What is Spring Reverb & How Does It Work?

What is Spring Reverb & How Does It Work? What is Spring Reverb & How Does It Work?

Spring reverb has been around for more than half a century now, yet it’s still as popular as the day it was invented.

It became particularly popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and if you listen to old records from bands like The Ventures, Dick Dale, or The Beach Boys, you can hear a smattering of spring reverb at every turn.

Dick Dale’s guitar on "Misirlou" is a prime example.

Of course, beyond surf rock guitar tones, spring reverb is an immensely usable effect, whether you want to give your current music a vintage touch or produce a full on Spaghetti Western-style film score a la Quentin Tarantino.

Today, I’m going to dive into the world of Spring Reverb and show you how you can make use of the quirky contraption that shaped music as we know it today.

What Is Spring Reverb?

Though spring reverb can be traced all the way back to the early 1930s for its use in Hammond Organs, it was in the 1960s when Bell Labs popularized the ‘spring-in-a-box’ design’ as a way to simulate the sound of organic or chamber reverb in a compact and controllable format.

Note that long before the compact hardware reverb unit, the only way engineers could achieve depth was through natural reverb sources. These engineers would put microphones in a concert hall or echo chamber and mix the wet sound of the reverb in with the dry sound source or direct sound.

However, engineers eventually wanted a way to capture spaciousness in compact form, which is where spring and plate reverbs came into play. The very first plate reverb was the EMT 140 Plate Reverb, which hit the market back in 1957.

The early units, which were created for use in Hammond organs to add a sense of space and depth, were pretty big.

However, as technology tends to evolve, things get more and more compact. The same was true for spring reverb, and by the 60s and 70s, these portable boxes could be found in just about every studio.

So, how does this spring reverb work?

There are a few different parts in your average spring tank or spring reverb unit:

  • Suspension springs
  • Transmission springs
  • Input and output transducers

The process starts with an input transducer, which is often a small speaker or a piezoelectric device, located at one end of the spring. When an audio signal is sent to this transducer, it causes the speaker or piezoelectric element to vibrate, just like a guitar string.

As the vibrations travel from one end of the string to the next, they emit unique reflections and resonances, similar to how sound waves bounce around in a room. The transmission springs turn the magnetic field into an electrical signal that gets sent to the output transducer and mixed with the direct sound source to create the final output signal.

In the end, you get the characteristic spring tank effect.

However, different spring tanks or spring units have their own unique frequency response and sound.

What Does Spring Reverb Sound Like?

I feel like more than any other style of reverb, spring reverb is instantly recognizable.

The first thing to note is that spring reverbs do not have a natural sound.

It has this twangy, drippy, and slightly metallic quality (what many people refer to as ‘boingy’), that’s perfect for adding vintage depth to just about any sound.

Here are a few of my favorite examples of spring reverb in music.

"Miserlou" - Dick Dale

Whether you know this surf rock classic from "Pulp Fiction" or the fact that it was famously sampled in the Black Eyed Peas’ hit song, “Pump It,” you’ve surely heard it before. It’s probably the best example of twangy spring reverb-laden electric guitar out there.

"Riders on the Storm" - The Doors

This hauntingly classic Doors track offers one of the eeriest and most atmospheric examples of 60s' psychedelic rock that wasn’t produced through the use of heavily-fuzzed guitars and flanger-effected vocals.

Instead, one of the main elements is Ray Manzarek’s spring reverb-drenched Rhodes.

"Ravi Shankar (Pt. 1)" - Dub Syndicate

In no genre is spring reverb more popular than in reggae and dub music. While I could probably pull up any dub or reggae track mixed in the past century and find an example of spring reverb, one of my favorite tracks that showcases the use of spring reverb on various instruments and vocals is from Dub Syndicate’s 1985 hit.

Common Uses for Spring Reverb

If you want to integrate spring reverb into your own music, there are about a million ways to do so. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular musical contexts we find it in.

Guitar Amps

Reverb is by far more popular with electric guitarists than anyone else, as most guitar amplifiers come equipped with spring reverb tanks.

When amp manufacturers like Fender, Vox, and Marshall began integrating spring reverb into their amps in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it became one of, if the the only, effect that guitarists had access to. This was long before effects pedals exploded in popularity and became readily available for your average broke musician.

Some of my favorite guitar amps with built-in spring reverb tanks include:

- Fender '65 Deluxe Reverb Reissue

- Vox AC30C2

- Marshall DSL40CR

Whether you want to add a bit of depth and dimension to your tone, or you want to recreate classic blues and surf rock tones, spring reverb is the way to go.


One of my other favorite uses for spring reverb is snare drums, especially if you’re looking for that vintage or retro vibe.

However, unless you’re going for an all-out dub sound, I’d recommend using it in moderation.

Make sure to play with the pre-delay to keep the snare up front in the mix and the sound of the reverb in the back.

PRO TIP : If you really want a retro sound, keep your spring reverb in mono.


Just like on an electric guitar lead, spring reverb can be particularly useful on synthesizers.

I especially like it for synth VSTs, which are often lacking warmth and depth, as it can give them a more organic vibe.

Overall, I feel like it’s best applied to lead lines, pads, and arpeggios, rather than larger synth pads or chords.


Lastly, I’m a huge fan of spring reverb on vocals.

Depending on how you apply it, you can get everything from an organic, retro vibe to a dramatic or ethereal sound.

It’s particularly effective when you’re having a hard time getting your vocals to sit better in the mix, as it can help create cohesion and depth.

Top 3 Spring Reverb Plugins

Eventide - Spring

I’ve been a longtime user of Eventide plugins, and their Spring plugin is about as good as it gets.

It faithfully replicates the unique metallic "boing" you’d get from a physical spring reverb unit found in a guitar amp, offering incredible realism with the ability to fine-tune an array of settings, from damping to spring tension.

You also get a pretty generous decay time of around 20 seconds, great for those long, spacious reverbs.

The interface is incredibly user-friendly, allowing you to use between one and three springs, depending on how complex you want your sound to be. You’ll also find high and low damping filters, two different tank sizes, and a bunch of creative controls, including tremolo, speed, and depth.

Softube - Spring Reverb

Softube’s Spring Reverb is another excellent plugin specifically crafted to replicate the characteristics of a vintage spring reverb tank.

It’s warm and gritty, boasting a distinct tone and style all of its own. In fact, I think it faithfully captures the quirks and imperfections of real spring reverb units better than any other plugin. It also offers a Shake control, so you can dial in the effect of kicking a hardware spring reverb tank.

As with Eventide’s plugin, you get user-friendly controls, making it easy to get the sound you’re looking for in a pinch. The Mix knob is great for adding the effect with subtlety in mind. Best of all, if you’re working with an older system or a busy session, you’ll be happy to know that it requires minimal CPU resources.

One of the only downsides I can think of is that it only models a single reverb tank without giving you any stereo or modulation capabilities.

Arturia - Rev Spring-636

Arturia is one of the biggest names in vintage hardware emulations, and beyond their impressive line of iconic synth VSTs, they also have a variety of quality effects, one of which is the Rev Spring-636.

The Rev Spring-636 is an emulation of the renowned Grampian 636 spring reverb. While there are plenty of things that stand out about this particular reverb, the Vintage Pre-Amp feature might be the best element.

With the Vintage Pre-Amp, you can tailor the sound of the reverb to your track, whether you want a vintage spring reverb sound or a more contemporary tone. If you push it hard enough, you can drive the plugin into distortion, which is nice when you need some grit.

You’ll also find Mix and Length functions built-in for extra fine-tuning.

As with many other spring reverb plugins, it has a super user-friendly interface with a cool visual representation of the spring tank, as well as some decent tone-shaping capabilities, thanks to the dynamics, EQ and preamp sections.

There are also a few built-in effects like tremolo or vibrato.

Top 3 Spring Reverb Hardware Units

Carl Martin - Headroom

While there are endless pedals that emulate the sound of spring reverb really nicely, there's nothing like having the real thing, electro-mechanics and all. With a single input and output, Carl Martin's Headroom gives you access to two separate 'depths,' which you can adjust using the level and tone knobs.

With the Level knob, you can change how much of the wet signal is coming through, depending on if you want a super dry sound or a washy, surfy twang. Then, you have the Tone knob, which, at the low side, gives you plenty of low-end warmth, while at the top-end, you get a splashy, trashy tone, similar to what you'd get if you cranked the tone knob on a Fender amp.

As with a standard Fender reverb tank, you can give the Headroom unit a little kick and get the sound of electric thunder. Luckily, the developers did well enough to keep small movements, such as tapping on the footswitch, from triggering the 'kick' sound.

Overall, in terms of sound, it's a true, blue spring reverb tank. The only major downside is its size. I probably wouldn't recommend keeping it on a touring pedalboard, but rather as a studio unit.

Dreadbox - Hypnosis Time Effects Processor

The Dreadbox Hypnosis Time Effects Processor is one of my favorite little hardware units for dialing in signature 80s sounds. Not only does it look like an old-school arcade game, but it sounds retro too. Under the hood, you’ll find a combination of digital and analog circuitry.

There are three springs inside, a stereo digital delay, and a chorus/flanger effect, perfect for dialing in more unique effects than your basic spring reverb. Each effect also comes with a “Twist” knob, which is a little treat that you’ll just have to play with to decipher.

There are two ins and two outs on this unit as well, meaning you can dial in stereo effects with ease. I’m a huge fan of Hypnosis’ overall aesthetic, especially the 80s synthwave graphics, though there are plenty of modern characteristics that help it stand out in the crowded boutique “pedal” market.

If you have a eurorack setup, you’ll be happy to know that you can adjust the input and output gain for compatibility. Plus, if you dial in a sound that you really like, you can store it in the unit’s memory (there’s room for up to 49 presets).

Overall, it’s a really handy effect unit!

Dr. Z - Z-Verb Tube Reverb Tank

If you want to secure that quintessential surf tone reminiscent of Dick Dale or The Beach Boys, the Dr. Z Z-Verb Tube Reverb Tank is an excellent piece of equipment. It’s also a great piece of equipment for anyone getting their feet wet with physical reverb units, as it’s super easy to use.

At first glance, you see a relatively straightforward user interface. There are only a few knobs on the front, including Tone, Mix, and Dwell. It also comes with a footswitch, in case you want to lug this little box around from gig to gig.

They recently added the ground switch on the front of the unit, which helps get rid of annoying hum. It might seem like a simple piece of equipment, but you’ll find that it’s equally capable of crafting ultra-complex reverb sounds. The tube-powered design gives it a warm characteristic as well.

One thing to note is that I don’t think it has the same amount of extreme ‘drip’ I could dial in with a Fender spring reverb tank, though it makes up for it in warmth and depth.

Final Thoughts

In the end, compared to plate reverb or convolution reverb, spring reverb is a pretty basic reverb effect. It has a spooky, surfy timbre all its own, and while it might not have a versatile design or a natural reverb sound like you’d find in other digital convolution reverb algorithms, it’s a classic, nostalgic effect that you can’t really capture with any other piece of equipment.

Check out some of the spring reverbs above and experiment with them in your music production!

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