Often guitarists are unaware of the tremolo effect before they hear it used in a track. Tremolo may transform a simple guitar sound into something that sticks out immediately. This can be used to give an entire song a distinctive sound, or it is used as a customizable effect. Tremolo is the sort of effect that creeps into your playing after you buy a tremolo pedal.
What to look for when purchasing a tremolo pedal
When buying a tremolo pedal there are at least three features you want to see:
- Wave: this controls the tremolo waveform
- Depth: this affects how deep the modulate forms
- Rate/Speed: this determines how quickly the tremolo modulates
Many forms of tremolo heard in songs can be accessed using these three buttons. Some pedals give you greater power over how you access various forms of tremolo effects, while others give you less.
What you need to know is how far away from the regular tremolo effect you want to go. If you only want to use a tremolo pedal every so often, look for a basic pedal. If you want a tremolo to be important, look for one that offers you more control over your sound.
Read our full guide on how to find the best pedal for your needs.
Distortion vs overdrive vs tremolo pedal
First, we need to define what a distortion pedal is and what an overdrive pedal is.
- Adds volume
- Distorts the guitars sounds
- Crunch and sustain to the natural sound of your guitar
A distortion pedal is often used during hard rock songs, adding a heavy contrast sound.
- Drives valves to the point of distortion
- Mimics the sound of a sound state amplifier
- Responds to your touch
An overdrive pedal is often used during classic rock or blues songs, adding a slightly warm and tingly sound.
- Creates a vibrato effect
- Adjusts the volume to create the vibrato effect
- The speed of the vibrato can be changed in the settings
A tremolo pedal is often used in slow rock songs, creating groove and soul to the music.
Now that we know the difference between these pedals, what type of pedal are you most likely to purchase? A common recommendation from many guitarists is to start with a tremolo pedal to understand how to use these different types of pedals and to find your sound.
If you already have experience with using pedals and know your sound, you should purchase a distortion pedal for a more heavy rock sound, yet if you have more of a blues-rock sound, you should purchase an overdrive pedal.
When do you use a tremolo pedal?
When it comes to using a tremolo pedal, it comes down to individual style and creativity. Many suggest that keeping usage short and sweet is the perfect way to get a bigger response while adjusting the nature of a piece.
Breaking into leads with swampy bends works well with bias tremolo effects. The use of a gentle tremolo in the intro will help to create a calming mood. Increased stutters can also be used in intros to create anxious, anxiety-inducing environments.
There are plenty of bands that have used the tremolo effect throughout entire songs. For example, Born on the Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival uses a subtle tremolo effect that almost gives the song a heartbeat.
Falling in and out of tremolo allows the electric guitarist a greater toolbox for producing complex momentum in the playing. Melodic textures may be multiplied or tripled. When and where to use tremolo is a matter of figurative language, and that’s something worth indulging in strongly to develop your artistic style.
What does tremolo sound like in different songs?
“Crimson and Clover” – Tommy James and the Shondells (1968)
In this recording, James had handled most of the instrumental, the tremolo speed was set to follow with the song’s rhythm. Later on, James and the band had an idea to add tremolo to a section of vocals at (3:34).
“Born on the Bayou” – Credence Clearwater Revival (1969)
At the beginning of the song, you can hear the guitar intro be over-driven with tremolo, starting the song off with a groovy sound.
Recommendations for the best tremolo pedals
Are you interested in buying a tremolo pedal, but want to make sure that you’re purchasing a high-quality pedal? Here are some of our top recommendations:
- Retail value: $99
- Power Requirements- 9V power supply, 9V battery
- Sockets: Input, output, power
- Controls: Rate, wave, depth
The Boss TR-2 is used worldwide on millions of pedalboards. Its appeal stems from its simple operation, which includes only speed, wave, and depth controls for adjusting the pedal’s waveform.
From a soft triangular movement to military firearm chops, as heard on a host of Tom Morello slices, there’s a wide variety of pace and form choices here. The pedal’s biggest drawback is the absence of control of volume, but Boss’s rock-solid design and quality ensure it won’t break down anytime fast.
Source Audio Vertigo
- Retail value: $149
- Power requirements: 9V power supply
- Sockets: 2x input, 2x output, power
- Controls: Depth, speed, shape, level, mode switch
For Vertigo, Source Audio was able to master the feel of three of the most classic amp tremolo styles: a Bias sound, similar to the tremolo on a VOX AC30, the optic-style tremolo from a 1967 Fender Vibrolux, and the Harmonic wobble from the Fender “brownface” series. Of course, due to the form power, there’s more to it.
This switches between square wave, sawtooth, and everything in between, while Source Audio’s Neuro app will transport the sounds to new worlds. The Vertigo is a perfect blend of realism and eccentricity.
Ernie Ball Expression Tremolo
- Retail value: $199
- Power requirements: 9V power supply
- Sockets: Input, output, power
- Controls: Depth, rate, waveform, reverb
Ernie Ball’s Expression Tremolo is your safest choice if you would like direct power over your tremolo (the trick to nailing Link Wray’s Rumble). It also comes with five different waveforms (slow rising, slow decline, square, harmonic, and sine), as well as an onboard spring reverb. The structure is pleasingly tough, with a good performance and non-slip grip, and it uses EB’s long-lasting volume pedal format.
What is the difference between vibrato and tremolo?
- A pulsing sound effect created by a small and sudden change in the pitch
- Adds expression to the music
- It has two features:
- Speed: How quickly the pitch is altered
- Depth: the amount of variety in the pitch
- Deals with change in pitch
- A trembling sound effect developed by a small yet quick change in the volume
- Used to shape and amplify the music
- It is also characterized by two specifications
- Speed: How quickly the volume is altered
- Depth: the amount of variety in the volume
- Deals with change in volume
The most popular methods for achieving vibrato are either by your hands or with help. Manual vibrato is a fingerboard method in which the stressing bends the string in a continuous up and down, smooth and consistent motion, resulting in minor pitch changes that characterize vibrato.
Many electric guitars have had mechanical vibrato mechanisms since the mid-twentieth century, most often in the form of a hand-operated rocking bridge formation.
The most popular methods for achieving a tremolo either manually or mechanically. By manually creating a tremolo, guitarists rapidly pluck at a note. Most guitarists prefer to use a pedal to create their tremolo. A pedal offers more volume and sound control during the middle of a performance for a guitarist.
What are the different types of tremolo waves?
Although the tremolo pedal is a straightforward device, musicians have a wide range of choices when it comes to the waveforms that tremolo pedals can generate. There were transistor-based pedals and EA tremolo circuits that were very common in the 60s.
Conversely, with the latest influx of automated pedals into the market, a slew of new forms of pedals are being available to aspire musicians. Diamond tremolos, Empress tremolos, and other analog signal paths operated by a digital core are all examples of digitally generated signals that provide consumers with nearly infinite tremolo options.
Square wave tremolo:
When you are looking for an extreme on and offset for a tremolo, an overt effect per se, look no further than the square wave tremolo. The Earthquaker Devices Hummingbird and Catalinbread Valcoder are a few suggestions for tremolo pedals that produce a square wave tremolo.
Volume boost tremolo:
The fundamental concept behind a volume boost tremolo is to change the signal in a rhythmical manner, which is achieved by cutting out and adding volume. This ensures that as the tremolo’s wave peaks, the signal will be as noisy as the fusion.
Manufacturers are still searching for new creations to press forward in the conventional tremolo market, which has a plethora of strong entrants. Manufacturers are starting to introduce bias adjusters, filters, stereo panning, tap tempo, and expression pedals to the tremolo pedal industry, allowing for new functions and sound styles.
Triangle wave tremolo:
This tremolo is typically found on the large Fender amps, such as the Supers and Twins. The waveform rises and falls in a clear and succinct linear manner. The tremolo’s slopes rise and fall evenly, and the tremolo’s highs and lows are visible through the signal. The Boss TR-2, Tremolessence, and Fulltine Supta-Trem are a few suggestions for tremolo pedals that produce a triangle wave.
Sine wave tremolo:
The Sine wave is created by modulating a power tube in a way that sounds more like hyperdrive. As the sine wave adds and subtracts force, providing musicians with an asymmetrical tremolo, this is a simplified type of tremolo that is less accurate than a triangle wave tremolo. The Basic audio throbby, the Kingsley Bard, and Mad Professor Mellow Yellow Tremolo are a few suggestions for tremolo pedals that produce a sine wave.
Do you still have more questions about tremolo pedals that still haven’t been answered yet? We’re here to break down your FAQs to help ensure that you’re purchasing the right type of pedal for your musical needs.
Answer: Vibrato pedals work to alter the pitch of the sound your instrument is producing. With tremolo pedals, they create a variation in the volume of your guitar.
You can combine tremolo and vibrato effects together. Also, you can achieve a vibrato effect without the use of any pedal, by manipulating your guitar strings manually.
Answer: A tremolo pedal is used to alter the volume and shape of the guitar. You can choose between a variety of tremolo pedals to ensure you find a sound that fits you best. Although there are pedals that do the minimum, you can also find pedals that go to extreme settings.
Answer: A tremolo pedal is not a necessity when learning or playing guitar. However, a lot of artists use it to improve their sound quality. The tremolo adds more depth and shape to the music, allowing the audience to have a better response to the artists’ music.
Buying the right tremolo pedal for your musical journey
So, when you are trying to find the right tremolo pedal for you, remember to find your sound that you desire to have. A tremolo pedal helps to shape the sound of the music, it can give several sound effects, such as an underwater, warbly effect.
Being able to use a tremolo pedal does take some skill, practice, and knowledge. The circuitry in a simplistic tremolo pedal is relatively simple to work out, but the circuitry in a more sophisticated tremolo pedal may get more complicated. What do you think?
Alizabeth Swain is a freelance content writer and a passionate musician with nine years of musical training. Alizabeth is on a mission to share her passion for music with others, as she believes that the power of music has the ability to change lives and the world. When she’s not writing, you can find her fashion blogging on her YouTube channel or creating new products for her cruelty-free cosmetic company.