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Reverb is a type of natural effect you can get playing in walled spaces, giving a sort of echo/reverberation as the name implies. But I'm referring more to emulated reverb through use of a guitar pedal or other processor.

Many people refer to reverb as "drippy" or "wet" when dialed to 11. I think usually referring to spring reverb (where old reverb units used springs to get that sound). I naively once believed 'spring reverb' meant 'reverb as though you were playing in a water spring' before learning it meant actual springs.

But where does the water metaphor come from? My best guess was reverb became a mainstay of American rock-and-roll with bands like The Beach Boys, where reverb was used heavily. I usually associate heavy reverb with surf rock. Could this be where the water metaphor comes from?

Many musicians also describe their signals as "wet" or "dry", as some kind of spectrum. There's a lot of instances where "wet", "drippy", "soaked", etc come up and I wonder if they all share a common source.

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    Never heard "drippy", so I wouldn't call it typical. But dry/wet is standard terminology you will find printed on actual devices. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Oct 25 at 8:54
  • "There's a lot of instances where "wet", "drippy", "soaked", etc " — do you mind providing an example? the context matters – enkryptor Oct 25 at 10:58
  • This has to do with the notion of "saturation" which is a common parameter in many effect devices. – JacobIRR Oct 25 at 23:51
  • You call an audio signal "dry" if it is unprocessed. You call it "wet", if it is processed in any way. This vocabulary is used to distinguish, how the signal sounds "before" and "after" some sort of processing has been done. You can see on a lot of effects a knob called "Dry/Wet". It is used to mix the "dry signal" (the signal, which goes into the effect) and the "wet signal" (the signal, which comes out of the effect) with regards to the percentage to each other. – user408858 Oct 27 at 19:15
  • @user408858 I find most pedals with a dry/wet knob refer to it as blend. Lots of fuzzes, reverbs, delays, etc I find use this term. – gator Oct 27 at 19:28

10 Answers 10

18

Reverb is actually the effect of playing in confined, walled spaces - the sound bounces off the walls giving a diffused sort of echo. In a wide open space there is zero reverb.

I've never heard 'drippy'. But 'wet' and 'dry' are common terms when applying effects. The 'dry' signal is the original, clean sound. The 'wet' signal is the effect. When applying reverb we'd probably mix them together, maybe a 40%/60% ratio of the wet and dry signal. If the effect was a pitch shift, we might want to go 100% wet, hearing ONLY the shifted signal. adde 'Soaked in reverb' is something I've heard said. 'Dripping with reverb' - well, OK :-)

I think we were talking about wet and dry signals well before the Beach Boys. We've been offered some fanciful derivations! I think it's just 'dry' being used to mean 'with nothin on'. Dry bread has no butter or jam. The dry signal has no effect added. Then 'wet' is the opposite of 'dry'.

  • Is it closed spaces? When I read up on what "hall reverb" and "cathedral reverb" are, I usually think of wide spaces. – gator Oct 25 at 0:06
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    @gator Closed spaces means there are walls and ceiling for the sound to bounce off, not the size of the space. – Lyd Oct 25 at 0:38
  • This explains the usage of the terms "wet" and "dry" but it doesn't explain their origins, which I think is what the OP is really after. – ibonyun Oct 25 at 19:11
7

In American restaurant vernacular, a food item without any added condiment [e.g. toast without butter] is "dry". If effects like reverb are viewed as audio condiments, sound without such effects would likewise be "dry".

The audio term "wet" is a back-formation from the common use of "wet" as an antonym for the primary meaning of "dry". While buttered toast wouldn't normally be called "wet", more extreme variations on the concept may share terminology with the foodstuff usage [e.g. describing a food item as "soaked" would typically imply an excess of condiment].

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    This is the only answer which provides a plausible explanation for the origins of the terms: "dry" meaning plain or bare (definition 12 found here merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dry), "wet" meaning the opposite of dry. – ibonyun Oct 25 at 19:13
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It's hard to discuss music or sound with words, so often we resort to metaphor. Never heard "drippy" but "dry/wet" is a typical label for the knob which is used to alter the mix of reverb ("wet") and un-reverb ("dry"). It has nothing to do with the actual presence of water (unless you use a swimming pool as a reverb chamber).

4

Drippy is sometimes used specifically to refer to the reverb effect in vintage Fender amplifiers. These were spring reverb circuits, driven by something like a 12at7 tube. The characteristic 'drip' effect was used a lot in surf music. The player would pick short, staccato notes using palm muting. Each note in turn would be routed through the spring reverb tank, giving a short 'splashy' sounding reverb effect. This is in part because the signal returned from the spring reverb tank wasn't especially clean, and usually had an EQ profile that is quite different to the 'dry' signal, making the reverb effect quite apparent in the mix.

There is interest in this 'drippy' reverb effect as it is quite hard to achieve. While it originates in both vintage Fender amps and the tube-driven outboard spring reverb units Fender also manufactured in the '60s, the effect varies between amps depending on the tubes used, and the biasing of the tubes. It also varies with the type of spring reverb tank used (and even two tanks of the same type might 'drip' differently).

The effect is hard to reproduce digitally, so you will find that people will try and seek the reverb pedal that 'drips' the most as it is seen as an achievement of sorts. Lots of reverb pedals have a spring reverb emulation within them, but not many of them copy the 'drip' effect of a Fender reverb unit.

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    That's kind of what I was thinking. I usually associate this with Fender amps and even Fender guitars, although that's going the "surf rock route" again. I equate Stratocasters with that sound. – gator Oct 25 at 17:23
3

From what I've read on reverbs, "dry" is the sound recorded directly from the source.

"Wet" is the term for sound which has been reflected from the walls.

2

Beacause the sound is evocative of, what we stereotypically think of as, the sound of water dripping into a pool of water,

.

  • Dripping in a pool of water...in a cave. In an open space, or with dampened walls, the drip would still be "dry". – Bort Oct 25 at 21:22
1

It is very hard to find good sources, but I think that the term "wet" came about from the fact that wet walls increase reverberation and there are some civil engineering books which speak about this as it relates to music halls. Dry then becomes sound with less reverberation.

Architects should be aware also of the acoustic effects which dampness of walls has upon public buildings by conducing to a very great extent to reverberation which confuses sound [...]

It is of great importance that bricks used in such walls be not so porous as to constantly absorb moisture and for a long period or permanently retard the drying out of the walls or halls for public speaking or for music. While they may be good in other respects they may fail in this

Practical treatise on bricks, 1884

Once recording became a thing (I saw some references in the 1940s), you start to see discussions of "dry recording" being a positive attribute when reviewing classical music using direct mics. And some discussion of the multi mic-ing process and balancing "wet echoes" with dry signal.

After this, wet/dry seems to spring up fully formed without attempts at explanation in signal processing circa 1950..

0

"Dry" refers to the signal without any effects. This possibly comes from food terminology. If you order a "dry" sandwich, there won't be any mayonnaise. In that sense it means free of condiments; not drizzled in any sauce that adds flavoring.

Wet versus dry refers to the degree of mixing of all effects to the dry signal, not just reverb.

0

Reverb is not typically called Wet nor Drippy.

However, as others have said here. When applying effects be in VST or hardware, there is commonly the feature to blend the original (dry) signal in with the effected (wet) signal. A wet reverb in that since, may be the use of a reverb in a not-so-subtle way such, as the OP stated but not exclusively confined to, surf rock. This is typically spring reverb, and as far as I know, the term 'wet' has nothing to do with the type of reverb (or any sub type of effect) and more so the prevalence of effect in the mix compared to dry signal.

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    This is factually incorrect, though. A cursory Google search of "drippy reverb" shows lots of videos and results describing some reverb as such. – gator Oct 27 at 20:43
  • Reverb in general is not typically called Drippy... There is the use case combination of long spring reverb and staccato notes... but in the large world of reverb, reverb is not typically called drip – Je Jopair Oct 27 at 20:49
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If you place your ear against a full bathtub or even stainless steel bowl and knock on it, the resulting sound will be very reverb-y. So maybe reverb is considered wet from the reverse.

I think the terms wet or dry referring to effected or uneffected signals may be generalized from this, since reverb/echo was the first effect commonly used.

Also, think of an indoor swimming pool. Very reverb, very wet. The first 'echo chamber' may have been a swimming pool.

  • Is the last sentence speculation on your part? – leftaroundabout Oct 25 at 13:10
  • Yes but also the word 'dampening' is used for a technique of hanging blankets or rugs on the walls to kill reverb. So it may have gotten reversed over time. – Kirk Evans Oct 25 at 13:21
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    Thanks actually just a corruption of damping, which has always meant something different from dampening. – leftaroundabout Oct 25 at 13:22
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    ...hm actually, on looking it up seems the words have been used interchangeably for quite so me time... – leftaroundabout Oct 25 at 13:29

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