As a rule, I only break out my tank for special occasions, and use a Spring reverb pedal the rest of the time. I’ve used the Catalinbread Topanga since it was first on the market and feel that it is about as close to sounding like a 6G15 as a pedal can get. But the JHS Spring Tank pedal caught my eye a while back and the demos I heard were impressive. The thing I found the most interesting was the ability to switch between two preset levels of reverb, on the fly … so I ordered one.
Last night, I did an A:B test between the two pedals and thought that I would share my impressions. To start with, the controls are different between the two pedals. The Topanga has the same Dwell, Mix and Tone controls as a 6G15, and also has a pot to set the level of the built in preamp. I use that last feature to match the volume of the pedal to the volume level when the pedal is bypassed. It can be used as a clean boost and an internal switch determines whether the preamp is on only when the pedal is engaged, or is it stays active, even in bypass.
The JHS Spring Tank also has a preamp level control, and five other pots. One is labeled Highs and seems to function as a passive tone control. There are Length and Depth pots for the reverb, and two pots, labeled Tank 1 and Tank 2 respectively, which control the reverb mix for the two presets, which are co trolled by the two foot switches on the pedal. There is also a stereo jack on the side which allows the pedal to send and return signal to another effect, as sort of an effects loop, which can be triggered either when the Tank 1 preset is selected, or when either preset is selected.
The controls on the Catalinbread pedal operate much as one would expect, which is to say that it’s pretty much like settings on a Fender tank. With regard the the JHS pedal, the settings are a bit different, but very useful and versatile. When I test a new pedal, I usually start with the controls at 50%, and explore from that starting point. When I did this with the JHS pedal, I could barely tell that it was on. But turning the Length and Depth just slightly above 50% bright the reverb to life. Likewise, the Highs control seemed to come into its own at about 75%.
This brings me to another point, regarding the differences between these two pedals; the Catalinbread has a thinner, more treble sound, while the JHS has a thicker sound with more body. I would think of this as similar to the difference between single coil pickups and humbucking pickups. Neither is superior to the other, but both are quite usable, and quite good.
The settings for the Catalinbread pedal are familiar already, basically 60-70% on the mix and dwell with the tone set to my tastes and the preamp volume set to unity. Played that way, I get a great sound with plenty of drip and pleasing attack and decay characteristics. Setting the new, and unfamiliar JHS to accomplish the same thing took some tweaking, but I was able to get pretty close, albeit this required that the Highs control be almost all the way up and the reverb mix was at roughly 90%. At these settings, the pedals were pretty close with the JHS having a warmer, darker sound which made the drip a bit less noticeable.
That JHS sound is a very good, very useful, Spring reverb sound which would satisfy many players. However, the Catalinbread pedal seemed more responsive and more reminiscent of playing through an actual tank. Both pedals dripped, but the Catalinbread seemed to more closely replicate the drip of a 6G15. Honestly, however, I doubt that an audience would notice the difference.
The JHS pedal has a wider range of control, and I found that the Length control could easily clutter the sound, if not used judiciously. This is a control that I will probably mark on the case of the pedal, so I don’t have to search for the sweet spot. It’s very sensitive and a bit tricky. The Depth control, OTOH, is very forgiving and is pretty much a matter of taste.
But the selectable presets of “Tank 1” and “Tank 2” are the most interesting to me. This feature works as advertised, but I found that even the preset I would use for mellower reverb had to be at about 75%, while the more in-your-face preset had to be around 90%. This is only one man’s opinion, but I feel that the taper of these controls is such that the lower 50% of the range is all but unusable. Perhaps a different slope resistor would be in order. As it is, the useful part of the adjustment range is squeezed into the upper half of most controls, making it trickier to dial in. It can be dialed in and sound great, but I’ll definitely be marking my presets with this pedal.
There is another way to look at this pedal, however, and I feel that it is worthy of mention. While I still prefer the Catalinbread Topanga as a substitute for a real tank, the JHS pedal does have a strength I find quite useful, and that is emulating the sound of an onboard Fender reverb. There are more than a few people that believe the onboard reverb of a Deluxe Reverb is one of the best in the business, and I would agree. This may not be the over-the-top sound of Dick Dale or the enviable drip of the Astronaut’s recording of Baja, but it is the sound that countless bands have used to great effect. The Ventures, Los Straitjackets and countless. SoCal bands have used this sound. Bakersfield bands have, likewise, used this sound to great effect.
One reason I bought the JHS pedal when I did is that I’ve got a Country gig coming up, and thought that the switchable presets of the JHS Spring Tank might come in very handy, and I believe that they will.
I won’t go so far as to declare a winner and a loser in this comparison. Both are excellent pedals and either will serve well. As I mentioned earlier, I still prefer the Catalinbread pedal as a way to get close to a 6G15 sound in a compact pedal, but the JHS pedal is not all that different, and it certainly doesn’t sound bad. If you want a beefier sound, the JHS might be perfect. Likewise, if you are going for a sound more like an onboard reverb, it is probably the better choice.—
The artist formerly known as: Synchro
When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.
Last edited: Nov 13, 2021 11:54:28