Like many guitarists, I’ve been on the effects buying carousel a little more than I’d like to admit. At times I’ve followed trends more than my ears, and bought and sold many things along the journey. Reverb pedals have certainly been part of that crazy journey and I’ve come full circle.
My first reverb pedal was the Boss RV5. I loved the sound, hardly tweaked a thing, and it was a staple on my board for years. I sold it a few years ago and moved on to a few different reverbs under the pressure to have presets and more ‘modern’ sounds available at my feet. Even with playing some fantastic reverbs, I have always missed the RV5. A year ago I realized that owning an expensive reverb pedal just wasn’t making me all that happy, and I was seeing lots of Boss reverbs still on the boards of many pros that I respect. I decided to take my own reverb pedal into a guitar store and sit it side-by-side with the newer RV6 to consider a return to my roots. I played it for an hour and was convinced I could easily cover my needs with one, so I made the purchase! I guess you could say that the Boss RV6 Reverb is a bit of a homecoming for me. It’s a back to basics move-back to playing what I love.
For this article I’ll first give you a rundown of the RV6, Boss’ most up to date compact reverb pedal. Then I’ll do a comparison of the RV6 with the famed RV5 as I’ve spent some good time playing them side-by-side.
To start, the RV6 is perfectly simple and straightforward. It can be run in mono or stereo, works on a standard 9V battery or power supply, has four simple knobs, and one EXP jack out. You can literally pull it out of the box, plug it in, and be playing in seconds. The RV6 contains 8 settings (Modulate, Spring, Plate, Hall, Room, Dynamic, Shimmer, +Delay), the first five being updated versions from the previous pedal and the last three being new. All in all the RV6 is perfectly poised to be an ambient tone machine.
The Dynamic reverb is a really neat mode. Basically it reacts to your playing to vary the amount of reverb applied to your notes. If you play gently it applies a lush reverb that blooms with every note. But as you dig in and play more aggressively the reverb is backed off. I find this mode to be pretty helpful for rhythm playing where you might not want much reverb to muddy your tone. In this way I love how the reverb is backed off while I’m playing big chords, but is applied tastefully when I pick some filler notes in between chords.
Shimmer is perhaps one of the more polarizing reverb sounds. It can be neat, but it’s been really overdone by some. On the RV6 the shimmer can come across as a bit cheesy and over-the-top as the voices are rather shrill and obvious. That is until you start playing with the tone knob. If you venture down towards the 8-10 o’clock range on the tone knob there are some really great and usable sounds that can be coaxed out of the Shimmer setting. I find that the shrill high end is backed off at this setting and suddenly I am carried away by a really tasteful and enjoyable sound.
+Delay is a handy mode where the RV6 becomes a delay pedal with a hint of reverb. The Tone and Time knobs change their purpose here, helping you dial in Feedback and Delay time instead. If my delay pedal goes down mid-set it’s nice to know there is a backup handy, though this is not a go-to mode for my regular playing.
The EXP jack is something new as well for the RV6. This allows you to plug in an expression pedal to take over control of the reverb mix (or E. Level as labelled on the pedal). I personally love this feature. I have a small Mini EXP wheel attached to my RV6 and use it regularly during songs as preset workaround of sorts. I can easily crank up the mix for huge ambient passages or back things off for a dryer rhythm section with just the kick of my foot. This has made it possible for me to maintain dynamics similar to that of a pedal with presets, while playing a simpler and more affordable reverb like the RV6.
So how does the RV6 stack up against the legendary RV5?
Overall the pedals are quite similar, after all they both made to the legendary Boss quality. There are a few cosmetic differences such as the RV6 now has a slightly sparkly gray enclosure and a shiny silver back plate as opposed to the plain gray enclosure and black face plate on the RV5. The two pedals share 5 of the same Reverb engines, though all the engines have been updated on the RV6. The differences in the new reverbs are subtle but in general I’d say my impression was that the RV6 has a smoother, more ambient feel with a touch more pre-delay to the reverb sounds. Each pedal has its own voice but even with the updated reverb the RV6 has not ventured far from the RV5.
How’s that Modulate mode though? This is the million dollar question. For good reason the RV5 has become legendary for it’s Modulate mode. It’s the setting that many RV5 users seem to gravitate to, and is single handedly the reason that this pedal has maintained popularity. So how does the RV6 Modulate mode compare? In a side-by-side comparison the first thing that I noticed was that the RV5 has a brighter tone. With a quick tweak of the Tone knob I got the RV6 to match pretty close. From there the true and subtle differences between the two could be discerned. Paying careful attention I could tell that the modulation on the RV5 has a rather short/quick wavelength and the RV6 has a slower/longer wavelength. This difference is subtle, but it’s there, and more obvious when playing without a band. I also believe that the pre-delay on the RV6 is longer than the RV5. With the longer modulation wavelength and reverb pre-delay the overall effect on the RV6 is a bit more spacious compared to the more direct feel of the RV5. The sounds are quite similar but the space that the modulated reverb takes up is a bit different. In my opinion both pedals sound awesome and it’d really be a matter of preference as to which is better for you. I would argue, however, that it would likely be fairly hard to tell the two apart in a mix.
Having owned both pedals and testing them side-by-side I can honestly tell you that they are both great pedals that can definitely get the job done. Buy the Boss RV5 if you absolutely have to have THAT Modulate mode or if you can snag a good deal on a used one. Otherwise, I recommend getting the RV6 for a few more modes and the EXP control capabilities while still getting that awesome Modulated reverb that sounds every bit as good.