part 2- Reverb)

    By Chris Loeffler |


    An Exploration of Reverb Effects

    Continued from Delays and Echo


    The electrification and amplification of instruments in the 1930’s originally came about out of the need for instruments to be louder in pre-PA days, but an unintentional outcome of electrifying instruments was unique changes to tone and behavior of amplification that added  an entirely new world of possibilities. Initial shortcomings of electrified amplification, such as feedback and distortion, slowly became embraced by musicians as additional tools of expression. Given the steady evolution of sound technology, it was only a matter of time before gear designed specifically to alter the sound of an instrument would surface.

    Time-based effects are devices designed to create a (or many) delayed, parallel path(s) of the original instrument signal with the intention of building sonic space, replicating the natural reflections of a room, or simulating multiple instruments playing the same notes at roughly the same time.  

    While there are many hybrids and effects that live between types, time-based effects can be confidently lumped into Delay, Reverb, Chorus, Flanging, and Looping categories.


    The Application of Reverb Effects

    The reverb effect, in its simplest form, is refractions of sound as it travels through a space and bounces off of surfaces. Natural reverb is often referred to as “the sound” of the space or room, and it can have a dramatic impact on the tone of an instrument; playing (or singing) in a small, tiled room produces a snappy, loud reverb while a large padded room produces a more muted and flabby reverb. 

    As recording instruments moved from recording instruments live in a sound room (which would introduce its own natural reverb) to recording instruments individually and mixing them later, sound engineers needed ways to recreate the reverb effect to lend cohesion to the mix as well as fill in the sound of individual instruments.  As such, reverb became a discrete effect used in recording, guitar amplifiers, and eventually almost every electric instrument as a way to add depth to any room.  


    The Technology of Reverb Effects

    The reverb effect typically features controls for depth, decay (often called “dwell”) and effect blend. Other common features in delay effects include the ability to brighten or darken the reverb signal, add modulation to the reverb signal, or even reverse reverb.

    Before reverb devices, reverb was attained (intentionally or otherwise) simply by ”playing the room” in both live and recording settings. Some of Jimmy Page’s most massive tones were achieved by using a low powered small combo amp blasting in a large room. The reverb of the room filled out the notes and added the depth and presence one would expect from a 100 watt amp cranked to unbearable volumes. Musical venues are often (well, hopefully) designed to take sonic advantage of the room through selective sound treatment and ceiling angling.

    Obviously, players have little control over the sound of a room while playing (or even recording), so they had to find creative ways to create their own. Spring and plate reverbs popped up around the same time and share the same basic mechanical philosophy- the input signal of the instrument is fed into a plate or spring which vibrates, creating a reverb swell captured by a mounted pickup within the tank. The less common plate reverb, exemplified by the EMT 140, was bulkier in size than spring and created bright, dense reverb with the slightest bit of pre-delay for a more realistic sense of space. It was also considered one of the best reverb sounds around. Oh, and it weighed over 500 lbs.

    Spring reverb, while similar in approach, became much more common with guitar amps as it was small and relatively cheap. The nature of the spring vibrating creates a looser, almost cartoony reverb in extreme settings that is thinner than a plate. When hit with too hot a signal or physical vibrations, a slinky-like “sproing” occurs that was an essential part of the surf music scene. Spring reverb is still a standard in many tube amps.

    As the 80’s saw an increase in the use of digital chips, digital reverbs were introduced and brought back iconic reverb styles like “room”, “spring”, “hall”, and “plate” in a single effect. Unencumbered by the mechanics of physical reverb and unaffected by physical jostling, digital reverbs brought the “produced” sheen and tone of studio albums to the live stage. Better yet, rather than just recreating existing reverb effects, even the earliest digital reverbs offered reverb based on the general behavior of specific rooms. Unlike the darker reverbs created by most room and plate/spring technology, digital reverb could actually be brighter than the original signal and could even run in reverse swells.

    The 2000’s brought in hardware and software technology advanced enough to introduce effect and amplifier modeling, where the instrument’s signal is digitally converted and run through software that emulates (through part-by-part recreations or advanced sampling) physical effect circuits. As such, the most iconic versions of the different reverb technologies found themselves modeled and expanded upon with the control of every parameter only software can allow. The biggest boon to the modeling technology was the ability to offer entirely different delay technology styles within a single enclosure. Today, there is hardly a software instrument or recording suite available that doesn’t include modeled reverbs.


    Examples of Reverb Effects

    Classic Spring Reverb- Fender Spring Reverb Tank, Hammond Organ Spring Reverb

    Classic Plate Reverb- Elektro-Mess-Technik EMT 140

    Classic Digital Reverb- Lexicon 224 Reverb, Alesis Quadraverb, Boss RV-2, EHX Holy Grail

    Classic Modeled Reverb- Line 6 Verbzilla, Strymon Blue Sky/Big Sky 


    Next... Flanging 




    Please add comments for any additions. This is meant to be a living document and any and all community input is welcome!


    Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 






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    It would lend great color to the article to cite examples of each type of reverb, e.g., "Dick Dale's 'Misirlou' is a great example of classic spring reverb."


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