Other Equipment

Surfy Bear Reverb Kit


When your pedalboard looks like this:

And then you build an outboard reverb tank from a kit and need to put it in an enclosure, using a Fender-like, tolex-covered case with an amp-like grill cloth just doesn’t seem appropriate.

It all started when I was jonesing for an outboard reverb unit after being generally dissatisfied with most of the reverb pedals I’ve tried or owned. So I asked the only person who can tell me more than I want to know about such things. And of course, I’m talking about Mel Waldorf. With a keen eye for circuit design and a keen ear for the surfiest of drippy wet reverb tone, I asked him about what units on the market are the go-tos. He said the best bang for your buck is the (Surfy Bear) kit, a reverse-engineered version of the Fender tube reverbs, but with FET transistors. And because, as we all know, all good surf technology comes from Sweden and when a guy named Bjorn sells a kit that includes the circuit board, pots, jacks, and even the wire, for $80 American, it’s the right thing to do. All I had to do was find a reverb tank ($15 from Amplified Parts), a power supply ($7 from All Electronics), and an enclosure.

I ordered up a kit, figuring it would be weeks before it got here from Scandinavia, and I started looking for what kind of enclosure I could use that would be in keeping with the toolbox metaphor, well, I guess it’s not just a metaphor since it’s an actual toolbox, of the Rackabilly pedalboard. Not another toolbox, that just seemed redundant, maybe silly, even. Maybe a case for a tool, like some kind of power tool case. What’s about the size of a reverb tank and some accessories? A Sawzall! But not the newer plastic cases, a metal case (for maximum coolness, not to mention RF shielding) like the ones the US-made Sawzalls came in.

Surely ebay would have those. And yeah, they do, but $35 for a case? Hmm, that’s a little steep, but another $45 to ship it? I don’t think so. After a week or so’s worth of looking on craigslist, someone had just the right case for $45, and it came with the Sawzall in it!

Now that’s a bargain. I drove to Pasadena in the rain to get there before someone beat me to it, and spoke not a word of my plans for the case to the seller, lest he change his mind about the price.

Got it home, and once a few moments of spare time came along (working for a living sure gets in the way of doing fun stuff), I started trying to figure out how it was going to fit. The case is plenty big, but it has a divider spot-welded into it to keep the Sawzall separate from the cord and accessories.

And I figured I’d have to cut that out to make room for the tank. But lo and behold, it fits perfectly on one side, and leaves the other side free to hold cords, the power supply, and the AC inlet.

I drilled holes for the 3 pots, pilot light, the in and out jacks, (and later, a footswitch jack so I can use one of those DripSwitches that guy in Alameda sells), cut the hole for the AC inlet and switch, and started putting things together.

The circuit board is ensconced in a Hammond box for further shielding, with the transistors pressing against the box for heat sinkage.

The jacks and pots use shielded multi-conductor cabling. The AC inlet is fused and has a power switch and pilot light of its own. It’s thickly buried in silicone caulk to keep the high-voltage bits from coming into contact with fingers or other important things. That stuff comes out of the caulking gun pretty fast so I figured “why just do it when you can overdo it?” I normally use hot-melt glue for this, but I couldn’t find any hot-melt sticks for my glue gun, but I did have half a tube of silicone caulk left over from the bathroom sink I just put in, so I hastily used that. I noticed last night when I went to shoot the pictures that there’s a brown spot showing through. It’s either some quick-forming corrosion, or the thickness of the applied caulk is causing it to cure very slowly (it’s still white and it’s supposed to turn clear when it cures) and it’s burning a little. That might be bad. In addition, caulk is supposed to give off some nasty gases when it cures, so this approach might prove suboptimal. Gonna keep an eye on that when I gig with it for the first time tomorrow. I had to buy 6 of these AC inlets to get one, so I guess I can re-do it 5 more times until I get it right, if necessary. I added another pilot light up by the pots that is connected to the 12V side of the power supply

In fairly short order, it was done,

The power train consists of a switched/fused IEC inlet so I can use a regular power cord, a 3-prong outlet, and a 12V, 1A regulated power supply I got from All Electronics in the San Fernando Valley. I used a few zip-tie anchors to stick it all down and some Dual Lock to keep the critical pieces in place.

And, wackily enough, it worked the first time! I first tried it inline with the guitar input, but my long-term goal was to put it in the amp’s effects loop. I have a loop for it in the bottom drawer of the toolbox, but of course, this Sawzall case isn’t going to fit in there. So I built a placeholder box (which I forgot to take a picture of) with in and out jacks, and a stereo jack so I can use an insert cable and go out to (and back from) the reverb unit. It can sit alongside the toolbox (or the speaker cabinet) and look like it belongs there. I’m always astounded when these wacko ideas I get work out so close to the way I initially envision them.


Love it!

Good idea, great work. You're a mensch or a madman.

Maybe both.


I neglected to mention the orange chicken-head knobs. I didn't think about the fact that the red of a Sawzall case would clash with orange like nobody's business, but I went ahead with them anyway, and the 12V pilot light LED is orange, too, to, uh, represent Gretsch. Yeah, that's it. I can't wait to bring the Rackabilly and the SawVerb to Viva Las Vegas in April. The sound guys are gonna look at me kinda funny, I 'spect.

Oh, I forgot to publish the finishing touch:

I'm starting to really like surf music, too.


And I bought a blade for the Sawzall. Looking forward to doing some demolition work in the yard.


Very cool project. Kudos!


I bought a blade for the Sawzall. Looking forward to doing some demolition work in the yard.

You should always keep it in a holster at your side, just in case you get your foot stuck in a trap.


Nice work Frank. You’re a real MacGyver. Now if you could only find a way to drive a Leslie with that Sawzall.


Nice work Frank. You’re a real MacGyver. Now if you could only find a way to drive a Leslie with that Sawzall.

– Powdog

Hmmm, you might be on to something there. A real Tim the Toolman concept! Lol


That is thinking that is both inside the box, yet is way outside the box. Good on ya, Frank!


Not sure what it all does, but I love a repurposing meets steampunk project.

Will you do a demo?


So...how does it SOUND?

– charlie chitlins

I'm sure it sounds killer.

Mine is housed in a tolex/grillecloth box : my tech-handy buddy put the Surfy Bear Reverb and tremolo kits in a chassis for me, along with a custom power supply, an always-on buffer post reverb that takes care of the 6G15 output impedance issue, true bypass relay switching for both effects, and an extra 9V outlet on the chassis for when that turns out handy, and I love it. My tube tanks have been gathering dust at home since I have this thing.


I tried to shoot a demo video of it last night but it will need some editing before it's watchable. Here is a straight-from-the-iPhone-to-YouTube video I shot to show it to Mel:


Slow day at work, so I edited the one I shot last night.

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