Reverb has been an essential part of the electric guitar and all genres of music since the 1960's.
I’m a sucker for reverb. Always have been. I want to live inside my electric guitar. I always play piano with the sustain pedal depressed. Perhaps this preference has primordial roots, an inheritance from our cave-dwelling ancestors. It’s impossible to say for certain, but I’m clearly not alone. People love reverb. It’s one of our sonic birthrights.
In Greek mythology, Echo was one of the honored nymphs of Mt. Olympus. She was ordered by Zeus to distract his wife, Hera, if she happened by while he was enjoying his magical harem. Echo attempted to distract Hera with conversation, but upon discovering her ruse, Hera cursed Echo so that she was only able to repeat the last part of what anybody else said. This later prevented her from successfully seducing her true love, Narcissus, who drowned in his own reflection. As much as I love reverb and echo, perhaps this is a parable about not using too much? Naw, couldn’t be. Slather the reverb on!
Some of the greatest purveyors of reverb are organists. Originally conceived of as a hydro-powered instrument in Ancient Greece, “wind”-powered organs became fixtures in Western European courts and churches starting in the 10th century. As it was quite literally the most complex human mechanism of its day, it tended to occupy rather large chambers, which effectively became an extension of the instrument. This remained the case until the mid-19th century when the Hammond organ company began installing spring reverb units into their tone cabinets, bringing the spirit of the cathedral into thickly carpeted living rooms across the globe. Essentially, the audio signal of the organ was sent through metal springs via transducers and then blended with a dry signal, creating a unique, vertiginous wave of sonic reflection. This spring reverb design proved immensely popular, and a later, much smaller iteration was used by Leo Fender for his first Fender Twin Reverb amplifier.
Around the same time, pop music producers were constructing echo chambers to make particular tracks stand out on record. The Plate reverb, which utilized large sheets of metal, later became the preferred studio method of achieving this effect. It had the advantage of being more “natural” sounding and flexible than spring. It was also characteristically bright, which helped it cut through the amplification systems of the era. Plate reverb has become synonymous with the vintage sound of the 50s and 60s.
With the digital revolution came a seemingly limitless array of reverbs that truly capture the imagination. Some suggest an acoustic naturalism that prompts the listener to picture the invisible architecture surrounding their signal. Some are intentionally artificial and gated, giving the effect of constantly shifting metal walls. Some are uncannily magical, enveloping us in the lush blooming overtones we encounter in dreams.
With so many shades of reverb available, it’s easy to get lost, so here are some of Midwood Guitar Studio’s straight-forward favorites for your consideration:
Hard to beat that original, Fender tube-driven spring tone. To me, it sounds like your shredding on a surfboard as a giant wave crests over your head. There’s definitely a watery quality to it. At lower levels it sounds like a forest after a recent rain.
Swart Amps did something different with their in-amp reverb. Their overall aesthetic may be largely vintage-inspired, but their signature, patented tube reverb is very much of the new millennia. It’s as lush, dynamic, and complex as any ambient hall found in a studio plug-in, but it’s powered by tube warmth. I’d say it’s the best of both worlds, but it's really a whole new world unto itself. This is a must-hear verb.
For those who want options that are spot-on and relatively easy to navigate, the Strymon Flint allows you to dial in iconic verbs, decade-by-decade. With 60s (spring), 70s (plate) and 80s (hall) reverbs, plus three historic tremolos, it’s well-assured that you’ll find the perfect sound. Strymon continues to lead the pack in digital fidelity. It’s like having three historic recording studios in a box.
Midwood Guitar Studio products are also available on Reverb.