For as long as humans have been playing music, we have utilized the natural sound of different spaces, whether that’s a cathedral, concert hall, or even a cave. This natural sound is called reverberation, or reverb for short.
In this article, we will discuss its different uses, what to look for, and our top picks for reverb pedals for guitarists.
Table of contents
- Reverb 101 – Nature’s Ear Candy
- Top Picks: Reverb Pedals for Guitarists
- Under $150 – Ballin’ on a budget
- Under $250 – It’s payday, let’s spend a little money
- Under $500 – Money is just a means to buy guitar pedals
- Final Thoughts
Reverb 101 – Nature’s Ear Candy
What is reverb?
When sound reflects off multiple surfaces in an enclosed space, our ears perceive it as reverb. Reverb is a natural auditory phenomenon heard in everyday life. Musicians and audio engineers have found interesting ways to emulate and/or capture this desirable quality. Here’s an example of reverb. Yes, it’s a fart. 😉
- Quick physics lesson – We swear it won’t be boring
- Sound waves can be absorbed or reflected. Different surfaces have different reflective properties: think tile or stone (reflective) versus carpet or a pillow (absorbent). Sound reflecting off surfaces in a space combined with an initial source is what we perceive as reverberation. Although similar scientifically, reverb differs from delay or echo because we perceive it as a cohesive sound instead of distinctive repetitions. With reverb, those reflections arrive at our ears within about 20 milliseconds of each other, and our brains don’t have the computing power to hear the separate reflections.
- In addition, reverb’s tone and quality is determined by a space’s size, architecture, and what fills the room (e.g. chairs, carpet, humans, etc.)
Different types of reverbs – Taste the Rainbow
In a musical context, reverb is found in three different forms:
We’ll briefly touch on natural reverb, but the focus of our conversation will be on mechanical or digital reverbs, which are commonly used to get a killer guitar tone!
- Natural – “I only eat organic”
We hear natural reverb in a school gymnasium or bathroom. In old recording studios, they set up dedicated spaces called reverb chambers to create this effect. You can hear a reverb chamber in most classic recordings by Motown in Detroit. Check out the reverb on the vocals in “Shop Around.”
- Mechanical – Welcome to the modern world
Mechanical reverb came about from 20th century engineers’ attempts to recreate natural reverb using materials such as metal springs or plates. While they fell short of perfect mimicry of natural reverb, their work produced distinctive tonal qualities that are now industry standards. There are two common mechanical reverbs:
- Spring reverb is created by sending an audio signal through a metal spring. The original spring reverb was created by Laurens Hammond around 1935. His product, the Hammond organ, needed to emulate the natural reverb of a pipe organ, and this invention got him close.
- For guitarists, this type of reverb effect is found built into most standard guitar amps. In addition, it can be found as a separate stompbox effect. Websites like Reverb.com offer a variety of different types of pedals that have many emulated spring reverb options.
- Plate reverb is created by sending an audio signal through a metal sheet, where a transducer captures the sound of the vibrations. While natural reverb is three dimensional, plate reverb is two dimensional because the sound travels through a plane. Here’s an example of the most famous plate reverb, the EMT 140, which was introduced in 1957. It was used in most major commercial recording studios for years (and many still have them).
- Digital – “If you can’t find it, build it”
Digital reverb simulates a natural or artificial space using mathematical algorithms. These formulas are calculated by internal processing microchips called digital signal processors, or DSPs. There are two types of digital reverb:
- Algorithmic reverb calculates multiple delays in real-time to attempt to emulate the sound of large or small rooms. They also can be used to create unnatural reverb for a new creative exploration.
- Convolution reverb is generated by recording an impulse response in a room, like a clap. Complex algorithms are based on the impulse response to emulate the properties of the room. This type of reverb is based on specific space, whereas algorithmic reverb is created from scratch.
How is it used for guitar?
If you are looking to bring life to a lifeless guitar signal, reverb can do the job exceptionally well. Here are some examples of how reverb is used artistically:
- Depth – Thicken that gravy up, baby!
- Reverb works wonders on making your guitar sound fuller. Check out Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games”. The guitar line would be thin and lack presence without reverb.
- Shimmer – Wash to shore and surf the waves, bro!
- Dick Dale, the father of surf music, sure knows how to make you feel like you are on the beach. Let the spring reverb wash away your sorrows, baby.
- Sense of Space – Is he in a cave?
- He might be! Or he might be in outer-space. Reverb has the ability to transport the listener. Check out the vocals on “Let it Happen” by Tame Impala.
- Mood – Wow you got me feeling feelings
- Use reverb to make your sound feel intimate, somber, or vulnerable. This intimacy can evoke a certain mood. Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” is great example of how reverb can set a mood.
What to look for in a reverb pedal
In our previous article, beginners’ guide to choosing pedals, we hit upon what to look for in a guitar pedals. There are two main types of reverb pedals that can suit your needs:
- Jack of all Trades
- Some pedals offer different types of reverbs (chamber, plate, spring, etc.), which is fantastic for experimentation. As you develop your own taste, you will prefer certain reverb sounds and tones over others.
- One-Trick Pony
- On the flip side, one-trick ponies can be useful, too. Reverb is a complicated effect. Having a pedal dedicated to one or two reverbs will ease the pain and confusion of dialing in a great sound.
Top Picks: Reverb Pedals for Guitarists
Reverb is one of the most important effects for a guitarist. We carefully selected pedals to suit different playing needs. Here is our breakdown of pedals at different price points.
- Under $150
- Under $250
- Under $500
Under $150 – Ballin’ on a budget
You can purchase a high quality reverb pedal without breaking the bank. Here are our picks:
Nickname: Simple Sam
If you are diving into reverb for the first time, or you just want a no-frills pedal, the Holy Grail Neo is the man.
We love the simple interface. You get the three main types of reverb (spring, hall, and plate) in a toggle switch with a knob that increases or decreases the amount of ‘verb. Simple, Sam.
Price: $123.50 new
- Great sounding spring, hall, and plate reverbs
- Digital reverb in a pedal that won’t take up too much real estate
- EHX’s true bypass, so your signal won’t be compromised
- Great to use on any instrument!
Nickname: Red Thunder
The original Hall of Fame pedal became a staple amongst gigging musicians, and TC Electronic’s follow-up does not disappoint.
This pedal offers a wide array of reverbs with highly customizable parameters: decay, level, and tone. Once again, TC Electronic’s patented “TonePrint” allows you to use the TonePrint app to download custom-designed artist presets or even create your own reverb. Additionally, for this update you have the option of storing three TonePrint reverbs instead of just one.
Our favorite new feature is the “Mash” footswitch! When the Hall of Fame 2 is engaged, the footswitch is pressure-sensitive and can be used like an expression pedal, giving this reverb pedal amazing creative potential. Use it to swell the reverb effect in and out dynamically, or assign other customized reverb parameters. Seriously, this is awesome!
Price: $149.99 new
- Wide variety of reverb types, from halls to spring or plate
- Switchable true bypass/buffered bypass for pedalboard flexibility
- The Mash footswitch for creative expression
- 3 TonePrint slots to allow a more customizable pedal
Under $250 – It’s payday, let’s spend a little money
In this price range, you are going to get a pedal that is either more flexible or has a specific and/or unique sound. We chose pedals that focus on a unique sound. Here are our picks:
Nickname: Creepy Crawly
EarthQuaker Devices is known for making some innovative pedals, and the Afterneath is definitely one of them! The company describes the Afterneath as “a wizard in a cave in a box. You are the wizard – or sorceress, if you prefer – and the cave is your instrument’s signal, vast, expansive, and magical.”
This is not an all-purpose reverb. This pedal excels at creating lush, atmospheric textures and dense, complex patches. If you dig ambient music or want a guitar sound that fills out a huge sonic space, this is the right choice.
The Afterneath can produce some wild, crazy sounds, making it perfect for creative experimentation.
Price: $229.00 new
- Gives you a sorcerer’s power to control the sound of a cave
- Uses swarms of short delays to create washes of ambience
- In extreme settings still keeps the clarity of your dry signal
- All-analog dry signal path for tonal integrity
- Relay-based soft touch switch is silent onstage
Nickname: Twisted Sheet Metal
The Catalinbread Talisman is the best pedal on the market that accurately recreates the studio plate reverb found on your favorite 60’s and 70’s records. Based on the famous EMT 140, this pedal gives you the benefits of plate reverb without having to lug around a 600 pound piece of sheet metal.
In addition, the Talisman is also versatile, having the ability to create refined ambience to wide-ranging, vibrant spaces. It’s a wonderful stompbox to add some flair to your pedalboard.
Price: $219.99 new
- Reproduces authentic giant plate reverb in a compact pedal
- Studio-style high-pass filter control and pre-delay
- Internal buffer and mix, time, and volume control for greater flexibility
Under $500 – Money is just a means to buy guitar pedals
Studio quality reverb requires incredible processing power, and these pedals can handle the workload. They seamlessly emulate the classic sounds guitarists desire. They come at a slightly higher cost, but it’s well worth it.
Nickname: Jacked in all trades
Boss is known for great digital reverb pedals like the RV-5. The Boss RV-500 brings their legacy together in one centralized unit. This pedal is powerful, versatile, and capable of delivering high fidelity sound, whether in the studio or on stage. Boss loaded the RV-500 with twelve stunning reverb effects, and they are customizable to design your own signature sound.
The RV-500 is akin to a supercharged mini computer dedicated to only the best reverb that Boss has to offer.
Price: $349.99 new
- 32-bit/96kHz processing delivers studio-level sound
- 12 onboard reverb types
- 21 unique algorithms
- Onboard patch memories for storing your favorite effect configurations
- Selectable buffered or true-bypass operation
Nickname: The Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Dreaming
We present the holy grail of reverb pedals, the Strymon BigSky Multidimensional! This beast offers an amazing collection of reverb effects from resonate springs to delicate, dreamy shimmer. This is one of the most comprehensive reverb pedals ever made and possibly the last reverb pedal you’ll ever need.
Top of the line SHARC DSP processors power this pedal for the best sound quality possible!
Price: $479.00 new
- Hand crafted, studio-class reverb algorithms deliver lush, gorgeous, and musically inspiring reverb experiences
- 12 reverb types available: hall, shimmer, spring, and more
- Powered by SHARC DSP for studio-quality audio
- 300 customizable presets
Having a great reverb effect in your signal chain is essential. The pedals we chose offer a variety of different reverb flavors for many musical applications.
Whether you’re giving spatial awareness to the listener or adding a dreamy cloud of sonic fulfillment, reverb can help expand your creativity and enjoyment of playing music. It’s oldest tool in our sonic language, so go forth and reverberate!