Echoes of the past: Danelectro Reel Echo and Spring King

Tape delay and spring reverb were mainstays of popular music during the ’60s, and many major manufacturers produced one or both types of effects. Some of these products–such as the Fender tube Spring Reverb and the Market Electronics/Maestro Echoplex–are now considered classics, and command high prices on the vintage gear market. But these old boxes are typically bulky and fairly delicate, and often require regular tweaking to keep them operating properly–all factors that make them less than ideal for gigging guitarists.

Danelectro‘s Reel Echo and Spring King pedals purport to provide classic delay and reverb tones, without the hassles associated with vintage boxes, and at a fraction of the cost. These best reverb pedals for guitar are very solidly constructed, can be powered by a 9V battery or the optional DA-1 AC adapter ($9), and sport cool paint jobs and retro knobs and switches. Sonically, they are clean and quiet, and though they don’t offer true-bypass switching, I didn’t notice any tone sucking or audio degradation. Both pedals have standard mono 1/4″ inputs and outputs, but the Reel Echo features a second jack that outputs just the dry signal for stereo effects.

Reel Echo

The Reel Echo was obviously modeled on the classic Echoplex tape delay–it even has a graphically-represented “tape” path, a sliding tape head-shaped knob for adjusting delay time, and a Sound On Sound switch. Despite the cosmetic resemblances, however, the Reel Echo has its own unique sound and feature set.

There’s nothing new about getting a tape-delay sound out of a digital processor (in fact, one of the more successful examples is Danelectro’s own Dan Echo pedal): a clean digital delay is modulated slightly to simulate tape flutter, and high frequencies are gradually filtered off successive repeats. The Reel Echo’s Warble feature handles the first task, and a Lo-Fi knob lets you dial in varying amounts of high-end roll-off. To add to the fun, there’s also a tone switch that toggles between tube and solid state settings, supposedly mimicking the differences in voicing between the two types of tape delays. (Note that these controls affect the delayed sound only.)

On the upper section of the pedal are two footswitches and associated LEDs. Pressing the Echo switch engages the effect and lights the Tempo LED, which flashes in sync with the delay time–though there’s no tap-tempo function. The other footswitch puts the Reel Echo into Sound On Sound mode, which resembles the Echoplex’s sound-on-sound function in name only.

SOS. The Echoplex records onto a three-minute continuous loop tape cartridge, and its Sound On Sound switch disengages the erase head, allowing you to overdub indefinitely onto that loop. The Reel Echo’s Sound On Sound switch disengages the delay input–in other words, you can record a short phrase (up to 1.5 seconds, the pedal’s maximum delay time) with the repeat knob turned up enough to make the phrase play indefinitely, then press Sound On Sound and play along with that phrase without adding to it. And speaking of regeneration, you can get the Reel Echo to self-oscillate, sort of like an Echoplex (think “flying saucer”), by cranking the repeat knob all the way up. However, if you attempt to have the saucer “take off” by changing the delay time, all you get is digital glitching–that’s one classic Echoplex effect you can’t get with the Reel Echo.

Head To Head. The Reel Echo works best when connected between a guitar and an amp. When patched into an amp’s effects loop, there was a noticeable degradation of signal quality. (It did, however, work quite well as an outboard processor in the aux loop of my recording mixer, so go figure.) The pedal’s input is flexible enough to handle pickups ranging from mellow to mega-hot, and the unit worked well when chained together with other pedals.

Does the Reel Echo sound exactly like an Echoplex? Of course not–but it does capture a great deal of the original’s vibe. The Warble effect sounds more like a very nice chorus than tape flutter to me, and only the first half of the lo-fi knob’s range is particularly useful. Still, I was able to get some great sounds by using them in combination with the tone switch. My favorite setting was Warble on, lo-fi off, and tone switched to tube.

One very important characteristic that the Reel Echo does have in common with the Echoplex is that it is fun and inspiring to use. Add to that the Reel Echo’s no-maintenance and hassle-free performance, easy portability, and bargain price, and you’ll want to rush right down to your local music store without delay … delay … delay.

Spring King

The pale-yellow Spring King is an analog device containing an actual reverb tank with three eight-inch springs. Its three brown chicken-headed control knobs couldn’t be simpler to use: Volume controls the input level to the reverb tank (not the overall volume), tone darkens or brightens the color of the reverb, and reverb determines how much effect is blended with the dry signal. The front panel also contains an oval-shaped rubber Kick Pad. This isn’t connected to anything, it just provides a convenient spot to give the Spring King a good whack should you decide to add some clamorous “boings” to your performance.

After donning my baggies and waxing my board, I put the Spring King through its paces. I patched the pedal between a Les Paul and a Rivera Thirty-Twelve amp, and the first thing I noticed was that even with the King’s volume control all the way down, the unit still produced a slight cinder block room sound. Though that wasn’t a particularly pleasing effect, I was quickly able to dial in more desirable sounds by increasing the volume and setting the tone and reverb controls to twelve o’clock. That brought the King to life, and soon I was surfing through a surprising variety of tonal possibilities.

The key to getting the best performance out of the Spring King is adjusting the input volume properly–too little level and it sounds tinny and wimpy, too much and it gets nasty. The other two controls are also effective over their entire ranges. The tone control provides a nice palate of coloration from dark and muffled to bright and ultra-sproingy, and the reverb control gradually introduces more wet signal into the mix, rather than heaping it on all at once.

The Spring King’s tone can’t compare to, say, a Fender tube spring reverb, or even a full-sized spring reverb in a good guitar amp. After all, there are no tubes to give it that sort of smoothness and warmth. Nonetheless, Dano’s new box has lots of personality–and at $199, the King rules!

Danelectro’s Reel Echo and Spring King pedals provide oodles of antique ambiance in cool, cost-effective packages.

Kissing Cousins

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