Reverb is an effect that takes a very dry tone and gives it ambience which improves the overall sound dramatically and is found in a range of music styles.
If your amp already has reverb built-in, then you may be wondering if you actually need a reverb pedal on your board. Or you may be wondering if you even need reverb at all. In this article, I’ll be comparing the pros and cons of amplifier and pedal reverb so you can decide which is the best option for you.
The Quick Answer
Reverb pedals are more versatile but often sound less authentic than amp reverb. High-end amps use analogue reverb which sounds more natural than the digital reverb used in most pedals. However, some cheaper amps also use digital reverb which generally does not sound as good as a pedal.
|Amp Reverb||Pedal Reverb|
|More limited sounds||More versatile sounds|
|Tube amp reverb sounds more authentic||Less authentic sounding|
|Easy to use||More complicated to use|
What is Reverb?
Reverb occurs naturally all the time when sound waves reflect off surfaces. This “reverberation” is an echo effect which adds depth and life to the tone. It is used on all kinds of instruments and vocals and pretty much every style of music. It’s one of the easiest ways to make a tone sound instantly better, but without changing any fundamentals.
There are 5 main types of reverb, all of which are named according to the kind of natural reverberation it would create:
- Room: sounds very subtle and natural
- Hall: sound more obvious but still natural
- Chamber: sounds clearer and less “airy” than hall and room
- Plate: mimics the reverb you’d get if you were to hit a large plate of metal. This sounds smooth and is quite long lasting (has a long “decay” time)
- Spring: this sounds more wobbly compared to plate reverb.
Amplifier Reverb Overview
Many amplifiers have built-in reverb which can either be analogue or digital.
- Analogue reverb uses “spring reverb” considered the most natural and iconic sounding, and is often found in tube amplifiers for example, many Fender models.
- Digital reverb is often found on solid state amplifiers. Some amps have multiple modes allowing you to select any different type of reverb, whereas others will just include a single type.
When comparing amp and pedal reverb it’s important to understand what type of amp reverb (analogue or digital) you are comparing, because each of them have their own qualities.
Most amps will have a single reverb control, which allows you to adjust the level. In this case, you can have the reverb on as low as you like or as high, but you can’t control any other parameters. Some amps will have a “mode” switch which allows you to select between different types of reverb.
Reverb Pedal Overview
Reverb pedals mostly use digital technology to create different types of reverb and have multiple controls allowing you to shape the ambient effect to your precise desired taste. Here are the most common controls:
- Type/ Mode: which allows you to cycle between the different kinds of reverb.
- Decay/ Time: allows you to adjust how long the reverb will last.
- Tone: allows you to adjust the brightness/ warmth.
- Level: allows you to adjust the volume.
Reverb pedals come in a few shapes and sizes, but the most common are the standard 5″ x 3″ rectangular shape e.g. MXR M300, 6.5 x 5″ wide-rectangular shape e.g. Strymon Big Sky, and the mini-pedal type which is usually around 3.5 x 1.6″.
It is also possible to get all-in-one reverb and delay pedals which are typically a bit larger and usually a 5 x 5″ square design e.g. Seymour Duncan Dark Sun.
Pedal vs Amp Reverb
Now we know a bit more about pedal and amp reverb, let’s compare them against each other.
Here is a table to summarise and then an explanation for each factor.
|Reverb Pedal||Amplifier Reverb|
|More types of reverb||Limited types of reverb|
|More parameter controls||Usually only a single control|
|More complicated to use||Simple to use|
|Digital reverb often sounds less authentic||Analogue reverb often sounds better|
|Can encounter signal chain order issues (if amp does not have an effects loop)||Reverb is always placed at the end of the chain (preferred option)|
Types of Reverb
If you want multiple types of reverb and versatility in terms of how it can be adjusted to create a specific ambience, then a reverb pedal will be more suitable than amplifier reverb. Since amps generally only include a single type of reverb and a single control to adjust the levels, your options for customisation are limited. Pedals on the other hand have many more controls and have multiple types of reverb included so give you a tonne more options to create a tone that is more precise.
Ease of Use
Amplifier reverb is usually a lot easier to use than reverb pedals. The most simple reverb pedals typically have at least 3-4 controls, and most will have between 8-10. This can be quite daunting if you are not used to using reverb. Amplifier reverb is generally controlled using a single knob which adjusts the level, making it easier to get to grips with if you’re not used to using it.
Many players prefer the tone of analogue reverb that comes from a tube amplifier compared to the digital reverb usually found with pedals. Analogue amp reverb sounds more natural and authentic, especially if you really like classic spring reverb. Think Fender amps for this one.
Pedal reverb is usually digital and some players believe that this doesn’t sound as organic. However, solid state amps and even some tube amps still use digital reverb as well and in this case, the pedals usually sound better.
Bottom line, it depends on the amp. High-end tube amps typically produce “nicer” sounding reverb to a lot of players compared to pedals, but cheaper solid state amp reverb usually sounds inferior compared to a dedicated reverb pedal.
Here is a video comparing a reverb pedal and analogue amp reverb. “A” was the pedal and “B” was the amp.
Another thing to consider is the placement you want your reverb to be in your signal chain. Reverb is typically placed at the end of the pedal chain. Effect placement is personal and there are no right or wrong orders, but most players agree that reverb sounds better at the end of the chain.
Depending on whether you choose amp reverb or pedal reverb, you will have different options as to exactly where the pedal can go in relation to your gain source. If you’re using a clean amp without any gain pedals then this won’t be an issue.
- This will always go at the end of the signal chain whether you are using any other effects in the form of pedals or on your amp. This also includes the gain source you’re using. Even if you are using your amp’s gain instead of an overdrive/ distortion pedal, the reverb will still be at the end.
- Using gain pedal instead of amp gain: you can place your reverb pedal after your gain pedal (overdrive or distortion) to achieve the same effect as above.
- Using amp gain without an effect loop: this is the only case where the reverb will be BEFORE the gain in the chain and is generally not the preferred option and can sound a bit messy.
- Using amp gain and effects loop: If your amp has an effects loop, you can place your reverb pedal in the loop so that it goes AFTER your gain stage, even if you are using your amp’s gain.
If your amp does have built-in reverb and you are using it for the gain (instead of a distortion/ overdrive pedal) but does not have an effects loop, then it will usually sound better if you use your amp’s reverb instead of a pedal. If your amp does have an effects loop then you can use your amp’s gain or a gain pedal and your reverb pedal will still sound good.
Check out this guide I’ve written on everything you need to know about effects loops for more information.
Using Pedal and Amp Reverb Together
This is where we get into the more experimental uses of pedals, which in my opinion is what pedals are all about! Some players like to use both the reverb which is built-in to their amplifier, as well as a separate reverb pedal.
This works best if:
- Your amp has an effects loop or you are using the clean channel only (for the reasons described above).
- The amp uses true analogue spring reverb instead of digital.
Using both pedal and amplifier reverb at the same time allows you to create some interesting effects, and can also create a similar effect as using a delay and reverb pedal together, depending on the parameters you set.
Often, a lot of players like to have the amp’s analogue spring reverb on all the time and then add in some additional pedal reverb, a popular option is to use the plate-type.
I can’t go through every example of mixing reverbs in this article because there are way too many options and parameters to consider, but if you want to experiment then feel free to try this technique to get some interesting signature sounds.
Do I Need a Reverb Pedal if My Amp Already Has Reverb?
So we’ve been through the pros and cons of pedal and amp reverb, but some of you may still be wondering if a pedal is worth your investment.
You should get a reverb pedal if:
- You are unhappy with the sound of your amp’s reverb.
- You want more versatility and control over the reverb effect.
- You want to experiment using both types of reverb together.
Also, reverb pedals are usually only worth it if either you are using a clean signal, you are going to be using a distortion/ overdrive pedal before it, or you are using your amp’s gain setting and your amp has an effects loop. If your amp does not have an effects loop and you want to use your amplifiers gain, then placing a reverb pedal before it generally will not sound as good as just using your amp’s reverb.
Best Reverb Pedals
If you have decided to go for it and get a reverb pedal, here are some great options with image and text links to Amazon so you can check the current prices.
Unsure which pedals you really need? Check out my complete guide to the different types of pedals and the order of priority they should be considered in .