Alright, tremolo shootout time. I promised it was coming, and now I’m actually making good on that promise. Unlike my promise of the ‘Using Delay in Modern Music’, which I’ve been talking about for months, and have yet to post. Apologies. Apologies…all around. (And if you can name where that quote came from, I will literally give you a kiss. But mostly because I think my wife’s the only one who can name it. Quite a gamble on my part, though; because if I’m wrong……and someone else names it……basically, if you know it, and don’t want my lips anywhere near you, just keep quiet.) 

I was asked to do this shootout by my brother, Eric. (Eric is not really my brother, but I call everyone ‘brother’, because that’s what Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer did in ‘Heat’; and I perpetually live my life under the delusion that I am in that film (and U2).) He wanted to hear a bunch of tremolo pedals next to the Danelectro Tuna Melt tremolo; which gets rave reviews, even though it only costs like, $25 used. Which is definitely not enough to sound good in the price/tone equation. ;) 

deniroheat2           deniroheat21
(Wow, this is a great film. What a shot. Add a little U2 soundtrack as you’re watching the confliction in that scene, and life doesn’t get much more emotional. Is it bad when you feel more emotion in a film than in real life? Probably. That’s how I knew I loved my wife. I was like, ‘You make me feel better than ‘City of Blinding Lights’!’ Yep.)

Which is actually why I jumped at the opportunity to do this shootout. I’ve been getting a bit of flack on youtube lately because of all the boutique pedals sounding better than the mass-produced ones. I’ve been getting messages asking me if I’ve purposely set the knobs on the mass-produced ones to sound bad. hehe And while it’s like, ‘Hey, if your ears tell you they sound bad, then they sound bad’, it’s difficult for me to prove how hard I try to get the cheap ones to sound good, and how badly I would love to find the cheap ones that sound better than my boutique ones so that I could then sell everything and go buy food. (Eh…it’d probably be more guitars.) So…in order to try to vindicate myself, ;) , I’m trying really hard to find some good sounding mass-produced pedals. And I gotta be totally honest, there’s been a lot of bad sounding ones. hehe Please don’t kill me for saying that.

The Players

Sorry guys. I couldn’t get all the pedals you asked. One of my stipulations when I do these is to not lose money (hehe…riiiiight…well, at least I try); because obviously, I cannot keep them all. So I have to resell them for at least what I paid…which means I can’t buy these things new. So, for instance, I was looking for, but could not find, good enough deals on the Fulltone SupaTrem and the new Seymour Duncan…what’s it called…the ShapeShifter, I think? The one with the tap tempo. So again, apologies. But I did get a couple that I’ve been wanting to try for a while.

–Guyatone Flip Tube Tremolo (with a JJ 12AX7 tube)

–Monster Effects Swamp Thang

–Cusack Tap-a-Whirl

–Danelectro Tuna Melt

The Signal Chain

I chose to do the strat exclusively on this one because I haven’t done that all that often in these videos, and because trem just seems strat-ish to me. I don’t know why. I always feel like the single coils like it better.

Gerard Melancon strat (Lindy Fralin blues)–>
–>Swamp Thang–>Cusack–>
–>bypass looper (–>Tuna Melt/ –>Guyatone)–>
–>Holland EL84-based amp–>
–>65 Amps cab with a Blue and G12H-30

Possible Personal Biases

–I’ve had the Guyatone for the longest, so I know my way around it the best. It’s also one of the last things on my board for the time being from True Tone in Santa Monica, and I always love having gear I bought from LA because, again, makes me feel like I’m Val Kilmer in ‘Heat’, which in case you’re wondering, is never a bad thing. So I really wanted to like it, and have wanted to like it for a number of years.

–But at the same time, I can’t stand the orange color of the Guyatone. So part of me really did not want to like it. So maybe that balances out? 

–At the first tone workshop I ever went to, the guy running it had a Monster Effects Swamp Thang. And it sounded incredible. Ever since then, I’ve wanted one; but they’re a bit hard to find as I don’t believe they’re made anymore. Plus it has vintage-style knobs, and a green led…gorgeous.

–The Cusack cost the most. I wanted to sell it. And the red knobs are ugly.

–And the Danelectro. Like I said earlier, I was really hoping this might be the ‘mass produced yet good sounding’ pedal. The Bad Monkey was definitely decent, but it didn’t really come too close to the boutique-y stuff it was up against. But at the same time, I’ll be honest…part of me is very scared that one day I’ll come across a bunch of cheap stock pedals that totally kill my expensive ones, and hence subsequently ruin that wonderful sense of false, boutique superiority I get when I bring my pedalboard places. ;)

And the Shootout:

 

The Conclusions

Wow. Probably the most interesting shootout I’ve done…because I don’t think there was a clear-cut winner. At least for me…not sure I’ve found my trem yet, even thought they all sounded very good. (Even the Danelectro! Yeah!)

–The Guyatone I think might have had the best effected sound over all the spectrum of different trem sounds, as well as the most versatile. But what it did to the dry signal I did not like. It’s funny, this has been on my board for years. There’s a good little dose of humility. I liked it a few years ago when I bought it, and then just used it sparingly whenever trem was called for, which isn’t too often with me. Then I finally try it against some other trems and it’s like, ‘Oh.’ But at the same time, the actual tremolo sound was great, and it could get both slower than all the others, and more pronounced on the slicer stuff. And admittedly, I’m a freak about ‘the integrity of the guitar signal’, so I can see some people loving this pedal. And I wouldn’t think them wrong to do so. It did suck a good bit of tone when not in the loop (at least to my ears), and it does need its own adapter.

–The Swamp Thang was, I think, hands down the warmest and most vintage sounding. Extremely smooth, warm, touch-sensitive, and really had that vintage amp throb. Absolutely loved it. Only issue was that this thing was definitely built for warm, vintage trem; if you want a slicer out of it, it really didn’t do that articulately or fastly (made that up) enough.

–The Cusack sounded great. Not as vintage-y as the Swamp Thang, but still very warm; yet keeping enough cut to be able to do the faster tremolo thing and the slicer thing. Definitely the most original. Being able to switch between wave forms, and to ‘brake’ into a slower trem sound smoothly and with a footswitch, was really cool. Tap tempo is also a very useful feature. Although I do wish you were able to set the tempo by hand when you wanted to, also. But it seems a lot of thought went into the build of this, to be able to get it to do the full spectrum of trem sounds, to do them all well, and to add some cool originality to them.

–And the Danelectro…okay…honestly…really sounded good. The hard setting sounded fake, but on the soft setting? A little less organic in the swell of the throb (yikes, musicians talk weird) than the others; but you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. And at a couple of magical settings, I thought it might even sound better than my beloved Guyatone. Does suck a noticeable amount of tone when not in a bypass loop. But for $25 used? Crazy difficult to find anything better at that price!

The Keepers

Well, they all had their strong points and their weak points. The Guyatone was a great trem, but as I’m a freak about the dry signal, it was out. And the Swamp Thang just melted me. Loved the sound! But in order to keep it on my board, I’d have to get another tremolo for the fast sounds, and I don’t have the board space for two tremolo pedals right now. So it’s out (for the time being, at least…until trem becomes like delay for me…wait…heresy!). And the Danelectro sounded really good…but it just couldn’t match the tone and versatility of the Cusack. So I’m keeping the Cusack, but keeping my eyes open for something that’s just like the Cusack, but maybe with a depth switch to get the warmth of the Swamp Thang, and with the ability to set tempo with a knob or a tap switch, rather than just a tap switch.

So what does this all this mean?! Vindication!! See? I do like cheap pedals after all! Score. I’m not just sub-consciously setting the cheaper ones to sound worse! ;) But wait…the one I ended up keeping was the most expensive one! Blast! I’ll keep looking…I’ll find that cheap pedal someday. And hopefully in Hollywood…so I can keep pretending.

val-kilmer_bw51
(I mean, how can you not pretend to be that? Sorry. Is it uncomfortable when I talk this way? At least the hair…come on, you gotta admit!)

Splendid.
Karl.