Going back to the different styles tied to different tremolo bars
Over the past few weeks,
I’ve been keenly watching
how guitarists the world
over are using their tremolo
arms. I’ve observed (and heard)
a major difference in the way
European guitarists use their
tremolo arms as compared to
their American counterparts.
However, before we go deeper
into these differences in technique,
we must go back to
where all this fuss began.
In my view, there are basically three main types of tremolo bars. The first really important development in this area would be the Bigsby vibrato unit, which evolved in the late 1940s. Initially, this system was intended to imitate the sound of a Hawaiian lap steel, and I believe its intended application was to create a subtle effect. Chet Atkins and the Gretsch guitars he played were instrumental in the success of the Bigsby because Chet used Bigsbys a lot on his recordings. Just as that sound was getting embedded in guitarists’ ears, rock ’n’ roll got raunchier and more brazen. As a result, guitarists started using the Bigsby more physically, producing wilder sounds with the device. This was one of many instances where technique evolved along with the music of the day.
In 1954, Fender introduced the revolutionary Stratocaster model with the new optional synchronized tremolo system— the first response to the Bigsby’s opening salvo and the second crucial advance in tremolo design. Buddy Holly used his Strat’s tremolo arm more like how guitarists first used the Bigsby to generate subtle pitch bends, but it didn’t take long for guitarists to discover the Stratocaster’s trem enabled more extreme pitch changes.
With its factory-installed Bigsby, this Epiphone Casino VS is ready for
a big night of twang-filled fun. Photo courtesy of Epiphone Guitars
At about that same time, rockabilly music came along and inspired even wilder use of tremolos. As this trend grew, prominent players like Cliff Gallup (Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps), Duane Eddy (writer of the timeless “Peter Gunn Theme”), and Eddie Cochran (“Summertime Blues”) incorporated the trem into their twangy sound.
But between 1966 and 1967, Jimi Hendrix came on the scene and changed just about everything imaginable about the electric guitar. Hendrix gave the Stratocaster much more prominence than it had enjoyed before, and a huge reason for that was the radical way he used its tremolo—indeed, the way he abused it.
So far, we’ve looked at several key examples of how American guitarists used their tremolo bars up to this point in time. But there’s an important twist to the story. If you’ve listened to many European guitarists over the same years we’ve been talking about, you might have noticed that most of them used their tremolo bars to produce what might be perceived as finger vibrato.
For example, let’s take fusion master Allan Holdsworth’s original sound from The New Tony Williams Lifetime album Believe It. One of the main things that distinguished Holdsworth on that record was how he used the Maestro Vibrola bar on his SG Custom (the tune “Fred” offers a great first taste of this)—it was yet another tremolo sound, and, it was even more subtle than that of the early Bigsby players.
So, the tremolo was starting to get more use as a softer effect as a general trend among guitarists across the pond. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear a huge difference in musical intent. This European mindset was no doubt more influenced by classical music, as well. Other European guitarists who have used this type of tremolo effect include Norway’s Terje Rypdal (listen to his album If Mountains Could Sing) or Germany’s Thomas Blug (see his Flash CD or look him up on YouTube). I would also recommend listening to John McLaughlin play his Bigsby-equipped Gibson Johnny Smith on The Promise.
By 1977 or so, Adrian Belew and Edward Van Halen were emerging and—presto!—change was looming large once again! This change was heard via Talking Heads tunes, where Adrian Belew was making a ton of very unorthodox sounds with his Stratocaster’s tremolo arm (and with his vast array of effects pedals). While Belew went on to become famous for his animal-like sounds on King Crimson albums such as Discipline, a third name would come to the forefront of vibrato design—Floyd Rose.
EVH embraced the Floyd very early on, and once again tremolo use got even crazier thanks in large part to his dive-bombing. This technique ruled for quite a spell—well into the ’80s. Toward the end of the decade, Jeff Beck would surprise the hell out of everyone with an album called Guitar Shop. The tones he produced on “Where Were You” would prove to be among the most evocative ever pulled from a Fender Stratocaster—and that was because his super-advanced trem chops allowed him to mimic the human voice (among other things).
Since then, Beck has owned the title of Twang Bar King in many people’s opinions, and rightly so. Even more amazing is the fact that he continues to grow, making more and more otherworldly sounds with each recording. Check out the bonus track “Cry Me a River” (from Beck’s 2010 release Emotion and Commotion). There is a metric ton of great live Beck performances to explore on YouTube, as well.
So, to conclude for this month, I highly encourage players of all stripes to listen to what is coming in from afar. Honestly, you never can tell what you are going to do with that tremolo. You might be the next innovator!
Dean Farley is chief designer of Snake Oil Brand Strings, and his ideas have had a significant influence on contemporary string design. He is also known as a great source of guitar, amp, and gear lore. For more information, visit snakeoilstrings.com.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.