As a harp player who admits to being something of a spring-reverb fanatic — I own not only a reissue '63 Fender Tube Reverb tank, but also a Demeter RV-1 Real Reverb, not to mention the various tanks built in to tube amps in my collection — I was excited to get my hands on the new Danelectro DSR-1 Spring King ($199). This hefty spring-reverb unit, though it is more than twice the size of your average stompbox, is quite portable, at least compared to the aforementioned Fender tank I regularly lug around. You should note that the Spring King is not a digital “emulator” — this is the real deal, with actual springs inside (albeit short ones).
The Spring King has a sturdy, two-piece steel chassis, lacquered yellow on top and chocolate brown on the bottom and sides. Four big nonskid rubber feet are attached securely to the bottom with screws and washers. Also located on the bottom panel, behind a removable plastic door, is the 9V-battery compartment.
The top panel provides three chicken-head knobs labeled Volume, Tone, and Reverb; a jeweled indicator light that glows red when the reverb path is engaged; and a beefy, spring-loaded button for switching between reverb and bypass. Attached to the left of the button is a brown, oval-shaped piece of rubber labeled Kick Pad. “Remember the angry young bands in the '60s who used to throw their amps across the stage to get the thunderous sound of springs bashing around?” asks Danelectro's marketing blurb. “We've included a ‘Kick Pad.’ Go ahead — give it a little kick. It's an unexpected blast that can add an exclamation point to the end of a song — and scare your drummer!” Although I suppose the Kick Pad does serve as a reminder for those who might forget that spring reverbs, when kicked, tend to make a god-awful noise, beyond that the only purpose I could discern for it is to protect the top panel from scuff marks — as I expected, you can kick the Spring King pretty much anywhere and get the same “thunderous” effect.
The unit's ¼-inch input and output connectors are located on the rear panel. That's also where you connect the optional 9 VDC adapter (the Danelectro Zero Hum DA-1, $9.95). Personally, I would spring (no pun intended) for the adapter — I got poor results when powering the unit by 9V battery. A Danelectro Vintage Power Source (zinc) battery comes with the unit, so I installed it first. Within 15 minutes, though, the power began cutting out (with the reverb engaged). Thinking it the battery's fault, I slapped in a new Duracell. Again, though, it wasn't long before the reverb began cutting out. Though I suspected a problem with the review unit, I wasn't able to confirm that because Danelectro was unable to send a replacement unit.
The Spring's the Thing
I compared the Spring King to my other spring reverbs on both harmonica and electric guitar. The unit proved surprisingly quiet, and I was impressed by the tonal range the Tone knob provides — the sound goes smoothly from dark (hard left) to very bright (hard right). The Reverb knob, which works as an output level for the spring effect, also covers a big range, from none (hard left) to wet (hard right). By contrast, the Volume knob, which works as an input-level attenuator, has a more subtle range, and even at hard left doesn't fully attenuate the input.
The characteristic sound of the Spring King leans more toward fast, thin, and boingy rather than slow, deep, and silky — not surprising, given the unit's relatively small springs. It's also pretty easy to evoke an audible rattle from the springs, especially when you hit the unit hard with staccato notes. Accordingly, I preferred the Spring King on guitar (over harmonica) and thought its sound more appropriate to up-tempo surf styles than, say, slow, washy blues. With the Volume and Reverb knobs just past 12 o'clock and the Tone knob between 2 and 3 o'clock, I got a bright, boingy, over-the-top sound that all but announced, “Surf's up!”
From there, cranking the Reverb makes the signal considerably wetter, which helps mask the quick rattle of the springs. However, I was never able to get a smooth, dripping-wet, long-tail reverb from the Spring King — this is not the box for re-creating Little Walter's lush harp sound on “Blue Midnight.” Then again, if surf guitar is your thing and you've been on the lookout for an affordable, portable, real spring reverb, be sure to give Danelectro's Spring King a listen — it may well be the wave that floats your board.