Not your dad’s tremolo—or anyone else’s.
Unique distortion/modulation effects.
Tricky to use. Tones may get tiring. Poor documentation.
Ease of Use:
Nunomo calls its Grain a tremolo pedal. It is, in the sense that it modulates the amplitude (volume) of your signal. But the sonic results aren’t like anything you might expect from a conventional trem effect.
Here, the modulating signal is a fast square wave. This is hard, on/off modulation at rates that begin where most trem effects max out. Grain doesn’t do slow, throbbing sounds. Instead, the speedy modulation generates a unique distortion timbre. “The original idea,” says Nunomo, “came from how a human shouts. In rock or metal songs, people shout like ‘goaaaahhh!’”
A Fast Flicker
This sonic stroboscopic flicker reminds me of the throaty, trilling sound Spanish speakers produce when properly pronouncing double-r words like torre and borracho. Since Nunomo creates the effect by nixing portions of waveform cycles, the modulation rate varies according to pitch and modulates faster at higher pitches. If, say, you bend a note, you can hear the rate change as you stretch and release the string. I suppose it sounds something like a heavy metal singer shouting “burrrrrrrr-ito!”
The pedal also includes gain and volume controls capable of overdriving an amp on their own. But, as Nunomo points out, the Grain sounds most dramatic when placed after a separate distortion or fuzz pedal. (I used a Tone Bender MkII clone for the demo clip.) The Grain doesn’t change your fuzz pedal’s innate timbre. It just sort of flutters it.
Meanwhile, the process also generates sub-tones between two and four octaves below the pitch you play. Many settings are reminiscent of the old MXR Blue Box effect heard on Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain.” Like a Blue Box, the Grain is clearest when playing above the 12th fret. Below that, the sub-octaves become indistinguishable. Anything other than single notes (and sometimes fifths) sounds pretty sloppy. But hey—depending on how much noise you like in your rock, “indistinguishable” and “sloppy” might suit your style and tastes.
Mix and Match
The Grain’s additional controls let you vary the pedal’s core timbre. A trio of knobs activates the effect—each one generating sub-tones in a different octave. A 3-position transition toggle controls the intensity (i.e., the choppiness) of the effect. There’s also a much-needed mix knob to blend straight and effected signal. A little effect goes a long way here.
In fact, at aggressive mix levels I find the Grain’s tones fatiguing. But having said that, the effect could be deployed to good use in small doses. For example, fluttering the last phrase of a solo heading into a chorus might lend the perfect touch of drama and eccentricity. The Grain is ready for such applications: a second mini-toggle activates a momentary mode, wherein the effect is only applied while holding down a foot switch.
Dialing It In
I initially found the Grain difficult to use. Even with the one-page manual, I simply couldn’t get it to produce modulation effects, though the gain controls worked as expected. We contacted the manufacturer and Nunomo responded with a diagram depicting a starting position for the knobs—one that doesn’t appear in the manual. It turns out the three depth control knobs aren’t exactly depth controls. They’re more like trimpots that provide one ideal setting, as opposed to a range of usable ones. In other words, they do nothing useful across most of their range.
The same is true of the wet/dry mix pot. Fully counterclockwise, it outputs an effect-only signal. With the knob raised to around 10 o’clock, you get maximum dry. Nothing else happens in the upper two-thirds of the knob’s range.
The Grain is solidly made, with a tidy circuit board and enclosure-mounted pots and jacks. The pedal lives in a standard BB-sized box and runs on the usual 9V power supplies. There is no battery compartment.
Listen to the accompanying demo clip and to others online. (All feature similar sounds.) Do you think these tones could find a place in your toolbox? Well, that’s your verdict. To my ear, the Grain’s effects could be effective in short bursts. Your aesthetics may differ. I didn’t dig the fact that four of the six knobs only do useful things in a fraction of their range, or that the one-page manual failed to get me up and running without frustration. Again, your mileage may vary.
Watch the Review Demo: