kahler international

A 1930s Rickenbacher Spanish Model B 6-string with a Kauffman Vib-Rola.
Photo by Robert Corwin.

A tribute to the visionaries of vibrato—from the brilliant minds that concocted its mechanics to the players who hooked us on its intoxicating effects.

Whether it’s used to add a shimmering vibe to a cloud of ethereal chords, impart a seasick feel to a surf riff, or unleash a sonic assault of bowel-rattling divebombs, the tremolo bar has played a huge role in the guitar’s capabilities as an expressive instrument. It’s difficult to imagine a modern musical genre that wouldn’t sound a lot different without the remarkable range of textures that a deftly used tremolo can yield. To celebrate the contributions of this wonderful piece of hardware—and the brilliant minds that made it possible—let’s look at the tremolo systems that changed not just the way guitar is played, but the entire musical landscape since the 1930s.

First, some nomenclature: Although many use the terms “tremolo” and “vibrato” interchangeably, they aren’t always synonymous. There are different types of tremolo: On bowed string instruments, tremolo can refer to rapid reiteration of the same note, or movement between two notes (sometimes called “tremolando”). This explains why the fast picking at around the 0:30 mark in Edward Van Halen’s “Eruption” is often called “tremolo picking.” But with some instruments, including guitar and organs, “tremolo” refers to a variation in volume—which explains why famous amplitude-modulating pedals like the Demeter Tremulator and Fulltone’s Supa-Trem2 are named as they are.

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