There’s a reason why people sing in the bathroom: Those hard, tiled surfaces bounce sound waves back and forth, creating reflected sounds that provide a sweet accompaniment to your voice. So if you ever said, “But it sounded great when I was singing in the shower”...you were right!
That same acoustic ambience can also dress up your guitar sound, and electronic reverb provides a huge choice of acoustic environments—from concerts halls, to cathedrals, to vintage spring reverbs.
Guitar amp reverbs used to have just one reverb control, to mix the reverb in with your dry sound. But digital reverbs have much more to offer—including the reverb in Firebird X’s onboard DSP engine. Let’s take a look at the most common reverb parameters, and how they affect the sound.
Type or algorithm is the space the reverb emulates: room, hall, spring, cathedral, etc. There are also “unreal” spaces, like gated reverb (where the tail cuts off abruptly instead of decaying slowly) and dynamic reverb, where the reverb level goes down when you’re playing, but when you stop playing, the reverb kicks in.
Decay specifies how long the reverb lasts before it fades to the point where you can’t hear it. Sometimes this is called room size, even though they’re not exactly the same thing.
Damping causes higher frequencies to decay faster than lower frequencies. This is like rooms that have lots of surfaces that absorb sound—from rugs, curtains, people, etc.
Early reflections simulate the sound when the signal first hits walls and other surfaces, and generates a sound that’s more like discrete echoes than “washes” of sound. They’ll typically have their own level control, called early reflections level.
Pre-delay occurs because there’s a finite amount of time before a signal reaches surfaces like walls and ceilings. The longer the pre-delay, the greater the illusion of being in a big space.
Diffusion pushes the individual echoes closer together, which thickens the sound. Reducing diffusion creates more discrete-sounding echoes. For percussive instruments, including rhythm guitar, lots of diffusion avoids the “marbles bouncing on a steel plate” effect caused by too many discrete echoes. For sustained sounds, however, like lead guitar and vocals, reduced diffusion can give smooth reverberation that neither overpowers your playing, nor takes away clarity.
Nothing says “surf music” better than spring reverb. During that particular musical period, guitarists were mysteriously stricken with the desire to drench their sound in spring reverb. The oldie “Pipeline” by the Chantays is a classic example of this sound.
Swim, don’t drown. Some people refer to sounds as “swimming” in reverb. Swimming is fun, but drowning isn’t. Too much reverb can “smear” your guitar playing and give an indistinct blob of sound. Remember, lots of reverb won’t cover up a bad guitar part; it will just sound like a bad guitar part with too much reverb.
Don’t overlook short reverbs. Sure, you like big hall and cathedral sounds...they’re lush and fun. But mixing in small amounts of short reverb can give a sweet sort of ambience that, even if you’re going direct into a recorder, gives the vibe that you’re playing in a room.