Tremolo is an effect that has always been very closely entwined with the electric guitar. While it comes in a number of forms, tremolo, at its core, is a change in volume caused by the oscillation of a waveform.
You’re probably familiar with tremolo bridges, which have tremolo arms, which let you create, well, tremolo. But the result is technically not tremolo at all.
The way that this “tremolo” operates is that the tremolo bridge physically alters the length of the vibrating strings and thus varies the pitch of your sound. But varying pitch is vibrato, not tremolo. Tremolo, as explained previously, is varying volume. So, even though it’s commonly referred to as tremolo, the operation of the tremolo bridge creates an effect which differs sonically from the other forms of tremolo.
Tremolo Amp Circuits
You might already be aware that there is also a built-in tremolo effect in some old school amplifiers, like those made by Fender for example. In old amps, the tremolo is created with a low-frequency oscillator (LFO), which either alters the bias of the power tubes or varies the resistance of a light dependent resistor. Those amplifiers usually had the capability to adjust the speed of the tremolo i.e. how quickly the signal volume oscillated, and the intensity, or how significant the variation in volume was.
Tremolo Stomp Boxes
Another common method of attaining the tremolo effect comes from tremolo stomp boxes. As the first stomp box to hit the market some 70 years ago, the tremolo effect has had plenty of time to be developed to near perfection. Tremolo stomp boxes operate by modulating the volume of your signal in a continuous, rhythmic manner. Because of the nature of different stomp boxes and their many engineering methods, there are a lot of options in the way of different waveforms and low-frequency oscillators which change the character and capability of stomp boxes.
From one of the most trusted brands in the pedal game, the Boss TR-2 affords smooth tremolo waves in that classic Boss package. Boss’s TR-2 sports tremolo effects similar to those found in legendary amplifiers with tremolo circuits. This pedal has Wave, Rate, and Depth knobs which let you adjust the dynamics of the sound to find the perfect blend. For a pretty modest price, this pedal can make you the boss of tremolo.
A little jump forward in price and features, we find the EarthQuaker Devices Night Wire V2. The crux of this pedal is that its traditional harmonic tremolo allows the center point of both filters to be adjusted to different tones. It’s got two switches, one for rate and one for frequency selection. There are also four knobs controlling Depth, Rate, Level, and Frequency. It’s got plenty to offer the player that wants some good tremolo, but doesn’t need too many options.
A bit more advanced, though equally priced, the Walrus Audio Harmonic Tap Tremolo is both a harmonic and standard tremolo. It comes with some sweet aesthetics, including a howling wolf silhouette on front, inspired by the beautifully jagged, red-sand desert landscape of Monument Valley. It’s got five control knobs—Volume, Division, Rate, Shape, and Depth. The shape control offers five distinct wave forms while the Division knob can be set to quarter, triplet, eighth, and sixteenth. An awesome special feature on this pedal is the bypass switch. It has a “momentary” function which when in the off position, allows you to press and hold to temporarily activate the effect and add a moment of texture. You can also turn down all the depth and up the volume for a clean boost.
Chase Bliss makes some advanced, beautiful sounding stomp boxes. This tremolo fits right into that mold. With its sleek design, the Gravitas showcases more than enough features to keep you tinkering. The Gravitas is powered by a Class A clean boost circuit and dual tremolo modes, traditional and vintage inspired, which can also be combined. The pedal’s six knobs include Drive, Volume, Tone, Rate, Depth, and Sway, giving you incredible tone-shaping potential. The Drive knob in particular doubles as a Ramp knob, and can be set to any of the slider parameters on top of the pedal. There’s also a tap tempo footswitch, separate from the bypass switch, which lets you find the perfect tremolo rhythm.
Electro Harmonix created what may be the most advanced tremolo effects pedal on the market. With a super cool blue aesthetic set off by white knobs, the Super Pulsar affords unmatched tremolo power. This pedal is analog and allows for stereo and mono input/output combinations. The six adjustable knobs include Volume, RT. Phase, Wave, Shape, Depth, and Rate, allowing you to fine-tune just about any dynamic aspect of your tone. There’s a tap divide button with 5 tempo options to choose from. An expression pedal or CV pedal can be connected to control one of five parameters. Best of all, you can set up to 8 presets and recall them with the flick of a footswitch.
Any one of these stomp boxes could be the right fit for your pedalboard—and it will definitely add an extra layer to your playing. Be it simplistic and to the point, or a large, customizable tone machine, you’ll want to check one of these out and make it a part of your sound.
To check out all the tremolo pedals we have to offer, plus many other effects pedals, head on over to Samash.com.