Are you wondering what a reverb pedal is, and how does it work? Reverb makes the guitar sound larger. The effect simulates the characteristic of playing in a physical setting that has a specific acoustic resonance. This simulated acoustic space could range from a concert hall to a small-sized room.
Why would someone want a reverb pedal? A simple answer is that a reverb pedal allows guitarists to add a sense of perceptive depth to their guitar tone, allowing guitarists to add more sustain and resonance to their tone.
Reverb pedals are a worthwhile guitar effect to add to your signal chain. Many guitar pedals shape and modulate the guitar’s sound, but very few pedals can add the depth that reverb pedals offer.
Reverb can help guitar leads sit properly in live band settings and give the capability for washed-out guitar tones ideal for sound textures. Finding and setting reverb pedals to specific settings for each desired use can be a lot of fun.
By the end of this post, you will understand what a reverb pedal is and how it works. You will also learn about the various types of reverb, as well as the ideal signal-chain placement.
What is Reverb?
To fully understand the idea behind the reverb pedal, it is best to understand the basic concepts behind naturally occurring sound acoustics. Every space in the world has unique sound characteristics that change how sound waves travel within that space.
The natural reverberation of a room adds a slight trail of sound as sound bounces off of the room’s surfaces. Larger rooms allow for more reverberation of sound waves, while smaller rooms tend to have less reverberation due to the limited space traveled by the sound waves. This is why it is common to hear a longer “echo” sound in larger rooms, although a trained ear can usually hear the same effect in smaller spaces.
Types of Reverb
There are a few different types of reverb settings that generate reverb based on different rooms’ size and sound characteristics. In order from largest (and most reverberant) room to smallest, these range from:
- Cathedral – typically embodying the reverberation of a large cathedral setting.
- Hall/Club – embodying the reverberation of a concert hall setting.
- Chamber – ranging from a recording studio to a performance hall sized space for small music ensembles.
- Room – embodying the reverberation of a small room, such as a room you may find in a house
Another reverb that fits with this room-size reverb specification is Ambience. Ambience is a room’s reverb with no walls, ceiling, or floor. However, the space characterized by this setting has no reflective surfaces for the sound to bounce, creating a very subtle reverb effect.
Other Types of Mechanical Reverb
Some pedals offer additional types of reverb that exist outside the sound acoustics of a room. These additional reverb settings are typically modeled after two mechanical types of reverb: one found in studio settings and another in guitar amplifiers.
Plate reverb is one of the earliest types of reverb used in recording studios. As one of the first artificially simulated reverbs available to musicians, the plate reverb consists of a large steel plate housed inside a long boxed-in housing. Sound is emitted to the plate, causing the soundwaves to bounce and reflect off the plate, creating a type of echoed reverb sound that a damper can adjust inside the unit.
Spring reverb is a type of reverb often found in amplifiers. This unit works by emitting sound across a set of springs, causing the springs to vibrate. As the springs vibrate and manipulate the sound waves, the tone becomes flavored by reverb characteristics.
Naturally, with the age of modern technology, digital reverb also exists. This allows musicians to apply digital reverb processing to their signal, allowing for a wide range of settings to be dialed in. Typically, this can range from the various types of reverb previously mentioned to its unique characteristics.
Working With Stereo vs. Mono Reverb Pedals
Even though the reverberation of sound we naturally hear is typically stereo, some reverb pedals process the guitar signal in mono. If you have a single speaker in your amplifier (such as a combo amp), a mono output on a reverb pedal will likely serve its purpose quite well, as there is no double-speaker capability with a single amp. Reverb can be highly functional with this setup
Traditionally, stereo mixing often requires at least two speakers to create the field of depth characteristic of many stereo setups. It is not often that radios, car stereos, and other music listening devices operate with only one speaker.
With reverb pedals, mono and stereo are similar. A mono output will consist of an output specifically mixed for a mono channel. In contrast, stereo outputs will offer more depth and subtle characteristics due to the widened field of range between two speaker sources.
Guitarists with two amplifiers can take advantage of a stereo output on a reverb pedal, sending the left and right stereo outputs into each amplifier. This opens a large field of sound that the guitar tone is coming from, effectively giving reverb more defined characteristics characterized by the multiple amp setup and the distance between two amps.
Recommended Signal Chain Placement for Reverb Pedals
Reverb is typically a pedal best applied after other pedals process a guitar signal. This allows the reverb to reverberate the fully-processed signal (with effects such as wah, distortion, etc.).
The ideal location for the reverb pedal is found at the tail end of a signal chain. It is often found to be the last pedal before the signal enters the amplifier or in the FX loop. Guitarists using a stereo amplifier setup can take advantage of the stereo output and run each into a separate amplifier.
Classic Examples of Reverb in Music
Reverb exists in so many recorded music instances that it would be difficult to find an instance that isn’t flavored by the effect. Some musical genres even feature the effect as a prominent part of their traditional sound.
Here are some great examples of guitar reverb to give you a better idea of how this versatile effect sounds.
B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” is an excellent example of how a touch of reverb can help a guitar sing. Notice how effectively the reverb allows the guitar to embody a certain space within the overall mix of the song.
Surf Guitar Reverb
Surf music of the 1960s often featured guitar tones that had a very prominent reverb effect. One of the most popular examples is “Misirlou,” by Dick Dale and the Del Tones. Though you may be quite familiar with this song, it is important to ask yourself what it might sound like had that iconic reverb effect not been applied to the guitar.
Reverb is also heavily prominent in Reggae and Dub music. Often, many of the instruments recorded in these genres will have some reverb applied, which helps play an important part in the overall sound that define these genres. A classic example of reverb applied in this fashion is “Is This Love” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Listeners will immediately be able to hear not only reverbed instruments but the field of depth created by the amount of reverb applied to each instrument.
Reverb often plays an important role within the instrumental rock genre as well. A great example of this is “Your Hand in Mine,” by Explosions in the Sky. The reverb on this recording serves as an example of how expanded a guitar tone can be with the effect.
Psychedelic rock music also utilizes the reverb effect in many different ways. At any given moment, a guitar tone may only be slightly flavored by the reverb, or it could be completely washed out in long echoing trails. The Black Angels’ song “Young Men Dead” shows how reverb shines in this musical genre.
If you’re curious about the sound of digital reverb, a classic example is Jeff Buckley’s recording of “Hallelujah.” The digital reverb in this recording has a unique characteristic that sounds far different from those modeled after rooms.
Reverb pedals can be found in the signal chains of many guitarists around the world. Reverb is a versatile effect that can breathe life into any guitar signal.
Don’t overlook this guitar effect! Whether you are playing a style of music that traditionally employs the effect or just looking to add more depth to your guitar tone, the reverb pedal is a highly potent ingredient that can be quite useful in many different scenarios.
This pedal can process a reverberated sound that mimics the distinct characteristics of many popular types of reverb:
Reverb pedals can also allow guitarists to split their signal into a stereo output. The stereo out widens the depth of the reverb by emitting sound from a set of amplifiers
You will likely find many uses for a reverb pedal. Some uses may even exceed what you may have originally thought to be possible with such an effect. When you get the opportunity, take the chance to see how a reverb pedal can transform your guitar tone. You may just find your guitar playing taking on the characteristics of new sonic dimensions.