In this article we will be looking at the Tremolo pedal and understanding how it works. We will also look at where to place the pedal in your signal chain and look at some of the products on the market.
- What is a tremolo pedal? How can it help you?
The tremolo effect, is one of the “oldest” effects that has ever come into existence. It is a modulation effect that controls and adjusts your signal’s volume. Nowadays, things are getting even more modern and constantly being updated. The tremolo effect, therefore, can work by adjusting your volume using LFO (low-frequency oscillation), creating waveforms, and then manipulating the guitar’s volume. (Oscillation is an up and down movement of your sound at regular speed)
So the tremolo pedal will eventually increase or decrease the volume of your signal, adjusting the space and depth to music chords.
But you need to distinguish between the tremolo arm/tremolo bar on your guitar with the tremolo pedal. These two may sound quite similar, but in fact, they function in separate ways. The tremolo arm or tremolo bar actually works like a vibrato effect, adjusting and varying the pitch. So the effects may be alike, but the way the two things conduct the whole process is different. The tremolo pedal only cares about the volume, while the tremolo bar affects the pitch only by the strain and pressure that you put onto the strings.
So to some extent, the above parts give you some overview of what a tremolo pedal does, it is all about volume change. Now, we will get into the details. There are two knobs on the pedal that you must get to know: the Rate and Depth.
The Depth seems to be the most important section that you need to fully understand. It is in charge of the range of your volume. If you decide to pick a narrow range of depth, the sound will be a combination of constantly turning the volume up and down, back and forth subtly, and it won’t be that obvious for the audience to realize the effect that you are using. For a higher depth control, the effect will sound more obvious as the pedal turns the volume up and down from muting to the full level of volume. To wrap up, the depth knob refers to how much you want to apply the LFO waveform to your original sound.
The Rate affects the speed of the volume fluctuations and adjusting the oscillating waveform, whether you want it to be fast but still keeping the shape of waveforms unchanged.
How the tremolo pedal functions?
There’s a circuit that will help to magnify and adjust your volume, with the certain changing frequencies depending on how you want it to be. The circuit also generates a wave carrying signal that adapts towards and adjusts the amplitude of your guitar’s raw (input) signal. As mentioned above, the signal first experiences a lower volume, then being brought back again to a higher point. That process creates a type of oscillation then a wave is formed.
Also, there are different types of circuits being used today in the tremolo pedal. The two most common types are VCA (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) and LFO. VCA will alter the amplitude of your signal, with the distance between the highest and lowest level of the sound during a wave.
- Where should you place your tremolo pedal in the signal chain?
The most common advice is to place your tremolo pedal at the end of your signal chain as you want it to magnify and vary the volume of the entire signal. But there are no limitations to the options that you can select for a suitable position. The tremolo pedals can be placed to satisfy your own needs.
In general, the tremolo should go last in all the modulation effects, after chorus, phaser, or flanger.
By placing the tremolo before both the delay and reverb pedal, it will only affect the dry part of your sound, leaving the delay and reverb to sound even wilder. The other option can be placing the tremolo after the delay and before the reverb pedal, adding on some shimmer effects. Another thing you can choose to do is to place after both the delay and reverb, which means at the end of the signal, the tremolo pedal then will affect the whole chain, adjusting your overall sound in and out of volume, up and down.
- Different types of tremolo pedals
Triangle Wave Tremolo
Triangle Wave Tremolo is considered to be the most popular type of tremolo and widely used by many people. The effect of triangle wave tremolo is known for its precision, rising and following a linear fashion, creating a very smooth and pleasing sound to hear for the audience. If you look into the image below, here the slopes of this type of tremolo pedal rises and falls in equal patterns, expressing clearly the peaks and lows of your signal. And one interesting point that is mentioned a lot is that Fender amplifiers also use triangle wave tremolo type (Twins, Deluxes, or even Supers).
Some of the examples for the triangle wave tremolo on the market that you can take a look at: Fulltone Supa-Trem ST-1, Boss TR-2, the Demeter Tremulator, the T-Rex Tremster.
For example, with the Boss TR-2, its reputation with the brand “Boss”, to some extent, has clearly stated why you should definitely pay attention to this one. Even some would say Boss is the leading name in creating quality standards for the whole industry. The design and function for this pedal include rate, wave, and depth controls, using the LFO waveform. It also combines the techniques of the triangle wave and square wave (which we will discuss later on), which will guarantee you diverse options to adjust your volume as well as its speed.
Sine Wave Tremolo
You might think all types of tremolo pedal, are the same in its functions and mechanisms. But with the Sine wave, this will be a little different from the triangle type. The Sine-wave tremolo is also considered to be the most basic type among all others. Almost like the modulation effect – overdrive, sine-wave tremolo brings less precise sounds. Constantly adding and decreasing power, the sound, in the end, will be softer and more subtle due to no harsh lines in between. Unlike the triangle or square wave type, the sine wave does not follow a specific linear fashion. Its shape has peaks and troughs, creating a unique kind of pattern. And for this reason, some people comment that the sound from sine-wave is more impressive, bringing the raw vibes.
Some of the references for the sine wave tremolo pedal: Basic Audio Throbby, the Mad Professor Mellow Yellow Tremolo, Walrus Audio Monument V2, Behringer UT300.
Let’s pick the Mad Professor Mellow Yellow Tremolo as the “center” in the sine wave tremolo pedal section. It’s quite easy to use and adjust using speed, depth, and level controls. Also, this brings the vibes of the old Fender amplifier tremolo, fitting in perfectly for the slow, bluesy rhythm guitar. Modulating using a sinusoidal oscillator, this device delivers a musical tremolo effect that is suitable for many different styles from clean to distorted tones.
Square Wave Tremolo
Square wave tremolo has quite a similar linear fashion to the triangle one. But the difference is that it generates an even more extreme level of effects. You are able to adjust and push your volume to the point where it is possible to create an on-off pattern. And with this feature, the square wave tremolo creates many tough and abrupt sounds and at some points it even disappears, some even say the volume cuts in and out so fast that it can sound like the helicopter chops.
Some of the references for the square wave tremolo pedal: Catalinbread Valcoder, the Earthquaker Devices Hummingbird, and the Flickinger Vicious Cricket, Wampler Latitude, Diamond Pedals Tremolo.
Wampler Latitude:This is a device that offers a variety of options for you to freely adjust the volume in any way you want it to be. From level, space, and tone to your standard functions like speed and depth controls. One more interesting feature is that this also can be used as both a tremolo pedal and a modulation pedal. And it combines all three types of the waveform, from the triangle, sine to the square.
Diamond Pedals Tremolo: This has an extra function that differs from the usual tremolo pedal, which is the timing knob. You can now switch between the tap or chaotic mode. And it also works as a triangle, sine, and even square wave tremolo pedal.