A tremolo-and-chorus combo becomes more than the sum of its parts.
While it’s not unusual to see multi-modulation effects, or Uni-Vibe-inspired effects that combine chorus and vibrato, tremolo/chorus combinations like the analog Wren and Cuff Sonder are less common. This mildly unconventional effect combination is built around a very simple idea. But as in the company’s celebrated Big Muff clones or their Germanium Compressor, the Sonder’s outward simplicity conceals thoughtful design and sometimes surprising and complex tones and textures.
Muff Master Goes Mod
If you’ve ever played one of Wren and Cuffs’ other pedals, you’ll understand how designer Matt Holl seems single-minded about getting precisely the sound he wants. That laser-guided focus usually takes the shape of vintage-correct exactitude in his Big Muff clones. In the Sonder, it manifests itself in a straightforward but idiosyncratic control set that delivers beautiful and unexpected ends.
Consisting of depth/mix and rate controls, the top left quadrant is dedicated to the chorus effect. The pedal’s upper right section is home to depth/mix and rate controls for the tremolo. In the center there’s a simple boost to compensate for the perceived volume drop you hear when using chorus and heavy tremolo, in particular.
At first glance, you’d probably suspect that the two soft-relay footswitches are bypasses for each effect. But this is where the Sonder’s idiosyncrasies come into play. Only the left footswitch is a bypass, while the right footswitch doubles as a tap-tempo switch for tremolo rate and a means for switching between sine- and square-wave tremolo settings. To take either effect out of the mix, you have to zero the respective depth/mix control. It’s a less convenient approach in most respects, but the trade-off yields a significant gain in space efficiency.
The Sonder’s guts are what you’d expect from Wren and Cuff. It's a clean and neatly populated printed circuit, and you can run the pedal on 9V AC or 9V battery power.
Extended Chorale Sojourns
Each of the Sonder’s effects sound great and exhibit chameleonic range and colors. There’s a lot of variation in each control, and it pays to approach the pedal with an adventurous mindset and twist knobs with abandon.
The chorus is perhaps most illustrative of the Sonder’s rangy tendencies. At the lowest settings, the effect is mellow to barely perceptible—depending on the rate you select—but it adds a beautiful, subtle shading that you miss when it’s gone. Want to add motion to chord melodies and arpeggios without tipping listeners to the chorus on your board? These settings are the golden ticket. The next 25 percent of the depth control’s range shifts the chorus into rich, first-generation analog chorus realms. There’s more than a trace of the old Boss CS-1’s deep, shimmering submarine textures in the mix here, and it sounds beautiful at slower rates—particularly with a hint of delay and reverb. If you advance the rate at the same depth settings, the Sonder’s chorus becomes a more-than-passable facsimile of a fast-rotating Leslie. In fact, I can’t think of an analog chorus that does a better job at that task. It’s killer for driving faux-organ chord sequences and liquid Hendrix-y blues melodies.
At the more extreme reaches of the chorus’ depth and rate settings, the Sonder transforms itself into a throbbing, twitching texture generator. These deep, pulsing modulations don’t totally obscure picking dynamics or melodic nuance in a passage, however. And even the fastest rate and heaviest depth settings, which are bizarre enough to evoke the twitch of metallic insect wings, integrate smoothly with the clean signal. Slightly more modest depth and rate settings have the quavering, disorienting qualities of a good analog vibrato unit.
Twisted up Tremolos and Tandem Tones
The Sonder’s tremolo is equally intoxicating and offers a similarly wide range. At a recent NAMM show, Holl told us that the gently undulating tones of Fender brownface and blackface tremolo and the Demeter Tremulator were sonic touchstones for the Sonder tremolo. And while the Sonder’s sine-wave tremolo does have much of the silky smooth quality of those Fender amp tremolo circuits, it also goes places the Fender can’t—most notably on the extreme ends of the rate curve. The Sonder can go very, very slow. Slow enough to make you wonder if you’ve unplugged your guitar momentarily. It also goes fast enough to take the pedal back into robotic insect and high-rpm helicopter zones. These textures aren’t uncommon in some of the more out-there digital tremolos. On an analog unit, they’re much more rare, and they’re especially musical here.
The square-wave tremolo is also deeply satisfying and happy at extremes, and it provides a very different feel and dynamic that extends the pedal’s expressive potential. And where the sine-wave tremolo might add sultry, slinky animation to a slow arpeggiated passage, the square wave can add powerful propulsive thrust that enhances eighth-note strumming patterns and percussive arpeggio patterns.
When tremolo textures are interlaced with the chorus, the Sonder becomes a real wonder. The two effects are often beautifully, unexpectedly, and seamlessly interactive. And the settings at which they interact musically are abundant. Together, they can significantly extend the already impressive range of color in each individual effect. And if you’re skeptical about the value of uniting chorus and tremolo in a single device, a session using them together will almost certainly change your mind—and even reshape the way you play and approach modulation.
While Sonder is a source of copious sound delights, the lack of footswitch activation for the individual effects—especially at nearly 250 bucks—may deter players who switch effects off and on frequently within a single song. For just about everyone else, and studio tinkerers in particular, the Sonder is a very deep well of inspiration and modulation possibilities from radical to subliminal. Scoring an excellent analog chorus and tremolo independently could easily set you back the same sum—and potentially never work quite as seamlessly as these two effects do.