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The Sunday Papers

The Untold Origins of Analog Pedals

By Andy Perrin | August 13, 2017

The Sunday Papers: Vol. 1 No. 1

The Sunday Papers is brand spanking new weekly offering by Riff City Guitar. Our single goal with this feature is to provide a good morning read over coffee, each and every Sunday. What you won’t find in our new feature is a sales pitch or product recommendations. We’ve asked Andy Perrin—one of the industry’s best writers on guitar gear and culture—to pen short weekly editorials that tell the tales of how we got to where are in the music industry and the players and builders that helped us along the way. In short, The Sunday Papers are about conversations, stories, histories, and experiences with the guitar.

What better place to start than by taking a look at the inception of the humble stompbox.  

Take it away Andy…

In the mid-1940s the only thing that came between an electric guitar and an amplifier was patch cable. Pedals were for pianos, organs, and clutches. Yet in the years after WWII, Harry De Armond began experimenting with the space between instrument and amp. His first venture into the unknown was the invention of the “Model 600” volume pedal. With the rock of the pedal a player could now adjust the volume output of their amp to taste or context. This functionality laid the foundation for Harry’s innovation of what is arguably the first ever effect pedal: the De Armond “Tremolo Control.”

In 1946 the Tremolo Control hit the market. The guts of the pedal consisted of an electric motor and spindle that shook a canister of hydraulic liquid. As the instrument’s signal passed through the fluid, its rhythmic movement due to the motor’s rotation fluctuated the amount of signal that carried through the chain. The result? A natural pattern of modulated volume in the output, which could be tailored with a pair of onboard controls: an “increase” knob to manage the amount of tremolo, and a “speed” knob to control how fast the liquid vial shook. True. Analog. Old School.

And like that, De Armond made history with the world’s first stand-alone effects units for electric guitars. But, why not make history twice? After seeing the success of the Tremolo Control and undertaking a handful or revisions under different labels, De Armond hit another often-overlooked landmark: the “Model 800,” which housed the Tremolo Control and Model 600 volume pedal in a single effects unit. The world’s first dual effect.

So that’s where it all started. The decades that followed witnessed an arms race between analog and digital designs. But a few weeks back at summer NAMM 2017, a new design philosophy hit the floor. In next week’s issue we’ll tell the tale of a team of university chemists leveraging molecular mad science in pursuit of warmer tones in the snowy Canadian north.

Thanks for sharing a few minutes of your Sunday. Be sure to make time for your guitar today. We’d love to see what you’re playing, so snap a picture of your weekend warrior rig and post it to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram using the hashtag #RiffCitySunday.

Pick up, plug in, and happy Sunday.

See you next week.