NOTE - New/Updated Feature on True Spring Tank Reverb Pedals [here]
Who does not love the slight shimmer of a tightly wound steel spring. Those Fender engineers were obviously inspired when they introduced the spring-tank reverbs to their core amps, and for many that early Fender sound is still the benchmark. Some players are still stuck in the 60’s and have to play though an authentic Fender-style amp with proper Reverb and Tremolo onboard. Others - like John Mayer, use a more modern amp, and look to the Strymon Flint to give them that 60’s sounding Reverb + Tremolo.
In my selection here I have tried to mix up the Analogue and Digital to give you the widest range of options for your Spring sound. There are a few notable omissions that did not quite make the final cut - these include the Carl Martin Headroom and Mahaffay Amplifiers Little Lanilei proper spring tanks, Gurus SIN Sinusoid Tube Spring Reverb & Tremolo, Mr Black Deluxe Plus Spring Reverb & Tremolo, Wampler Faux Spring, J Rockett Boing and the mini Malekko Omicron Spring and Tone City Tiny Spring - and there are dozens more that could be included, but I believe I’ve covered most of the better known/regarded ones.
The most mahoosive pedal here is the aircraft-carrier-alike ScreaminFX Verbia genuine spring tank, which and however exceptional it is, is somewhat out-tweaked by the Knas Ekdhal Moisturizer - which houses its springs on the outside for proper full-on interaction. The Danelectro is the simplest of the tanks, and the Reverbulator and Sole-Mate tanks are well-known boutique models. Finally the Spaceman Orion takes that true concept and compacts it further into the only proper pedalboard-friendly spring-tank option.
For the digital alternatives, these are all well celebrated and each hase their fans - with the Strymon Flint, Boss Fender and Subdecay Spring Theory being the most in use, but the Catalinbread Topanga, Mad Professor Silver Spring and Mojo Hand FX Dewdrop all being equal to the task.
I am constantly bemused by certain detractors claiming that a spring effect sounds too metallic when that is exactly what should be ar the core of that sound. Of course the vibration dynamics of steel springs are highly complex and there is a lot of digital tuning required to get the digital-sound-alikes into the right ballpark. Some sound stronger and more affected, and some a lot more subtle. I firmly believe all those mentioned here are of the highest quality. If I had to pick one I would probably pick the Strymon, then the Boss Fender and Subdecay Spring Theory are sort of equal.
I personally would not go near one of the spring tanks - they are susceptible to all manner of ambient and floor and room vibrations and to my mind most unsuitable for pedalboard inclusion, even the greatly compacted Spaceman Orion. I believe the Knas Moisturizer would be fun to experiment with in a studio situation - on a desk or table-top, but all those spring tanks would not react well to a slightly bouncy sprung wooden floor - the kind you still find on most stages.
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand:
This one was mentioned on my Best 20 Boss Compact Pedals piece - out since 2009 and providing the Fender spring-tank sound on many a pro boards. Alongside Subdecay's Super String Theory and Strymon's Flint, those are probably the most regularly featured ones nowadays. This is Phillip McKnight's reverb of choice too.
Catalinbread are the masters of Delay and Reverb with lots of well-loved pedals in both categories, and the Topanga is no exception. Because of its strange monicker (to some) it occasionally gets overlooked, but this is generally a very highly regarded Spring option. You have 4 dials to tweak here - Dwell | Tone | Mix | Vol.
This genuine spring-tank is one of the more compact larger sized ones and features 3 simple dials - Volume | Tone | Reverb, alongside a 'Kick Pad' target area. I quite like the idea of traditional spring-tanks, but find them also overly large, unwieldy and clumsy, and the opposite of pedalboard-friendly. This is one of the most affordable original types and comes highly recommended by many. You can also find these with a variety of added delay modifications including a couple or more extra dials.
As is evident by its price, here we have a Boutique spring-tank with 5 different controls - Spring: Long/Short/Both | Phase | Volume | Blend | Gain. I guess it's worthwhile if you are totally fanatical about this sort of thing, I would rather have the Knas Moisturizer though if I really had to go down this route.
This is the most awesome of the true spring-style reverbs, it looks more like a lab experiment, and is probably treated best in that way. Having the strings on the outside means you can directly manipulate them in all manner of ways - scrape, twang, bounce, tap etc. And you have 12 dials to tweak all manner of parameters - definitely not for the set-and-forget brigade. The one pictured looks to be some sort of advanced version as it features additional dial and toggles not present on the production version. I think this would be great for studio-style experimentation, as a genuine inspiration machine.
This is another one of the digital spring replicators that many pros love, for whatever reason it does not get quite as much love as the Strymon, Boss and Subdecay, but it's certainly up there in quality, and not too different to the Topanga either.
This is another great digital spring pedal, somewhat overlooked and somewhat unsung, but as simple as the Boss to set up and run. It's not quite as simple as the one-dial J Rockett Boing, but certainly along the same lines as the Boss, depending on your own personal preference you may very well like one more than the other.
When I first composed this list, I had the Carl Martin Headroom on it, but I later bumped that in favour of this slightly more higher-spec'ed version and as described above as an aircraft carrier - or at least a veritable snowboard of a pedal - it's almost that long! Coming in at wholly full amp-size, this spring tank also benefits from an array of dials an switches for some smart tone tweaking - the cut-outs back-lit with purple LEDs are also a nice touch. Again one for the studio I would have thought versus live pedalboard use.
This 4-pot reverb, despite it's relatively compact size is a proper true spring-tank. It's really the only one of the available spring-tanks which is fully pedalboard-friendly - coming in at between a half and a third of the full-size ones available. Some players complain that the reduction in length mean it does not sound as full or as rich as the longer equivalents, but it still sounds pretty fine to me if you're into this sort of thing.
This particular pedal has been on my wishlist for the longest time. After I acquired the so-called Stryfecta of Mobius, TimeLine and BigSky, I was in line to acquire a Flint and a Lex next. For reasons of changing priority this never happened, I got a Tech 21 Roto Choir instead of a Lex, and I have other new pedals more pressing than the Flint. For those wanting vintage Reverb + Tremolo, this truly is the perfect solution, and much loved by legions of pro players - including John Mayer.
This and the Boss Fender up top are probably the digital spring pedals that get the most props - this one has the additional benefit of a Room reverb option. Its forte though is a very fine simulated spring tone which lots of pros really love.
This well-loved boutique spring-tank comes in a variety of colourful enclosures - including faux leopard skin - if that's your vibe. It is in the same spirit as the Danelectro - with minimal dials for speedy set-and-forget ability. Beautifully put together with the finest of components, will be great for the purists, but possibly a little too vanilla for some. You certainly have other options if you want to spice things up more.
I have a Spring Reverb (digital) in my Boss RV-500, and even though some detractors have stated that particular algorithm is not good enough, it's plenty good enough for me. I can easily get that sought-after 60's drippy surf sound when I want to, otherwise 'Spring' is not really the main reverb flavour I use, I really tend to use it quite minimally. I've already stated a desire to acquire the Strymon Flint, which would be foremost of these for me, then probably either the Boss Fender or Super String Theory, and if I had to have real springs I would go with the Spaceman Orion - the real-estate pay-off for the others is just too painful!
JHS's new Digital Spring pedal gives you plenty of tone-sculpting options, it also gives you dual options with a separate Tank 2 footswitch. Meaning you can set up a primary and secondary spring reverb and switch easily between them. This definitely deserves consideration. I think more reverb and delay pedals could do with having 2 presets - as lots of players like playing with a short and long delay, and related reverbs.