Guitar effects are the cornerstone of modern music. On their own, they've given birth to a wide array of new genres. Your average pedalboard today consists of over 10 different effects pedals, which is no wonder seeing how there are hundreds to choose from. However, if we go back in time, all the way to the origin of audio effects, we will see just one - reverb.
Reverb is both the most basic and one of the most used guitar effects in existence. Depending on the guitar player, you often times won't even notice it's there. Even though some 50 years have passed since the effect was first used, reverb remains the king of modern guitar effects. Today we are going to take you on a journey back in time, and talk about how reverb was invented, and how it evolved. Later I'll show you how to use a reverb pedal, even if you're just getting familiar with this effect. With that said, let's dig right in.
Reverb - The Origins
Back in the day when electric guitar rigs came down to an instrument and an amp, it was almost impossible to even imagine the variety of guitar effects we have today. Reverb was introduced to the music scene rather spontaneously. During the '50s, all records were recorded in sound isolated studio rooms. While this definitely did provide the best audio quality, it rendered the recording sterile in many ways.
Reverb, in its most basic form, was known to us for centuries at this point. Medieval monks based a lot of their choir music on this exact effect, by singing in large cathedrals where sound would bounce off the walls. Reintroducing the reverb into modern music meant stepping off what was at the time considered to be an industry standard. A producer would record a track just like any other, in a recording booth. However, he would then step into a roomy space with no sound insulation, play the recording over loudspeakers, and record the result again. Doing that alone would give music a much more natural feel, and it didn't take long before everyone started using that technique.
If you'd like to see a very easy to understand explanation of reverb effect, check out this great video:
The method I've described above worked for a very limited period of time. While it was effective, producers had exactly zero control over the effect and its impact on the record. In other words, it was a gamble. Since everyone still wanted to have the reverb effect on their records, a new method of creating the effect was needed. Enter plate reverb - first mechanical reverb effect.
The whole idea here is to have transducer placed closely next to a large sheet of metal suspended in a frame. As the speaker works, it is forcing the plate to vibrate. These vibrations would then cause a reverb-like effect. The only problem with plate reverbs was their size, price and overall complexity of use. These were a good solution, but not good enough.
The next evolution of a mechanical reverb came in form of spring reverbs. The principle of operation is with these is similar to a plate reverb. There's one or more springs which are driven by the audio from the amp, which makes them vibrate. This vibration is then picked up and incorporated into the sound that's coming out the speakers. Spring reverbs were the first affordable enough, efficient enough, and simple enough mechanical devices that could induce reverb.
Here's a video which will help you visualize the difference between a plate and a spring reverb:
Keep in mind that mechanical reverbs were nothing like acoustic ones. The difference was, and still is pretty obvious. However, people grew to like the color of these reverbs, prompting their spike in popularity. Spring reverbs are still used today, and are a very important factor to those chasing a vintage type of sound.
The latest and greatest are digital reverbs. As you can probably imagine, these effects use digital components to create the reverb effect. One advantage of doing things this way is the newly found range of options you have. Even the most average digital unit will allow you to shape a large number of effect parameters with a twist of a knob.
Most famous musicians and bands tend to use analog reverbs as much as possible. Pink Floyd is heavily influenced by this effect and Gilmour was known to use it quite extensively. Muddy Waters one of the better examples. Whole 'Folk Singer' album is a perfect representation of reverb done right. Just listen to 'My Home Is In The Delta' and you'll know what I'm talking about. Here's a link to save you time:
Out of more recent bands, Coldplay does a great deal of reverberation in a very natural way. At the end of the day, pretty much every band you like has used reverb at one point or is still using it actively.
Now that we know a little about reverbs and how they came to be, let's discuss using the reverb as a beginner guitar player.
How To Use a Reverb Pedal - Beginner's Guide
Dealing with reverb is a very tricky business. No matter how intuitive it may sound, finding the right balance of reverberation and clarity is anything but easy. The purpose of reverb, in its simplest form, is to give a dry tone some organic texture. You want to kill that artificial atmosphere on a track, or in a mix. That's what reverb does for the listener, but you can also use this effect to help yourself as you play and here's how.
I always recommend the newbies to use reverb in very, very small doses. I'm talking smallest increments your pedal/processor allows. There's no need to get into complicated configurations of reverb, even though you can spend years upon years perfecting this stuff. The key is to start small, start neutral and feel out the terrain. Once you've added a barely noticeable amount of reverb to your mix, you will find that playing guitar with those little 'tails' on each note feels more intuitive. As a matter of fact, a lot of artists use this trick to stay on top of their game during a performance.
When your ear gets used to that small amount, try upping the levels a little. Increasing reverb levels by tiny amounts will allow you to recognize that fine line between a nice wet tone, and a completely drowned out guitar sound. And trust me, that tipping point is hard to find. Even David Gilmour, one of the guitar masterminds of our time, is always messing around with his reverb. Not only has he used it on almost every track so far, but he always changes things up. The trick with reverb effect is that there's no silver bullet. Every song will require a different type of this effect, different levels and more. While it may sound tiresome, this constant chase for perfection is what gives this effect its value.
Great Reverb Effects Pedals For Beginners
Getting proficient with using a reverb effect will also depend on which model you have in front of you. Some are dubiously complex, while others are simple. If you're lucky enough to own a vintage amp with a genuine spring reverb, you're pretty much done. However, if you're just building your gear, chances are a reverb pedal of some sort will be your best bet.
Behringer Reverb Machine RV600
Let's kick things off with a very simple and affordable model. This inexpensive stompbox will serve as a perfect introduction to reverb. It comes packing a decent array of features, such as various reverb emulation modes, and even allows you to shape the tone through the pedal. The quality this device offers in terms of how good the effect is can be described as decent at worst. This is an entry level model, but one that will help you learn the basics of reverb control.
This one is somewhat similar to the Behringer I've just mentioned, only the quality is on a whole different level. Naturally, the price reflects that as well, but this is the type of pedal that will serve you for years. One thing I love about the RV-6 is the simplicity of the control panel. You can literally leave everything at default and only play around with one or two controls until you get your bearings. As you grow, the pedal will open up to you, which is quite a rewarding experience.
TC Electronic Hall of Fame
The last one that caught my eye is the Hall of Fame from TC Electronic. It's pretty similar to the other two in terms of controls, but it comes with one outstanding feature which I find amazing. TonePrint is a technology which allows you to create your own effect preset using a computer and the proprietary software that comes with the pedal. After you're done, all you have to do is upload the end product to the pedal, and start using it. You could say this is as modern as it gets.
Any one of these three pedals will be a good place to start. Each of them has its own pros and cons, but at the end of the day, they work. As a beginner, you'll want some hands-on experience as soon as possible. Whether you get an entry-level pedal or a super expensive boutique model doesn't really matter. There will be more than enough time to get into the finesse of modern reverb pedals once you master this effect.
The importance of reverb and its effect on modern music is quite obvious. Without it, everything would sound lifeless and sterile. Learning how to use reverb, and understanding what it does is not something you might want to do at some point. It's something you need to know. We hope this short guide got you one step closer to this goal and armed you with enough information to begin your journey in search of that perfect reverb.
About the Author:
Stefan is playing guitar for more than 9 years. He is passionate about helping people find the right gear and is also co-founder of GuitarFella.