Streamlined simplicity belies a capacity for appetizing spring-style reverb tones.
Evocative and lively spring-style tones that work across disparate styles. Simple!
Pulsing reflections come on sooner than on some digital emulations. Some might like a darker basic voice.
Eastwood Dusty Spring
If, like many of us, you hail from a style-minded and vintage-oriented but budget-constrained segment of the populace, you’re probably grateful that Eastwood Guitars exists. Though the company’s offerings tend to favor the obscure, Eastwood is good at building functionally unique, well-made, and practical homages to weirdo styling. I know players who make Eastwood instruments front-line, first-choice guitars as much for their unique sound and feel as their looks.
Given their history, it’s easy to be tantalized by Eastwood’s new guitar-pedal endeavors. The new Black Box series may forego the flash that one associates with the brand. But they use much-loved vintage touchstones as a jumping-off point. And the uniform, utilitarian appearance of the pedals (which fits nicely with a certain branch of vintage-pedal aesthetics, if you think about it) helps Eastwood achieve more approachable pricing—another pillar of the company’s ethos. The Dusty Spring reverb, with its two knobs and very straight-ahead functionality, is an especially fine embodiment of the Black Box Series’ substance-before-style philosophy.
Sprung From the Cage
Digital approximations of spring reverb have always been tough to execute. For starters, the mechanical, clanging, and metallic overtones of a spring reverb are tough to reproduce in digital formats that aren’t high-horsepower, number-crunching DSP applications. Further, “authentic” spring reverb can be a lot of things. Even if you’re a Fender reverb purist, the spring in, say, a black-panel Vibrolux can sound pretty different from that in an outboard Fender Reverb. And that’s before considering the differences between those units and a Space Echo’s awesome spring sounds, or a Bandive Great British Spring, or a Grampian—or, for that matter, two different Fender Vibroluxes. As with most things music related, I take a very liberal view of what constitutes the “best” spring-reverb sound, so I didn’t listen for a spot-on Fender reproduction in the Dusty Spring. I’m glad, because what I heard is a spring-reverb approximation that sounds great on its own merits while delivering a lot of what any player—Fender fans included—would want from an affordable digital spring reverb.
Pinging and Swinging
The Dusty Spring’s economical layout—there are just controls for wet/dry mix and dwell, which is essentially decay time—means it’s very easy and intuitive to move between pretty disparate sounds. Such simplicity can feel like a gift from the gods if you have a busy pedalboard or want to make changes in the heat of a set. But what makes that simplicity doubly satisfying here is that both ends of the Dusty Spring’s range produce tasty takes on spring-reverb flavor.
Such simplicity can feel like a gift from the gods if you have a busy pedalboard or want to make changes in the heat of set.
More subdued settings are soft around the edges while retaining the ghostly, nostalgic sense of space that gives spring reverb its emotional tug. It’s a cool balance when you find it. Splashier and more extreme settings are super fun as well. The Dusty Spring probably resides narrowly on the slightly brighter side of the spring-sound spectrum (again, it’s a very broad category), and that makes the effect quite lively. It might also accentuate the hard, almost pulsing reflections that spring reverbs and digital spring emulations usually produce, which come on at relatively lower dwell settings here. No matter how right or wrong that may sound to your ears on its own, it sounded great in the context of small-ensemble playing, where the percolating reverberations added a dose of kinetic energy.
The Dusty Spring is aptly named. There’s an earthiness to the pedal in the way it sticks to spring-style sounds without trying to get too celestial, which often equates to sounding too digital. There are audible trace elements of digital artifacts at the wettest, most ambient settings when heard in isolation. Then again, a spring reverb can produce its own strange overtones at the advanced settings, some of which won’t sound quintessentially Joe Meek- or Dick Dale-style either. The streamlined controls are authentically old-school and provide a useful creative-decision constraint without significantly diminishing the breadth of tones. There are reverbs that do more in the Dusty Spring’s vaguely-$150 price range. But few offer such a nice cross of elegant simplicity and vintage-patina’d tones.
Eastwood Black Box Pedal Demos | First Look
Multiple Marshall voices in an amp-in-a-box that doesn’t disappoint.
Surprisingly authentic Marshall tones and feel. Flexible EQ. On-board boost and a cool variac control.
Less flexibility with high-gain amps.
Tsakalis AudioWorks Room #40
Like a lot of amp-in-a-box pedals, the Room #40 from Tsakalis AudioWorks makes some pretty lofty claims. Specifically, it alleges to capture the soul and essence of a Marshall plexi and, with the flip of a switch, a JCM800, too. There’s a lot of reasons to try to replicate the sound and feel of these amps in a pedal—not least their resale values of late. I’ve played a slew of Marshall-in-a-box pedals. And while many of them deliver convincing-enough bark, they’re rarely dynamic enough to stay on my pedalboard for long. The Room #40, however, often escapes that trap and offers a lot of flexibility for matching it to changing backlines.
While the Room #40 has more knobs than either of the amplifiers it seeks to imitate, the extra controls make the pedal more flexible and dynamic. The four larger gold dials are the meat-and-potatoes. In plexi mode (toggle up), they offer a control scheme like on the “jumpered” inputs of a plexi. Vol I acts like the treble channel and Vol II works like the normal channel. In JMP/JCM800 mode (toggle down), Vol 1 is preamp volume and Vol II adjusts the low end. Once you’ve found your desired blend, the master sets the overall output. The fourth gold knob controls the “variac” function. EVH freaks, of course, know where this is going. During Eddie’s early career, he used a Variac transformer to step down the voltage of his Marshall and craft his fabled “brown sound.” Tweaking this knob on the Room #40 has a similar effect, altering the voltage between 7.5V to 21.5V to recast the compression and attack.
The 3-band EQ along with the essential presence control helps shape high-end frequencies. The final embellishment is a dedicated boost footswitch which kicks up the gain and accentuates the mids. It’s adjustable on the back of the pedal with a screwdriver, so there’s no need to take off the backplate.
Riding the Night Train
With the Room #40 plugged into a ’60s Fender Bassman and a Gibson Les Paul, engaging the effect lends the distinctly American side of the Bassman (an amp that can sound quite Marshall-y at volume) a very British overdrive accent. Sounds from the plexi mode are robust and surprisingly complex. And plenty of bottom-end is available by cranking up Vol II. If you’ve never played a jumpered Marshall, the Room #40’s controls can take getting used to. I’d suggest leaving the EQ flat until you find the right gain profile. I tend to keep my Bassman’s bright switch engaged for a little more punch. But it wasn’t as critical with the Room #40 in the mix, and high-end frequencies I needed to add or subtract were easily handled with the #40’s presence and high-frequency controls.
“Sounds from the plexi mode are robust and surprisingly complex.”
Switching over to an Orange OR50 and a Fender Stratocaster, the Marshall flavor came through clearest and sounded most complex at lower gain settings. You can definitely hit a dirty amplifier like the Orange with the Room #40, but the crunchier OR50 clearly overshadowed some of the Room #40’s charm and capacity for detail. Yet even with less headroom, the EQ and variac provide a lot of flexibility, and the boost is an excellent means for cutting through the dirt a bit. When running with dirtier amp settings, I liked the JMP/JCM mode with a little less Vol 1 output, which makes the Room #40 function more like a glassy, sparkly lead boost, rather than just dumping more gain into the signal path. However, maxing the Vol 1 control in this context delivers tons of grindy chug, and you can use the variac to shape a punchier response. In the upper regions of the variac sweep you get more headroom and loads of that no-nonsense attack you expect from a Marshall. But it also bears mentioning that the compression from the Room#40 feels properly spongy and authentic at the right settings.
For the gigging musician that needs Marshall flavor for a mystery backline or a less Marshall-like tube amp, the Room #40 is a cool way to get there. It’s compact, the tones are impressive, and it will cooperate with nearly any amp thanks to a versatile EQ and presence control. If that’s not enough, the variac knob and boost features further help set this pedal apart and make the $245 price seem pretty fair.
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