The History of Trem Control
This article was originally written before we released Trem Control, which is now on sale and available for Mac and Windows.
Eight months ago, we built 90% of a great tremolo. We codenamed it “Good Tremolo,” gave it a clandestine cameo in our YouTube stream, and outfitted its control surface with what we feel is the most intuitive interface for controlling a tremolo’s shape and speed.
But when it rains it pours, and we ended up focusing first on Faraday Limiter, then on Panpot. Often we’d get inquisitive emails — when are you releasing that tremolo I saw on YouTube?? — and we even sent alpha builds to a few brave souls, but the tremolo simmered on the backburner.
Until last month.
That’s when we started running guitar recordings through it. Inspired by that evocative shake, we realized just how amazing the tremolo would sound if we gave it some more vibe: the ability to recreate the wobbliest and crunchiest and most tremulous tones of the back catalog.
So we rechristened the plugin Trem Control (in honor the very first guitar effect, the DeArmond Tremolo Control) and took the good all the way to great.
Here are three features we picked up from the last century.
1 Tube Color
For a long time, we (and a couple of our close audio friends) have wanted to be able to digitally conjure the sound of early Muscle Shoals recordings — great singers pushing a tube mic and preamp to their limits: Aretha Franklin singing “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)” or Wilson Pickett on “Hey Jude.”1
The saturation on those 60’s recordings is complex: dynamic, crunchy, & harmonically varied, and it certainly included more than just tube saturation. But we were interested in making a tube algorithm with the same level of nuance and complexity, and, given the history of tubes and tremolo, it made a lot of sense to put a tube summing stage in a tremolo plugin (see Pops Staples on “Uncloudy Day”).
2 Harmonic Tremolo
Classic Fender amps from the mid-century often featured something the Fender corporation called “harmonic vibrato.” And while Leo Fender’s nomenclature might have been backwards (what he called vibrato was actually tremolo, and vice-versa), his ear was perfectly calibrated; harmonic tremolo, Leo’s own invention, divides the highs and lows, modulating them out of phase to create a gorgeous, intoxicating wobble.
First, here’s Trem Control’s “Normal” tremolo.
Now the classic, Leo Fender-inspired “Harmonic” tremolo.
After we added the Harmonic type we sat back and thought: this sounds great. And we did some other stuff for a few days, then Devin said, what if we add a few more types of tremolo?
How about a harmonic tremolo that’s a little more hypnotic and extreme? That’s “Deep Harmonic”. Or only “Bass”. Or only “Treble”. Or something more anachronistic, like just the high frequencies old recordings couldn’t even capture, the “Air”.
Garreth Spinn was one of the earliest alpha testers of Trem Control, and after trying it for a few days, he wrote back: “you should try adding a % swing feature.”
We agreed wholeheartedly.3
Here’s a stomp-snap beat with no swing. Next, classic jazz swing at 25%, hard swing at 50%, and even extreme swing at 75%. What’s the reverse sound like? Reverse classic at -25%, reverse hard at -50%, and reverse extreme at -75%.