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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.