Tremolo is one of the most interesting types of effects, giving us the ability to add texture, detail, and contrast within our Signal. It uses a variable LFO to adjust the volume of the signal. (If you’re using a DAW, you may want to Sync the Rate, in order to have a clear sounding Effect within your track.) Improper use of tremolo can distract from the pulse of a song, while successful use can add an even deeper impact to our rhythm.
First, let’s discuss the History of Tremolo.
Tremolo, comes from something called “Tremulant”
Tremulant arguably started as early as the late 1400’s. Tremulant is a hydraulic pumping mechanism designed to Vary the amount of air that is flowing thru the Pipes.
This gives a subtle fluttering effect that can give more life to the sound.
1556 – Giovanni Cipri from from Northern Italy was commissioned to build one of the first famous Organs featuring a Tremulant.
1615 – Salomon de Caus‘s book (“Les Raisons des Forces Mouvantes”) gave descriptions and illustrations on Tremulant using Water Pipe Organs. These designs were later recreated by many other engineers throughout the 1600’s and 1700’s.
1896 – Thaddeus Cahill develops the first Electric Organ called the “Dynamophone“. This was one of the first Electronic Instruments made, weighing over 7 tons. It was the first usage of Electric “Tonewheel Oscillators” to create sounds using Additive Synthesis.
1906 – “Telharmonium” was Cahill’s Second version of the Dynamophone.
This was built in Midtown, New York City, and connected to local businesses phone lines. The entire instrument was over 60 feet long weighed over 200 tons. People could use telephones to call in and have the Operator connect them to a private “Telephone Concert”. Their daily performances originated from “Teleharmonic Hall“ (which was located on the Northeast Corner of 39th Street and Broadway.) Sadly in 1908, Cahill was no longer allowed to use New York City’s phone lines due to too many complaints of music bleeding into people’s phone conversations. It was dismantled and eventually sold for parts after his death. There are no known recordings made of this.
”Every time I see or hear a new wonder like this I have to postpone my death right off, I couldn’t possibly leave the world until I have heard this again and again.” – Mark Twain
1931 / 1932 – Richard H. Ranger releases the Electric Rangertone Organ which was the one of the first featuring Electric Push-Button Tremolo. This was used by NBC.
1935 – Hammond releases the first Commercially Available Electric Organs, using the same Tonewheel Oscillator technology from Chaill’s “Telharmonium”.
1937 – Donald Leslie, unsatisfied with the sound of the Electric Organ, develops a rotating speaker for Hammond’s Electric Organs, to recreate the similar moving effects of Pipe Organs. This was called the Leslie Speaker.
1941 – Harry DeArmond invents the first commercially available Tremolo Effect for Guitars, translated from the ideal of Tremulant: Model 601 Tremolo Control.
1961 – Fender Princeton 6G2 Guitar Amplifier introduced, featuring one of the first ever built-in Tremolo Effects
1996 – Cubase 3.02 releases the first VST format featuring an Auto-pan. This was one of the first Virtual Creations of a similar effect.
Today – We now have every single studio effect constantly at our fingertips. All DAW’s can produce Tremolo one way or another. Here are some typical Native Tremolo effects that come with DAW’s.
As the years progressed, the concept of Tremulant stayed the same. It was an effect designed to give movement to a stagnant, sound. This movement can be made to be more extreme by our digital abilities today, however we are still able to create the same effects as it’s intention by only applying a small amount.
Tremolo, at it’s core has 2 Knobs:
Depth: Amount of Effect
Rate: Speed of Effect
In order to give a more subtle type of Tremulant, you should use a lower Depth.
Additionally, you can purchase Third Party Plug-ins so that no matter which DAW you are working in, your Effect Processors stay the same. If you go this route, a great choice would be Sound Toys Tremolator
This plug-in allows you to draw your own Custom Waveforms, as well as Custom LFO Patterns. There is also an option for Analog Saturation, as if it were coming from a something Physical. Again, lower amounts are more subtle, and will give a shimmering sound to any sustaining element. High amounts are used more as Production Effects.
I hope you feel more comfortable with Tremolo, and it’s origins. The only way to truly understand how this effect will work for you, is by trying it out in various situations and gaining confidence thru experience. Enjoy!