Tremolo is one of the oldest effects in the guitarist’s arsenal. It’s popped up in pretty much every form of music imaginable, and was one of the first effects to be adapted into the circuitry of guitar amps. It’s also deceptively simple—volume goes up, volume goes down.
What makes the difference is how those volume changes are made. While super choppy, ragged tremolo can sound really cool in the right situations, sometimes nothing beats the tone of a smooth, natural and softly undulating tremolo. Black Cat Pedals’ tremolo unit has always favored the more vintage, natural end of the tremolo sound spectrum. Now they’ve unleashed the Mini Trem, which recalls both Black Cat’s older tremolo units and vintage amp effects with some new improvements and tweaks.
All Shook Up
Gear aficionados might remember the Mini Trem from Black Cat’s original run of effects several years ago. It was a fairly simple device; with controls for Speed and Depth, a single bypass footswitch and an internal trim pot for boosting the volume. The new Mini Trem is not really a reissue of the original, but rather an update that retains the classic-voiced tone of the original with new features for tailoring the tone.
All tracks recorded with a 2011 Fender 60th Anniversary Telecaster into a 2011 Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier Multiwatt head.
The Mini Trem is influenced by early stompbox tremolo units of the late ’60s. But unlike a lot of vintage and modern tremolo units, hand-wired Black Cat circuit is designed to emit the lowest amount of background noise possible and eliminate any unwanted, thumping artifacts heard in some vintage tremolo circuits.
This newest iteration of the Mini Trem has two more controls than the original—Tone and Boost controls that compliment the first version’s Speed and Depth knobs. Turn the tone knob counter-clockwise and you move into bassier realms. Counterclockwise adjustments produce a progressively sharper and more treble-y edge. The pedal’s FET Boost (controlled by the Boost knob) effectively (but much more conveniently) serves the same purpose as the original pedal’s internal volume trimpot.
The Mini Trem really shines when set for a slow, pulsating tremolo, and
the slowest speeds are reminiscent of an old blackface Fender Twin
There’s now an additional footswitch for moving between slow and double-time speeds, though the proximity to the bypass switch can be a little too close for comfort and it can be easy to stomp the wrong one on a dim stage.
Just a little time with the Mini Trem reveals uses beyond simple tremolo effects. I even enjoyed using it as a simple boost—all I had to do was drop the Speed and Depth knobs down to their lowest settings, and adjust the Boost and Tone controls to taste. But beautiful, pulsing tremolo is what this compact pedal does best. Using a 2011 60th Anniversary Fender American Telecaster and a Mesa/Boogie Multi-Watt Dual Rectifier, I achieved some really smooth, controlled blues rhythm tones without sacrificing the bite and high end cut I wanted out of the Tele. With a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom in the mix, the pedal’s boost function brought out a natural definition in the high end that was a joy.
The Mini Trem really shines when set for a slow, pulsating tremolo, and the slowest speeds are reminiscent of an old blackface Fender Twin Reverb. Kicking on the pedal’s Speed mode to double the rate offered a whole new slew of fast and percussive volume effects. With the Speed knob set at noon, you’re already in pretty fast-pulsing territory, while settings higher than that can transform the Mini Trem into space-age stutter ray. Some of the coolest, most unique tones from the Mini Trem are available via these more extreme settings, though a nudge on the Boost control is often needed to get the pedal to cut as well at faster rates.
Black Cat’s new Mini Trem is a worthy successor to the original pedal, with enhancements that help tailor the effect with greater precision. It can double as a pretty cool boost pedal, and at more extreme settings unleashes some very out-of-this-world, sci-fi textures.
The proximity of the two footswitches is a little frustrating, and it wouldn’t hurt have it voiced with even slower speed settings or a waveform control. But these are minor quibbles for a pedal that captures the vibe, attitude, and performance of some of the best vintage tremolo circuits and effects out there.Watch the video review:
you hunger for vintage-voiced tremolo.
you’re accustomed to the greater wave-shaping potential of digital units.