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There are literally thousands and thousands of different guitar pedals. They contribute to color the sound of the guitar, depending on the type of circuits they contain. You can listen any kind of music record, and you will recognize the taste of guitar pedals.

From just a slight (and even imperceptible) signal compression up to a crazy fuzz, there is a great variety of guitar pedals. A common way to sort them is according to what they do with the signal that enters to them, as listed here:

  1. GAIN: boost, compression, overdrive, distortion and fuzz.
  2. MODULATION: chorus, phasing, flanging, tremolo and vibrato.
  3. ECHOING: analog delay, digital delay and reverb.
  4. FILTERING: Equalization and wah-wah.
  5. PITCH SHIFTING: octaver, whammy and harmonizer.
  6. OTHER: Synth: talk-box, expression and volume.

In the following sections I will describe a little more these groups of effects, although I will write more in depth, dedicated posts for each of them, in this “pedals explained” series.

Gain guitar pedals

Gain is defined as an increase (or reduction) in signal strength. Sometimes they do it with high fidelity regarding the input signal, meaning that guitar tone remains unaltered but boosted. But most of the times (yeah) they add some juice to the tone, creating amazing textures for your light crunchy rhythms, thick power chords or the dirtiest leads.

There are different types of gain-based pedals, depending on both the amount of gain and tone (due to signal shaping) they give to the guitar’s signal.

You can head to the Part 2 of this series for a more in depth description of gain-based guitar pedals.

  • Compressor pedals. As their name indicates, these pedals compress the input signal, by smoothing the attack of the note and sustaining its decay. This way, the sound of the guitar becomes a little thicker. In addition, there is less variation from note-to-note (and from note-to-chord) volume, which makes the sound more even and tight.
  • Boost pedals. They are normally transparent, meaning that they boost the signal strength without distorting it. They are great as a kind of HiFi preamps, providing the signal with a level ready to rock when driving a tube amp. Sometimes they are used to simply increase the volume without coloring the sound of the guitar.

    Ibanez TS808 vintage tube screamer
    Ibanez TS808 vintage tube screamer
  • Overdrive pedals. They provide a higher gain than boosters, usually emulating the effect of a semi-cranked (or even fully-cranked) vintage tube amp. Overdrive pedals are, by no means, the most popular of guitar pedals. There is a huge variety of different models that give infinite flavors to the guitar tone, as they don’t simply increase the gain of the signal, but introduce sweet different harmonic distortion into it. They are great to use with clean amplifiers, but you can get most of them by driving a cranked tube amplifier.
  • Distortion pedals. Add more gain into the equation and you will get more distortion. The range of distortion obtained with these pedals goes from the one you can get from a fully-cranked tube amp (or even less) to very extreme metal-like thick sounds.
  • Fuzz pedals. A fuzzed tone can be way different from other classic distorted sounds. It gives a very thick compressed saturated sound with and endless sustain. Fuzz really changes the shape of the input signal, producing a sound that is similar to a broken amp.

Modulation guitar pedals

Modulation-based guitar pedals modulate one (or more) characteristic of the input signal, such as amplitude, frequency or phase. From just slight phase shifting to orbital flanging, these pedals can definitely change the character of the sound of your guitar.

You can head to the Part 3 of this series for a more in depth description of modulation-based guitar pedals.

  • Chorus pedals. The chorus effect tries to make one instrument to sound like if more than one is playing. To do so, it takes the input signal, doubles it, and put the doubled signal slightly out of time and tune with the original. This way, when both the original sound and the doubled one are played at the same time, it seems like two instruments are playing together, but not in perfect tuning.
  • Phaser pedals. Phasers, or phase shifters, where originally designed to emulate the effect of a rotary speaker, like a classic Leslie cabinet. Similarly to chorus pedals, they split the input signal in two and modulate one of them in a less intuitive manner than a chorus pedal does. A phaser takes the doubled signal and shifts its phase between 0 and 360 degrees. This phase shift affects differently to each
    MXR vintage phase 90
    MXR vintage phase 90

    frequency present in the original signal. When the shifted signal is mixed back with the original signal, some frequencies phase cancel while others add together to create notches and peaks in the frequency response. Modulating the filter’s phase shift with a Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO) sweeps those notches and peaks up and down the frequency range over time to create a spacey whoosh and swirl effect.

  • Flanger pedals. They are based on the same principle of modulation than phasers, with a similar sweep and motion to its sound. However, they usually apply more dramatic frequency-altering effects going on within that motion, by imposing more control over the inverse points of the out-of-phase relationship, what results in a more oppressive effect. They are more complex devices, requiring more involved circuitry and therefore more control knobs than phasers.
  • Tremolo pedals. By modulating the amplitude of the signal (i.e. volume level) you can obtain a helicopter-like pulsing effect at different speeds.
  • Vibrato pedals. By slightly modifying the note above or below its original pitch you obtain a warbling effect, similar to the one you obtain when bending a note of your guitar.

Delay and Reverb guitar pedals

Everybody knows how these effects are like. In fact, they try to reproduce the sonic effect that occurs naturally to any sound that propagates within a closed environment.

Wether you play in a bathroom, in a concert hall or in a cathedral, you will experience how these type of environments affect the decay of the signal, as the (many) echoes bouncing back from every direction (from walls, ceiling, floor) add up to the tail of the signal, expanding its decay.

You can head to the Part 4 of this series for a more detailed description of time response-based guitar pedals.

  • Analog delay.  You experience echo in the natural world when you  clap in proximity of a hard, flat, somewhat distant wall, and hear the sound come bouncing back to you at a delay determined by your distance from the surface. This effect generates echoes using analog circuitry, adding a little change in the tone of the repeats. Analog delay pedals are limited to relatively short delay times and number of repetitions.

    Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb
    Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb
  • Digital delay. The evolution of digital circuits allowed generating more complex type of delays, by adding more functionality and increasing the delay time and maximum number of repetitions. Some pedals even include a built-in looping function that allows you to record short (or sometimes pretty long) riffs and repeat them infinitely, playing over the top.
  • Reverb. Reverberation can be defined as the persistence of a sound after it has been produced. Reverb is commonly experienced in an empty, unfurnished room, or really in any chamber with walls,  where multiple short echoes with long delays build up to an atmospheric recurring delay in the sound created in that room. It can be imperceptible in an open space or a crowded and fully carpeted chamber,  and you can really notice its effect in a cathedral or a big cave.

EQ and Wah guitar pedals

These pedals modify the frequency spectrum of the signal. Apart from the basic filtering of the input signal via a graphic EQ, these pedals can produce awesome effects that you would instantly recognize as one of the most representative tones of the history of rock guitar.

You can head to the Part 5 of this series for a detailed description of filtering-based guitar pedals.

  • Wah-wah. This effect takes its name from the kind of sound that it generates. Another kind of classic pedal in the sixties rock scene, it also took disco music and funk in the seventies into the next level. This pedal works in very simple way: by rocking the pedal with your foot it controls an envelope filter, or band-pass filter, that creates a peak in the frequency spectrum. You increase or reduce the pass band of the filter simply opening or closing the pedal with your foot. When that peak is swept through the portion of the spectrum in which the current note or chord is being played, it emphasizes those frequencies and produces a characteristic wah-wah-like sound.

    Cry Baby classic wah
    Cry Baby classic wah
  • Auto-wah. Auto-wah is very similar to the classic wah. It is also based in an envelope filter circuit. However, you now don’t control the frequency characteristics of the filter with the foot; instead, this is done by the pedal automatically, depending on the dynamics or you playing and the settings of the pedal. This is a really cool funky effect that gives you a sound kind of different than a classic wah. If you are into soul and funk music, you definitely must have one of those.
  • Envelope filtering. Auto-Wahs may be considered as a particular case of envelope filtering. The envelope filter pedals include different pass filter capabilities, as well as other knobs to generate sounds out of this world. Some pedals may even include low-frequency oscillators (LFO) that blends with the filtered sound, which rises the versatility of this kind of devices to produce analog-like synthesized interstellar sounds.
  • Equalization (EQ). This effect is pretty straightforward. It consists on a graphic EQ that includes a number of band pass filters at different frequencies. Depending on how many bands the EQ has, you really can change the tone of your playing. EQ pedals usually have slider-based controls to tune each band, that present a graphic image of the shape of your EQ settings.

Pitch shifting pedals

Even though pitch shifting pedals could be grouped with other filtering related effects pedals, they generate such distinctive sounds and atmospheres that I have include octavers and harmonizers in a separate category. What they basically do is generate additional notes (at different pitches) to the original, creating magical harmonies.

You can head to the Part 6 of this series for a more in depth description of pitch shifting-based guitar pedals.

  • Octaver. An octave divider pedal splits the input signal and adds (or subtracts) an octave tone to the original. In some stompboxes, an octave can be added and subtracted at the same time, and all them up to the original note. When adding an upper octave you will get a trippy, psychedelic dual-part sound on single-note riffs, similar to the tome you can obtain with a 12 strings guitar. However, this effect may sound horrible when playing chords…

    Digitech Whammy V
    Digitech Whammy V
  • Whammy. Take any recording of Rage Against the Machine and you will hear Tom Morello creating very crazy tricks with it. This pedal works similarly to an octaver, but now you can change the pitch of the note in different intervals, not just limited to octaves. In addition, you can modify the pitch while playing by rocking the pedal with your foot.
  • Harmonizer. Harmonizers also work with the pitch of the input signal. In this case, they automatically process the tone of the note you are playing and add one (or more) shifted note according to a preset harmony. You can work with mayor scales, minor, pentatonic, and so on. This can result in a relatively complex signal processing in order to get a natural and nice sounding quality, so better go for a quality pedal here. If you like Brian May, you have to try out one of those …

Other guitar pedals

Apart from the effects pedal typologies described before, there are many other kind of pedals that cannot fit into any of them. They can create create sounds that have nothing to see with the sound of a guitar.

You can head to the Part 7 of this series for a more detailed description of other great guitar pedals.

  • Synth. Synthesizer-like pedals create amazing sounds just like keyboard-like synthesizers. Instead of feeding the digital processors to synthesize sounds with a piano keyboard, you feed them with the strings of your guitar. And how do they work? They capture the pitch and volume of the notes (or chords) you are playing and generate a raw digital signal. Now you can do whatever you want with this signal: play a Hammond organ, a sitar… you name it.

    Electro Harmonix micro synth
    Electro Harmonix micro synth
  • Talk Box. This pedal is used to create kind of voicy effects. These pedals take the sound of the guitar and direct it to your mouth via a plastic tube with an adjacent microphone. Then you modify the sound by changing the shape of your mouth, “vocalizing” the sound of your guitar; this way you make your guitar to appear to “speak”.
  • Expression. Some stompboxes my have an additional input for an expression pedal, allowing you to control any of the pedal parameters (like effect level, speed, etc.) by rocking the expression pedal with your foot. It can be very handy as you may change some effects parameters while you play.
  • Volume. A volume pedal may be seen as an amplitude modulating device. It allows you to control the volume of the guitar with your foot while playing. Usually placed at the beginning of the signal chain, it can change the way the rest of the subsequent pedals (and the amp itself) are driven. They are designed to be transparent so the tone of the guitar remains unaltered; however, the way they react to your foot may be different among different pedals, as you may prefer either a linear or a logarithmic response when stomping on it.

 Guitar pedals explained (Part 2): Gain guitar pedals

 

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

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Modulation-based guitar pedals modulate one (or more) characteristic of the input signal, such as amplitude, frequency or phase. From just slight phase shifting to orbital flanging, these pedals can definitely change the character of the sound of your guitar.

How the modulation is produced very much depends on the effect. However, all of them change one of the characteristics of the signal. This change is generated (modulated) by a predefined pattern.

To do so, all these kind of pedals work similarly: the input signal is divided in two copies. One of them (dry) stays the same, whereas the other (wet) is modulated. Then both are blended together, creating an amazing effect.

As you know, any sound is composed by a few (or billions) of single sine waves. Each of these single sine waves are defined by three parameters: amplitude, frequency and phase.

  1. The amplitude (measured in volts) of the signal determines the volume of the sound. The higher the amplitude, the louder the sound.
  2. The frequency (measured in Hertz) sets the pitch of the sound. Remember that we usually tune any instrument by using an A at 440Hz as a reference.
  3. The phase of the signal (measured in radians, or degrees) express its time delay when crossing the zero volts amplitude.

Perhaps some of the effects that I include in this part don’t fit very well within this category, but it is sure that all of them ad some kind of modulation to the input signal. These are the most representative modulation guitar pedals:

  • Chorus. Chorus pedals try to make a single instrument like of more than one is playing, just like a voice chorus does.
  • Phaser. Phaser pedals shift the phase of the signal.
  • Flanger. Flanger pedals also shift the phase of the signal, but the effect is a little different than the one phaser do.
  • Tremolo. Tremolo pedals modulate the amplitude of the signal.
  • Vibrato. Vibrato pedals try to emulate the vibrato you can apply to the neck of your guitar naturally, with your left hand.

Chorus pedals

The chorus effect tries to make one instrument to sound like if more than one is playing.

To do so, it takes the input signal, doubles it, and put the doubled signal slightly out of time and tune with the original. This way, when both the original sound and the doubled one are played at the same time, it seems like two instruments are playing together, but not in perfect tuning.

To do so, they apply a short (selectable delay) that gives a more natural taste to two instruments playing together. That also apply a varying pitch shifting at a given rate, to emulate a “bad” but natural slight out-of-tune.

Boss CE2 Chorus
Boss CE2 Chorus

A little history…

Due to the short delay times these effect apply, these effects weren’t available until the seventies. The reason was, as with other effects, the availability of low price chips.

The first commercially available chorus pedal was the Boss CE1 Chorus Ensemble. As soon as it appeared in 1976, it was instantly assumed by the big fishes of the music scene. In fact, this pedal was one of the main factors why The Police sounded like it did. Andy Summers was a big fan of this pedal.

After the CE1, Electro Harmonix brough into the scene two other models that you can still find reissued: the Memory Man Stereo Chorus/Delay and the smaller Small Clone.

Then MXR, DOD, Ibanez and the rest of big manufacturers incorporated a chorus pedal in their catalogs. Today, a lot a boutique pedal makers offer chorus pedals in both analog and digital implementations.

Controls and features

The features of chorus pedals have increased with the time, mainly due to the possibilities that digital signal processing brings to these circuits. Nevertheless, you can expect to be able to control this parameters in any chorus pedal:

  • Level. This knob simply changes the presence of the effect over the dry sound. Turn it counter-colckwise and you will have the dry sound; turn it clockwise all the way up and you’ll feel the presence of
  • Tone. The tone control equalizes the high (or mid) frequencies of the wet signal (i.e. the part of the signal affected by the chorus).
  • Rate. This knob changes the speed (frequency) of the modulation effect.
  • Depth. This control changes the depth of the modulation.

Do I need a chorus pedal?

As I have explained in the Part 2 of this series, you NEED a few (a lot) of different gain pedals. However, modulation pedals are more like a personal choice.

Do you need a chorus pedals? Buy one if you like the effect that it produces, or just because you love the eighties… Check out any song by The Police and you will hear Andy Summers mastering the chorus effect with his guitar.

Chorus pedals sound great with clean sounds, either chords or arpeggios. On the other hand, they can make your distortions sound great too!

You may like the color this pedal can give to your sound when playing arpeggios in pop music. It’s great for some kind of hard jazzy sounds or fusion music too. Mike Stern is a great example of what you can do with this effect when playing impossible solos.

Phaser pedals

Phasers, or phase shifters, where originally designed to emulate the effect of a rotary speaker, like a classic Leslie cabinet.

Similarly to chorus pedals, they split the input signal in two and modulate one of them in a less intuitive manner than a chorus pedal does. A phaser takes the doubled signal and shifts its phase between 0 and 360 degrees. This phase shift affects differently to each frequency present in the original signal.

When the shifted signal is mixed back with the original signal, some frequencies phase cancel while others add together to create notches and peaks in the frequency response.

Modulating the filter’s phase shift with a low-frequency oscillator (LFO) sweeps those notches and peaks up and down the frequency range over time to create a spacey whoosh and swirl effect.

A little history…

MXR vintage Phase 90
MXR vintage Phase 90

Phaser pedals were created to emulate the effect of the rotary speaker of a Leslie Cabinet.

The first phaser pedal was the Univox Uni-Vibe. Even though it included Chorus and Vibrato controls on it, it was more a phaser pedal, based on optoelectronic circuits. Its circuit included discrete transistors, and some light bulbs and light cells, and an LFO. This is the reason why it was so big.

Big but sweet… Any of the modern clones don’t have its warmness and hypnotic sound. Just try to sound like David Gilmour in “The dark side of the moon”. No way without an original Uni-Vibe.

After the Uni-Vibe, other epic phaser pedals came into scene. The MXR Phase 45 and Phase 90, and the Electro Harmonix Small Stone are still available today at great prices.

These were simple devices (just a single knob to control the phase shifting). Nowadays, every major manufacturer includes one (or more) phasers in their catalogs. Some of them being fully digital, allowing endless features and controls.

Controls and features

There are some powerful phaser pedals with a lot of knobs and switches that are very flexible a versatile. They can provide a wide span of different sounds and effects.

On the other hand, take one of the greatest phasers of all time: MXR phase 90. How many knobs and switches does it have? Just one! And it sounds great…

Most of phaser pedals are very simple, and these are the typical controls you will find in an average phaser:

  • Depth. This control changes the maximum phase shift of the signal. Shifting the phase to higher values (usually turning the knob clockwise) gives a more noticeable effect.
  • Rate. Change the speed at which the phase varies from zero to the maximum value set by the Depth control with this knob.

Do I need a phaser pedal?

In my opinion, yes.

Not just because you can obtain orbital sounds with it… Small phase shifts at low effect levels make slight changes in the guitar tone that are great too.

But for those loving the effect of Leslie-like rotary speakers, or trippy sounds from the late sixties and seventies, this pedal can provide them with great times.

What if I ask you what is the best album of all times? I’m sure that “The dark side of the moon” by Pink Floyd is in your top 10 list (if not in your number one). David Gilmour taught everyone how to use a phaser (using an Univox Uni-vibe). Take “Breathe” as an example.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? Go and get a phaser!!

Flanger pedals

They are based on the same principle of modulation than phasers, with a similar sweep and motion to its sound.

However, they usually apply more dramatic frequency-altering effects going on within that motion, by imposing more control over the inverse points of the out-of-phase relationship, what results in a more oppressive effect.

They are more complex devices, requiring more involved circuitry and therefore more control knobs than phasers.

Electro Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress
Electro Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress

A little history…

Long time before the first flanger pedal appeared as a stompbox, the effect was generated manually in the studios.  How? By running identical recordings synchronized on two separate reel-to-reel recording machines, and placing a finger against the flange of one to slow it slightly; then releasing again to let the reel speed up again and chase the unadulterated machine.

As “simple” as that.

Once again, the proliferation of transistors made it possible to reproduce the flanging effect with an electronic circuit inside a guitar pedal.

However, flanger circuits are pretty complex so that they emulate manual flanging in a reliable way, and it wasn’t until the end of the seventies where the most preferred devices hit the market, allowing guitarists to widespread those trippy sounds.

Flanger pedals like A/DA Flanger, Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress and MXR Flanger set the standards for flanger pedals, and started forcing guitarist to spend a few hundred dollars (in the seventies) to get one of those stompboxes.

Controls and features

As I said before when discussing about phasers, there are flangers with a lot of knobs and switches, which can take you to another planet.

But the flanger effect is so great that they can sound orbital with just a few controls. Take as an example the Electric Mistress by Electro Harmonix… In an average flanger pedals, you will find three knobs:

  • Level. Flanger pedals usually have a level knob, so you can change how the dry and wet parts of the signal are mixed together.
  • Depth. The depth control changes the maximum time that the wet part of the signal is delayed.
  • Rate. The rate knob varies the speed (or frequency) of the time shift from zero to the maximum delay set by the depth control.

Do I need a flanger pedal?

I think that the flanger effect is something that either you love or hate it.

You can have a great time playing with your flanger pedal, but if you are in a band, be sure that your guitar will be ahead everything else if you use this effect.

But it could be great though… Add distortion to your flanger, and you will love the metallic sound you will get. Check out “Are you gonna go my way” by Lenny Kravitz. That is how you should use a flanger…

Tremolo pedals

By modulating the amplitude of the signal (i.e. volume level) you can obtain a helicopter-like pulsing effect at different speeds.

A little history…

DeArmond Tremolo
DeArmond Tremolo

In the guitar world, Tremolo first appeared as an amp-based device. It basically consisted on an tube-based circuit that cut (at different speeds and amplitudes) the signal entering the power tubes in the output stage.

The very first Tremolo pedal as a stompbox was the DeArmond Tremolo Control. I recommend reading this great article with the brief history of tremolo for more information about how this effect evolved over time.

Nowadays you can find great tremolo pedals. You will see some (like the Demeter TRM-1 Tremulator) with the few controls you could find in a vintage tube amplifier like the Fender Tremolux. On the other hand, other units are way out more complex, but also very versatile (check out the Empress Effects Tremolo 2).

Controls and features

Vintage tube amps implementing tremolo had very basic functionality. You were only able to change both the depth and frequency of the amplitude modulation.

There are modern tremolo pedals that have many possibilities to experiment with. However, most of them implement (perhaps with different names) the following controls:

  • Wave. Some tremolo pedals have a knob (or a switch) to change the shape with which the amplitude is modulated. It can be squared, saw teeth, sine wave, etcetera.
  • Depth. The depth changes the dynamic range of the amplitude variation. With the depth control all the way down, you won’t notice the effect. Turn it all the way up, and the amplitude difference will be maximum, just like an on-off effect.
  • Rate. This knob changes the frequency of the amplitude modulation

Do I need a tremolo pedal?

If your amplifier has a built-in vibrato, you don’t need a tremolo pedal.

But, would you like to have more controls over the vibrato, like modifying the attack, changing the modulation shape, etc. you’d like to check out one of the most modern stompboxes.

On the other hand, if your amp doesn’t have tremolo and you like old school, vintage effects, you should add a tremolo pedal to your pedalboard. They are very cool…

Vibrato pedals

Vibrato is another great example of a pedal that emulates a natural effect.

Think of an orchestra playing classical music. You will see any single player applying vibrato to the instrument.

By slightly modifying the note above or below its original pitch you obtain a warbling effect, similar to the one you obtain when bending a note of your guitar.

Univox Uni-Vibe
Univox Uni-Vibe

A little history…

Vibrato was also first adopted in tube amps, but it was also one of the first guitar pedals available for guitarists to play with.

As I’ve said before, the Univox Uni-Vibe was more a phaser than either a chorus or vibrato. However, it is also a kind of a vibrato unit. Guess where does its name come from?

Today, most of the vibrato pedals you will find are based on the old Uni-Vibe. Some of them claim to be clones (or slightly modified versions of it) like the JHS Warble-Tron and MXR M68 Univibe. Other pedals are re-designs of the Uni-Vibe, like this beauty: the Effectrode Tube-Vibe, a tube-based Vibrato unit, probably the best vibrato pedal in the market.

Controls and features

Just like modern flangers, state-of-the-art vibrato pedals may contain a few knobs that allow you to play with different kind of vibratos.

In any case, you can find, at least, the same controls that you had in a vintage Univox Uni-Vibe:

  • Level. Like in all pedals, the Level knob changes the presence (i.e.) volume of the effect.
  • Rate. The rate control changes the frequency at witch the vibrato is produced. You can generate vibratos at higher frequencies than your left hand (at least mine) can produce…
  • Depth. The Depth knob sets the maximum pitch of the vibrato.

Do I need a vibrato pedal?

Not really. You can do vibrato with your left hand, or with your whammy bar. But, as I always say, you love guitar pedals… Do you like Pink Floyd? What about “The dark side of the moon”? Listen the guitar at “Breathe”. Liked it?

Mmmm, perhaps you start thinking on buying one now…

 

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

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Gain is defined as an increase (or reduction) in signal strength. Sometimes, gain-based guitar pedals do it with high fidelity regarding the input signal, meaning that guitar tone remains unaltered but boosted.

But most of the times (yeah) they add some juice to the tone, creating amazing textures for your light crunchy rhythms, thick power chords or the dirtiest leads.

You can think of the electrical signal coming out of the guitar as a pure sine wave. That is not really true, as the real signal does include tons of sine waves at different frequencies that adds up, which gives it its characteristic sound. However, it is a good and simple way you can visualize what occurs.

Now imagine you add some gain to this signal (you amplify it). You will have an exact copy of the input signal, but increased in amplitude (i.e. strength). You have a boost pedal here.

What happens if you add more gain? It will be a certain point (called threshold) where the signal will start clipping. The amplitude of the output sine wave can’t be higher, so it gets saturated. And what’s that? Yes, distortion. You have now an overdrive pedal.

How about adding even more gain? Well, the signal clips more, and the resulting output sine wave starts looking very different from a pure sine wave. The amplitude gets more saturated and you have more distortion. Here you have your distortion pedal.

Add more gain!! The output signal can get to a point where it gets so saturated that it can be seen as a square wave. Now you have something like a fuzz pedal

JRC-4558D Opamp
JRC-4558D Opamp

Why can the sound of pedal be so different from other from the same family? Why an Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-808 sounds differently from a Klon Centaur? Well, apart from the fact that the electronic circuits are different, the way that the clipped part of the waveform looks like is different in both cases.

You may have symmetrical clipping (i.e. the signal gets saturated identically at both high and low peaks) or asymmetrical clipping. You can also change the shape of the saturated region in many different forms.

Germanium clipping diode
Germanium clipping diode

The elements in charge of making the signal to clip in gain-based electronics circuits are Opamps (that include a few transistors) and diodes. Even with the same Opamp from different manufacturers you will notice a difference in the sound. Change the type of clipping diodes, and you will definitely notice how the sound changes… Check out this youtube video of a Klon Centaur clone with a few different clipping diodes. Which one did you like the most?

There are different types of gain-based pedals, depending on both the amount of gain and tone (due to signal shaping) they give to the guitar’s signal:

  • Compressor pedals boost (or reduce) both the attack and decay of the signal, compressing it.
  • Boost pedals boost the signal, normally without distorting it.
  • Overdrive pedals add more gain and add some distortion, just like a cranked tube amp does naturally.
  • Distortion pedals add even more “natural” distortion, just like if you fully crank a stacked high-wattage tube amp.
  • Fuzz pedals add extreme distortion and amp-broken-like sound.

Compressor pedals

As their name indicates, compressor pedals compress the input signal, by smoothing the attack of the note and sustaining its decay, reducing the dynamic range of the input signal. This way, the sound of the guitar becomes a little thicker. In addition, there is less variation from note-to-note (and from note-to-chord) volume, which makes the sound more even and tight.

Sometimes you won’t even notice the presence of a compressor pedal because you can’t hear any “artificial” boosting in the attack or in the decay of the sound, but you’d tell it’s there anyway. Stomp on the pedal, switch it off and you will miss its presence.

MXR vintage Dyna Comp
MXR vintage Dyna Comp

A little history…

Desktop compressor units have been present in all racks of any recording studio. With the appearance of solid state electronics, transistors substituted vacuum tubes, and smaller versions of compressors as stompboxes emerged.

First compressor stompboxes were very simple devices, designed around a basic Opamp IC with a few transistors, resistors and capacitors in there. However, compression circuits were a little more complex than other gain-based pedals, such as boosters and fuzzes.

Among the old pedals that started delighting guitarists with their compression effect in the sixties, you must credit the Ross Compressor, MXR Dyna Comp and Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. Today you can find modern (and vintage) reissues of old school pedals, or copies of them made by boutique brands.

Controls and features

You can find hundreds of compressor pedals. Most of them are very simple devices and include just one or two controls. However, you can also see more complex devices including a few more knobs that allow you to tweak the sound even further.

These are the typical features you may expect controlling with the knobs of a compressor pedal:

  • Attack. Adjusts the strength of the picking attack. Increasing its value (usually turning the knob clockwise) will result in a sharper attack, creating a more clearly defined sound.
  • Sustain. Adjusts the strength of the decay of the sound. Turn the knob clockwise and you will increase the sustain of your guitar.

Do I need a compressor pedal?

If you like the kind of compression that tube amplifiers apply to the sound, you may like tu use a compressor pedal to get a similar effect at lower volumes.

Compression comes very handy when playing in a band, so don’t hesitate to try one and bring it to your next rehearsal. You will notice the difference.

If you are into funk and/or soul music, you NEED a compressor pedal. There is no way you can get those funky guitars without one of those…

Boost pedals

Boost pedals simply increase the strength of the input signal. They are normally transparent, meaning that they boost the signal strength without distorting it.

They are great as a kind of High Fidelity preamps, providing the signal with a level ready to rock when driving a tube amp. Sometimes they are used to simply increase the volume without coloring the sound of the guitar.

However, some booster models can add a little distortion when turned all the way up. They can even fatten the sound adding more presence to your solo…

A little history…

In the mid sixties, when fuzz pedals were rocking on every stage, some guitarists started asking for some means of boosting the signal in order to drive the tube amplifiers harder at higher volumes, with no change in the sound (like fuzz did).

Electro Harmonix LPB1
Electro Harmonix LPB1

It was Electro Harmonix and its LPB1 booster, with its simple circuit based on a single transistor, the first one available on the market. It was a huge success, which contributed other brands to start producing similar stompboxes.

In the seventies, other pedals appeared too, such as the MXR Micro Amp and Dan Armstrong’s Red Ranger, contributing to the popularity of boosters among guitarists.

From there on, other brands started producing boosters. Today, there are are lots of boost pedals on the market. Some of them are very transparent, other tend to color the sound,  making it a little thicker or brighter, and other add a little distortion. Plenty of options for your particular taste…

Controls and features

Some models have controls for changing the tone of the sound (bass, treble, etc.), but you can expect boost pedals to be very simple stompboxes:

  • Boost. Boost, level, volume… you name it. The main knob of any boost pedal controls the level of the boost in the signal strength. Turn it clockwise, and the volume of your guitar will rise.

Do I need a boost pedal?

Well… I would say that a boost pedal fits in any pedalboard. If you are a jazz player, you may need some extra volume in your clean tone for soloing. On the other hand, you are looking for a warmer and crunchy tone in your overdrive or distortions. Add a boost pedal to your tube amp or overdrive pedal, and you’ll definitely find the difference.

In addition to that, it can result in a versatile and handy choice within large pedalboards, as the effect of boosting the signal also copes with signal (i.e. level and tone) loss due to long signal chains, similar to a buffer does.

Due to their simplicity, boost pedals are usually cheaper than other stompboxes (within the $100 price range) and fit any music style, so get one of those!

… By the way, the answer is yes, you DO need a boost pedal!

Overdrive pedals

Overdrive pedals are, by no means, the most popular of guitar pedals. They provide a higher gain than boosters, usually emulating the effect of a semi-cranked (or even fully-cranked) vintage tube amp.

There is a huge variety of different models that give infinite flavors to the guitar tone, as they don’t simply increase the gain of the signal, but introduce sweet different harmonic distortion into it.

They are great to use with clean amplifiers to add a little crunchy bright tone, but you can get most of them by driving a cranked tube amplifier even harder. Just like tube amps like…

A little history…

Overdrive pedals were born to emulate the sound of a cranked tube amplifier. For this reason, they appear later than other gain-based pedals.

Ibanez TS808 vintage Tube Screamer
Ibanez TS808 vintage Tube Screamer

The godfather of overdrive pedals is, without any doubt, the Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-808. Most of overdrives you can find now in the market are either copies of the pedal or modified circuits based on the original model.

Other vintage overdrives have (and still are) very popular too, as the MXR distortion + or the Klon Centaur. This one uses a very different circuit and is considered the holy grial of overdrive pedals. It was discontinued long time ago and you will need $2.000+ in eBay to get one.

The mystery of this pedal is that the circuitry was covered with a black epoxy to prevent it to be copied. However, you can find a few models that claim being exact clones of the Klone made by both mainstream and boutique manufacturers.

You might think that vintage overdrives have not enough drive or add a little (but holy sweet) distortion. Actual overdrives can be very dirty and can be seen also as distortion pedals. You can even find models with more than one channel, including different levels of drive, which makes them very convenient when playing live.

Controls and features

As overdrive pedals are the most popular (by no means) guitar pedal, the are tons of brands and millions of different models. Some of them may be populated with lots of features and different channels, but any of them includes the following controls:

  • Volume. This knob sets the volume of the effect, as simple as that.
  • Drive. Here comes the juice of its sound. This knob controls the amount of gain applied to the signal, so that it starts clipping and gets a little distorted. Turn it all the way up and you will rock with the sound of an overdriven tube amplifier.
  • Tone. This knob changes the tone of the sound, usually equalizing mid frequencies. You can go from low-mid heavier sounds to a high-mid warmer bluesy character with this control.

Do I need an overdrive pedal?

YES. Lots of them. no doubt here.

Distortion pedals

Add more gain into the equation and you will get more distortion. The range of distortion obtained with these pedals goes from the one you can get from a fully-cranked tube amp  to very extreme metal-like thick sounds.

Just like overdrives, distortion pedals are very popular among guitarists, and there is no reason at all for not having a couple of distortion pedals in your pedalboard.

A little history…

ProCo Rat
ProCo Rat

Like overdrive pedals, distortion stompboxes were created to emulate higher levels of distortion generated naturally by high wattage tube amplifiers.

The ProCo Rat can be considered the first distortion pedal, which took the level of distortion of vintage overdrives (like the Tube Screamer TS-808 and MXR Distortion +) way up dirtier.

With the evolution of heavier sounds starting from the late seventies, some distortion pedals go beyond standard distortion sounds. Modifying the contour and reducing mids while increasing the bright of the tone, you will get into metal.

From classic rock to death metal, the variety of distortions you can generate with distortion pedals is infinite.

Controls and features

Distortion pedals contain very similar features and controls than overdrives, so you may expect to see similar controls here…

  • Volume. This knob sets the volume of the effect, as simple as that.
  • Distortion. Similarly to the drive knob of overdrive pedals, this knob controls the amount of gain applied to the signal, so that it clips and gets distorted. Turn it all the way up and you will rock with the sound of a (fully) cranked tube amplifier.
  • Tone. This knob changes the tone of the sound, usually equalizing mid frequencies. You can go from low-mid heavier sounds to a high-mid warmer bluesy character with this control.

Do I need a distortion pedal?

You may think that you don’t need a distortion pedal, because you are very happy with the distortion you get from your dirty channel of your tube amp.

Well, that might be ok, but you do love guitar pedals, don’t you? You can get many different distortion sounds with different pedals. You can even obtain the typical distortion of your favorite amplifier, so plenty of versatility here, get a few…

If you like distortion and you like rock or heavier sounds, add a few distortion pedals to your collection!

Fuzz pedals

A fuzzed tone can be way different from other classic distorted sounds. It gives a very thick compressed saturated sound with and endless sustain. Fuzz really changes the shape of the input signal, producing a sound that is similar to a broken amp.

Dunlop JDF2 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face
Dunlop JDF2 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face

Turn up the volume of a tube amplifier, and you will hear a sweet overdrive when it starts to break up. Turn it all the way up and you will have a distortion…

… Now remove one of the paired output tubes, bias the preamp tubes with the wrong values and make a hole in the cone of the loudspeaker with a screwdriver. Crank your amp all the way up. That is fuzz.

You have to notice though that you may find some fuzz pedals that are, in reality, distortion pedals. Fuzz is more than distortion, it goes a step further in the level of “dirtiness”…

A little history…

Fuzz pedals are “the godfather” of guitar pedals. It was the early sixties, and solid state electronics were taking over traditional vacuum tube-based circuits. Put one or two transistors with a few resistors and capacitors into a stompbox, and you got a fuzz.

Early fuzz models include Maestro Fuzz Tone, Sola Sound Tone Blender and Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face. Even though the last one came later, it can be considered as the one, pure myth. Why? Because of him: Jimmy Hendrix. Saint Jimmy Hendrix.

gty_jimi_hendrix_up_close_portrait_bw_thg_121120_wmain

This model has been widely cloned (in both circuitry and shape) and it is sold by many different brands. You can distinguish it not just by its tone, but also because of its smily face, fuzzy face.

They initially used in their circuits Germanium transistors, which made them poorly reliable. There was a huge dispersion between transistors, which made different exact pedals to sound different. It even happens today with fuzz faces.

Modern fuzzes use Silicon transistors, whose sound is considered to be harsher, to experiment with newer sound.

But the majority of manufacturers still dig on the old school Germanium transistors, not only to recreate vintage style fuzz tones, but to experiment with new kind of fuzzy sounds.

Controls and features

As previous gain-based pedals, you may expect to be able to control how the effect blends with the original sound (or any other means to vary the volume of the effect) and the amount of fuzz. These are the most common knobs included in the majority of fuzz pedals:

  • Volume. This knob sets the level (volume) of the effect, as simple as that. In some cases, you may find a blend knob, to control how the fuzzed sound mix with the original.
  • Fuzz. This knob controls the amount of gain applied to the signal. In this case, the signal doesn’t just clip, it get a squared-like shape instead. Turn it all the way up and you you will hear a broken (but sweet) amplifier.
  • Tone. This knob changes the tone of the sound, usually equalizing mid frequencies.

Do I need a fuzz pedal?

No, you don’t need a fuzz pedal.

But… you play guitar, and you like Jimmy Hendrix, don’t you? If you want to emulate his sound or just love dirty thick fuzzy sounds, try one and play the guitar intro of “Satisfaction” by Rolling Stones. Did you enjoy it? Buy it!

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

8

Some months ago I wanted to buy a reverb pedal. In fact, I wanted to buy the best reverb pedal. But, with so many models available on the market, how the heck could I pick the best among them? Is there any best reverb pedal at all?

Well, let me be honest with you: there is no such a thing as the best reverb pedal. At least, not in absolute terms. It depend on your needs, and ultimately on which one YOU like the most. The best reverb pedal for me may be the worst for you, and vice versa.

Now, what is this post about then?

First, I’ll be covering general stuff about reverb pedals, what is reverb, are reverb pedals something you need to consider, most common features and controls, etc. Just some general knowledge in case you are not familiar with these kind of devices.

The main goal here is not trying to convince you about which is THE BEST reverb pedal, but helping you figuring out if you need a reverb pedal first, and then helping you selecting the best reverb pedal that fill your needs.

Later in the post, I will describe my conclusions (and my personal opinion) about which are the top 15 best reverb pedals that I like the most, from those that I’ve had the opportunity to try myself…

You’ll have the opportunity to listen to them in a dedicated youtube playlist.

You’ll find some links to deeper reviews of each reverb pedal in their description too.

At the end, I will tell you my conclusions.

This post is structured as follows:

  1. What is reverb?
  2. What is a reverb pedal like?
  3. Do I really need a reverb pedal?
  4. Reverb pedals: features and controls
  5. What would you ask to the best reverb pedal?
  6. Summary of the Top-15 best reverb pedals
  7. Youtube playlist with Top-15 best reverb pedals in action
  8. Conclusion: the best reverb pedal by category

What is reverb?

As I’ve explained in the Part 4 of the “Guitar pedals explained” series, Reverberation can be defined as the persistence of a sound after it has been produced. Reverb is commonly experienced in an empty, unfurnished room, or really in any chamber with walls,  where multiple short echoes with long delays build up to an atmospheric recurring delay in the sound created in that room.

Think about the difference if you play in a small room full of furniture or in a big church. In the first case, the sound is very raw, because it is mostly absorbed by the furniture and the walls. However, in the second case, the acoustic waves are reflected on the walls, and you will hear a long decay in the sound from the reflections coming from the walls at different distances.

Sprink tank reverberation unit
Sprink tank reverberation unit

The described effect is known as ambient reverb, or natural reverb, because it is just what happens with the sound depending on the environment. You’ll have reverb pedals emulating this kind of effect, for different room sizes. This way, you’ll have studio, room, hall, stadium, cathedral, church, etc. kind of reverbs.

On the other hand, early reverb effect units used artificial means to emulate natural reverb sounds. These were plate and spring units (more info about how they work here). There are also some reverb pedals that recreate these kind of reverbs. In addition, some of the most popular (and numerous) reverb stompboxes are spring reverb pedals.

What is a reverb pedal like?

Let me first tell you that reverb pedals are great. Perhaps not very popular (at least not as popular as overdrives and delays). You may think that you don’t need one because you’re very happy with the built-in reverb of your amp, but these guys can make you sound great.

Even though reverberation can be considered as a unique effect that occurs when some number of different echoes (at different delay times) add up to the decay of the sound of your guitar, reverb pedals try to emulate different types of reverbs.

Some of them are very simple devices with a single kind of reverb. Other are like true synthesizers with tons of parameters and reverb types. Stereo or mono (stereo sounds amazing, giving you a 3D surround sound). Small or big… as you see, plenty of options.

Here are the most common types of reverb you will see in most reverb pedals:

  • Room reverb try to emulate the kind of reverberation you may have naturally in a chamber. That is, in a relative small closed space, where you don’t expect to have long reverb times.
  • Hall reverb accounts for bigger spaces. Imagine yourself playing the guitar in a cathedral, or in a big cave. Similarly to the Room reverb, Hall emulates a reverberation that occurs naturally.
  • Plate reverb was an electromechanical way to reproduce natural reverberation in the late fifties. By using an electromechanical transducer, they create vibration in a large plate of sheet metal. A pickup captures the vibrations as they bounce across the plate, and the result is output as an audio signal.
  • Spring reverb is kind of similar to the plate reverb, because they also use an electromechanical transducer to create vibration in a spring (or more than one). A pickup captures again the vibrations of the spring. A lot of vintage tube amplifiers had built-in spring reverbs in them.
  • Shimmer. It is a kind of reverb that introduces additional notes (usually an octave up) that gives you a choral sensation. It is a sort of ghost-like effect that will give you a strange (but sweet) sustained tone.

Do I really need a reverb pedal?

Honestly, I’d say that everybody should include a reverb pedal on the pedalboard. A natural reverb sound (like the one you’d experience in a good sounding room) will always make your sound better. Even if you’re using distortions and other effects, adding a natural reverb makes a real difference. The difference is even bigger if you’re playing in stereo.

In any case, you may take the following aspects into consideration to think about if you really want (or need) a reverb pedal.

  • Do you already have reverb in your rig? Your amp will probably have a built in spring reverb. You may be fine with that. But the spring reverb is a very peculiar kind of reverb. Think about if you want to have more flexibility by recreating more natural reverberated environments like rooms or halls. I’m a huge fan of reverb. Even if you already have any means of reverb, there’s always room for another reverb pedal
  • What type of music do you play? If you love raw sounds, perhaps reverb is not for you. However, you don’t have to think about reverb like sidereal space-like stadium reverberated sounds. For any kind of music, just a little amount of reverb will provide you with a more natural sound.
  • What are your priorities? Perhaps is not a good time for buying a reverb pedal (yet). In order to have a great tone, you’ll need a good base, i.e. guitar and amp. Maybe you prefer to invest now in other kind of pedals, like a few overdrives, or a tremolo, a delay, or a whammy… That is ok for now.

But trust me: no matter what music you play, if you already have reverb in your rig (even a reverb pedal), if you have other buying priorities… there is always room for a great reverb pedal. It’ll simply make you sound better.

Most common features and controls

Although reverb pedals may seem different from each other, there are some common features. Here I list their most common features. I’ll also describe some of the controls you will see in reverb pedals. Be aware that there each reverb pedal may incorporate a different set of controls, although they will be a lot of similarities.

Reverb modes

Some pedals allow you recreating different reverberated sounds, either natural ambiences (room, hall, studio) or artificially generated reverbs (spring, plate). You’ll usually see a knob or a switch to select the reverb mode.

Connectivity

As in any guitar pedal, you will find an input jack for the power supply, as well as IO jacks. In some cases, you’ll only see a single input and a single output (mono). In other cases, you will see a single input and a double (L/R stereo) output. Finally, there are some pedals that are considered true stereo, with double jacks for both input and output.

Controls

The single control that you’ll see in any reverb pedal is the amount of reverb added to the sound. In any case, there are different ways to do so. These are the most common controls:

  • Level. As in most guitar pedals, the level knob in your reverb pedal (also called Mix, Blend, etc.) changes the volume of the reverb. If you turn this knob at its minimum, you’ll only have the dry signal (without any reverb). Turn it all the way up, and you’ll only hear the reverberated sound in some cases. This knob will allow you to dramatically change the presence of your guitar, whether if it feels at the very front (dry) or behind any other instrument (fully wet).reverb-volume
  • Mode. Some pedals implement different kind of reverbs (i.e. spring, room, hall, etc.) With this kind of knob, you’ll be able to change the type of the reverb.
  • Time. With this knob you will control the decay of the reverberation, i.e. how long does the sound takes to vanish. With less time, the reverb will emulate smaller spaces, whereas larger times stand for larger environments.
  • PreDelay. This knob controls the time until the reverb sound happens.
  • EQ. Some pedals implement different means to equalize the tone of the reverberation. In most cases, this EQ will be related to high frequencies, in order to change among brighter or darker tones.
  • Switches. You may also see some switches on reverb pedals to select between different modes of operation, or different functionalities for a single knob, etc.

What would you ask to the best reverb pedal?

As I’ve said at the beginning of this post, there is no such a thing as the best reverb pedal (in general terms). Instead, you could find the best reverb pedal for you. Now, what makes you prefer a pedal over the rest? Think about your budget, features, simplicity to use… Here are a few aspects that you have to take into account when looking for the best reverb pedal for you.

  • Value. How much do you want to spend in a reverb pedal? Not only the price in absolute terms is what matters, but the value (i.e. the ratio between price and features/sound)
  • Simplicity. Do you like playing with knobs? Think about if you prefer a pedal that is simple to use, just a couple of knobs to adjust the amount of reverb and tone, that’s all. Now, think about if you want to have control over tons of parameters related to the reverb, navigate between preset banks, etc.
  • Features. There are some features to consider for (your) best reverb pedal.
    • True bypass. Do you prefer a buffered pedal or a true bypass switch?
    • Stereo. Are you going to use the reverb pedal with a single amp? Then mono IN/OUT is enough for you (like most spring reverb pedals have). If you’re using two amps in stereo or want the pedal also for recording, then go for stereo. It’ll make a huge difference in ambient sounds.
    • Dry analog path. It could be important for you that the dry signal stays fully analog In case the whole signal is digitized, pay attention to the quality (resolution) of the ADCs. I think 24 bits are a standard now.
    • Reverb modes. There are pedals with a single kind of reverb. This way, you can find spring reverb pedals with a single control knob on them, just like some amps have built-in. However, some other pedals have infinite possibilities do to the amount of reverb modes (and controls) they include. Take as an example the Strymon BigSky, without any doubt, (one of) the best reverb pedal ever made.
  • Quality. The build quality of a pedal really matters. Are the electronic components top quality? What about the stomp switch, is the pedal robust? What about noise?
  • Size and look. Look matters. I love guitar pedals also because how they look. They are little art pieces for me. If you’re like me, the look of the pedal will help you making a decision when you’re in trouble. On the other hand, there are reverb pedals in many sizes. Think about the room you have on your pedalboard.
  • Power consumption. When you’re using a power supply for your guitar pedals, you’ll have to pay attention to the power consumption of the reverb pedal. Make sure that your power supply is able to provide the current required by the pedal. Pay attention too to the voltage supply of the pedal (most of them will have 9V center negative supplies, but it may be different).

Summary of the Top-15 best reverb pedals

Now, how should the best reverb pedal be like? Only incorporating spring reverb, or perhaps you prefer to have every reverb types in a single stompbox? Is it a tiny little stompbox or it is boxed in a bigger-sized shinny purpled enclosure? I told you before, it depends on what you need, what you want, or what you like.

Now I’ll list my personal selection of the Top-15 best reverb pedals in no particular order. I’m not able (and honestly think nobody can) to sort them from 15 to 1, because all of them are great.

You’ll see a short description of each of them. For a more in depth review, click on the links below.

JHS Alpine reverb

The JHS Alpine Reverb is the first reverb pedal by JHS pedals. It is based on the Sky Cloud 9, keeping its main core features, but taking it into the next level.

The Alpine reverb has a 9V negative power supply connector, drawing a current of about 100mA. It’s got an instrument input (mono), instrument output (mono) and an effects loop (EFX loop) connectors. You can connect to the Alpine a TRS stereo to 2 mono cable and add any pedal you want into the loop. This way, you can create great shimmer effects with an additional octaver, or endless reverbs by adding a delay pedal.

The JHS Alpine Reverb has 5 controls: reverb, depth, highs, length, shift, and two stomp switches, one for activating the pedal, and another one that activates the shift knob. This switch can be used to activate the effects loop too.

This pedal looks gorgeous, and sounds awesome. Apart from the sound, my favorite feature of the pedal is the EFX loop and the shift function, which allows you dramatically changing the sound of the reverb.

When doing my research about reverb pedals, I instantly fell in love with the JHS Alpine Reverb. I must admit that it was because how it looked first. Then because how it sounded like by watching reviews in youtube (see the playlist above). Finally I could try it and my experience was great. Short, but great. Loved the different ambiences I was able to recreate with just 4 knobs, in a few minutes.

If you want a great sounding reverb pedal for your guitar that is easy to use, the JHS Alpine Reverb is a great choice.

Read the full review of the JHS Alpine Reverb

Electro Harmonix Cathedral

The EHX Cathedral is one of the most popular choices for reverb, due to its versatility and sound quality. It has 7 different types of reverb and an echo mode. You can also set one preset for each mode, so you can save all your favorite tones and recall them by pressing the mode knob.

The Electro Harmonix Cathedral has a 9V negative power supply, drawing a current of 200mA. It has true stereo input and output connectors, and it is true bypass. Thanks to its 24-bit ADCs, the effect of the pedal is totally transparent.

The EHX Cathedral has 7 controls: blend, reverb time, damping/tone, feedback, pre-delay, and mode. It also has 2 stomp switches, one for activating the pedal, and another one with tap/infinite features.

I love this pedal (it is on my pedalboard…)

It is very versatile thanks to the built-in reverb modes and its controls. However, it may result a bit difficult to make it sound great at the beginning, but you won’t be able to stop playing with it and will get its juice right away.

It added magic to my amp, and you will get amazed if connect it stereo.

Apart from the two Strymons (BigSky and blueSky) and Eventide Space Reverb, I haven’t heard such as 3D ambience in any other reverb pedal I’ve had the opportunity to play with.

Read the full review of the Electro Harmonix Cathedral 

Catalinbread Topanga spring reverb

I must say this: in my opinion, the Catalinbread Topanga Spring reverb is the best spring reverb pedal I’ve ever played.

It looks beautiful, and it has a je ne sais quoi that makes it sound think, warm, and very realistic. It sounds like a tube-driven spring tank from the sixties.

This pedal is conceived just as vintage reverb tanks were, to be connected at the input of your amp. You won’t want to use this pedal in the effects loop. This guy will provide you with holy vintage sounds by driving your preamp. By using its volume knob, you can boost the sound so the reverb is a little saturated by your amp, creating a more intense sound.

Catalinbread Topanga spring reverb is very simple regarding its connectivity: it’s got mono in and out, and is powered by 9V negative power supply. It requires some 80mA of current.

The controls of this pedal are the typical ones you will find in most spring reverb pedals, but with an additional Volume control, which takes more juice out of the Topanga. It has 4 knobs: Dwell, Tone, Mix and Volume, and a single stomp switch.

From the moment you stomp on it, you can find the difference. It sounds great easily, because the knobs do what they as suppose to do. It’s true that it’ll give you its best by connecting it just before your gain pedals (or preamp of your tube amp).

Unless you’re using fuzz, its reverb sound will get sweetly and warmly distorted, but the reverb doesn’t get like dirty or noisy. It’s just great!!

Read the full review of the Catalinbread Topanga Spring Reverb

Strymon BigSky

Let me say this: The Strymon BigSky is the best reverb pedal I’ve ever played. It is not just a stompbox pedal: it includes 12 reverb machines with studio quality, allowing you to generate whichever reverb sound that you could imagine.

Plug into BigSky and instantly lift your sound into the stratosphere.

It includes 12 reverb modes: Room, Hall, Plate, Spring, Swell, Bloom, Cloud, Chorale, Shimmer, Magneto, Nonlinear and Reflections.

The Strymon BigSky is also hugely versatile concerning connectivity. It has right and left in/outs for true stereo, and expression pedal control. It also features MIDI in and out, and a Cab Filter speaker emulator, to connect the BigSky directly to the PA or recording console. It is powered via 9V negative power supply, drawing some 300mA.

It has 9 controls (type, value, decay, pre-delay, mix, tone, param 1, param 2 and mod) and 3 stomp switches (A, B, C). The switches allow you to activate/bypass each preset, navigate among different banks, and freeze or (infinite) sustain your reverb.

There is nothing related to reverb that this guy can’t give you. You’ll get any type of “classic” reverb sound, plus many other sidereal interstellar-like tones. Not to say the great versatility that it offers with its parametrizable controls and switches.

Ok, the price is high, but if you want more than just another reverb pedal, the Strymon BigSky is the one you should pick. Needless to say that this pedal will give you its full potential at the studio, in full stereo.

Read the full review of the Strymon bigSky

Eventide Space Reverb

The Eventide Space Reverb is another great reverb unit, kind of similar in features and quality of sound (and price range) than the Strymon BigSky. It includes12 built-in reverb modes: Room, Plate, Spring, Hall, Reverse, Shimmer, ModEchoVerb, DualVerb, Blackhole, MangledVerb, TremoloVerb and DynaVerb.

The connectivity of the Eventide Space is total: Apart from the stereo input and output, it includes a connector for an expression pedal and an additional programable output switch, MIDI connectivity trough USB and In/Out-Through. You can also adjust the level of the input and the output. It is powered via a 9V positive power supply, drawing 1200mA.

It has 11 controls (Mix, Decay, Size, Size, Low, High, Xnob, Ynob, FxMix, and Contour and another one navigate through the different presets, you can store up to 100) and three stomp switches: the left-hand switch always turns the effect on and off, while the other two have different functions, depending on the mode you’re using the pedal in.

This is another great pedal (well, it’s Eventide, what did you expect?). It features any kind of reverb you may imagine, and even more as it can add other effects (like modulation, tremolo, etc.) to the mix.

It sounds great, and you can tweak any reverb mode thanks to its 10 controls, though it can be sometimes a little tricky, as some of the knobs functionalities change with the reverberation mode.

Read the full review of the Eventide Space Reverb

TC Electronic Hall of Fame

TC Electronic is very well known for their rack mounted effects for guitarists and recording studios. Now they’ve included the features of their great reverb machines into a stompbox: the TC Electronic Hall of Fame.

It features 10 types of reverb: Room, Hall, Church, Spring, Plate, MOD, LOFI, TILE, AMB, GATE, and Toneprint, which allows you to greatly parametrize your reverb sound with an App (Toneprint Editor) and download the setting to your pedal.

This pedal has 2 inputs and 2 outputs for stereo connectivity, and is powered via 9V negative supply, drawing a current of some 100mA. It also includes a Mini-B USB to download your favorite Toneprints from your computer (Mac and PC).

The Hall of Fame has 4 knobs: Mode, FxLevel, Decay, and Tone, a toggle switch to change the pre-delay features and a single stomp switch to activate the pedal.

How does it sound like? Great. Otherwise, you wouldn’t see this pedal in that many pedalboards out there. This guy is super popular.

I think this pedal is the perfect solution for setting a permanent reverb sound to your guitar tone, and let it there onstage. You will have a great time by playing with the Toneprint Editor, and you can download your presets with a cool feature: Tone Transfer.

Read the full review of the TC Electronic Hall of Fame

Fender FRV1 63 Reverb

The Boss FRV-1 ’63 Fender Reverb pedal is a (great) attempt to reproduce the reverb sound of a vintage Fender Tube Reverb, the popular spring tube-driven reverb tank that contributed shaping surf and blues music in the early sixties. And you know what? Boss really nailed it.

The stompbox is very simple concerning its connectivity: it has an instrument input (mono) and instrument output (mono), and it’s powered with a 9V negative power supply, driving about 37mA of current.

As the original unit, it has 3 knobs: Mix, Tone and Dwell, and a single stomp switch:

Now, how does it sound like? Of course, like with any other digitally modeled effect, the sound the Boss FRV-1 will get is not exactly like the one of a vintage tube-driven unit. But it’s indeed very close. It would definitely challenge you in a blind test.

Once thing that I like about this pedal is how easy is to make it sound great. It is not my favorite spring reverb pedal though, but it’s a good choice if you one to get the approximate sound of the ’63 unit reissue, but in a stompbox size (and for less than one fifth of the price).

The only thing that I didn’t like about its sound is when I turned the Tone control all the way up. I was using a Fender amp with its EQ controls at noon, and it sounded a little harsh. But it is ok, you may not need to go that bright anyway…

Read the full review of the Boss FRV-1 ’63 Fender Reverb

Wampler Faux Spring reverb

Pedal designer Brian Wampler, owner of Wampler Pedals, is fanatical about great tone.

The Wampler Faux Spring Reverb is a great example of that. It goes right to the point: instead of including reverb modes that you’ll never use (like reverse plate reverbs) unless you’re bored at home, you’ll get the sound of an old school, vintage spring tank.

As most spring reverb pedals, the Faux Spring Reverb is very simple when speaking about connectivity. It’s got mono in and out, and is powered with a 9V negative power supply, requiring about 80mA of current to operate.

It includes the common knobs that you’ll see in most spring reverb pedals too. In this case, you can adjust the level, length and tone of the reverb with 3 knobs: Level, Depth and Shade controls. It has a single stomp switch too (true bypass).

This is another great sounding pedal. As it is true bypass and the dry sound stays fully analog, its presence will remain unnoticeable until you need it.

Despite it may seem a little pricy for “just” a single mode reverb pedal, you can be sure that, if you love the vintage old school sound of a spring tank, you will be happy spending what it cost.

Perhaps one thing that some people may find a little annoying is the length of the reverb. It goes up to 2.8s, which could be a little short for those lovers of cavernous deep sounds.

Read the full review of the Wampler Faux Spring Reverb

Mad Professor Silver spring reverb

Mad Professor is a synonym of sound quality, and the Silver Spring Reverb is a great example of it.

The dry signal stays fully analog and only the reverb is digitally filtered. It’ll be killer when placing it within your FX loop, but it won’t get nasty if placed before the overdrives and distortion pedals. It is super easy to use, and you won’t ged mad just trying to sound great.

As most of spring reverb pedals, the Silver Spring Reverb is mono, so you’ll only see single input and output connectors. On the other hand, this stompbox is powered with a 9V negative power supply, requiring at least 80mA of current.

The controls of the Silver Spring Reverb are pretty standard too. It has 3 knobs: Time, Tone and Reverb, and the true bypass stomp switch. This is how the knobs will affect your sound like:

I’ve already said that the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb sounds great. It’s capable of recreating studio-quality room reverbs with different sizes: from a small warm studio and a plated bathroom to a big church.

But here comes something that some people may argue about. Despite including the Spring word in its name, I don’t personally think that you’ll get a spring reverb sound with this pedal. At least, not the sound of the old school, vintage tube-driven spring tanks.

I didn’t have the chance to enjoy playing with it for a long time, but I wasn’t able to hear those characteristic sounds of springs anyway.

You won’t get disappointed if you’re looking for a simple reverb that just sound great, is simple to use, and can get along perfectly with your amp and distorted sounds.

Read the full review of the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb

Earthquaker Devices Afterneath

The Earthquaker Afterneath is not, strictly speaking, just a reverb pedal. This pedal essentially provides a special kind of reverberated sound that is made up of a bunch of short delays.

Even though is not like the other guys in the best reverb pedal buying guide, I decided to include it just because it’s different, and it’s great. It is worthy bringing here just because of the fact that it’ll take your playing to places you wouldn’t go otherwise.

It is powered with a 9V negative power supply, and it requires a minimum current of 65mA. It as mono connections at both input and output.

The controls of this pedal are very different from what you may see in any other reverb pedal. It has 6 knobs: Length, Diffuse, Dampen, Drag, Reflect, and Mix. It also has a single (true bypass) stomp switch:

I can’t just say that this reverb pedal sounds great, but it does. Put another way, this reverb can’t sound great (from a pure reverb sound perspective) because it isn’t like other reverb pedals, but it sounds great because it is a crazy device that will take to unexpected places when you play with it.

You can check the videos in the playlist below to see what this pedal is capable about and think about if you like what it does more than the classic reverb tones will give you.

One thing is clear: the Afterneath is not a simple device; you will have to spend some time to catch up with it, but you’ll enjoy doing it…

Read the full review of the Earthquaker devices Afterneath

Electro Harmonix Holy Grail nano

If you are looking for the best reverb pedal from Electro Harmonix, get an EHX Cathedral.

Then, you may think “why to include in this list another pedal from EHX whose features are included in the Cathedral?”. The answer is clear to me: because the EHX Holy Grail is an icon. It had to be here. However, I’ve bring it in its new (and smaller) version: the Holy Grail nano.

The Holy Grail features three types of reverb: Spring (the kind of spring reverb built-in vintage tube amplifiers), Hall, and Flerb, which is a cool mixture between reverb and flanger that you won’t find in any other pedal (apart from the EHC Cathedral). It will get right to the point because it is super easy to use: you just select the type of reverb and roll the Reverb knob for the amount of reverb you want. Easy.

This pedal is mono, and it’s powered with a 9V negative power supply. I haven’t tested the current consumption, but it’s for sure lower than the 200mA that you’re supposed to provided at least, according to EHX.

The Holy Grail has just a single Knob (Reverb) and a small switch, to select the reverb type (spring, hall, flerb). It also has a true bypass stomp switch.

As every single pedal made by Electro Harmonix, the Holy Grail sounds awesome. The easiest reverb pedal to use, just like the Reverb knob in any vintage tube amplifier with built-in spring reverb.

And know what? You won’t need any other control. For sure that additional tone and depth controls would give you more versatility with the reverb, but these parameters have been preset in such a natural way that you won’t miss them at all.

Another thing worth mentioning is the Flerb. It’s a unique feature, and it’s not just a reverb and a flanger blended together. You’ll discover that when playing with the Flerb and the Reverb knob there’s plenty of sweet spots than will take your playing to places any other reverb pedal will.

Read the full review of the Electro Harmonic Holy Grail nano

Mooer Shimverb

I absolutely love the Micro series of Mooer pedals. They are small, you have a wide selection of pedals to chose from, they look nice and they sound awesome. And, if you are looking for budget gear, you should check them out.

This pedal is powered via 9V negative power supply. Even though Mooer says that the pedal requires 128mA of current to operate, I’ve read some reviews saying that the Shimverb only draws 10mA, which will allow you to daisy chain a lot of these pedals with a standard power supply.

This pedal has three knobs (Level, Color and Decay), a small switch for changing the type of the reverb (Room, Spring, Shimmer), and a single stomp switch (true bypass) to activate the pedal. This is how the knobs of the pedal work:

Now it’s time to talk about how it sounds. Well, the Mooer Shimverb is the cheapest pedal of this list, and you can be sure that it won’t sound like the others. However, I think it sounds pretty good too.

In my opinion, the Room mode sounds warm and feels analog. You can set small studio-like reverbs or bigger hall ambiences. On the other hand, I love the heavenly sweet sounds that the Shimmer gives you by adding a 5th.

However, the Spring reverb doesn’t sound as realistic as it does in other spring reverb pedals. It feels a little digital. Once thing that I noticed is that the output volume is kind of reduced when using this pedal, so better use a boost in front of it.

Read the full review of the Mooer Shimverb

T-Rex Room Mate Junior

T-Rex only makes high quality pedals. And this one is another example. The T-Rex Room Mate Junior is something like the little brother of the T-Rex Room Mate, another great top-of-the-range reverb pedal with an awesome tube-driven analog circuitry.

The Room Mate Junior will let you play with four modes of reverb: room, hall, spring and LFO.

The Room Mate Junior is powered with an standard 9V negative power supply, requiring something about 85mA of current for its operation. It has three jack connectors, one for the input and two for a stereo output.

The controls that you’ll see in this pedal are simple. It has five knobs: four of them are on the top of the pedal (Mix, Level, Decay and Mode) and the other is on the righthand side (Input Gain). It’s got a single (true bypass) on/off stomp switch.

This pedal sounds pristine. The rooms and halls are warm and they reproduce real reverberation ambiences.

On the other hand, the Spring Reverb sounds very clear, and not noisy at all. Well, this might be good for some, but not for me. I love how vintage spring tanks sound, and they are many things but clear a noiseless… Some means of changing the high frequency response of the reverb could be great for having darker sounds.

However, the Room Mate Junior could be a great choice to use it with other acoustic instruments. In fact, as you may see in the pedal’s user manual, the LFO mode is a Reverb embellished with chorus, perfect for acoustic guitar.

Read the full review of the T-Rex Room Mate Junior

The features of the blueSky are reduced with regard to those of the SkyVerb. You won’t have that many reverb machines, nor that many controls and parameters, and you won’t be able to store presets. It is more like any other regular reverb pedal. But it is not just like any other reverb pedal…

The Strymon blueSky is also true stereo. You’ll find the four jack connectors in the back of the pedal, aligned with the power supply socket. The blueSky is powered with a standard 9V negative power supply, and you will need to feed it with at least 250mA. It is an awesome pedal, so you’ll need an awesome power supply too.

The pedal have 2 small switches, one of them controlling the type of the reverb (plate, room, spring), and the other to add an additional effect to the reverb: norm (no effect added), mod for some modulation, and shimmer. It also has 5 knobs: Decay, Mix, Low Damp, Pre-Delay and High Damp, and two stomp switches: one for activating the pedal and the other to select a preset, where you can store your favorite sound.

This pedal is true bypass and the dry signal stays fully analog.

You’ll have amazing experiences when playing through any Strymon pedal. I took it easy trying this pedal in a guitar store in Paris during a work trip, and I got shocked. You won’t have such a great dynamics with another pedal, it responded great to both Strat and Les Paul.

It is a little pricy too, but you have to pay for the best stuff.

Apart from my poor english vocabulary (I’m sorry for that), there is nothing I could say that makes justice for how this pedal sounds like. As it’s said, a single image is worth a thousand words, so check out the videos in the playlist below to listen to the Strymon blueSky.

Read the full review of the Strymon blueSky

Mr Black Deluxe Plus

The Mr Black Deluxe Plus recreates the reverb of those holy spring tanks of vintage tube amps, but also the tube-driven tremolo of the early days. This pedal sounds vintage indeed. Without any doubt, my favorite old school spring reverb pedal along with the Catalinbread Topanga.

With the extra feature of having, in a single stompbox, a great sounding tremolo too!

Just like in the vintage tube amplifiers that included both built-in reverb and tremolo, the tremolo stage comes after the reverb in the Deluxe Plus. But, in the case of this pedal, the controls have been implemented with much wider ranges.

Reverb and tremolo are two of the most distinctive sounds of the guitar history, mainly from the early sixties. They both sound great when mixed together, creating the characteristic guitar sound of what was called Americana music. In this pedal, you can use both effects at the same time, or each of them individually.

This pedal has instrument input and output mono jacks, and is powered with a 9V negative power supply, requiring 60mA of current to operate.

It’s also very simple with its controls. It has three knobs, one of them to control the reverb (Reverb) and the other two for the tremolo settings (Intensity, Speed). It also has a true bypass stomp switch.

As you will probably noticed if you read the other reviews from the best reverb pedal series, you will find better sounding pedals than the Mr Black Deluxe Reverb. But none of them is based on the concept of vintage tube amplifiers: a tremolo and a reverb with very simple control knobs, integrated in a single stompbox.

Some people my argue that this pedal would be more versatile if implementing two separate stomp switches, one for the reverb, one for the tremolo. If you need to switch the effects separately when playing live, this could be a drawback for you.

In any case, both effects sound great individually, and they feel great when blended together.

Read the full review of the Mr. Black Deluxe Plus

Conclusion: the best reverb pedal by category

I told you at the beginning of the post: there’s not such a thing as the best reverb pedal. It’s just a matter of which is the best pedal for you, considering what you want, what you need, what you like and what it makes you feel.

In any case, I’ll give you my personal view of which are the best reverb pedals considering different points of view.

What is your opinion? What is your best reverb pedal? Drop your comments below, and let’s start the discussion…

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Apart from the effect pedal typologies described in the other posts of the series, there are many other kind of pedals that cannot fit into any of them.

Some of these can create create sounds that have nothing to see with the sound of a guitar. In fact, they fit more in the category of synthesizers, as they apply such a deep signal processing that the tone of your guitar can be transformed into any other instrument.

Apart from these, you have other pedals (actually pedal-shaped) that can be utilized for controlling parameters in other pedals (expression) or the volume of your guitar.

It is impossible to include here any other pedal that could not fit in the rest of categories. In any case, these are the most common worth mentioning:

  • Synth pedals. They apply synthesis to the signal coming from the guitar, and can therefore make your guitar sounding like any other instruments.
  • Talk vox pedals. With these pedals you will use your mouth to shape the sound of your guitar, making it just like if it talks.
  • Expression pedals. Expression pedals are used for changing parameters in other pedals or devices, by rocking them with your foot.
  • Volume pedals. Volume pedals allow you to modify the volume of your guitar, just like the proper volume knob in your guitar does.

This post will be the last (and shortest) of the “Guitar pedals explained” series.

Synth pedals

Synthesizer-like pedals create amazing sounds just like keyboard-like synthesizers. Instead of feeding the digital processors to synthesize sounds with a piano keyboard, you feed them with the strings of your guitar.

And how do they work? They capture the pitch and volume of the notes (or chords) you are playing and generate a raw digital signal. Now you can do whatever you want with this signal: play a Hammond organ, a sitar… you name it.

Just like other synthesizers do, but instead of generating tones with a piano keyboard, you do it with your guitar.

Electro Harmonix B9
Electro Harmonix B9

Controls and features

In this case, I just can’t write here which controls you can expect having in an average synth pedal, just because there isn’t such an average synth pedal. Every synth pedal is different.

Do I need a Synth pedal?

Synth pedals are very different from one another, and are great to play with. You don’t really need them (unless you need to emulate, for example, the sound of a hammond organ). But you can probably end up by adding a few of them to your collection.

Talk Box pedals

This pedal is used to create kind of voicy effects. They take the sound of the guitar and direct it to your mouth via a plastic tube with an adjacent microphone. Then you modify the sound by changing the shape of your mouth, “vocalizing” the sound of your guitar; this way you make your guitar to appear to “speak”.

Controls and features

Jim Dunlop Heil Talk Box
Jim Dunlop Heil Talk Box

You won’t have any controls as such in a talk box pedal apart from the plastic tube you will use to vocalize the sound. However, some models implement a some knobs to change the volume, gain and tone of the “voiced” sound.

Do I need a talk box pedal?

To tell you the truth, you don’t need a talk box. But be sure that you won’t sound like David Gilmour without having one…

Expression pedals

Some stompboxes my have an additional input for an expression pedal, allowing you to control any of the pedal parameters (like effect level, speed, etc.) by rocking the expression pedal with your foot. It can be very handy as you may change some effects parameters while you play.

Boss FV500H expression/volume
Boss FV500H expression/volume

Controls and features

These pedals are, in general, very simple. Don’t expect to see a few knobs on them. Instead, you’ll simple have the pedal itself, so you will be able to control any given parameter of another device (pedal, amp, etc.) by rocking on it with your foot.

Do I need an expression pedal?

You may need an expression pedal to be able to change parameters of some other effects while playing live. But first think which pedals in your pedalboard are controlable via an expression pedal.

Volume pedals

A volume pedal may be seen as an amplitude modulating device.

It allows you to control the volume of the guitar with your foot while playing. Usually placed at the beginning of the signal chain, it can change the way the rest of the subsequent pedals (and the amp itself) are driven.

On the other hand, you could put them at the end of the signal chain too. This way, you will simply change the volume of the tone you generate with your whole gear, not the way you drive the subsequent pedals.

They are designed to be transparent so the tone of the guitar remains unaltered; however, the way they react to your foot may be different among different pedals, as you may prefer either a linear or a logarithmic response when stomping on it.

VM Pro Volume pedal
VM Pro Volume pedal

Controls and features

Volume pedals are very similar in shape than expression pedals. In fact, you will find some units that can act either as expression or volume pedals.

You’ll simple have the pedal itself, so you will be able to control the volume of the guitar by rocking on it with your foot.

Do I need a volume pedal?

Volume pedals can be used in two different ways.

Put them at the beginning of the signal chain (right from your guitar) and it will act just like the volume knob of your guitar. If you like using this knob, you may not need a volume pedal.

On the other hand, you can place them at the end of the signal chain, just before the input of the amp. This way, it will modify the volume of the sound created by your whole setup. Perhaps you find this functionality more usable…

In any case, have look to Mark Knopfler mastering the use of the volume pedal, and you will see the juice you could get from it.

 

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

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Everybody knows how delay and reverb effects are like. In fact, they try to reproduce the sonic effect that occurs naturally to any sound that propagates within a closed environment.

Wether you play in a bathroom, in a concert hall or in a cathedral, you will experience how these type of environments affect the decay of the signal, as the (many) echoes bouncing back from every direction (from walls, ceiling, floor) add up to the tail of the signal, expanding its decay.

Depending of the nature (and number) of echoes adding up to the dry signal, you will have what is call reverberation or delay:

  • Delay. You can see the delay as a repetition of the sound delayed in time, either a single repetition or a higher number of them, spaced in time, decreasing in volume over time.
  • Reverb. Reverb is similar to the delay, but with a lot of repetitions, shortly delayed in time. The more delayed the echo is, the lower its volume. All the echoes are blended together, giving a continuous tail to the sound.

Delay pedals

As said before, delay is a natural effect. Now, how this effect is obtained by means of a guitar pedal depends on the technology.

Vintage tape delays were the first artificial means to generate this effect, but when it comes to stompboxes, delay pedals can be classified (roughly) in two groups: analog and digital delays.

  • Analog delay. You experience echo in the natural world when you  clap in proximity of a hard, flat, somewhat distant wall, and hear the sound come bouncing back to you at a delay determined by your distance from the surface. This effect generates echoes using analog circuitry, adding a little change in the tone of the repeats. Analog delay pedals are limited to relatively short delay times and number of repetitions.
  • Digital delay. The evolution of digital circuits allowed generating more complex type of delays, by adding more functionality and increasing the delay time and maximum number of repetitions. Some pedals even include a built-in looping function that allows you to record short (or sometimes pretty long) riffs and repeat them infinitely, playing over the top.

A little history…

Empress Tape Delay
Empress Tape Delay

The early implementation of any means of delay (artificially generated) was again by using electromechanical devices. By recording the signal in two tape reels, you could adjust one of them to be delayed in time with the other, obtaining a delay effect. This is how old tape delays worked. They allowed a new way of playing in the fifties, setting the bases of rockabilly and early rock&roll.

Some guitar players find the tape delay as the pure vintage tone. That is the reason why most manufacturers include in their catalogue modern versions of tape delay pedals. They are obviously not like real tape delays, but they model (either analog or digitally) its sound electronically. Empress Tape Delay is a great example of a great modern tape delay.

As always, the evolution of solid-state electronics allowed reducing the size and complexity of delays. Thanks to the Bucket Brigade Device (BBD) chip, delay pedals became very popular in the seventies. They also added more versatility to guitarists thanks to the controls they implemented and the longer available delay times.

They increasing capabilities and lower prices of digital solid-state technology brought small and affordable delay pedals in the early eighties. The first commercially available digital delay pedal stompboxed was the Boss DD2 Digital Delay in 1984.

Digital memories allowed to increase the delay time up to a couple seconds. Modern digital pedals feature infinite number of repetitions. Some even include a looper function, allowing you to record a phrase, and then play along while the recorded phrase is looped over time.

Every pedal manufacturer (even most of boutique brands) include at least one delay pedal in their catalog.

You can dig deeper in the history of delay by checking out  these articles, one by the great high-end pedal manufacturer Effectrode and the other by Wikipedia.

Controls and features

The number of controls of delay pedals is different depending on the type of delay that it targets.

An analog delay pedal will be simpler than a digital delay modeling workstation. Here the possibilities are endless.

You can be sure that you will find, at least, three knobs in any delay pedals: Level, Time and Feedback. However, there are a lot of different delay pedals in the market, and you will find a few of them implementing the following controls:

  • Level. As always, this knob changes the presence of the effect. You will be able to go from a completely dry sound to a fully blended, only-delayed signal.
  • Mode. Some pedals target different types of delay: ping-pong (in stereo stompboxes), analog delay, digital delay, echo, loop, tape, reverse, etc.
  • Time. With this knob you can change the delay time. A lot of pedals also have a Tap switch, with which you can change, by stomping on it, the time of the delay, adjusting it to the rhythm of what you’re playing.
  • Feedback. Feedback accounts for the number of repetitions. With this knob at its minimum, you’ll only hear a single repetition. Turn it all the way up and you’ll have infinite repetitions (in a digital delay). The delay sound is usually faded out with the repetitions.
  • Tone. Some pedals allows you to change the tone of the delay, especially analog delays. Some analog delays also include a little modulation in the repetitions.

Do I need a delay pedal?

Just like I sed with Overdrive pedals in the Part 2 of this series, I will say Yes, no doubt here.

You do need a delay pedal. Or two (one that you will have always on and the other just for playing with other sounds). It is very common to have a delay pedal for short delays and another one for longer delays.

Reverb pedals

Reverberation can be defined as the persistence of a sound after it has been produced. Reverb is commonly experienced in an empty, unfurnished room, or really in any chamber with walls,  where multiple short echoes with long delays build up to an atmospheric recurring delay in the sound created in that room.

It can be imperceptible in an open space or a crowded and fully carpeted chamber,  and you can really notice its effect in a cathedral or a big cave.

Even though reverberation can be considered as a unique effect that occurs when some number of different echoes (at different delay times) add up to the end of the sound you play, reverb pedals try to emulate different types of reverbs.

Here are the most common types included in many reverb pedals:

  • Room. Room reverb try to emulate the kind of reverberation you may have naturally in a chamber. That is, in a relative small closed space, where you don’t expect to have long reverb times.
  • Hall. In this case, this reverb accounts for bigger spaces. Imagine yourself playing the guitar in a cathedral, or in a big cave. Similarly to the Room reverb, Hall emulates a reverberation that occurs naturally.
  • Plate. Plate reverb was an electromechanical way to reproduce natural reverberation in the late fifties. By using an electromechanical transducer, they create vibration in a large plate of sheet metal. A pickup captures the vibrations as they bounce across the plate, and the result is output as an audio signal.
  • Spring. Spring reverb is kind of similar to the plate reverb, because they also use an electromechanical transducer to create vibration in a spring (or more than one). A pickup captures again the vibrations of the spring. A lot of vintage tube amplifiers had built-in spring reverbs in them.
  • Shimmer. It is a kind of reverb that introduces additional notes (usually an octave up) that gives you a choral sensation. It is a sort of ghost-like effect that will give you a strange (but sweet) sustained tone.

A little history…

Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb
Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb

The first artificially generated reverberation was made thanks to spring reverberators. Spring reverbs are bulky electromechanical devices that utilize a transducer and a pickup to create and capture vibrations within a few metal springs, creating a very peculiar effect.

After spring reverberators, plate reverberators were used in the sixties to generate reverb in recording studios. They a similar to spring reverbs, but in this case they capture the vibrations along a metal plate, producing a different sound.

In the guitar world, spring reverb became mainstream due to the fact that most vintage tube amps started to incorporate built-in reverbs. Some of the most mythical devices being made by Fender in the sixties (i.e. Fender Princeton Reverb, Fender Deluxe Reverb, etc.).

Apart from modern reissues of vintage tube amps (of any brand), modern amplifiers include built-in spring reverbs. On the other hand, the history of reverb pedals (as stompboxes) is shorter, due to the fact that most of them use digital technology, and everybody was very happy just using proper spring reverbs…

It was in 1985 when the first reverb pedal appeared. The DOD FX45 Stereo Reverb (perhaps along with the Arion SRV-1 Stereo Reverb) the was based on analog technology and preceded the first digital reverb pedal ever made: The Boss RV2 Digital Reverb.

Nowadays every manufacturer incorporates some reverb pedals in their portfolio. They are great units, some trying to emulate spring-based vintage sounds, some others allowing you playing with endless types of reverb sounds.

Controls and features

All reverb stompboxes are digital. Therefore, the functionalities of these pedals are countless. However, most of them try to emulate real environmental sensations.

There are pedals for a single kind of reverb. This way, you can find spring reverb pedals with a single control on them, just like some amps have built-in.

However, some other pedals have infinite possibilities do to the amount of controls they include. Take as an example the Strymon BigSky, without any doubt, the best reverb pedal ever made.

In any case, you may expect to play with these controls in most reverb pedals:

  • Level. As in most guitar pedals, the level knob in your reverb pedal (also called Mix, Blend, etc.) changes the volume of the reverb. If you turn this knob at its minimum, you’ll only have the dry signal (without any reverb). Turn it all the way up, and you’ll only hear the reverberated sound. This knob will allow you to dramatically change the presence of your guitar, whether if it feels at the very front (dry) or behind any other instrument (fully wet).
  • Mode. Some pedals implement different kind of reverbs. With this knob, you’ll be able to change the type of the reverb.
  • Time. With this knob you will control the decay of the reverberation, i.e. how long does the sound takes to vanish. With less time, the reverb will emulate smaller spaces, whereas larger times stand for larger environments.
  • PreDelay. This knob controls the time until the reverb sound happens.
  • EQ. Some pedals implement different means to equalize the tone of the reverberation.

Do I need a reverb pedal?

My answer is yes. In fact, looking for a reverb pedal for me was the reason to start this website.

Everybody will tell you that there is nothing like natural reverberation. Just play in a good sounding room, and that will be the best reverb for your tone.

In addition, if you are playing live with your band, the sound engineer will tell you to play dry so he will ad reverb to the whole mix (if necessary). The same applies to the studio. When recording, just play dry, the reverb will be added afterwards.

Well, that is ok, but a reverb pedal may give you the possibility to change the presence of your guitar when playing live, and it can also change how your amp sounds like at different volumes.

You may also think: “my amp already has a built-in reverb”. Yes, you’re right! But you will have to stick to a single (and very peculiar) kind of reverb: spring reverb.

If you want versatility, and you like to create different kind of sound ambients by using reverb, you better get a good digital reverb pedal.

You will enjoy it just playing alone. you will sound different. You will sound great.

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series: