Vibrant reverbs from boutique American pedal brand
Reverb is perhaps the simplest guitar effect of all. By emulating the effects of space and air on our guitar tone, we can add instant warmth and depth to a dry sound, giving it life and sustain. Indeed, hearing a clean electric guitar through a nice amp, with a touch of reverb, is one of music’s great pleasures.
Early forms of man-made reverb were actually mechanical in their operation, often built-in to amplifiers to add extra options for players. Some amps employed spring reverbs, where the recorded sound was passed through a coil-like metal spring which caused the sound waves to bounce around before being output through the speaker. Other methods included the distinct ‘plate’ technique where, similar to spring, the sound was directed onto something physical only this time metal plates were used which gave a unique and longer lasting effect.
Modern pedals made use of digital technology to provide more control over the tone. By employing algorithms in place of physical factors, pedal and amp designers enabled musicians to have control over the ‘tail’, i.e. the length of the reverberated sound, and over the wet/dry mix. It also allowed sound designers to model reverbs on specific spaces, e.g. halls, cathedrals, arenas – even caves. Essentially, where ever there were big open spaces, there was reverb potential.
If you read our recent guide to ambient guitars, you’ll know reverb is the cornerstone of that style of playing. A richly formed, dense reverb sound offers ambient players a wash of sound onto which they can add extra layers and textures to create amazing, atmospheric soundscapes. And, if you look on the board of most of these players, you’ll see one brand dominating over most others; Strymon. The American brand has become synonymous with high quality, beautifully realised reverbs, delays and modulations. Here’s a look at one of these pedals in particular, in our Strymon Blue Sky review.
The Strymon Blue Sky is the company’s attempt at creating a single-use pedal that favours superior quality over tonnes of features. Whereas other pedals in the Strymon range successfully meld together complementary effects to create unique and interesting combinations, the Blue Sky does reverb alone, and it does it incredibly well.
The pedal itself features five knobs across its top, two mini switches and two footswitches. The two larger knobs across the top control the decay of the reverberated signal and the amount it mixes with the dry guitar signal, while the three slightly smaller knobs control the pre-delay, high and low damps. Pre-delay allows the player to programme in how long before the reverb signal begins to start, which is useful for balancing your sound, while the two damp knobs offer a degree of EQ sculpting. Turn anti-clockwise, you remove the high or low frequencies from your sound, which is useful for finding the right frequencies in a mix or when playing with other musicians.
The two mini switches provide control over the different reverb modes and types available through the Blue Sky. On the left, you choose between normal, mod and shimmer modes. Normal is as it sounds, mod infuses a delicate chorus onto your sound and shimmer…well, shimmer is worth the money alone. It takes your signal, replicates it with higher register octaves and, with enough decay, brings an almost orchestral sound which words alone don’t do justice. Shimmer is becoming quite widely known nowadays, and can be found included in a number of pedals from other brands. But, pound for pound, and with the tone-shaping options on offer here, the Blue Sky has it nailed for our money. Check out this video to see for yourself.
Next to the reverb mode selector is a switch offering a choice of three types. Plate emulates the metal plate style of reverb described above, and is pretty rare to find (done well) in a pedal. With enough decay, you can create virtually infinite reverb sounds using the plate setting and again, the sounds available here are really top notch. The room setting offers a superb, close-knit room sound which works well with the decay dialled back, while the spring sound is also great for shorter decay, almost slap-back, sounds.
The Blue Sky operates in full stereo, in and out, so no matter where you put it on your board you can enjoy the sounds in glorious 3D. You might consider placing a stereo delay before or after the Blue Sky, set to ping-pong, so your signal becomes drenched in reverb while also bouncing around from left to right.
The two footswitches on the front control whether the effect is engaged or not – if not it offers fully clean, true bypass so your tone isn’t coloured when the pedal is disengaged – while a favourite switch ensures you can recall your preferred settings instantly. There’s also a +/- 3db cut or boost available by holding the favourite/bypass switches while turning the mix knob.
The Blue Sky operates via the included 9V power supply, alas no battery option, which powers the famous SHARC DSP chip inside. Strymon’s engineers claim to have eeked every last drop of processing power from the DSP, and you can tell. Each and every included sound is in a different league to the reverbs you may have experienced in your amps or in ‘lesser’ pedals. From subtle, warm room reverbs through to epic, show-stopping shimmer sounds, this pedal can do it all.
Strymon has quite quickly become recognised for the quality, sounds and craft which goes into its products. Other pedals in the range, like the Big Sky (big brother to the pedal on the review here), El Capistan and Deco, came out of nowhere and quickly won over guitar players. Great effects, and great pedals, spark new ideas or provide inspiration and can quickly become essential to your sound. The Strymon Blue Sky is one such pedal and, while we try to be objective, we really can’t recommend it highly enough. Put simply, if you’ve ever even considered using reverb you owe it to yourself to check this pedal out.