This week on TPS, Dan & Mick took take care of some unfinished business. In a past episode, they did the world a favor by explaining the difference between tremolo and vibrato and exploring some in amp and stompbox options (https://youtu.be/RAlODYcuNP4). After much gentle harassment in the YouTube comments section, Dan & Mick tackled the topic of harmonic tremolo head on. To make things even better, they did so with some vintage gear and a guitar wielded by Joey Landreth, who is as close to a regular on TPS as they come! (For Joey’s past appearance on TPS, check out: https://youtu.be/dSreFRxL2go).
As Mick commented at one point in the episode, “We’ve always said, if you could only have the most basic things it would be guitar, amp, and a tremolo…reverb maybe!” So what is it about his effect that is so special? Well, first we’ll need to explain what harmonic tremolo is before exploring some options for loading it on your board.
What is Harmonic Tremolo?
In the traditional sense tremolo involves changes in amplitude at varying speed and depth. As Dan described, what differentiates harmonic tremolo is how the incoming audio signal is split in half into bass and treble frequencies. These paralleled parts are then modulated in different directions. The result is “you get this really strange, almost phasing effect.” In addition to this, Dan highlighted that due to harmonic tremolo’s tandem modulation of the two parts of the signal, “you hear at one part of the wave it’s all bottom end and then it shifts so the other part of the wave is all top end. But there’s always volume there.” This is a real asset, since traditional tremolo pedals often give a perceived loss in volume.
The Short Story Behind Harmonic Tremolo
Harmonic tremolo has a historic significance in the early development of in amp effects. It was in fact one of the first effects, alongside reverb, to be included onboard and built in to an amp’s circuitry. Fender was one of the first companies to do this, though you need to go pretty deep in their catalogue of amplifiers to find out where. As Joey described, the brown face Fender is in a way the missing link in the evolutionary chain between tweed and black face amps. In general, the brown face amps—which refers to the color of the faceplate, not the grill cloth—had a short run between 1960-1964. These amps are highly sought after today for their classic tone and harmonic tremolo, yet often come with a hefty price tag. What’s a player to do? Well, you could always make a call in to Walrus Audio.
Pedal Options for Harmonic Tremolo
Chances are that, for most of us, this TPS episode is as close as we’ll get to a classic Fender amp with built in harmonic tremolo. Thankfully, while that specific item is out of touch, the effect of harmonic tremolo is not out of reach.
You may have noticed Joey’s board looked a little different since his last visit. Tucked away up in the top left corner was the Walrus Audio Monument. Not only does the pedal offer straight-up tremolo and harmonic tremolo, it includes a tap tempo switch allowing you to conveniently set the pace of the modulation for effect or tempo in a given song. In addition to exploring Monument, Joey also walked through the Walrus 385 Overdrive, which is a rich mid-range overdrive that is inspired by the tube-amp section of vintage Bell & Howell 385 Filmosound projector. As Joey described after hitting it with a little slide action, “It’s pretty cool and gritty.”
Following an episode full of beautifully crafted zig-zagging tremolo and inspiring playing, the words of Joey pretty much summed it up: “Reverb and tremolo is like a white t-shirt and blue jeans…you can’t go wrong!”
For more TPS, be sure to subscribe to Dan & Mick’s YouTube channel. Whether you’re in the market for a micro Mooer Trelicopter, a Walrus Monument, or full-blown tube tremolo of the new Victory V40 Deluxe we’ve got you covered over at Riff City.
TPS Episode Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Collings I-35LCMythos Mjolnir Overdrive; Walrus Audio 385 Overdrive; KingTone Guitar Duellist; J Rocket Analog Boing Reverb; Chicago Iron Tychobrahe Octavian; Origin Effects SlideRig Compact Deluxe; Fishman Aura Spectrum DI; Walrus Audio Monument; Strymon Timeline.