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Ever wonder about the history of reverb? Reverb is one of the great guitar tone modifiers to add depth and character to out tone and can be found in a variety of onboard models (i.e. spring reverb) and in a variety of digital effects pedals.
To understand the history of reverb, let’s start from the beginning. The invention of artificial reverb in the late ’30s gave recording engineers the ability to control and shape the sounds of the spaces in which their instruments were being placed. This created a new way of making music that involved using natural room/hall ambience.
The technology that made artificial reverb possible was the invention of electronic circuits that could delay an electrical audio signal by a small and gradually changing amount. By introducing different levels of these time-delayed signals to a mixing board, engineers were able to simulate the complex echoes of natural reverberation. The first studio use of artificial room ambience are generally attributed to the RCA sound engineers who used it on radio broadcasts starting around 1935.
The “Reverberation” box was invented by Harvey Fletcher of Bell Laboratories (source). Fletcher’s talking car horn, still in use today, employed a series of speakers that created an electronically enhanced horn effect. This same system was then separated into phonograph cabinets that could be used, along with microphones, to enhance the sound of a singing performer. In 1939, RCA introduced an artificial reverb box called the “Spring Reverb”. This was just ahead of the opening of their New York studios which were charged with creating audio for radio programs being broadcast from Carnegie Hall.
In 1945, Musitronics Corp. was founded, and it became the first company to successfully produce a reverb unit for guitar players. The Musitronics Corporation “MXR” Reverb pedal was released in 1969 and is still being manufactured today.
The Different Types of Reverb
To understand the history of reverb, let’s discuss the different types of reverb available. There are many different types of reverbs available on the market, but they all operate using the same basic principles.
Mechanical Reverb Types
Plate- Plate reverbs use a large metal plate that is suspended and struck to create the reverb effect. This type of simulator has a bright tone and is good for enhancing vocals and thin drums.
Spring- Spring reverbs use an electromechanical transducer (actuator) which moves a spring up and down in a metal container, creating vibrations that are then picked up by a pickup mounted on the top of the unit. This type of reverb has a very “boingy” sound and tends to be more colorful than other types of reverbs.
A great example of a mechanical spring reverb is like that on the Fender Princeton tube amp below.
Fender '65 Princeton Reverb 15-Watt 1x10-Inch Guitar Combo Amp
Digital Reverb Types
To continue our history of reverb, let’s move into digital reverb. The following are the most common types of digital reverbs:
Room- This type of reverb simulates the sound of a room or hall. It is usually characterized by its diffuse sound, short decay time, and lack of early reflections.
Gated- Gated reverbs were made popular by Peter Gabriel’s records of the early ’80s such as “Shock The Monkey”. They create a unique effect that sounds like a reverse reverb. A gated reverb has a very short decay time and then cuts off abruptly, which produces a stuttering effect that is then diffused by the natural reverberations of the space it was recorded in.
Instantaneous- The “instantaneous” type of reverb does not wait for full decay to occur before attenuating the sound. This gives the effect of a short, bright reverb that is ideal for percussion and electric guitar.
Hall- A hall reverb simulates the sound of a large hall or auditorium. They are usually characterized by their long decay time, diffuse sound, and presence of early reflections.
Church- A church reverb simulates the lush reverberation of a large cathedral. They are usually characterized by their long decay time and lack of early reflections.
Spring- This type of reverb is actually created in the digital domain, but it simulates the sound of an electromechanical spring reverb unit such as those made by Fender back in the ’60s.
Setting Up The Reverb Chain in Your Guitar Signal
When setting up a reverb effect, there are four main parameters that need to be considered:
1) The type of reverb- This determines the basic sound of the reverb effect.
2) The length of the reverb- This controls how long the reverb will last and usually ranges from 0 to 30 seconds.
3) The pre-delay time- This sets how long it will take for the reverb to start after a sound has been played and is measured in milliseconds (ms).
4) The reverb level- This sets the overall volume of the reverb effect.
There are also several other parameters that may be included in a reverb effect, but the four listed above are the most important.
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The following is an example of a basic reverb chain:
1) Input- This is the signal that will be processed by the reverb.
2) Compressor- This smooths out the signal so it doesn’t sound too spikey and brings up the quieter parts of the input for a more consistent volume level.
3) Equalizer- The equalizer is used to shape the tone of each frequency range in relation to the entire signal.
4) Chorus- This thickens up the sound and is often used on vocals, strings, or other mono sources that need more width.
5) Delay- A delay pedal adds a slight echo effect to the input which can be timed by pressing one of its footswitches. The amount of time between each echo is called the “delay time” and is usually measured in milliseconds.
6) Reverb- The reverb pedal is inserted at the end of the chain and is used to add reverberation to the signal. It has four main parameters that need to be set: the type of reverb, the length of the reverb, the pre-delay, and the overall volume.
The order of these effects in a signal chain will affect how they are processed by the effect that follows them. For example, if an EQ pedal is placed before a delay or reverb pedal then its settings will affect the tone of those pedals’ outputs. This works the other way around as well; placing the delay or reverb pedal before the EQ pedal will cause its settings to affect the tone of that particular effect.
Looking for an amp that is great for reverb effects pedals, see our Best Small Low-Watt Tube Amps Review.
That’s because when sound waves hit an object, the wave compresses into a smaller amplitude than when it was created. The difference in amplitudes creates what is heard as reflection, which translates to reverberation when the absorption of the surface dissipates much of the powerful waves.
Conclusion of the History of Reverb
The sound of a reverb pedal can be changed by the order in which it is placed. For example, if an EQ pedal is placed before a delay or reverb pedal then its settings will affect the tone of those pedals’ outputs. This works the other way around as well; placing the delay or reverb pedal before the EQ pedal will cause its settings to affect the tone of that particular effect. The type of reverb- this determines the basic sound of the reverberations and ranges from spring reverbs to gated reverbs, church reverbs, hall reverbs, etcetera.