Our "That Pedal Show" Blog

Thoughts on Tremolo and Five Great Pedals

By Andy Perrin | May 01, 2017

That Pedal Show 4/28/2017

From the first-ever stand-alone effects unit in the De Armond Tremolo Control 601 to built-in tremolo circuits in early amps from the likes of Fender, Danelectro, and Magnavox, the roller-coaster of amplitude that defines tremolo holds a special place in the evolution of guitar gear. Recently, Dan & Mick explored some modern options for vibrato pedals (https://youtu.be/KmFL_9g7nco).This week TPS considered the cousin effect, tremolo, and dug into five pedals that span from vintage waveform shudders to cosmic crashes of overlapping tremolo circuits.

As Dan noted at the outset of the episode, “Tremolo, over the years, has been used in loads of different ways…tempo-wise but also just as an effect where the tempo of the tremolo has nothing to do with the song, it’s just this pulse.” With uses as wide as Mississippi blues to R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency Kenneth,” tremolo is an immensely diverse effect and, these days, can be achieved by an equally diverse range of stompboxes. In this episode, Dan & Mick undertook a round-up including: the Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas, Boss TR-2, Fulltone Supra-Trem, Hamstead Signature Analogue Tremolo, and Stone Deaf Tremotron. Of course, while not featured in the present episode, the Mooer Trelicopter received honorable mention as an economical, budget-friendly, and tiny footprint contender in this roster (for that pedal, check out a recent TPS A/B demo (https://youtu.be/FWSjB4kb-Xk).

Since the present episode is full of great sounds, the highlights included here are three “best-of” insights into creative uses of tremolo and considerations for how and where to integrate it into your rig.

  1. Tailor your tremolo waveform shapes and be prepared to address perceived volume loss. The common denominator of virtually all tremolo pedals is depth and speed parameters. As Dan summarized with respect to the Boss TR-2, “The depth control controls the depth of the amplitude…and then the rate, obviously, is the speed of that modulation.” An added feature that has become increasingly common in tremolo pedals, however, is the ability to reconfigure the wave shape of the signal fluctuation. For example, the TR-2’s wave nob allows for various blends from soft, rising and falling arcs in the sign-wave (think going for a ride on a vintage roller coaster) to sharper shifts from triangular peaks and pits (think the your stock market ticker on a turbulent year).

As Dan & Mick toyed with more distinct wave drop offs, depths, and speeds they uncovered a sonic illusion. As Mick commented after strumming a few chords, “[There is a] huge drop off in volume—perceived volume!” To which Dan added, “In actual fact it’s not a volume drop at all, but because half of that signal is missing your brain is saying, ‘It’s not loud enough.’” To alleviate this, a pedal like the Hamstead Signature Tremolo has a built-in boost. Of course, a similar solution could be achieved by pairing a basic tremolo with a simple boost pedal, like the TC Electronic Spark Mini or Wampler Db+, which will give a nudge to the signal and make your ear hear what it wants to hear: a consistent volume across the pulse.

  1. Take classic tremolo into new territory using analog effects with digital controls. The Stone Deaf Tremotron and Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas up-the-game of tremolo through their cutting edge design philosophies of retaining a pure analog signal that is controlled by a digital mind. This concept has been applied to various types of effects, yet in the case of tremolo has some particular payoffs. As Dan stated, “there’s things that you can do by controlling them digitally that you just can’t do in an analog setup.” For example, Dan & Mick showcased the Tremotron’s and Gravitas’ more extensive and pronounced libraries of wave shapes that allow you to innovate this classic effect by layering and colliding multiple tremolo patterns. In addition, the dialed-in tremolo pulses of both boxes could be set on the fly through tap-tempo, which is a huge asset if you use tremolo in a rhythmic sense. Naturally, the extended parameters make the ability to design and store presets essential. Both the Tremotron and Gravitas allow the user to lock in and re-access sounds so you don’t need to retrace the footsteps of your recent, complex tremolo creations.

After just scratching the surface of the endless options engineered within this pair of pedals, Mick commented that, “like the Tremotron, [the Gravitas] is an inspiration machine.” As Dan noted, for pedals like this it’s not just about the sound, it’s about “creative tinkering…I could sit down with the Tremotron or Gravitas and I’m just lost for days.”

  1. Experiment with different placements of tremolo pedals in your pedal chain. As Mick hinted at the start of the episode, “the usual position for your [tremolo] pedal is after everything.” Of course, this makes good sense in light of it early placement within amps—by default, it was the final ingredient added to the mix. In pedal form, however, there is the opportunity to experiment with other locations and placements in your rig.

Dan & Mick ran a relatively simple experiment of positioning tremolo pedals before and after the newest member of the MXR overdrive family: the searing yet warm gain of the MXR Il Diavolo. When the tremolo was placed prior to the overdrive pedal, Dan accounted for the resulting sound as follows: “The tremolo is controlling the amount of gain that the overdrive is seeing, so even with the tremolo at a lower volume level…the overdrive level is simply distorting less, it’s clipping less. But as the tremolo opens up and allows more volume through, then the overdrive pedal distorts more because it clips more.” In short, the result was not only an amplitude wave but also washes of gain from low to high. If that’s the sound you’re going for, keep the pedal there. If not, swap the pedals around for what is likely a more successful gain and tremolo tag-team with more consistent levels of gain across the pulse and wave of the tremolo.

A similar experiment was run with tremolo and delay. Here the risk was having the repeats of the delay at odds with the tremolo pulses when the tremolo was placed before the delay. As Dan described, “That pulsing thing [of the tremolo] is being delayed, so you’ve got that pulsing thing with the echoes of that pulse going over the top of it.” Positioning the tremolo after the delay is a quick remedy to the confusion. In this configuration, the pulse provided by the tremolo gets the final say as the master effect controlling the overall modulation of amplitude of everything that comes before it.

These were but three outcomes of TPS’s much-needed treatment of modern tremolo options and approaches for integrating them into your rig. Stop in at Riff City’s Tremolo effects section for a comprehensive set of options for adding some shudder and wobble to your rig on any budget.

Also, be sure to subscribe to the TPS YouTube channel for weekly updates and to stop over at Dan & Mick’s TPS store (www.thatpedalshowstore.com) and Patreon page (www.patreon.com/thatpedalshow).

TPS Episode Rig Rundown:

Guitars: Dan: 1963 Closet Classic Fender Telecaster (ca. 2000). Mick: Gretsch Electromatic G5422TG.

Amps: Hamstead Artist 20+RT; Fender Super Reverb.

Effects: Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas; Boss TR-2; Fulltone Supa-Trem; Hamstead Signature Analogue Tremolo; Stone Deaf Tremotron; Neunaber Immerse Reverb; Providence Chrono Delay; MXR Il Diavolo Overdrive.