When it worked, the Tremulous Lune was a throbbing, mysterious, device capable of all kinds of pulsing mayhem, along with a very healthy gain boost. Photo by Philippe Herndon

In the late 1990s, I was craving a tremolo pedal and had set my sights on the recently discontinued Boss PN-2. My then girlfriend and future wife had other big plans. Using a revolutionary new thingamajig called “the Internet,” she found a handmade tremolo pedal called the Tremulus Lune from a collective/DIY kit site called 3ms Pedals in St. Louis, Missouri. For me—a public-radio listener seeking an alternative to mass-produced devices—the company’s approach was like a siren’s song: Payment options included bartering, and acceptable items for trade included everything from soldering stations and oscilloscopes to bicycle parts, toaster ovens, and coffee. When my girlfriend contacted 3ms founder Dan Green about buying the Lune, he convinced her to upgrade it with two mods: Swapping out the buffered footswitch for a true-bypass one (this mod was actually pretty unusual in the ’90s) and installing a ramp switch for, well, fun.

The pedal was housed in a handpainted electrician’s junction box with seemingly random knob placement, and it was signed by its maker, “Kelly.” Beneath an expansive nest of coiled and tangled 24-gauge wire rested a small stationery envelope containing a piece of cardboard with a printed layout diagram and components punched through it like thumbtacks. Featuring what some call a CBCB (“cardboard circuit board”), it was held together by the point-to-point-soldered leads, and insulated from shorting against the potentiometers by nothing more than paper and tape.

“Beneath an expansive nest of coiled and tangled 24-gauge wire rested a small stationery envelope containing a piece of cardboard with a printed layout diagram and components punched through it like thumbtacks.” —Caroline Guitar Company’s Philippe Herndon

Despite its eyebrow-raising construction, the Lune sounded fantastic. That is, when it worked. When you got lucky and all the connections were firing, it was a throbbing, mysterious, device capable of all kinds of pulsing mayhem, along with a very healthy gain boost and a thoughtful “spacing” control that changed the distance between cycles (as opposed to a speed knob which simply changes how quickly the volume goes up and down). I spent hours inside that pedal resoldering connections, replacing wires, and eventually replacing the switch. It sometimes failed when we did outdoor shows in humid environments, which made me think the failure was due to the cardboard getting saturated with moisture.

Years later, 3ms changed its name to 4ms because of pressure from 3M. (How anyone might have confused a ragtag gang of sonic communists with the multinational behind Scotch tape and Post-it notes boggles my mind, but such are the pitfalls for small builders then and now.) I ordered a replacement board several years back to rebuild my Tremulus, but kept the original CBCB as a reminder of what once resided inside. Meanwhile, Dan Green has steered 4ms and its DIY counterpart commonsound.org beyond pedals to all kinds of new, innovative noise devices and synth modules. The company’s influence can be seen today among many effect pedal builders we consider “boutique.” The way the pedals were signed and personalized by the builder responsible lives on in our work at Caroline Guitar Company, as well as many others. The home-cooked products and easygoing “marketing” (to use the term very, very loosely) are echoed in Brady Smith’s Old Blood Noise Endeavors. And remnants of the haphazard, almost dangerous-looking packaging can be found in the work of outfits such as Dwarfcraft Devices and Fuzzrocious.

To pay homage to this odd device and its effect on both my sound and experience—and to more broadly celebrate the spirit of pursuing different, inspiring sounds that prevent us from becoming “pedalbored”—I decided to speak with some of my favorite pedal builders about the unusual, off-the-beaten-track effects that made them think and play differently, and, by extension, influenced their own pedal designs.

YouTube It

Although videos of original 3ms Lunes are virtually nonexistent, an Australian DIY enthusiast created this video of the clone from a kit sold on 4ms’ commonsound.org store.