Super light and all set to take flight– this EL34 combination varies from smooth to suggest.
Fender’s most important gift to the effects cosmos is spring reverb. That legacy, however, tends to obscure other high points in the company’s effects history, which is dotted with a few classics—if not runaway commercial hits.
At appealing prices ranging from $79 to $99, the new Fender Hammertone pedals could easily be huge sellers. But what makes these effects extra attractive is that they don’t have the functional or operational feel of generic entry-level pedals. Most have a strong, even distinctive, personality—at least compared to other inexpensive effects. They each come with extra features and voices that stretch the boundaries of the foundational tones. And if the voices aren’t always the most refined or lush when compared to more expensive analog equivalents or expensive digital units, they are fun and prompt a lot of musical sparks.
With one eye on 1960s and ’70s stylings (Hammerite-style paint, chrome- and candy-colored knobs) and another on concessions to modernity like mini toggles, smart one-screw back-panel access, top-mounted jacks, and smooth, sturdy pots, the Hammertone pedals are nice design pieces. They also seem very well made for the price. I’m usually skeptical about an inexpensive pedal’s ability to hold up over the long haul, but the Hammertone series seem put together right.
Fender Hammertone Pedals Demo | First Look
Hammertone Reverb Review
The Hammertone entry in the reverb sweepstakes, strangely, comes with no spring emulation. It hardly matters, though. I was able to dial in convincing spring-like sounds using the pedal’s hall mode. It fared well in an A/B test with a splashy sounding black-panel Vibrolux Reverb. Like a lot of the Hammertone pedals, the Reverb gives you an extensive range to work within, so the hall setting, for instance, can shift from spring-ish sounds to a vacant, massive gymnasium. The room mode is great for fast and subtle reflections and a nice way to add a little body to overdriven tones without creating an overbearing wash. The plate mode is home to loads of treats, too, and, like many pedals in the Hammertone series, has a pleasing, almost-metallic range of overtones that suggest vintage reverbs.
At more radical, high-to-maximum time and level settings you start to hear a lot of cool, odd reflections and overtones.
Each of these voices sound pretty great at mellower or more traditional settings. At more radical, high-to-maximum time and level settings, you start to hear a lot of cool, odd reflections and overtones. At times though, you can also hear digital artifacts and some less-than-flattering high harmonic content in the decay. These qualities are more obvious when the damping control, which controls the length of the reverb tails, is set for a long trail. Exceptionally wet blends, too, can betray digital origins. But there is a bit of hidden treasure among these most extreme sounds: If you max the level and use the most open damping setting, you can almost use the Reverb as a freeze pedal. Additionally, some players may dig these sounds—particularly those that evoke shimmer reverbs without sounding entirely like a shimmer reverb. Even if you rarely explore these corners of the Reverb’s tone collection, the less extreme sounds are plentiful and full of personality, and you can dial in many in-between shades that blend big spaces and cool understated facets.
Like most pedals in the Hammertone line, the Chorus generates an impressive palette of sounds for the price. That includes a lot of tones you can safely file under “weird.” It takes a little practice to walk the fine line between radio-friendly chorus tones and odder fare. The Chorus starts to get pretty woozy sounding past 3 on the depth knob. Initially, that can feel constraining. But it’s also a source of surprises once you master the ways in which the Chorus’s controls interact.
The Chorus’s sounds are rooted in the three basic modes. The single-voice mode is focused and airy—leaving ample room for picking dynamics and clear transients, even at high depth settings. The two-voice setting is thicker and sounds more flanger-like at many positions. The two-voice structure produces more unusual phase-cancelling patterns that can give the output a honky midrange focus that cuts as it drifts through waveforms.
The two-voice mode produces very liquid ’80s vintage chorus, including Kurt Cobain/Small Clone-style submarine modulations.
It’s less naturalistic and peakier than the single-voice mode, but it also produces very liquid ’80s vintage chorus, including Kurt Cobain/Small Clone-style submarine modulations when the depth gets to about 4. The 4-voice mode combines four lines with base delay times of 14, 23, 29, and 35 milliseconds. This creates a complex voice that adds subtle motion to prevailingly dry effects mixes or can make wet settings sound like a demented high horn in a rotary speaker.
First impressions of the Chorus’s controls are that they can be twitchy. And the boundary between pleasantly aqueous modulations and downright seasick ones at certain depth settings can be hard to navigate until you get a feel for how the depth and level controls work together. Ultimately, though, the Chorus provides intuitive routes to many modulation ends.
One initial impression of this Fender Delay is that it’s a lot more fun than most inexpensive digital delays. All three of the Delay’s voices have a very present EQ profile with just a hint of almost mechanical, spring-like overtones that feel appropriate for a Fender pedal. The effort Fender put into sourcing smoother, sturdier-feeling potentiometers pays fun dividends here, too. The feedback control, for instance, is really responsive and easy to ride right at the verge of oscillation.
The analog 1 voice generates soft tapering echoes that blend into the background as they decay—a treasured facet of genuine bucket brigade delays. It can be genuinely subtle, even at advanced feedback, level, and time settings. And at equivalent feedback levels, analog 1 will yield many fewer perceptible repeats than the middle-position digital voice. Analog 1’s washy, less distinct repeats shine at certain extremes as well. Long feedback settings, delay-heavy mixes, and super-short delay times yield a weird blend of metallic spring reverb and Abbey Road automatic double-tracking tones. The more subtle repeats also mean you can crank the feedback without making a total mess.
Clear repeats also expand the potential for punchier beat-centric and repetitive patterns and riffs.
Things are different over on the digital voice. In this domain, repeats ring with clarity, and the ghosts of bum notes will haunt you if you’re not careful. But the clear repeats also expand the potential for punchier beat-centric and repetitive patterns and riffs. Analog 2 is my favorite voice. Its mid-forward repeats excite a more prominent, shimmering set of harmonics. It’s a great environment for enjoying the mix of those extra overtones and a dose of extra motion from the pedal’s modulation section.
The modulation can be dialed up to amazingly queasy levels of intensity at high depth and repeat settings. In general, though, I like the modulation depth at more modest levels. And the Delay sounds nice enough to require little in the way of modulation dressing. That said, I strongly suggest this mode with the Hammertone Chorus. It’s a yummy combo.
There are more immaculate digital delays and more authentic digital takes on bucket brigade echo. But to me, the Delay’s quirks are big plusses. That they so interestingly color the pedal’s broad range of personalities make it a true bargain.
The Hammertone Flanger is a reliably flexible pedal. It generates great chorus tones (some of which I preferred to roughly equivalent sounds from the Hammertone Chorus), and slow whoosing sweeps can be the antidote to the sick-of-my-phaser blues. But great core flanger tones abound, too, including mind-warp, hit-of-nitrous jet flange, and gentler, less tone-mangling sounds that pulse with a nice, almost tremolo-like modulation.
Coaxing the tones you want from the Flanger won’t necessarily be automatic. The basic voice is, like many of the Hammertone pedals, colored by a high-mid focus that’s evocative of hard-surface reverb reflections. On the Flanger, that voice can read as harsh in places. But the Flanger’s easily mastered controls make it simple to find softer landings. The two mini toggles are key if you generate a sound that’s a bit too intense. The type switch, which here controls feedback polarity, can recast a super-peaky setting with a flick.
The basic voice is colored by a high-mid focus that’s evocative of hard-surface reverb reflections.
The resonance switch is an even more valuable escape hatch—or portal to weirdness. It takes the place of a resonance or feedback knob that you’d see on many flangers. Generally, replacing a knob with a switch that moves between presets means diminished flexibility. But the Flanger’s voices each inhabit a sweet spot that you can modify with the depth and manual controls, the latter of which governs the delay time between the split signals that make up the flanger tone. If there is a downside to abundance of control, it’s that it can be a minor chore to dial in precisely the sound you’re looking for. As with the Chorus, the depth control can move from just-right to wild with a minor accidental nudge. Thankfully, there aren’t many bad sounds to make such an accident too jarring.
If you line up the Hammertone Overdrive alongside other popular overdrives (in my case, a TS9, an inexpensive klone, and a Boss SD-1), you hear a pedal much more aligned with the TS/SD-1 camp—tight, mid-forward, and punchy. But it is still a very different pedal in terms of feel and range.
The Overdrive is most easily distinguished and differentiated by its hotter gain profile. The distortion sounds you hear at gain settings of 1 to 3 on the Overdrive are roughly equivalent to the distortion you get north of noon on the TS, Boss, and klone. There’s also the sense of a touch more compression at equivalent settings. That recipe makes the Overdrive a sort of inhabitant of the borderlands between overdrive and distortion.
At its lowest gain setting the Overdrive still growls and feels ready to pounce.
If you’re not inclined to use your guitar volume control much, the Overdrive doesn’t have a ton of cleanish tones to offer. At its lowest gain setting it still growls and feels ready to pounce. And even significant guitar volume attenuation still leaves discernible grit. That may sound constraining at first, but if you use maximum output and tone, minimum gain, and a dynamic touch with your fingers and guitar volume, you can span a huge range of sounds from explosive to mellow and hazy. The Overdrive’s capacity for dynamism may not always be obvious, but it’s there if you open the pedal up and let your fingers do the expressive work.
Though the Overdrive feels pretty-mid forward to me, there is a pre-mid boost. There’s a lot of utility in this control. It can help the Overdrive span more of the distance between a TS and Klon, and it can make the transition between humbuckers and single-coils easier to manage. In general, though, I found that the Overdrive sounded airiest and best able to breathe with the tone wide open and the mids scooped. Unleash the gain in this kind of setup and the Overdrive sounds pretty beastly.
From the sparse, smoky ballads of Julie London to the hard bop of Sonny Rollins, Barney Kessel could back up just about anybody. The bandleader, session great, Wrecking Crew member, and sideman was one of the most accomplished guitarists of his era. His chordal complexity not only got him steady work and accolades, but also a collection of signature guitar models bearing his name.
This 1968 Gibson Barney Kessel Custom is a top-of-the-line example. It’s the higher-end counterpart to the Barney Kessel Regular, both built from 1961 until 1974. They followed a trio of Barney Kessel signatures that Kay sold between 1957 and 1960.
Barney Kessels often became parts donors, with their hardware, tuners, and pickups (original PAFs, Pat. No., and T-Tops, depending on the year) being stripped and sold separately.
Each Gibson model has a hulking 17″-wide and nearly 3″-deep body, with two humbuckers, a Tune-o-matic bridge, and a bound rosewood fretboard. The attractive Barney Kessel tailpiece is also common to both, while the controls will be familiar to any Gibson player: two volume pots, two tone knobs, and a 3-way selector switch. The dual Florentine cutaways—a design first seen in these Barney Kessels and later used in Gibson’s Trini Lopez signature—cut a striking silhouette.
Of the two Gibson Kessels, the Custom alone is dressed to the nines, swapping in gold-plated hardware for the Regular’s nickel, and bowtie inlays for the Regular’s fretboard parallelograms. There’s also a 3-piece maple neck with two pinstripe-thin mahogany strips taking over for the Regular’s solid mahogany. And the Custom tops off its outfit with a pearl headstock inlay in the shape of a musical note.
Such features were a huge upgrade to the art-deco stylings and Kleenex-box pickups of Kay’s Kessel signatures, which Kessel snubbed, reportedly saying, “I don’t play that Kay. It’s a terrible guitar!” Interestingly, he often chose not to play these Gibson signatures, either, instead typically using his favorite 1940s ES-350.
When they were introduced, Gibson’s Barney Kessel Custom model had a list price of $599, while the Regular’s was $399. Both sold in respectable if not incredible numbers, with sales peaking in 1968. However, the following decades were not particularly kind to the guitars. As the vintage market took off for Les Pauls, SGs, and other classic Gibsons, Barney Kessels often became parts donors, with their hardware, tuners, and pickups (original PAFs, Pat. No., and T-Tops, depending on the year) being stripped and sold separately. You can still find Barney Kessel husks on the market—project guitars looking for a new owner to rebuild them. And many of the complete Barney Kessels you’ll find for sale have been rebuilt.
That’s what makes the particular Barney Kessel Custom featured here so special. It’s nearly all original, with Patent pickups intact and even its Custom-stamped hang tags. The only modification is one replaced tuner (along with a couple patched screw holes from a previous replacement). The cherry in its cherry sunburst finish is one of the most vibrant we’ve ever seen, and the condition of the finish overall is in impeccable vintage shape.
Because of the wide array of Barney Kessel Customs on the used market—many with non-original parts—you can find them across the price spectrum, from about $3,000 on the low-end to $12,000 or more on the high. This Custom, listed on Reverb now by Nationwide Guitars, fittingly lands on the higher end, with an asking price of $8,999.
Sources for this article include Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars by George Gruhn and Walter Carter, American Guitars: An Illustrated History by Tom Wheeler, Reverb’s “Player Profile: The Hard-Swinging Barney Kessel” by Greg Cooper, Premier Guitar’s “Gibson and Barney Kessel” by Jim Bastian, and Reverb listings from Retrofret Vintage Guitars and Vintage Correct Parts.
A lot of cruel fates can befall a gig. But unless you’re a complete pedal addict or live in high-gain-only realms, doing a gig with just a reverb- and tremolo-equipped amp is not one of them. Usually a nice splash of reverb makes the lamest tone pretty okay. Add a little tremolo on top and you have to work to not be at least a little funky, surfy, or spacy. You see, reverb and modulation go together like beans and rice. That truth, it seems, extends even to maximalist expressions of that formula—like the SolidGold FX Ether.
The Ether is tricky enough to bewilder if you’re not careful. The three modulation modes—tremolo, harmonic tremolo, and vibrato—all feel, sound, and interact with the reverb differently. An economical but mildly complex control set definitely demands that you put in a little study. And few settings fit neatly into tidy categories like “vintage spring emulation” or “light hall.” But what the Ether lacks in super-intuitive operation it makes up for in surprises and a fluid user experience that can drag a player in new directions.
For guitarists accustomed to simple pedal reverbs, the Ether will take some work to master. There are just five knobs for tone (color), modulation depth and speed, reverb decay, and a wet/dry mix that functions as the level for both the reverb and modulation. A 2-way toggle switches between the three modulation modes or introduces a shimmer effect. What looks simple on the surface, however, belies great complexity among the available sounds. The modulation depth control alone, for instance, is full of tricks. It controls modulation waveform intensity but can also significantly re-cast the voice and response of the three modulation voices. In addition to intensity, depth also changes the shape of the modulation. On one side of noon the pedal generates sawtooth waves; on the other side, softer sine waves. Somewhat counterintuitively, waveform depth is most intense at clockwise and counterclockwise extremes and least intense closest to noon. Additionally, the noon position is a quasi-random waveform in vibrato mode, a square wave in tremolo mode, and a flutter triangle wave in harmonic triangle mode. So, while it’s fun to twist knobs at random to see what you can conjure, getting some semblance of control over the sonic outcome takes paying close attention to how these variables relate to each other.
There are cool, subtle sounds in Ether, even if subtle isn’t exactly a specialty.
The knobs are sensitive, too. This is great for fine-tuning settings when you have an intuitive, muscle-memory-based handle on how the controls work. But they can feel twitchy at first. Nowhere is this more apparent than in reverb decay and level. They each have considerable range. But the lowest level and decay settings primarily yield big reverb sounds. There are cool subtle sounds in the Ether, even if subtle isn’t exactly a specialty. On the mellower side of the Ether’s envelope, I dialed in a reasonable-enough facsimile of an old Fender black-panel spring reverb set to noon, as well as some really cool tile-like, fast-reflection sounds. But the differences between them on the level and decay controls were small and it can be hard to nail in-between sounds reliably. If you largely live your reverb life on the subdued side of splashy, you might want to look elsewhere.
The Ether’s controls are expansive on the modulation side as well. But each modulation mode also moves through very different ranges of intensity. Vibrato modulation, for instance, sounds very intense at high depth settings in relatively dry mixes. Harmonic tremolo voices, however, need a much wetter signal to stand out prominently. Regular tremolo settings tend to require high effect levels (which means you need to mind your reverb decay settings as well). Again, these differences make practice key. But relinquishing control can be just as satisfying. The harmonic tremolo reverbs can span phasey washes and noirish throb. Standard tremolo, while not the most radical effect, provides fast-twitching or hypnotic icing to metallic hyper-springy surf-ish settings. Vibrato’s reverb settings, meanwhile, can range from surreal, robotic modulations to sweet near-rotary sounds. Finding the points where these sounds intersect and mingle is a joy if you have the time to spare.
Apart from the Ether’s lack of low-key, conventional reverb sounds and interactive, trickier-than-it-looks controls, it’s hard to not fall under the device’s spell. If you have time to kill, getting lost in the mega-expansive controls, many combinations of modulation textures, and fields of reverb-based overtones can create pure joy. If you’re inclined toward option fatigue or dread getting lost in quirky controls onstage, there are simpler ways to get your reverb fix. But if it’s big-to-bigger spaces you’re after and the ability to render them distinct, mutant, and wild with washes of tremolo, vibrato, and phasey textures, the Ether is an almost endless amusement park of clanging, bouncing, ringing, and resplendent modulations.
Years ago, while on a meditation retreat in the mountains of Ojai, California, I was reflecting on one of my favorite sayings by Shunryu Suzuki (from his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind): “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” It was early in the morning, and as the soft blue light of dawn broke over the snow-dusted mountain tops, I had the profound realization of just how narrowly I was choosing to live my life because of my habits and how I was continually and slavishly refining them through my actions. I allowed myself to imagine and feel what life would be like if I let go of ingrained beliefs, and stood squarely in the warm, bright light of new possibilities.
I’d like to invite you to journey with me by exploring the importance of challenging your musical habits and see how to set the stage for inspiration, breakthroughs, and happy accidents.
Before stompboxes were common, there was no need for effects loops in amps. All effects (wahs, fuzzes, phasers, flangers, delays, reverbs) occurred before the amp, sometimes producing gloriously messy results.
There’s no better place to start than by focusing on effects (overdrives, delays, reverbs, wahs, tremolos, etc.) and the order in which they are arranged. Regardless of whether they reside on the floor, in racks, or inside your DAW, let’s shake things up, break our own rules, and see what remains of our old views. I believe this is how we truly gain wisdom. The Dojo is now open.
Look at your pedalboard. Most likely you have a wah, overdrives or other fuzz/distortions, and then effects like chorus, phaser/flanger, followed by a delay, and finally a reverb. If you’re using a multi-effects unit, like a Line 6 HX ($649 street) or similar, you have multiples of all these categories to choose from and the added flexibility to rearrange the signal flow without the hassle of unplugging and moving pedals around on your pedalboard. The options are even greater if you’re using a DAW and plug-ins.
When playing through Fender Princeton/Vibrolux-type combo amps that have both tremolo and reverb functions [Photo 1], the reverb will sound like it is last in the signal chain, although tremolo is actually last. Using real or virtual pedals to experiment, we can evoke that sound and add tremolo after our reverb.
On my end, I’m using EarthQuaker Devices’ Night Wire, a harmonic tremolo ($199 street), and their Afterneath reverb ($199 street) [Photo 2]. Place your tremolo effect after the reverb, grab your guitar and listen to the difference versus an amp. I love the way this sounds. It’s super vintage, retro, and lo-fi. If you have the ability to change the wave shape of the tremolo from sine to triangle or square, do that and keep playing. Record your experiments so you can note how things change without the distraction of a guitar in your hands.
Next, add a delay to the chain before the tremolo. Experiment with adjusting delay times manually, or, if available, use your tap tempo switch and dial up eighth, dotted-eighth, quarter notes, and subdivisions. You can also get some great textures by altering the wet/dry mix and adjusting the feedback as well. Depending on your delay, you might also have multiple types to choose from: maybe an old tape-delay setting (with lots of wow and flutter), or a bucket brigade, or even a reverse delay. Feeling creative yet? And remember, all of this applies to the virtual world of DAWs as well.
Here’s another one to try, and, again, it has vintage roots. Before stompboxes were common, there was no need for effects loops in amps. All effects (wahs, fuzzes, phasers, flangers, delays, reverbs) occurred before the amp, sometimes producing gloriously messy results. You can pay homage to this era and add a new twist by connecting a phaser followed immediately by a flanger. For this, I’m using Big Joe’s Phaser ($159 street) going into Earthquaker Devices’ Pyramids flanger ($299 street) [Photo. 3].
I like to adjust the rate, feedback, and depth settings on each unit with oppositional values relative to each other. For example, on the phaser I’ve set a fast rate, low depth and feedback, and 100 percent wet mix. I’ve inverted those values on the flanger with a slow rate, heavy depth, above average feedback, and 100 percent wet mix. I encourage you to spend a lot of time tweaking these parameters, as there are plenty of possibilities. Just be mindful of your feedback values since you have one unit cascading into the next. Finally, to bring a little danger to the equation, add a wah pedal. Hit record and then listen to how things change.
Most importantly, have fun and give yourself permission to make some crazy sounds! Next time I will explore adding this approach to groups of instruments, like synths, guitars, and drums, and entire sections of a mix. Until then, keep striving for your beginner’s mind and break your own rules. Namaste.
Around the time the aughts slid into the 20-teens, pedals like the Electro-Harmonix Cathedral and Strymon Blue Sky Reverberator put spacious-sounding pedal reverb top of mind for guitarists everywhere. The Strymon, in particular, got players excited about the studio-quality fidelity its turbocharged SHARC processor provided, and its ability to add a “shimmer” mode, which augmented plate, spring, or room settings with reverberating octaves above the source signal.
I bought a Blue Sky not long after we first reviewed it in 2010, and its lush room setting helped define my sound for the next few years. My reverb-junkie tastes moved toward clanking old-school spring sounds, but I still periodically kick myself for selling it, and wish I had a smaller pedal to turn to when I want ethereal infiniteness. Fortunately, many companies have risen to meet that need, and Catalinbread recently unveiled one of their own in the Cloak Reverb & Shimmer.
Cult of Simplicity
As prevalent as big reverbs have become; the most lusciously enveloping pedals tend to be larger (and more complex) than guitarists prefer. Still, many surrender board space to programmable pedals from the likes of Strymon, Eventide, TC Electronic, Line 6, Neural, and Boss seemingly for one reason: Pristine-sounding ambience takes a lot of processing power.
Catalinbread isn’t the first to follow an alternative path free of digital readouts and big footprints. But Cloak deserves accolades for walking the middle ground so stealthily. At heart, it’s not much more than a super-straightforward, huge-sounding room reverb with a minimalist control set: room-size, high-cut, mix, and shimmer knobs, and an internal slider for selecting between trails and true-bypass operation.
No Digital Daggers
I tested the Cloak with a TV Jones-equipped Gretsch Jet and a Curtis Novak-oufitted Jazzmaster. And whether I was playing straight into Cloak and a Fender Vibro Champ, driving it with a J. Rockett Archer into a Sound City SC30, or taking advantage of the wider range of a silver-panel Vibrolux Reverb paired with a 1×15 bass combo, the Cloak’s lovely fidelity took center stage. What’s more, as simple as its interface is, the range of possible sounds is remarkably diverse.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of shimmer reverb because it can easily sound maudlin or sci-fi cheesy. However, Cloak made me reevaluate my position.
One reason for this diversity is the powerful high-cut control, which, according to Cloak designer Lee Brady, is a low-pass filter fixed at 5kHz. Cranked full clockwise (with room size at its 250 ms minimum, mix at 2 o’clock, and shimmer off), high cut enables Cloak to sound like a lovely old plate reverb. Meanwhile, the same settings with high cut at minimum (i.e., with full treble bandwidth) turn Cloak into an almost reverse-sounding dirty plate reverb—perfect for reggae skank. Bring room size up to noon and crank high cut, and you can nail plaintive, spaghetti western tones with a bright-ish bridge pickup. But there’s more: Fingerpick with high cut at noon and mix cranked to conjure faux-chorale harmonies on lower strings—or tremolo pick the 6th string near the bridge for impressionistic “cello” sounds.
Mind you, all this is achieved without touching the shimmer knob, which introduces more intense modulated sounds in three frequency bands as you turn it clockwise. The result is often reminiscent of bright, dreamy synth pads. Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of shimmer reverb because it can easily sound maudlin or sci-fi cheesy. However, Cloak made me reevaluate my position—again, largely because of the high-cut control. With mix at max and higher room-size settings, high cut tamed some of the more garish aspects of shimmer ’verb and turned my guitars into veritable film-scoring machines. Fretting high and alternately tapping or raking the side of my steel pick against the 1st string while adding discordant bass notes brought to mind modern horrors like Hereditary (again, with tremolo picking working wonders for building suspense). Gentler moves like muting and tapping lower strings near the bridge, or even just smacking the guitar’s body, yielded atmospherics more befitting a thriller.
While I don’t anticipate switching my primary ambience allegiance away from spring reverb any time soon, Catalinbread’s Cloak scratched a longtime itch—and many I didn’t even know I had. My biggest complaint has less to do with the Cloak than it does the technological line separating almost any streamlined, single-function modern reverb from pricier, more powerful competitors. To get around using powerful microprocessors that make programmable stomps expensive, pedals like the Cloak use a cost-effective architecture that prevents dry signal from passing when the device is in trails mode and the mix is set to maximum. So, if you want to switch quickly between Cloak’s most atmospheric sounds and more traditional sounds, you’ll have to use true-bypass mode and forego the luxury of sounds lusciously decaying in the background. That’s a bit of a bummer—but not enough to stop me from lusting after this lovely box.
Hi everyone, and welcome to another Dojo. This time, I want to focus on the creative possibilities of using multiple reverb buses to spice up your tracks and mixes.
The first time I heard of this concept (many years ago) was through the legendary engineer Al Schmitt, who recorded Duke Ellington, Elvis Presley, Jefferson Airplane, George Benson, Toto, Steely Dan, Vince Gill, and Michael Jackson, to name a few. He also mixed well over 150 gold and platinum records. When he talked, people listened. Especially me. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to spend four days filming him while he engineered and mixed an album from start to finish at Blackbird. Whenever he was waiting for some gear to get set up, or the band to arrive, I would express my deep appreciation for the records he engineered/produced and ask him questions. This article is based on part of one of those conversations. So, tighten up your belts. The Dojo is now open.
You may be asking yourself what benefits using multiple reverbs can bring, and wouldn’t everything just get washed out? Let me first describe how to set up multiple ’verbs in your DAW and then we will look at how to use them. Let’s start with my emulation of how Al would have used the five reverb chambers at RCA Hollywood studios when he was recording.
“I like doing this with instruments that may have a fair amount of delay on them, but still need to feel like they are affecting the reverb space within the mix.”
In your DAW, create five different aux buses. You can make them mono or stereo buses, depending on your computer’s processing power. Instantiate one reverb on each bus. I recommend UAD’s Capitol Chambers, Waves’ Abbey Road Reverb Plates, FabFilter’s Pro-R, Valhalla DSP’s Plate, or similar choices. There are many great, quality reverbs out there. Regardless of what you have, I’d encourage you to experiment with different types of reverbs and settings. This can give each bus a different character and lead to some creative mixing decisions. Have a look at Fig. 1.
Next, pan them as follows: ’verb 1–hard left, ’verb 2–half-left, ’verb 3–center, ’verb 4–half-right, and ’verb 5–hard right [Fig.2]. You can also vary the reverb time if you wish, but I suggest that if it’s based on a real space (like the Abbey Road or Capitol chambers), leave the reverb time alone to maximize the sonic footprint of each of those spaces. Also, keep the dimension (the shape of the room) the same. If it’s a pure digital ’verb, I will tweak to taste depending on what I want the reverb’s role to be in the mix. Usually this is the center ’verb for me.
Now take a listen to your mix and locate where your instruments/vocals are panned in the stereo field. For those instruments and tracks that lie on the left side, route a send to reverbs 1 and/or 2. For those that are on the right, send them to reverbs 4 and 5, and route and assign everything else that you may want reverb on to reverb 3.
Adjust your send levels for each track and listen to how transparent the reverb starts to become. What I find is that the placement of the tracks in the stereo field remains consistent and focused instead of getting smeared into both channels with brute force from the same reverb.
If you want an A/B comparison, set up another reverb aux bus (reverb 6) and change all your reverb-assigned tracks’ outputs to this new reverb and listen to the difference. What do you notice?
Finally, by having different reverbs panned through the stereo field you can easily do things like have a hard-left instrument’s reverb come back hard right by assigning it to ’verb 5. I like doing this with instruments that may have a fair amount of delay on them, but still need to feel like they are affecting the reverb space within the mix.I hope this gives you some inspiration and deepens your understanding of reverb.
Until next month, keep experimenting! Namaste.