TECH TIP: Amp in the Room or Room in the Amp?

ATTENTION! This article contains sound clips. We recommend headphones or studio monitors. 

We’ve talked a lot about recreating the tones and behaviour of classic amps, because that’s one of our favourite things to do at Origin Effects. We’ve dedicated numerous pedals to this endeavour – with great success – but, sometimes, how you incorporate these pedals into your signal chain can be almost as important as the pedal itself when it comes to recreating the vintage amp mojo. This article will take a quick look at reverb and how it could be the missing puzzle piece in your quest for classic tone. 

Reverb, in its most basic sense, is naturally occurring. Take a big, shiny room, play a musical instrument  in it and, hey presto, you’ve got a great sound. There’s a reason concert halls are designed the way they are: reverb flatters music. It’s the same reason we all go reaching for the reverb knob whenever we try an amp. It just sounds good. 

Back in the early days of Rock ‘n’ Roll, there was a drive to add reverb in places it wasn’t naturally occurring. Studios built echo chambers, spring reverbs and plates to add this sound to recordings. Dedicated echo chambers and plates could never be included in guitar amps, but the humble spring tank was the perfect way to bring the lush expanse of reverb into the guitar amplifier. The spring reverb is incredibly crude by modern standards but, like most things relating to vintage gear, it’s the problems and inadequacies of guitar amp reverb that give it its charm. 

There’s an important difference between guitar amp reverb and real room reverb: room reverb works by having an amp in a room. Amp reverb is essentially placing the room inside the amp and the sound is totally different, especially when we bring overdrive into the mix. Common “pedalboard wisdom” says that we have to place reverb after overdrive sounds, so we tend to find ourselves placing reverbs last in the chain, even in modern setups that include amp-emulating pedals and might never even see a real amp! This gives us a nice, clean reverb effect, added to our drive sound – the opposite of what’s happening in a vintage combo amp. 

In something like a ‘60s Fender® combo, the overdrive tone we love comes from the power amp. This is the very last piece in the signal chain (except the speaker itself) and comes after the internal spring reverb. So, when we think of classic amp reverb, we are thinking of a reverb sound (the built-in tank) running into an overdrive sound (the power amp). This is what gives us the splash, smash and grind of a great vintage reverb. All the rough-around-the-edges parts of a basic spring tank are accentuated by the overdrive, while the natural compression of the amp’s pushed output stage keeps the reverb out of the way while you’re playing. And, because we don’t usually squeeze too much overdrive out of these old amps, the amount of distortion never gets too overwhelming or muddy. It just makes things cool.  

The sound clip below recreates this setup using a Strymon® Big Sky Spring engine running into an Origin Effects RevivalDRIVE with a Fender®-inspired low-gain drive tone. This feeds a Twin Reverb 2×12 impulse response.

If we tried to recreate this with modern signal chain order – amp simulator into reverb – we’d find that the reverb sounds a bit, well, boring. But for a more modern reverb, like a digital hall, this is just what we want. While a spring might benefit from being overdriven, a hall generally doesn’t. With a hall reverb, we’re trying to get closer to a realistic sound. Last time we checked, real rooms don’t distort. 

This is why most amps these days have FX loops – get all your drive from the preamp, send that off to a nice digital reverb, then feed the result into the power amp, whose job is simply to make I louder (not to add any drive). The speaker is still the last thing in the chain, meaning that the reverb is subject to the frequency response of your cab. The result is a crystal-clear reverb, adding space to your overdriven guitar sound but still sounding like it’s part of the amp – not quite the same thing as an amp in a room. 

To recreate this setup, the RevivalDRIVE is now placed before the reverb, and the reverb type has been switched to a digital hall emulation.

Some of the best, modern instances of guitar reverb will have been created using studio techniques. A guitar amp will be miked up and recorded, then the reverb will be added to that recording as an outboard effect. This is effectively “amp in a room”, as the reverb comes after the overdriven amp sound and the frequency response of the cab. Luckily, with modern cabinet simulators, we can recreate this on our pedalboards too, if we’re one of the many guitarists running a direct rig. By running an amp simulator into a cabinet simulator and then into a reverb, we can recreate proper, studio-grade tones in our own setup. Another advantage to this is that stereo reverbs don’t require stereo amp and cabinet simulation. We can run a mono amp simulator into a mono cab sim, then feed that to a stereo reverb. 

The signal chain in the clip below is RevivalDRIVE, cab impulse response, reverb, just like a studio signal chain. This gives us the opportunity to run the reverb in stereo!

So, maybe you’ve been scratching your head about why your amp-in-a-box rig doesn’t have the vintage reverb tone you hoped for. Or it still sounds too much like an amp, rather than the pristine studio soundscapes you’re used to. A quick re-ordering of your signal chain might be all you need to discover your perfect reverb tone – you don’t always need to buy new gear. 

Unless it’s an Origin Effects pedal. You should definitely buy that.   


FENDER® is a trademark of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. 

Origin Effects has no affiliation with Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. 

STRYMON® is a trademark of Damage Control Engineering, LLC. 

Origin Effects has no affiliation with Damage Control Engineering, LLC.