Fender Marine Layer Review
An affordable, well-made reverb pedal that nails vintage tones and dips into the ethereal.
Well built. Easy-to-use controls. Wide variety of classic to modern ’verbs.
Extreme effect settings could be more radical.
Ease of Use:
Fender defined the bedrock sound of guitar reverb with its now-iconic tube amps and the standalone Fender Reverb unit that debuted in 1961. But apart from its FRV-1 collaboration with Boss, the company steered clear of the reverb stompbox field—until the new Marine Layer Reverb. It’s been worth the wait. The digital Marine Layer is a solid performer that should satisfy fans of contemporary reverb textures, Fender’s classic spring sounds, and the chamber sounds ladled into great records from the ’50s and early ’60s.
Ectoplasmic Audio Machine
The Marine Layer is a very smartly designed and well-built pedal. Its green, anodized-aluminum case is 5" x 3 3/4", and 2 1/2" tall to the top of its dials. There’s a convenient, front-mounted battery compartment with a magnetic door (you can also power the unit via a 9V DC power adaptor—not included). And each dial has a built-in LED, so it’s easy to see where they’re set on a dark stage. The four dials control pre-delay, reverb time, damping (which removes high end as the reverbed signal fades), and reverb level. The effectiveness of each control is clearly audible and immediate to the touch. There are three toggles: type (to switch between hall, room, and “special” settings), variation (to switch between versions of a given reverb type), and a filter switch that reduces treble content in the decays—making them sound warmer, more organic, and less metallic if need be. It can be used with the damping knob to easily dial in very specific amounts of warmth or brightness in a given reverb voice. There’s a dry kill switch near the pedal’s power input that removes your guitar’s original, dry signal from the output. That’s for use with guitar amps that have a parallel effects loop, so you can keep the reverb and original signal discreet for greater clarity. You’ll need to keep this switch off for pedalboard use, however, or you’ll get no sound. Finally, there’s an on/off switch for the cool-looking LEDs on the dials, to conserve battery power.
It’s not surprising that the Marine Layer has vintage-style reverbs covered. (Curiously, there is no designated spring reverb emulation). But the eye-opener is the special setting, which delivers the sonic vapor trails typically identified as “shimmer.” It mixes a dab of octave-up pitch shifted signal with post-reverb delay that feeds back into the signal, creating notes that swell as they recede. And with the pedal’s 2-way variation switch, the effect can be tight and focused, or fat and modulated, like an aural fogbank spreading its gossamer ectoplasm. The Marine Layer doesn’t get as extreme as, say, the Strymon Flint or EarthQuaker Devices’ Avalanche Run, but it’s significantly cheaper than either and a splendid gateway to Ouija board-level ghostly reverb.
I had a blast switching between single-coils and humbuckers in all settings. In hall mode, with the variation toggle on 2 (a more resonant hall setting designed to emulate plate reverb), I got snappy reverb tones that rang crisply with single-coils and barked like a Rottweiler with humbuckers. In room mode, I dug turning the level up, rolling back the damping, and reveling in variation 1’s hugeness. The slappier variation 2 of room mode put me in the Wayback Machine again. Dig out your blue suede shoes, cats! (Did I really just write that?).
I had but one lone quibble with the Marine Layer: the level control, when maxed, is only 50/50, so I couldn’t drown the original signal in its own swells. But I love playing with this box, and at a very affordable $149, you might, too.