Oh, I remember… outboard gear can be fun! I am fortunate to have 31 flavors of compressors, EQs, tone-makers, and boneshakers. I even own a few studio spring reverbs, but nothing quite like the Wellspring, an "analogue stereo spring reverb system" from Wales-based Teaching Machines. With two 15-inch spring tanks, an analog delay, plus a variety of tweakable parameters, it is a reverb unique unto itself. The three rack space tall device can sit on a desktop or use rack ears for mounting (rubber feet and ears included) and has an external power supply. The Wellspring is hand-built by Teaching Machines' co-founder and mastermind, Frank Naughton.

Everything is sturdy, and the control knobs are all metal and feel great when adjusting. The TRS 1/4-inch I/O jacks on the rear are unbalanced, but I didn't have any trouble due to that. Frank tells us, "It's wired with ring to ground, so should be okay with most balanced cables and +4 line level signals." The controls from left to right can be divided into two layers. Top level has the input level knob with a clip LED below, the power switch and corresponding LED indicator, a 1/4-inch guitar or instrument input with a selector for line or guitar levels, and to the right is the output level control (center is unity gain). Bottom level, broken into three sections, are Delay, Modulation, and Filter. Delay: A time 1 knob controls delay time for the left or mono signal, time 2 controls the right, and they can be synced via a switch. Feedback, as is typical, controls the number of repeats in switchable parallel or ping-pong modes. Modulation: A switch selects between Sine or Sawtooth modulation, the delay knob sets the amount of pitch modulation desired, plus there's a switch to have L/R channels modulate in sync or out of phase with each other. The filter knob controls the filter modulation and can also be synced L/R or out of phase. The speed knob controls the speed of all internal modulation, with an x10 switch to get into some wild ring-modulation sorta effects, plus a yellow LED representing modulation speed. An external +/- 5V external modulation source can feed the 1/8-inch input jack on the back panel of the Wellspring. Filter: Select via a rotating switch High-Pass, Band-Pass, Low-Pass, or Notch; the frequency knob sets the Hz; and lastly there is a wet/dry control for this section that mixes the filtered, modulated, and delayed signal back with the dry signal before it goes to the Springs and Magic section.

Springs has one knob for dry/wet balance and Magic has a knob that controls the amount of the Springs that are sent back to the Delay section, wired so that the right spring is sent to the left channel of delay and vice-versa. One can create some wild sounds with this control, and I found I did not even need to have any input happening to make sounds appear! I did a couple performances of atmospheric ambience by having a guitar plugged in, playing a few notes to get the machine humming, and then tweaking Magic's intensity knob to let it loose or reign it in. This was pretty cool and – more importantly – fun and creative. Given the way this reverb/delay is set up, it becomes obvious that every control on the Wellspring interacts with each other in interesting ways. With all the controls available, it seems there is an endless array of sounds and treatments that are available. Take some time to learn it, plus check out their website for ideas. Beyond basic spring reverb tones, which are awesome on this unit, I feel certain it's going to be different in the hands of everyone that uses it.

I like the benefit of a guitar input right on the front of the unit and it was great for recording direct, with a good tone and very usable for certain applications. It even had a pleasing distortion when I drove the input hard. It’s quite usable and certainly great for an alternative tone when needed. I was able to get surfy swells, wildly-modulated chaos, beautiful Pink Floyd/David Gilmour-like tones, and Radiohead-style dreamy wetness.

When used on a bus and sending different elements to it in a mix, the Wellspring added a nice ambience and depth. Some of the Modulation section I initially felt was simply more than I needed (or was able to wrap my head around?), but as time went on I liked being able to subtly modulate the reverb tails for some interesting sounds. Gentle usage of this section was my instinct, but it's easy to go for something crazy, and at times it even sounded like there were keyboard or synth pads playing in the background. There's so much to experiment with here!

Sometimes when great pieces of gear cross my studio desk, a part of me almost wants to keep them secret. This is one of those times. Looking to spark creativity and create unique sounds? Many of the current reverb plug-in options are outstanding, but I doubt any could capture the sound and excitement of a unit like the Wellspring.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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