It doesn’t matter how accurate a spring reverb algorithm is on any digital pedal. Eventually, be it one or a hundred days of playing later, someone will come forward with the sage-like words:
“Yeah, well, it’s not as good as amp reverb.”
As lovers of pedals, there is always some return fire involved here. It’s not for lack of knowledge—most would agree that analog trumps digital almost every time—but there is something about making an objective statement about what we don’t have that turns our stomachs. Most of the time, people with reverb pedals are compensating for a lack of reverb in their own amps. Of course, any of us would love the sound of a real spring reverb, but lack the money for a new amp, or are married to the sound of our existing amp.
And let’s be very real for a second: Analog reverb is a glorious thing to behold. It sounds so wet, drippy and lush—and it reacts exceptionally well to picking dynamics. There is something very true to be said about the feel of a real spring tank—it’s truly without equal.
With that said, what’s a player to do about this problem outside of buying and getting acclimated to a brand new amp? Will they ever get to experience the analog goodness alongside their tank-equipped brethren? O me! O my!
Thankfully, yes. In fact, throughout history, there have been plenty of opportunities to integrate real spring reverb sound without buying a whole new amp. Some of them can even fit on a pedalboard! Let’s check them out!
James Demeter has been a fixture in the boutique effect scene for longer than most of you have been playing, and he is responsible for several extremely under-the-radar effects over the last few decades, as well as being a real proponent of the “-ator” suffix. His flagship Tremulator was designed for Ry Cooder to replicate the photocell-equipped tremolo of one of his old amps. It passed the ear test of Mr. Cooder and went into production, and it’s still being made today exactly as it was back then.
Why am I telling you this? Mr. Demeter went through great pains to bring the sound of authentic amp tremolo to players without such a thing, and his Reverbulator similarly spares no expense. As the Tremulator is a real optocoupler-equipped trem unit in a pedal, so too is the method behind the Reverbulator. Housed in a large oblong stompbox format, the Reverbulator is the Cadillac of reverb pedals, utilizing two different tanks with a switch to run either one, or both simultaneously. It runs at 24 volts, and contains knobs for Gain and Blend, among other things. Simply put, it’s one of the finest spring reverbs on the market—pedal or not.
Van Amps Sole-Mate
From what I understand, the Van Amps company does not currently—nor did it ever—produce any actual amplifiers. It does, however, produce the next best thing (for us ‘verb lovers, anyway), the Sole-Mate line of pedals and accessories.
Much like a real amplifier’s reverb, the Sole-Mate uses a real ‘verb tank shoehorned into a custom enclosure for optimal space usage. Compared to some other “tank in a box” units, the Sole-Mate is a slim piece, no bigger than some older Electro-Harmonix pedals. Also like a real amplifier, the Sole-Mate is available in all kinds of different wraps to match to your existing amp. One of the company’s newer products is the Pedal Deck, an ingenious device that adds a second tier to the pedal, mounting to the top and allowing players to attach a mini pedalboard among the previously wasted space.
Knas Ekdahl Moisturizer
The Ekdahl Moisturizer from Baltimore-based Knas is barely a spring reverb pedal, only because it does so much more than a standard tank. While most tank-type pedals feature rudimentary settings that drive the tank’s transducers, the Ekdahl Moisturizer contains a whole host of features that will make any reverb addict’s skin itch. First of all, there’s a voltage controlled filter complete with several modes, a Resonance knob and cutoff options. This section feeds into an LFO, which chops up the signal in various ways, which then feeds into an output mixer where all attributes can be mixed in or out—players can mix the filter or reverb in or all the way out at their leisure, as well as adjust the volume.
The part about the Moisturizer that jumps out is the reverb tank that’s mounted on the front of the enclosure, wholly exposed to the elements. This lets players viciously strike the strings or massage them for gentle washes. Some players even use an Ebow to vibrate the springs hands-free for the ultimate in soupy ambience.
Danelectro Spring King
There was a time in history, before the “food” or “diner” series came to be associated with Danelectro, that the company made pedals that serious guitar players actually wanted to buy. However, because we have all laughed at one time or another at seeing the “Chili Dog Octave” and “Pepperoni Phaser” at pawn shops, we often forget about Danelectro’s past offerings. One such offering is the Spring King, a pedal that, unbeknownst to most, contains a real tank with some innovative features.
Ok, there was really only one innovative feature: Danelectro installed a “Kick Pad” for players to stomp that would send the springs into wild fits of vibration. Of course, since this is an actual tank, players could stomp pretty much anywhere on the pedal and obtain something of the same result. However, the Kick Pad sends a jolt of electricity straight to the transducers, exciting the springs in more direct ways than an enclosure-wide stomp-induced vibration. The pedal is somewhat large (thanks, real spring tank) but can be had for very little money on the used marketplace.
Mahaffay Amplifiers Little Lanilei
The landscape of effects is littered with tiny builders—companies that have evaded mainstream notoriety for years. One such company is Mahaffay Amplifiers, a company that, unlike Van Amps, actually builds amps. The company's Little Lanilei pedal has been popping up in a few gear stores, and it certainly looks vintage. Seconds of research turns up the surprising fact that the Little Lanilei is actually still being produced. This unassuming green box presents itself with a picture of a mermaid—quite unsurprising since most players chasing drippy springs will undoubtedly use it for surf rock.
The Little Lanilei contains an eight-inch real Accutronics tank, with two dead-simple controls: a wet-dry Blend knob and. Gain control to drive the tank's transducers. There are no frills here, just gobs of wave-drenched tone. The most compelling facet of the Lanilei is its pedalboard implementation: the pedal has a remote switch jack and comes with a matching footswitch. In other words, 'verb-hungry players need not have the Lanilei hogging their board's precious real estate; just tuck it underneath the board or on top of your amp and add the small footswitch to your foot-controlled arsenal.
Most any analog reverb pedal has one unifying theme: enormous enclosures. And while the Lanilei utilizes a remote footswitch, sometimes we want to adjust those settings, and we don't want to slip a disc trying to reach under our boards to do it. The more we think about it, the more it seems like analog reverb isn't in the cards; those tanks are big, and the enclosure must be at least that big, right? Wrong. Let's take a trip on the Orion, from Portland's own Spaceman Effects
Using the smallest possible Accutronics tank, the Orion also features a host of controls, including Volume, Blend, Tone and Dwell. The Dwell circuit is worth the price of admission alone, dampening the springs for a more saturated tone. The Tone knob is a handy feature, allowing players to seamlessly integrate the Orion into any rig, regardless of amp brightness. For folks with a water-tight pedal rig and a real need for spring reverb, the Orion is the obvious choice. The price may by off-putting for some players, but if you've ever had the privilege of holding and playing a Spaceman pedal, you know it's worth every cent and then some.