In the world of guitar effects the best tremolo pedals are crowned by both objective evidence and subjective, community consensus.
As the buyer you don’t just want good specs rather, you also want to be sure that what you're buying has already proved to be a relevant, even an excellent, product for others in a similar situation.
Hence, we want to avoid wasting our money.
Yet, unfortunately, it's really easy to waste money buying guitar gear.
We'll look to avoid a wasted purchase by covering seven tremolo pedals that are the absolute best in the business. Our assessment will take into account, price, features and their "subjective" overall reputation.
The seven tremolo pedals listed will be reviewed in detail.
Furthermore, our "honorable mentions" section (below) won't get their own reviews, but are also worth a look. If you're in search of a particular bargain (a few of these are much cheaper) or a different brand, might be especially helpful.
For example, the Boss TR-2 tremolo pedal (like most Boss pedals) is a great value buy at under $99.
Also, in the following list, budget deals have been labeled with a green "cheap" tag.
Honorable Mentions: Boss Pedals, Joyo and more…
If I could pick two...
The Keeley DynaTrem is a dynamic tremolo effect that can be set to have either speed or depth react to your strumming rhythm. There’s also a third setting called the SHAPE control that adds reverb. It’s one of the easiest tremolo pedals to use and well-worth the consideration of all "set it and forget it" fans.
The Latitude Deluxe has more options than I've seen in any other tremolo pedal. It sounds great out of the box yet, still has a ton of versatility, making it an easy top pick. Many consider the Latitude to be the tinkerer's most ideal tremolo pedal. If money grew on trees, I'd own two of them.
While researching this post, I looked not only to my own experience but, also to forums, subreddits, product reviews and a number of other community resources. I wanted to make certain that I was highlighting the most loved and best-sounding tremolo pedals available.
Because thorough research is the only way one can make an informed purchase.
Before we get to the best tremolo pedals, we'll take a comprehensive look at what makes a good tremolo, in general.
You can also skip straight to the pedals, if you so choose.
History of the Tremolo Effect
Leo Fender began including the effect, often calling it “vibrato,” in a number of his amplifiers. He used a technology that turned amplifier tubes on and off, which created the sweeping volume effect of tremolo. This made it really easy to package the effect within an amplifier's preamp.
The sound effect would eventually be produced by an opto-isolator, which created the varying waveforms (more on this later).
An old DeArmond tremolo box. | Flickr Commons Image via Germanium
Amps that include tremolo are still fairly common. However, I'm assuming you either don’t own one or you’re looking for a tremolo effect that’s more customizable.
In my experience, the pedal-based tremolos are exactly that, offering features and perks that are more versatile than the built-in amp versions.
A Smaller Quality Gap
The wide deployment of tremolo effects in amplifiers is partly due to the fact that the quality difference between a good and bad tremolo pedal is far less than that of, say, a good and bad delay.
In other words, it’s a simple effect to create. Like making boxed macaroni and cheese, it’s hard to screw up.
Since tremolo is one of the most easily constructed effects, you can get by with some of the cheaper options.
However, in this post we’re looking for the best tremolo pedals available and aren’t as worried about cost.
Just note that you are more likely to get away with cheapening out on these than almost any other pedal.
What is the tremolo effect?
What exactly is a tremolo and what does it do?
In its simplest form, the tremolo effect is a series of oscillating volume swells. Variance, degree and shape of those swells will change depending on which pedal you’re dealing with.
It can create either a quick, pulsating sound (modern tremolo) or it can take the form of a watery, modulated tone (classic tremolo) that’s similar to a flanger.
The tremolo effect, in its simplest form, is a series of oscillating volume swells.
Modern tremolos use a waveform that’s more choppy and rhythmic (the helicopter sound) where volume drops in and out at a quicker pace.
Classic tremolo is a slower, more modulated sound that’s reminiscent of the surf rock and pop of the 1960s.
Most tremolo pedals of our day, as well as all the units mentioned here, can handle both styles.
The Three Waveforms
To target a really good tremolo pedal, you should first understand the three basic tremolo waveforms.
A waveform is a signal processing term that denotes the shape created by volume swells, meaning how the volume moves up and down during the effect’s oscillation.
Here’s what they look like:
In your garden-variety tremolo pedal the sine waveform is the most common.
Good tremolo pedals will actually have settings that are specific to all three waveforms. Some even have pictures of each wave displayed that allow you to select the form you want via a selector switch.
How does a tremolo pedal impact volume?
Poor-quality tremolo pedals often have an issue where the volume of your guitar sounds lower with the pedal on because of the way it manipulates your signal. Particularly with peak and sine waveforms, the volume sweep will sound quieter or cause discrepancies in volume levels between your dry and wet signals.
Good-quality tremolo pedals prevent this, either with interior electronics or a gain/volume control knob, often called a “makeup gain control,” on the exterior of the pedal.
I’ve also found that tremolo pedals with true bypass are less likely to have volume problems.
Desirable Tremolo Pedal Features
So, what features should we look for?
We can take the information covered and setup a brief, simple list of features that we’d like to have in our tremolo pedal.
That list would include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Basic Modulation Customization Options (rate, depth, etc.)
- Community Approval and Reputation
- Makeup Gain Control (for lost volume)
- Selectable Waveforms (Square, Peak and Sine)
- Tap Tempo or Timing Customization Options
We’ll look for these features, in addition to digging into the overall sound quality and popularity of seven of the best-selling tremolo pedals.
Let’s jump in.
Robert Keeley makes a ton of fantastic pedals and the DynaTrem might just be one of my favorites.
It’s addictive to play, because it actually responds to the intensity and rhythm of your playing. This means you don't need to make adjustments on the fly via the rate and depth knobs.
Instead, both knobs are designed to follow your strumming and/or picking cadence.
This means you can control the subtlety of the effect by the intensity level of your own playing, which gets you great results on both extremes. Whether you need something calm and ambiguous or aggressive and defined, the DynaTrem will respond appropriately.
In other words:
- Play softer for a more subtle, relaxed tremolo
- Play harder for a more intense and deep tremolo
This makes the DynaTrem a wonderful live performance tremolo pedal, ideal for those who might be keeping effects in a rack-mounted unit or who aren't able to make quick settings changes.
It's a "set it and forget it" type of pedal that's low maintenance and needs little hand holding.
Features and Tone of the Keeley DynaTrem Tremolo
The pedal ships with three different tremolo modes.
Per the DynaTrem product page:
- Dynamic Rate: Your playing strength controls the Rate. The harder you play, the faster it modulates! Relax and play softly and the tremolo almost stops.
- Dynamic Depth: Play gently and it just barely throbs. Play aggressively and it and pulse hard and deep.
- Harmonic Tremolo + Reverb Mode: Yes that phaser/vibey, soulful and sweet sound! We have crafted our own circuits to give you a sound that is sinfully good. Slippery and smooth, you won’t want to gig without it. Add Reverb by adjusting the SHAPE control
All three modes work as advertised.
I noticed that at times the rate mode was a little loose in terms of following the tempo I wanted to set.
However, the ambiguity and subtlety of the effect seemed like more of a positive than a drawback. Personally, I thought the depth mode was the most usable of the three.
A look at the controls and their functionality from the DynaTrem manual. | Image via RobertKeeley.com
Basic Controls and Other Features
The depth that it uses is reacting to the level of your guitar. Therefore, as you get louder the depth increases - same goes for the rate.
Harmonic tremolo (reverb) mode shifts depth control exclusively to the depth knob, which can be turned to zero making the DynaTrem a reverb-only pedal.
As a result, this gives you a warm mix of phase, reverb and tremolo effects which still seems to maintain the clarity of your natural tone.
Here are a few settings suggestions from the DynaTrem’s manual:
Some tremolo settings help via the user manual. | Image via RobertKeeley.com
Controls include DEPTH, RATE, LEVEL and a SHAPE knob which give you four different wave-forms to choose from:
- Ramp Up
- Sine Wave
- Ramp Down
- Square Wave
Other features include integrated noise reduction (which works extremely well) and true bypass.
This one is a mainstay on my pedalboard and my absolute favorite tremolo pedal.
SPECS/FEATURES: Responsive Tremolo (reacts to your playing) / True Bypass / Reverb Mode / Wave Selection / Integrated Noise Reduction
Strymon’s Flint combines two effects that have been traditionally handled by amplifiers with analog circuitry, with both tremolo and reverb.
The Flint is actually an analog simulation that uses a SHARC DSP analog processor and does an excellent job of imitating this classic combination of sounds.
In total, there are six different effect flavors.
First, the reverb:
- ’60s Spring Tank Reverb
- ’70s Electronic Plate Reverb
- ’80s Hall Rack Reverb
And the tremolo:
- ’61 Harmonic Tremolo
- ’63 Power Tube Tremolo
- ’65 Photocell Tremolo
Controls and dials for the Strymon Flint Tremolo
Add five tone shaping knobs, an optional expression pedal and you’ve got a total of eight different mechanisms by which to shape the tone of this pedal.
The five knobs include the following tweaks:
In addition, there is a list of secondary functions that can be noted via the Flint’s user manual.
I’ll go ahead and post the page here:
A look at the Strymon Flint functionality via the user manual. | Image via Strymon
This pedal has a ton of capabilities that the user manual provides ample detail for. In conclusion, I’d recommend checking out the owner's manual, even if you’re just considering buying one and don’t yet own it.
It’s a wonderful world we live in when we can read the owner’s manual without actually owning the device.
FEATURES: Classically-Inspired Algorithms / Low-Noise Converters / Analog Front End / Three Reverbs & Three Trem Modes / Stereo Input / True Bypass
The Latitude Deluxe Tremolo from Wampler is similar in design to the Flint, especially in that it boasts a lot of customization options.
Wampler uses digital technology to control an analog signal path. This makes room for features like the tap-tempo button, multiple time divisions and selectable waveforms.
Other notable features include a volume control option and true bypass.
…a trem aimed at the tinkerer—an exceptionally tweakable effect that can mimic vintage throb or create chopped, synthy syncopations. - Matthew Holliman, Premier Guitar
Controls and Tone-Shaping Features
In total, you’ve got seven different ways to shape your sound, comprised of the following:
- Sub-divisions (switch)
- Waveform (switch)
The marriage of an analog signal to digital circuits gives you a lot of variety and tweaking potential. Hence the Latitude is an ideal fit for those who want a tremolo pedal that preserves the classic appeal of the effect, while still providing advanced customization options.
It's designed to give you a lot of variety out of just one effect, satisfying the tinkerers who like to experiment with different dials.
As a result, it can be functional in nearly any musical context.
Who is the ideal owner?
Anyone from a garage band electric player to the seasoned performer will find plenty of use for this tremolo pedal.
With so much emphasis on customization, session guitarists and studio rigs could benefit even more, simply because the Latitude will allow you to accommodate a wide range of sounds. If a client can describe a certain type of tremolo sound they want, Wampler's pedal is your best bet at nailing it.
My opinion, and the consensus of the guitar community at large, is that this is one of the all-around best tremolo pedals on the market.
FEATURES/SPECS: 9V Power Jack (DC only) / Handmade / True Bypass / High-Grade Capacitors / Volume Control / Analog Circuitry / Sub-Division & Waveform Selectors
While the original Supa-Trem was fantastic in its own right, the second installment of this pedal adds some features that make it the clear favorite of the two. In particular, a tap-tempo button and waveform selector that weren’t present in the original, give a boost to the Supa Trem 2.
Michael Fuller (Fulltone’s founder) goes into a ton of detail about this pedal on the product homepage.
We’ll cover some of the highlights below.
Supa-Trem 2 Tremolo Highlights
First, the Supa-Trem 2 is completely analog without any DSP (digital sound processing) components.
Instead, Fuller opts for a JFET (junction field effect transistor) amplifier.
This is the core of the Supa-Trem2’s circuit and the primary method by which Fuller avoids any kind of DSP.
Additionally, the pedal boasts true stereo with two ins and outs that both have the same identical circuit. As a result, there’s no recycling of a circuit to achieve a faux stereo output.
Other features include a tap tempo and external volume control.
This pedal is a winner if you’re a card-carrying member of the analog-only club. You can tell that Fuller takes pride in his product and has gone through a lot of work to make sure it’s worth the money you spend.
SPECS/FEATURES: Waveform Selector / External Volume Control / 100% Handmade / 100% Analog Circuitry / Tap Tempo / True Stereo
Diamond Pedals devised a tremolo that boasts modern features without converting your signal to digital.
By way of an opto-isolator (similar to what was used in the ’60s amplifiers) and a microprocessor, the TRM-1 comes to you completely analog, yet with an embarrassment of bells and whistles.
First the tap tempo button, when held down, will double the speed of your effect.
Then, you’re treated to four different waveform settings:
And the following timing accents:
Per the TRM-1 home page:
- 2/4- sounds like 1-2-1-2
- 4/4- sounds like 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4
- 3/4- sounds like 1-2-3-1-2-3
- 6/8- sounds like 1-2-3-4-5-6-1-2-3-4-5-6
The pedal went through a little over a year of development with Diamond’s designers before making it to the open market.
As boutique pedals go, its pricing is fair, if not predictable.
Altogether, a safe $250 bet.
FEATURES/SPECS: Four Selectable Waveforms / True Bypass / 100% Analog / Tap Tempo / 9V Power / External Volume
Yes, Seymour Duncan makes pedals.
Maybe you knew that, but it surprised me when I found this gem during my research.
It claims to be the most feature-packed tremolo pedal in existence.
And while I’m not certain I would say that, I am convinced that this is one of the most versatile and complete tremolo pedals available.
Seymour Duncan Tremolo Pedal Features
First, the unit is stereo with two ins and outs, which allow you to phase the signal back and forth from 0 to 180 degrees via a phase knob that sits in the middle of the pedal.
Furthermore, you have a waveform and symmetry knob that sit above the traditional depth and speed controls.
I don’t know if it beats the Latitude and DynaTrem, but it sure is close.
The only major drawback is the lack of an external volume control. It’s possible they deal with it internally, but it’s a big feature to leave out of a $200 boutique tremolo pedal.
FEATURES/SPECS: Stereo (2 ins and outs) / Stereo Phasing / Waveform Selector / Symmetry Selector / Tap Tempo
The Pentavocal’s primary claim-to-fame is a five-part voicing selector that rests in the top right-hand corner of the pedal.
This is essentially a rotary knob that allows you to choose tremolo voicings ranging from low to high.
Other controls include:
Other Features and Value
A tap tempo, true bypass and analog circuitry are all part of the deal. Though it’s unclear whether or not the Pentavocal runs its signal through a DSP at any point, since Red Witch doesn’t explicitly address the issue.
My guess is there is some kind of a digital processor in play, since most companies that go through the trouble of avoiding them (Fulltone, for example) tend to chat about it.
There’s also no tap tempo, which is a more substantial disappointment.
But, that’s far from a deal-breaker when the pedal has such solid specs and reputation.
RW is in good standing with this unit.
FEATURES/SPECS: External Volume / Voicing Selector (5 options) / 9V power / Wave Footswitch / True Bypass
Opinions and Exclusions
It’s likely that there are plenty of note-worthy tremolo pedals that I failed to mention here.
As I’ve said from the beginning, finding the best tremolo pedal or collection of pedals will have some subjectivity attached to it.
This list is not to say that all other tremolo pedals are terrible or that everything mentioned here will be an ideal fit for you. These are the pedals I think are worth your time and that I would (or have) pursued on my own.
A lot of times that information is helpful to people who don’t know what to look for.
Other Guitar Pedal Buying Guides
Delay Pedal Roundup: A collection of our favorite delay and echo pedals.
Phaser Pedal Roundup: Our phaser pedal recommendation list, highlighting ten of our favorites.
Chorus Pedal Roundup: Our chorus pedal recommendation list, highlighting seven of our favorites.
Distortion Pedal Buying Guides: All of our content related to buying and using distortion pedals.
All Effects Pedal Buying Guides: Our archive of effects pedal buying resources and roundups.
Could you use more gear help?
Producing “great tone” is a worthy pursuit, but not always an obvious one.
We all own a unique collection of gear that seems to sound different all the time. That’s normal, but still something we need to learn to deal with.
We need to learn our gear.
If you want to access some resources that will help dealing with a specific tonal pursuit, piece of gear or other questions related to your rig, I’d recommend giving the Guitar Tricks 14-day free trial a test run - there’s no obligations and you’ve got nothing to lose - except two free weeks of one of the most comprehensive and thorough guitar education websites in existence.
You can checkout our Guitar Tricks review for a rundown of the full site and membership benefits.
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of GigNroll
REFERENCES & WORKS CITED
Brewster, David M. (2003). Introduction to Guitar Tone & Effects: An Essential Manual for Getting the Best Sounds from Electric Guitars, Amplifiers, Effect Pedals, and Digital Processors. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 30. ISBN 9781617743757.
Hunter, Dave (2004). Guitar Effects Pedals: The Practical Handbook. Backbeat. p. 11. ISBN 9780879308063.
Tremolo (electronic effect) Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc., August 11th, 2015. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tremolo
DynaTrem Dynamic Tremolo Keeley. Robert Keeley Electronics, 2016. https://robertkeeley.com/product/dynatrem/
Keeley, Robert. 1st ed. Robert Keeley Electronics, 2015. Web. August 18th, 2015. PDF
Boss Mod Squad Boss US. Roland Corporation, 2015. http://www.bossus.com/community/boss_users_group/
11 Tremolo Pedals Guitar Player Magazine. New Bay Media, February 26th, 2008. http://www.guitarplayer.com/miscellaneous/1139/11-tremolo-pedals/
Strymon Flint Pedal Review Premier Guitar. Premier Guitar, September 5th, 2012. http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/Strymon_Flint_Pedal_Review
Strymon. 1st ed. Damage Control LLC, 2012. Web. August 19th, 2015.
Flint Strymon. Damage Control Engineering, 2015. http://www.strymon.net/products/flint/
Wampler Pedals: Latitude Deluxe Wampler Pedals. Wampler Pedals Inc., 2015. Wampler Latitude Deluxe Tremolo
Supa-Trem2 Stereo Tremolo / Auto-Panner Fulltone. Fulltone Musical Products, 2015. http://www.fulltone.com/products/supa-trem2
Shapeshifter Seymour Duncan. Seymour Duncan, 2011. http://www.seymourduncan.com/pedals/shapeshifter/
TRM1 Tremolo Diamond Guitar Pedals. Diamond Pedals, 2015. http://www.diamondpedals.com/products/tremolo/
Tremolo User Manual v 1.03. Diamond Pedals, November 17th, 2009. PDF