Guyatone Flip FR 3000V
The Flip was a Johnny-come-lately, both to the market (relatively speaking) and to this shootout. (The one I ordered arrived the day after I submitted the original version of this article, though we managed to shoehorn it in.) Released in the late ’90s or early 2000s and now discontinued, this Japanese pretender to Fender’s crown is solidly built, features NOS tubes, and a long-spring Accutronics tank. Everything suggests a quality unit, and it’s most certainly versatile—with controls not just for input level, reverb volume, and master volume (which yields some saturated tones), but treble and bass controls, as well. The reverb character is quite bright, but it’s a competent performer and feels ready to handle gigging for the next decade. We’re going to try a few experiments with this one and see whether a different tank—perhaps a vintage one—and a few mods can make it a giant killer!
Also badged as the Boss RX-100, this visually unprepossessing little black plastic box was something of a revelation. It features two tanks with switchable reverb times in either parallel (shorter) or series (longer). I wasn’t expecting much, given the size of the unit, but it turned out to be a competent performer, delivering a smooth, pleasing reverb that belied its diminutive stature.
Pioneer SR-101, SR-202, and SR-202W
Made in Japan for the U.S. market, these units were sold in the ’60s and ’70s to add extra “life” and atmosphere to domestic hi-fi systems. With their RCA inputs and outputs, the SRs were designed to accept home-stereo component-level signals, but that hasn’t stopped them from seeing other action. They’ve become popular with some mix engineers for the very short, dark, and fluttery echo from their small spring tanks. Superstar mix engineer Tom Elmhirst (David Bowie, the Kills, the Black Keys) used these to great effect in his mixes for Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson. Unfortunately that magic doesn’t translate to the guitar realm. They fared very poorly with electric guitar—lots of noise and a poor reverb sound. We also have a similar Sansui RV-500 unit, but at the time of the test it was humming loudly and required further attention.
Fostex Reverb Unit Model 3180
One of a range of units made to complement Fostex’s reel-to-reel recorders, these 2-channel, twin-tank units from the ’70s are wired in series for stereo operation. I expected the 3180 to be unremarkable for guitar, like the Pioneer units, but was surprised to find the sound pleasingly smooth, with a low noise floor. The quarter-inch jacks make this an easy option for a different sound, and if you’re lucky you may well find a bargain in a thrift store or yard sale.