Subdecay Super Spring TheoryThe latest from Subdecay’s Newberg, Oregon, shop builds on the company’s discontinued Spring Theory pedal—a two-knob stomp with the stated aim (despite its spring/room mode toggle) of replicating classic blackface reverb. The new Super Spring Theory ups the ante in terms of both ambition and flexibility: It retains the spring/room switch and reverb knob, but replaces the Spring Theory’s depth control with decay, dry, and tone knobs. It also adds a trails toggle that lets you choose whether the reverb shuts off as you disengage the pedal, or decays naturally after you switch it off.
At the heart of the Super Spring Theory is a Spin Semiconductor FV-1 programmable DSP chip. Designed by Keith Barr (founder of MXR and Alesis), the FV-1 is used in many current pedals with a more modern take on reverb, including Walrus Audio’s Descent, the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath, and Mr. Black’s Eterna and SuperMoon pedals.
Considering the FV-1’s wide usage, it’s no surprise the SST offers up nice ambiance—particularly if you’re looking for vast, Strymon-ish room ’verb (minus the fancy shimmer and mod modes) in a more pedalboard-friendly package. Surf Zombie Brook Hoover noted that the room sounds were realistic and “pretty fabulous.” But since we’re focusing on spring sounds here, let’s move on to that.
One interesting departure from most spring-reverb emulators is the SST’s inclusion of two level knobs—one for the reverberated signal, and one for the dry signal—rather than a single mix knob to vary the wet/dry ratio. There’s no dwell knob, either. However, there is an internal trimpot for a JFET boost circuit that controls the signal level sent to the reverb input. Essentially, this is the Super Spring Theory’s dwell control. Subdecay’s Brian Marshall notes that, since the SST’s out-of-the-box spring sound is based on a blackface Fender Twin, the Super comes with the trim set at about 85 percent. If you’re like me, though—a sucker for vast spring ’verb—the SST’s factory setting might feel limiting. You might even dismiss the pedal’s spring sounds as too shallow. But, take the time to open up the pedal and crank the JFET control, and you’ll essentially take the Super to Outboardville—a beautiful place where there’s saltwater in the air and surf tones aplenty. Increasing trimpot gain also boosts the virility of the dry knob, putting a nice, tube-like gain at your disposal in its upper reaches. With the trimpot maxed and dry past 2 o’clock, you get lovely warmth and attitude that goes a long way toward giving the SST the vibe of a tube-driven unit.
Meanwhile, the SST’s most unusual control, decay, not only governs the length of the reverb trails, but is also key to the Spring’s ability to conjure spacier sounds than the other pedals in this roundup—as well as most pedals on the market that focus on spring-style ’verb. Decay functions more akin to a delay’s feedback knob. Past 3 o’clock, it produces psychedelic reverberations that will remind sci-fi fans of Captain Kirk’s phaser on the original Star Trek TV series. This gives the SST a unique spot in the reverb-pedal world, to be sure.
Design-wise, I get why Subdecay didn’t want to clutter the Super Spring Theory’s face with another control. Its four knobs and two mode toggles already offer more flexibility than nearly all similar-sized spring emulators—and the controls are very easy to manipulate mid-gig. But given how much the internal JFET trimpot expands the pedal’s potential, I wish Subdecay had opted for a mini potentiometer or had found another way to let you access all of the pedal’s cool functionality on the fly. If the trim control were on the outside, a test-drive of the SST would have real potential to convert spring enthusiasts who’ve long been waiting for the day when a stomp can elate them as much as an outboard tank (I’m looking at you, surfguitar101 forumites). Certain settings might betray a slightly digital-sounding decay, but optimize the controls to your rig, and the Super really is good enough to please all but the most hardcore of outboard devotees.
On top of all this, the SST gets bonus marks for overall flexibility. Its decay knob allows you to go from traditional to experimental, and the ability to switch trails on or off between songs makes the Super particularly useful for players who want a simple, reasonably sized pedal that can cover both old-school and avant reverb sounds.