One of the joys of my new Rift Amp Tweed 5 is how well it works with effects pedals. When I bought the amp, I only had one in more or less constant use, an MXR Carbon Copy which is a brilliant analogue delay pedal. When I began playing with it through the Tweed 5, I was pleased with the extra space it gave me over the amp’s dry sound, which is great at louder volumes. Setting a 50s style slap-back delay was a pretty close approximation of reverb but it wasn’t quite doing it for my ears. At the lower volumes at which I play, reverb opens up the sound in my front room. I also just like reverb and almost always have had it on, on my previous amps. So I thought I’d buy a reverb pedal.
A quick diversion, what’s the difference between reverb and delay? Reverb is like playing the amp in an echoing, large room while a delay is a repetition of the sound at a later time. Reverb produces a sound which trails off and blurs while a delay distinctly repeats. The sounds are similar but different.
There are oodles of reverb pedals out there, from many manufacturers. There are also many different types of reverb, which emulate different sizes of rooms in which sound might echo and the different means of producing those echoes. Some pedals such as TC Electronics Hall of Fame have options for all of those rooms and means – you can even download reverb settings, recorded by famous players. That’s at least 16 different options, not counting the downloads. On the other hand, I like to keep it simple. I like to follow the old school Fender style of doing things, which meant I only need Spring reverb. Spring reverbs, on the better amps, have a set of springs in a box through which the guitar’s signal is played and this produces the reverb effect. This is the classic Fender sound and when turned all the way up, you can produce the famous surf sound from 60s music. Although you don’t have to go that far.
After reviewing many available pedals, I liked the sound (and appearance) of Catalinbread‘s Topanaga pedal. What they cleverly did was emulate the sounds produced by Fender 6G15 spring reverb.
This was a valve driven, separate box, looking like an amp head. The Fender unit is associated with the sounds of surf music and even Spaghetti Westerns. You plugged your guitar into the reverb and the reverb into the amp. So it’s like a pedal but being valve powered could even be distorted to produce more intense sounds. Compared to a standard reverb pedal, the Topanga replicates this power boost with a volume button which acts as boost for your amp’s preamp. It copies the Dwell knob which emphasises the spring effect as well having tone and a mix control. Whatever they have done inside the pedal, it ends up doing is sounding like a perfectly controllable, beautiful spring reverb.
The mix button also allows you to dial in a 100% wet sound, namely the only thing you hear is the pedal – the Fender box could not do that. It sounds good but the tracking is delayed which means the sound is behind the notes you hit. The Topanga may not have countless effects but it does what it does really well. I actually prefer it to the real spring reverb in my Blues Junior.
I was so impressed with the Topanga, I bought another Catalinbread pedal, the Formula 5F6. Where the Topanga replicates a valve driven reverb unit, the Formula 5F6 emulates one of the most famous amps made, Fender’s Bassman.
Originally designed for bass guitars, it was quickly adopted by guitarists who loved the bass response and tone the amp produced. The pedal replicates much of what made a Bassman special, including the “Tweed” tone and low gain grunt. So the pedal is an amp, or as Catalinbread term it, a Foundation Overdrive, as it benefits from working with other pedals including other drive pedals.
I use it in two ways. On my Tweed 5 amp, I keep the tone stack fairly neutral and turn up the gain to give me a gainier sound. On my Blues Junior I use it in much the same way but drive the pre-amp with more volume, as its own driven gain sound rather brittle. I can make it more Tweedy, not simply just using it as a gain pedal.
The name Formula 5F6 refers to the Fender circuit code for the Bassman and the clever people at Catalinbread have made made the pedal follow the Bassman’s tone stack, the three tone knobs. Unlike many pedals these do actually work and effect the sound. The very helpful PDF manual recommends settings for your amp and then encourages you to play with the gain, and tone knobs to your heart’s content.
Whatever they’ve done in there, it works wonderfully. Even as a mere gain pedal, it sounds so much better than my Blues Driver 2 Boss pedal. The tones are rich, and smooth, yet gritty without being harsh – “Not clean but not dirty.”
Both of these pedals have two tricks which are new to me. They can be run at a standard 9V from a power supply or you can attach a variable power supply and run them up to 18V for more effect. I’ve not really tried that yet, as they sound great running as standard. The other thing they have is a secret mode. Changing a switch inside the Formula 5F6 changes the tone of the pedal to a more Marshall like lead sound. The Topanga has a secret modulation effect depending on where you turn the volume when you power on the pedal.
They’re excellent pedals and I’m so enjoying playing them through both my amps.