15 Best Tremolo Pedals: The Ultimate List

Like a good reverb, tremolo is an effect that you previously needed to buy the right amp to have. Amps of the 50s and 60s often featured at tremolo circuit driven by power tubes that was the last element before it hit the speaker. While you can still get amps with great tremolos on board, the modern player is likely to prefer something pedal-based to complement a larger pedalboard and offer greater versatility. Below we’ve collected 15 of the best tremolo pedals on the market to help you add that signature sparkle or hard chop to your tone.

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What is tremolo?

Tremolo has a somewhat confusing background. Throughout history, the term has been used interchangeably with vibrato, but they are very much not the same. Even Fender misused it; the 60s amps that featured "Vibrato" were in actuality hosts to a very fine tremolo circuit. They weren't alone, since the original patent for a spring-loaded device for use on a stringed instrument to produce changes in pitch was patented under the name tremolo.

To clarify, tremolo is the variation of volume by electronic means. Vibrato, on the other hand, is the variation of pitch through any means — electronic, physical, or otherwise. By modulating the volume of the output, you can achieve a pulsing, textured sound that can either subtly add sparkle or create a violent helicopter effect.

If you're still confused, Orange Amps has a handy explainer about which popular songs feature a dedicated tremolo effect in their production to help you get your head around it.

In fact, tremolo was the first stand-alone effect. It was created for electric pianos, not guitar, but the concept is the same: a metal box placed between instrument and amplifier that has an effect. First came the DeArmond unit in 1941, followed later on by David Leslie with his rotating horn cabinets. Technically, a Leslie cab produces both tremolo and vibrato at the same time, but this gives you an idea of the sound. By the late 40s, amps had tremolo on board.

You can still get tremolo on your amp, but unless you're using modeling, that usually means you get one tremolo sound and that's it. For a little more variety, turn to pedals. There are a number of great tremolo pedal units on the market covering every type of sound wave and speed. It's the most straightforward sort of modulation, but can add a great deal of interest to your playing.

Where do you put tremolo in your effects chain?

Traditionally, tremolo came at the very end of the amp circuit. Thus, everything that came before it was subject to the modulating volume — including reverb. These days, with so many players using pedals, some concessions need to be made.

If your amp doesn't have reverb and you're getting it from a pedal, you have the flexibility to set it up in the vintage signal flow, with the reverb coming before the tremolo. That said, modern players are more used to having reverb at the end of everything, so you might put it before your reverb pedal or as the last thing before your amp (whether the front end or the loop return).

To simplify: probably near the end. That said, I use the EarthQuaker Devices Hummingbird, which can be driven by dirt pedals, so I actually use it as a texture element well before my modulations and delays. You'll have to move it around to see where you like it best, but it was originally designed to go at the end of everything.

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