The Back Story
If you were a guitar player and a fan of ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the mid ‘80s to mid ‘90s you probably tuned in to see what epic vintage guitar SNL bandleader G.E.Smith was going to trot out each week as much as any skit – I know I did. Well maybe to see Phil Hartman’s ‘Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer’ too but I digress…
Anyway, in addition to those amazing guitars G.E. also had some pretty incredible backline amps (usually a blonde Fender Bassman or Showman) – and there was always a blonde early ‘60s Fender 6G15 Reverb Unit sitting atop one of them. It killed me how he got that sound – so deep and rich, but bright and cutting too. How can a reverb sound so AGGRESSIVE? I had no idea what a 6G15 even was but the memory of that big white box sitting on top of his amp rig was burned into my brain. So when in 1988 I stumbled upon a black version from 1965 in my favorite shop you better believe I took that thing home despite it costing more than my amp!
It’s such a compelling sound, outboard reverb – very different than built-in amp reverb. The feel of overdriving the pan when you dig in with your pick, that deep cavernous drip, the metallic crash and clang of the springs when you play staccato single notes or bend a double-stop – it’s just so dynamically responsive. You play into it and it gives you something back.There’s a LOT going on in that reflected sound – the textures of the decay are so complex! You can actually hear the components doing their thing. It’s not a naturally occurring ‘organic’ reverb sound at all – it’s 100% man-made and mechanical – very much an ‘effect’. I fell in love with it immediately and all these years later it’s still one of the most inspiring pieces of gear I’ve ever played.
Fast forward 24 years to 2012 and Nic and me talking about Catalinbread maybe trying to recreate the real deal in pedal form. He had already built himself a 6G15 clone from a kit and loved the sound of outboard reverb too so we decided to go for it. I mean, how hard could it be right?
“Hey – just how do you go about recreating the sound and feel of an electromechanical device that has tubes and springs and a resonating metal pan utilizing ones and zeros and caps and resistors anyway?” you may ask. Beats me – that’s why I’m the Customer Service guy. But my brilliant and talented homies got to work documenting the tonal characteristics and idiosyncratic behaviors of my old 6G15 tank and after months of hard work Nic, Boris, and Howard managed to capture it in all its trashy lo-fi glory. Those guys are like magicians or something I swear.
So just to complete the circle, in 2014 Nic and I were lucky enough to be invited out to Woodstock, NY and attend a gig at Levon Helm’s barn where were able to put a Topanga in G.E.’s hand and thank him for inspiring us to do what we do. The smile on his face when he played through it made all the hard work worth it. We hope you think so too!
Mike ‘erksin’ Erickson