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Electric Guitar Tremolo Effects - Analog vs Digital

Discussion in 'Recording' started by ClarkJaman, Jul 14, 2016.

  1. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Hey everyone,

    I am interested in hearing your thoughts on analog vs digital tremolo effects, especially on electric guitar.

    To be clear, I am not talking about what Fender (erroneously) calls "tremolo arms" on guitar, also known as whammy bars, which is actually a vibrato effect. I am talking about a real tremolo effect that modifies the dynamics of a signal, not the frequency.

    Some audio effects, like delay and reverb, most of us can agree are best left in the digital realm for most applications. Other effects, like compression and distortion, are often more desirable as analog effects, and the digital platforms hopelessly try to imitate and model the analog gear. You might very well disagree with this, but that's not the point. The point is that some classic effects from the analog age are better achieved in the digital realm than others.

    I am a big believer in the "use the type of gear (whether digital or analog) that captures the sound you want and don't worry about if the technology behind the gear is fashionable" philosophy. Nonetheless, I want to hear ya'll's thoughts on this. Is there an advantage to using analog tremolo effect pedals/amps/outboard gear, or is it easier, cheaper, and even better to just use digital plugins? Should I bother shopping for tremolo pedals at Guitar Centre? Or should I just plug in to POD Farm or the Guitar Rig tremolo effect?

    Pax Caritas et lol,

    PS I know I haven't been around RO much lately (I've been reading a little but not posting), because I haven't been doing much recording... But good news- for the first time in two years I am recording a client and getting back into the swing of this business! So hopefully I will be around the forum more. I miss ya'll! :D
    Brien Holcombe likes this.
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Well, if you buy an actual tremolo pedal, you'd have that inline before your input, so you'd record the guitar with the effect, meaning it's printed to the track that way - unless you re-amp the guitar track with an analog effect after the fact...
    Printing an effect isn't bad, if you are sure that's the effect you want. Many guitar tracks have been recorded with printed effects - no biggie. You just have to know you are committed to that effect once it's been recorded.

    Using a plug has the advantage of letting you tweak the effect if and as needed as your mix progresses.

    I've used several amp sims that have very good sounding tremolo, as good sounding as any amp or pedal I've used.

    Another thing to consider is that your basic tremolo - MXR, DOD, DanElectro) pedals are gonna be mono - and that's not bad either, but plugs will give you the benefit of being able to use them in mono and stereo tremolo, so you'll have a choice.

    My suggestion is to download free trials of several tremolo effect plugs, and see what you think of them. Then go to GC, plug into one, and A/B it against the plug you tried. Decide from there...

    As a side note, this:

    Probably should have read, "In My Opinion"...

  3. Kapt.Krunch

    Kapt.Krunch Well-Known Member

    Yep...and all those "Vibrato" knobs on all those Fender amps are actually "tremolo"! The little "Vibro Champ" should have been called a "Tremo Champ"!

    And...stereo tremolo? I guess that would be cool to have it pulsating alternating left and right.

    "Gimme Shelter" tremolo sounds like it was just dalayed a bit, right first, delay left. "Born On The Bayou" might have sounded cool with that, or maybe even a ping-pong thing. "Crimson and Clover" probably best left mono (trem guitar right) the way it is, as dense as it ends up getting, anyway.

    As far as "Vibrato"...nothing is as undulating, pitch-bending, juicy-cool as an old Magnatone amp, and a lot of them could switch to tremolo, also.

    Analog or digital? Recorded in, or run through after? Those points have already been addressed.

    Stomp box, digital model box, or "tremolo"-able guitar amp?

    Whatever works, and sounds good. All my "Vibro"-able Fender amps, and the Music Man, sound good for something, and they all sound a bit different.

    I have heard some good pedals. Never really tried digital trem on anything, so can't have an opinion on that..

  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Also, some Fender Rhodes sims have stereo vibrato - which is cool, although there have been times where I've had to narrow the stereo field on the track by 50% or so, because the L-R oscillation can occasionally get a bit too wide, and it can become distracting, in that it can pull the focus of the primary instrument away from the center.

    As always, it all depends on the song.

    I'm not sure I'd want to hear Tommy James' vocal ( or the tremolo guitars) on Crimson (at the end where the tremolo effect is used on his vocal ) in anything other than mono, anyway.
    The "stereo" mix of that song, as I recall, was really just certain instruments panned hard L-R ( drums, bass and electric guitar with tremolo on one side, with another electric, percussion and acoustic guitar hard to the other direction?) but the vocal in either version of mono/stereo was mono, including the tremolo on his vocal at the end, as the use of stereo effects for vocals was pretty rare at that time.

    Then again, back when that song was big, I was listening to it mostly on AM radio anyway, so I wasn't hearing anything in stereo. ;)
    That's not to say that studios weren't putting out stereo versions of popular music, ( "Hi-Fi"), because they'd been doing so for years before '69... but there was still plenty of mono releases, too.

    With the exception of a handful of underground/college stations, FM/Stereo commercial music broadcasting hadn't yet become the de facto it is today.
    AM radio was still very popular then for broadcasting commercial/pop music, and more than just a few song versions were mixed accordingly.

    As I recall, FM wouldn't begin to become widely popular with T-40 radio listeners until around '73 or so. I might be off by a few years, though... that's a guesstimate.
    My fellow baby-boomers here on RO would have to check me on that. ;)
  5. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Record the guitar with a tremolo pedal but put a direct box ahead of that. Then you can try doing digitally and compare.
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I think what Boulder is suggesting is to split the guitar's input signal with a Direct Box, putting it before the pedal, so that you can record one split with an inline tremolo pedal, and the other as a "dry" take to a separate input channel/track at the same time, so that you could add a tremolo sim to the dry take track after it was tracked, and then A/B the two.

    It's a good idea.

    Use an active DB if possible.
  7. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Yes, that's what I meant. And yes, use an active DI.
  8. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Yes, I almost always record electric guitar with a DI in front. My generation is scared of commitment, remember? :p

    I knew somebody was gonna split hairs with me on that one. ;P

    I never thought about the advantage of a tremolo plugin being in stereo. I guess even with a mono tremolo pedal I could still put two mics on the amp and record in stereo, but the tremolo effect itself still wouldn't be in stereo the same way.
  9. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    I bought a Voodoo Lab tremolo pedal. It was on sale for $100 (regular $178) at Long and Mcquade and it fit the only empty spot in my pedalboard perfectly! I couldn't resist. Although I love playing with it, I can't see myself using it for recording very much. The thing I realized about tremolo is that I really only like it when it is in time with the song. It seems to me that this is only possible if 1) you use a digital plugin that is synced to the tempo of a recording which is impossible for a pedal or amp or 2) the whole song follows the tremolo, almost as if the tremolo tempo was a metronome. Here is a beautiful example of this:

    Even if you get a tremolo pedal that has a tap tempo function (I'm told these do exist, but I haven't found one myself) it would come in and out of the tempo of a recording. It's not like a delay effect where as long as the instrument is tight the delay will sound tight even if it is a few milliseconds too long or too short. The delay tap relates to the transient, at least perceptively, while a tremolo tempo tap goes on it's own tempo without relating to the transients or anything you play. I hope you guys understand what I'm talking about... it's really hard to explain and I didn't grasp it until I plugged in my tremolo pedal and tried to sync it to a recording. :/
  10. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    I bet my old Boss SE-50 could sync tremolo to tempo via MIDI.
  11. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    Or you could do a manual tremolo by working the master volume knob on your amp with your fingers! ;P
  12. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    MIDI would be easier. The pedal steel player I work with uses his volume pedal for a tremolo effect.
    DogsoverLava likes this.
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Putting two mics on an amp doesn't mean you are recording in stereo, unless your guitar amp happens to be a stereo rig.
    Neither the tremolo effect, or even the dry signal, would be "stereo" on a typical single output guitar amp.

    Without any offense intended, do you think that spending $100 for a tremolo pedal was the wisest purchase for your recording rig? Especially considering that you mentioned that you wouldn't be using it much...
    I'm only mentioning this because you've posted other queries here about mic and pre amps; and these are things that you will use often - necessary parts to any recording rig, and that are far more crucial to the quality of you recordings than a pedal that you'll only use once in a while...

    It's your money, and of course you should spend it on whatever you want... But there were probably several other stages in your rig that you could have used that money towards that would have likely been of greater benefit to you.

    Only IMHO of course. ;)
  14. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I use a VFE Old School trem pedal in one of my pedal boards. Its a third generation version. Look em up. Read about the circuit. Its all there on the site. You'll learn a lot about tremolo and how its produced. These pedals allow the shape of the wave form to be changed for effect. Its a VERY cool pedal. The best I have ever seen. Analog....transistor.
  15. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    Sorry to come to this late: here's the Tremolo you want -- and it's Canadian to boot. http://empresseffects.com/products/tremolo -- Quite specifically the Tremolo2
    Empress have been making some of the best pedals imaginable of late - super high quality and smart design - and amazing sound.
  16. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    I just spent half an hour looking through the empress website. They have all sorts of good stuff! Thanks DogsoverLava!

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