Reverb vs Delay – Getting a Good Amplified Sound for Violin, Viola, or Cello

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A great young creative violin player  named Rob Flax (he’s also an alumni of my annual Creative Strings Workshop) recently sent me his audition tapes for grad school to get my feedback, and one of the first things I noticed was that, although the violin was loud enough in the context of the jazz combo, it didn’t have the depth of sound that I  know he creates when he plays acoustically. I think this was largely attributable to the fact that his sound was “dry”, i.e., lacking reverb. Although Rob delves into everything from straight ahead jazz to fusion, free jazz,  rock, and fiddle styles like bluegrass, his tape was mostly acoustic and straight ahead.

 

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The obvious question from Rob to me: What’s a good way to get the reverb I need? An amp or a pedal? Any tips from your own experimenting?

My answer: It depends. Some amps have good reverbs, some pedals have good reverbs, and sometimes you’ll want to rely on the p.a. (when you have one with a soundman you trust) for reverb.

I like the Boss ME-50, which is one big pedal that has most or all of the effects I need including volume pedal, octave, chorus, wah, distortion/overdrive, etc… (thanks to awesome jazz violinist, Zach Brock, for hipping me to this pedal a few years ago when he came to the workshop), although admittedly the reverb in the unit isn’t necessarily that special. Usually I’ll opt for the reverb in my amp. (For more customized help with sound issues related to amplifying strings, you might try getting in touch with Blaise and his team at the Electric Violin Shop I know they spend a lot of time on the phone giving string players advice about gear and sound.)

I suggest that in order to attune your ears to nuances in reverb (there are many levels which won’t be clear to you at first), you simply experiment with using lot’s of reverb, and then a little, and this way you’ll start to hone in on the right amount.

The standard thought seems to be that reverb is sufficient for straight ahead jazz and/or other “acoustic” music, although this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Experiment with delays too and see if you like them. I usually don’t use delay when I’m playing straight ahead, although I do use delay in other contexts. There are three parameters within the delay effect that makes it slightly more complicated to get right than a typical reverb setting. More on delays later.

Anyone have anything they want to add? Feel free to comment.

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