Creative side-chaining functions come to life in a super-compact and powerful stomp.
Side chaining—the studio practice of ducking instrument volumes in sync with rhythmic elements—is a fixture in everything from dance music to fist-pumping stadium rock. It’s a clever way to add impact, animate ordinary rhythms, and make a straight-ahead track into a dance floor corker, which is no small currency in today’s pop music production climate. Side-chaining can be used for any instrument. But when it’s applied to guitar in the studio, it can sound like everything from tremolo to reverse reverb to heavy compression.
With the Deep Space Pulsar, the ever-clever David Rainger has stuffed an effective side-chaining device in a compact enclosure designed for performing guitarists. Like all Rainger effects, it can look and feel scarily unorthodox. But it’s a cost-effective and surprisingly straight-ahead means of achieving tightly sync’d ducking effects without MIDI. It’s so accommodating to lo-fi, lo-tech approaches, in fact, that it can be triggered by a microphone stuffed in a kick drum and wired right back to the pedal!
Tiny Purple Beat Slicer
David Rainger takes inventive approaches to interfacing with effects—and even the guitar itself—and his work often assumes that you’ll interact with your guitar in ways your music teacher didn’t cover. That aspect of Rainger’s design ethos is strong here. But Rainger’s ingenuity pays more practical dividends too—most notably in an effective, flexible control scheme that fits in a “mini” pedal enclosure.
The Pulsar’s two primary controls make the pedal feel a little like a mutant tremolo/phaser/compressor hybrid. The dip control changes the intensity of volume drops. The “rel” (release) control, meanwhile, regulates the rate with which volume returns to normal after the drop. A volume knob controls the output. But there’s also a cool inverse button that flips the relationship between the rhythmic pulse and your instrument so they hit simultaneously.
On the top of the unit, just next to the I/O jacks, you’ll see a 1/8" jack that is key to making the Deep Space Pulsar work. It receives input from your rhythmic “controller,” which can be the included Igor tap tempo unit, a drum machine, or best of all, a microphone on a drum kit. It’s this latter trick that makes the Pulsar so accessible and full of possibilities as a live improvisational device. And it’s a cool flipside to the rigid side-chaining typically used in pop and EDM.
Parts That Pop
Though the control set is easy to grasp conceptually, most players will need time to adapt to the way it feels. Bold use of the effect means an inherent latency between what you play and what you hear, which will probably change the way you approach your parts rhythmically and dynamically. What’s cool is the way that limitation can make the Pulsar into a riff-writing conspirator—forcing unorthodox meters and rhythmic shifts that can transform simple melodies and chord changes.
The Deep Space Pulsar is good for much more than heavy-handed effects. I loved using fast release times and less intense volume dips, and then driving the effect with a drum machine or kick drum to create subtle, poly-rhythmic tremolo effects. It’s a trick that adds cool complexity and movement to chord patterns and works well with spacy reverbs and delays downstream. If you’re a fan of My Bloody Valentine’s dance/space pop hybrids, you’ll love this facet of the Pulsar’s personality.
The Deep Space Pulsar isn’t a pedal for minimalists. At the very least, you’ll need the tap tempo controller to make it work. And if you get hooked on the pedal’s potential—which is likely—you’ll almost certainly want to explore the possibilities of miking drums or syncing up to a drum machine via a cable splitter. On the other hand, the Rainger is brilliantly set up to do all this with a minimum of fuss and space. Given the potential sonic dividends and songwriting inspiration, it’s an avenue worth exploring for even the casually curious.
Vintage-hued analog modulations are married in an elegant and easy-to-use stomp.
St. Paul, Minnesota-based Henretta Engineering’s handmade pedals often take minimalism to the max. Stomps like the Crimson tremolo, Black Hole chorus, and Red Brick delay have no knobs at all. Yes you can make some adjustments with internal controls, but the message in this design scheme is clear: Henretta tones are killer without any tweaking.
The new H-Bomb line, which includes the all-analog Trembrato reviewed here, does feature tone-shaping controls. And because the Trembrato is built around Henretta’s Crimson tremolo—a great sounding knob-less design—it’s hard not to be intrigued by the possibilities of extra control and a vibrato in the mix. The Trembrato tends to reward curiosity in spades.
Compact and Stuffed
Henretta situates the circuits for the tremolo and vibrato effects in an MXR-sized enclosure that features independent speed and depth controls for each effect. The depth knobs are also key to blending the two effects or removing them from the mix entirely, which can be accomplished at minimum settings.
There are also two internal trim pots for master volume and bias. The former is especially useful for overcoming the perceived volume loss associated with tremolo effects.
With speed and depth both around noon, the Trembrato’s tremolo rivals the lushness of the trem on my vintage Ampeg Gemini II—which is no slight praise. It’s very musical and fluid, but it can also be percussive, with a range that runs from slight, shimmering afterglow to full-on throbbing. Even when set for maximum rhythmic attack, there’s a warmth that softens hard edges. In general, it’s a very natural-sounding effect.
The vibrato is warm with a very organic softening effect on pick attack. Moving the vibrato speed to around 1:30 and depth around 1 o’clock delivers organ-like modulations that are beautiful for double stops and chords, and free of metallic overtones like some of the other vibrato pedals in my collection. The vibrato also lends airiness and feels sensitive to pick dynamics. Soft attack delivered sounds like a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Harder attack resulted in a more in-your-face response.
Using tremolo and vibrato together is a magic combination. Blending tremolo with depth at 11:30 and speed at 8:30 with a mild vibrato (speed around 8 o’ clock and depth around 7 o’clock) summoned a beautiful classic tremolo sound with just a tiny bit of modulation to create a lush and atmospheric take on Magnatone’s and Fender’s lovely modulating tremolo amp effects. But you can also use the fluttering, hard-pulsing textures of more aggressive combined settings to create more adventurous sounds. My only complaint with the Henretta was a somewhat prominent hiss that becomes more pronounced at high tremolo intensity. This isn’t uncommon in analog tremolo, but it would be nice to hear less of it.
Henretta’s Trembrato is an efficient and sweet-sounding analog modulation machine that combines Henretta’s knack for no-frills, streamlined design with sensible, musical, and effective additional controls. The lack of digital control goodies like tap tempo may be a concern for some players. But if your tremolo and vibrato needs are more vintage in spirit, and you’re more concerned with tone quality than tap-tempo, the H-Bomb Trembrato delivers the goods many times over.