By Chris Gill
Tremors: Seven Tremolo Pedals That Will Shake Your Foundations
Long before there was fuzz and wah-wah, tremolo was the king of effects. As a matter of fact, through most of the Fifties tremolo was the only effect, even predating reverb, and it was included as a built-in feature on many classic Fender, Gibson, Magnatone and Premier amps. Devious amp builders pilfered the idea from the electronic organ, correctly guessing that guitarists too would enjoy hypnotizing unsuspecting listeners with tremolo’s knee-knocking wobble-warble.
And right they were. In the Fifties, rock and roll madmen like Link Wray and Bo Diddley exploited this space-age psycho effect on sexy singles like “Rumble” and “Bo Diddley.” In the psychedelic Sixties, guitarists spiked their tremor tones with tons of fuzz, as exemplified by the Electric Prunes on “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night).” Sometime during the Seventies, amp builders stopped including tremolo circuits in their products, and use of the effect virtually ceased (which may explain why that decade sucked so hard). But several sonic deviants revived tremolo during the Eighties, such as Johnny Marr of the Smiths, who ran his guitar through two Fender Twin Reverbs set to different tremo tempos for the opiated sway of “How Soon is Now.” In the retro-minded Nineties, tremolo has regained its ultra-cool status among the cognoscenti and can be heard on songs by everyone from Dwight Yoakam to Metallica.
Unfortunately, only a handful of manufacturers still make amps that feature built-in tremelo circuits. The good news is that pedal builders have picked up the slack and are turning out tremelo stomp boxes with more features and capabilities than any solder-snortin’ Fifties fool ever dreamed possible.
James Demeter, who builds high-end guitar amps, preamps and studio processors, was one of the first manufacturers to notice the dearth of tremelo-equipped amps on the market so he designed the Tremulator. Compared to most other trem pedals, the Tremulator looks simple. Housed in a basic black box about the size of an MXR Distortion+ pedal, the unit features heavy and solid enough to inflict a single-blow k.o. when you hurl it at that biker’s girlfriend in the back of the bar who keeps yelling out requests for “Proud Mary” (but don’t chuck it at the biker, that’s what a tele is for). The Tremulator sports depth and speed control knobs, and an on/off footswitch and an LED to let you know when the effect is engaged. On the left side is a 9-volt adapter jack and a hole that lets you access a trim put to adjust the ratio of the effect’s on and off durations.
Sober appearances be damned, the Tremulator delivers state-of-the-art tremo-tone. It has a wobbly, lopsided modulation that rivals the most seasick sounding Fender trem, and the depth control plunges deeper than a Jacques Cousteau expedition. The effect’s tone is remarkarbly clean, with imperceptable noise and a wide, hi-fi like frequency range. Of all the pedals we tested, Demeter’s boasts the second fastest pulse rate (almost a blur of bleating blips), and its overall speed range (from about 80 to over 600 beats per minute) is wider than Newt Gingrich’s backside. The pedal kicks up the gain and thickens the tone slightly when the effect is engaged. With the depth control turned all the way down, the Tremulator provides +6dB of boost without any perceptible tremelo effect.