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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Gear »

Permalink Catalinbread Topanga vs. JHS Spring Tank pedal.

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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

Thanks man, nice review! I think I will give JHS a try. We added second guitar player to the band and sometimes I need to up the reverb when I play some muted rhythm and back again when I solo, so two settings are needed. I surely was looking into SurfyBear Compact as it also has two mixers.

Waikiki Makaki surf-rock band from Ukraine

https://www.facebook.com/waikikimakaki/
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Samurai wrote:

Thanks man, nice review! I think I will give JHS a try. We added second guitar player to the band and sometimes I need to up the reverb when I play some muted rhythm and back again when I solo, so two settings are needed. I surely was looking into SurfyBear Compact as it also has two mixers.

It’s a nice unit. Now that I’m finished with testing it our, I’m going to put it on my larger pedalboard, right next to a Catalinbread Talisman Plate reverb pedal, which should give me a lot of choices.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

Solid review! I've had both, ended up trading off the JHS in favor of the Topanga. I own 3 now!

Toneschaser wrote:

Solid review! I've had both, ended up trading off the JHS in favor of the Topanga. I own 3 now!

Thanks.

I have two Topangas myself, and if I’m playing Surf, that’s what I’ll be using. The JHS will end up on what I call my Swiss Army board, after an upcoming Country gig. The Swiss Army Board doesn’t go with me to gigs, but I use it for rehearsals and for trying out new ideas. In this case, it will be just ahead of a Catalinbread Talisman Plate reverb, and just behind a Boss DM-2w Analog Delay.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

Last edited: Nov 08, 2021 10:57:22

i had the lovely silver and teal topanga and regret selling it. it wasn’t quite a 6g15 replacement for ME, but it was a great no-fuss, easy to dial-in, killer sounding pedal for a live show. the secret mode was an extra bonus.

I’d get another in a heartbeat if I were gigging.

cosmonaut wrote:

i had the lovely silver and teal topanga and regret selling it. it wasn’t quite a 6g15 replacement for ME, but it was a great no-fuss, easy to dial-in, killer sounding pedal for a live show. the secret mode was an extra bonus.

I’d get another in a heartbeat if I were gigging.

That’s how I feel about the Topanga. I won’t argue that it’s as good as a real tank, but it is a great sound in a compact package. If I had unlimited assets, which would include a home with a very large music room, I would undoubtedly have a 6G15, or probably several, permanently stationed in front of my amps. 6G15s are great and add a lot of character to the sound.

But I’m not rich and my music room is also my living room, which is already cluttered with a drum set, several amplifiers and pedalboards. I have a reissue tank, with a few mods, and it sounds good, but I rarely use it, because it takes up even more space and will howl with mechanical feedback if I stack it on top of an amp.

Likewise, most gigs I play are shirt duration (1-2 hours) with a quick setup and even quicker teardown. I’m already carrying a pedalboard, so why bother with a tank when no one in the audience is likely to appreciate the difference? It’s just one more thing to schlep and I take great pride in having my gear condensed to two trips.

That having been said, when I compared these pedals, what struck me the most was that both of them sounded very good in their own right. Both had a nice reverb sound, both dripped and both would please even the most discriminating audience.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

Very well written review. I love a pedal that has two mixers. I go back and forth all the time (between heavy and light reverb) when using my Surfy Compact.

Guitar player for The Driptones surf band.
https://www.driptones.com/

SixStringSurfer wrote:

Very well written review. I love a pedal that has two mixers. I go back and forth all the time (between heavy and light reverb) when using my Surfy Compact.

Thanks. I agree that having two reverb levels via footswitch is key. Mel Waldorf’s Drip Switch was a great concept and works well with many actual spring reverbs and, of course, the Surfy Compact. IIRC, there is another spring reverb pedal with two levels, the Solid Gold FX Surf Rider III, but I know little about it.

I endeavor to setup my gear in such a way that I don’t have to make adjustments during a set. I strongly prefer not to bend over and adjust floor level effects while I have a guitar strapped around my neck. So my boards are setup in advance, using markings that I established ahead of time. The footswitch places one more tool at my disposal, but like everything else, there are no magic bullets.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

The Source Audio True Spring sounds better than both of those pedals. Sounds about as close to the 6G15 as you can get in a pedal form.

dannylectro wrote:

The Source Audio True Spring sounds better than both of those pedals. Sounds about as close to the 6G15 as you can get in a pedal form.

Actually, I tried one, intending to purchase, but found that I preferred the Catalinbread pedal.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

Thanks for these comparisons. I hadn’t tried either of these before purchasing my Source Audio True Spring Reverb, which I really like. I had had a tank but sold it to fund the purchase of a new piece of gear that has since been sold. But I still find the True Spring pedal gets me close enough that I don’t miss the actual tank.

Sean

CaptainSensible wrote:

Thanks for these comparisons. I hadn’t tried either of these before purchasing my Source Audio True Spring Reverb, which I really like. I had had a tank but sold it to fund the purchase of a new piece of gear that has since been sold. But I still find the True Spring pedal gets me close enough that I don’t miss the actual tank.

I would say that Source Audio definitely I has a great product. I’ve tried most of the reverb pedals out there and have come the to conclusion that there are several entries which so a pretty good job of sounding like a tank. I would hastily add that none of them are perfect replacements for a tank, but that there are several choices that get you close enough that the audience would be unlikely to ever know the difference.

At the end of the day, personal tastes are involved and without spectral analysis there is no way to even begin to quantify the effect any of these pedals has on a signal, but our ears are still valuable. I’m not a purist, and feel that of something sounds good, it is good.

One of the best Instrumental Rock bands I ever heard had a lead guitarist that used a DRRI and an ES-335. They covered a fair amount of Surf in their repertoire, and sounded great doing it, but a 335 is worlds away from a single-coil Fender. However, as I said earlier, they sounded great using the DRRI’s reverb, the 335 and no pedals.

I don’t know that the Topanga out the JHS Spring Tsnk are the be all and end all of reverb pedals. I’ve played quite a few of the reverb pedals out there and find the Topanga to remain my preference, but many other offerings are quite good and very close to the Topanga.

The challenge, these days, is finding pedals to try in person. I used to test gear at Rainbow Guitars, and they usually had a great stock of pedals, etc. But since the COVID lockdown last year, they have essentially closed their showroom, so that avenue is lost to me. YouTube reviews help, but are limited by the sound quality of the device you are using to watch the video.

Beyond that, pedals have limitations. I’m not a DSP programmer, but have heard that spring reverb is one of the trickier things to program, given the limitations of many DSPs. There’s also the matter of the preamp, and the sound of a 6G15 was influenced greatly by the fact that it was basically a standalone amp driving the springs, and then recovering the wet signal from the springs and mixing it back into the dry signal. Capturing that within the confines of a compact pedal is beyond challenging. IMHO, there are any number of pedals which do an admirable job of this, but none are an absolute substitute for a 6G15. The Surfy Bear is probably the closest you can come to a 6G15, but it’s not a pedal.

Anyhow, this review was not designed to be comprehensive. I’m just passing along my experiences with a couple of very decent pedals I happen to own. I know that there are other choices which are very good and I’m not denigrating any of these. If I were wealthy enough to have a huge music room, like Rick Beato, I’d probably have at least one example of every reverb pedal on the market. (For that matter, if I had a huge music room, I’d probably devote some of that space to having a 6G15 ready to go, all the time.) At the end of the day, we pay our money, make our choices and every decision is a trade off of one sort or another.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

Last edited: Nov 26, 2021 08:16:40

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