- How to choose your tremolo pedal
- 5 best tremolo pedals for guitar
A tremolo pedal takes your guitar's sound and modulates it, altering the volume of it between loud and soft over and over again. The effect can be very subtle to the point you barely notice it, or extreme to the point where the volume cuts in and out completely leading to a stutter - or staccato - effect.
Don't confuse vibrato with tremolo. For instance, the "tremolo" arm on a guitar is actually misnamed; the effect it achieves is vibrato, which modulates the pitch of the sound higher and lower.
At Equipboard we take our pedal research seriously so we can make the best recommendations to you. We were shocked at how many tremolo pedals are out there being recommended! About 35 pedals received positive endorsements from owners as we looked through every guitar player forum we can think of. Narrowing down to the top 5 is no easy task, but we let the numbers speak for themselves. The more recommendations a pedal receives, the higher it climbs in our rankings!
How to choose your tremolo pedal
Build quality, durability, and size: Guitar pedals are one of the few things in life you spend $100s on, only to smash on them harshly with your foot! Make sure the pedals you're buying can take some abuse. And of course, mind the pedal's size so that you can fit it onto your pedalboard setup.
Tap tempo: Since tremolo oscillates the amplitude of the guitar's signal high and low repeatedly, it can do so at a certain tempo. A tap tempo feature lets you tap a couple beats with your hand or foot to easily set the bpm on the fly.
Number of waveforms: A tremolo pedal can modulate the volume by following the shape of a waveform. If your needs are simple find a pedal with a few basic waveforms, otherwise you might need a more complex, full-featured pedal.
Volume drop: Volume drop is what happens with some pedals when you switch them on, and they negatively impact the sound by causing a sudden drop in volume. If the tremolo pedal you choose is known to do this, make sure it's something you can live with (we'll mention if any of the pedals on our top five list have this issue).
The 5 best guitar tremolo pedals
From over 30 contenders vying for your hard-earned money, we narrowed the list to the five best that deserve a place on your pedalboard.
Diamond Pedals Tremolo
The Diamond Pedals Tremolo takes the top spot for most recommended tremolo pedal. Tremolo purists that owned numerous offerings from various brands consistently come back to this one as the one to get. The downside? The hefty price tag. It comes in as the most expensive one on our list. Another downside? It’s rather large, so consider the room you have on your pedalboard. Now that we have the cons out of the way, just about everything else is a pro.
The Diamond is extremely versatile. It can do four waveforms: sharkfin, sine, square and chop. It’s extremely intuitive to use, and the build quality is top notch. Go ahead and abuse it, durability is not an issue here. It can even be used as a pretty amazing sounding clean boost. Something just about every owner of the Diamond loves is its tap tempo button, which when held down can either double the tremolo speed or cut it in half. Here are some of our favorite sound bytes:
...has a pretty intense chaotic cutoff setting that is pretty fun to play with, some of the modes randomize it and stuff. Great tremolo overall too.
...it's great. It's very clean sounding, has a huge range of options and is built like a tank. I didn't think I'd get too into all the options (triplets, waveforms etc) but it's so easy to dial them in with this pedal I find myself using stuff I haven't in the past.
If you want the king of tremolo pedals, be prepared to pay a little extra for it. However, if you choose to go this route, you can rest assured you won’t regret it - it’s worth every penny!
Fulltone Supa-Trem ST-1 Tremolo Pedal
The spartan black box known as the Fulltone Supa-Trem ST-1 is the next tremolo pedal in our list that comes very highly recommended by guitarists far and wide. We couldn’t get very far into our research without hearing users praise that fact that this pedal is used by the great Joe Bonamassa. The man knows good tone, so his pedal choices mean a lot to guitarists. If you want the evidence, take a minute to check out how Mr. Bonamassa uses the Supa-Trem ST-1, then come back and read more!
The Fulltone Supa-Trem ST-1 gets lauded because it’s simply a classic tremolo, with a classic tone, from a well respected brand. Like the Diamond, it has a footswitch for half/full speed, and the volume knob lets you use this pedal as a clean boost. It’s built to last, and the big knobs - a well-loved feature of this one specifically - make it very easy to dial in the type of trem you want. You can go from an extreme pulse to a creamy, warm, smooth pulse (no, we’re not describing a blender for your kitchen, we’re still talking about this pedal). Note that the ST-1 does away with a waveform selector in favor of a hard/soft switch, which accomplishes a similar thing.
The sound of the Supa-Trem ST-1 is actually so smooth and creamy, that guitarists tend to leave it on all the time since it makes the entire signal sound that much better. The praise doesn’t get much better than that.
The Zvex Sonar tremolo pedal, aside from sporting the traditional Zvex killer looks, is one heck of a full-featured tremolo pedal. It comes in on the slightly higher end of the price range, but after reading our review you’ll see why it’s quite worth it.
You get four knobs to play with: volume, speed, duty, and delta. Holding down the Tap button turns the middle knobs into Attack and Release settings - a great “hidden” feature. Flipping a toggle switch from Clean to Machine activates the Sonar’s built-in distortion, which sounds gritty and great. The ramp up/down toggle is very unique, and does just what it says - ramps up or down gradually into the speed you have your tremolo set to.
The Zvex Sonar is probably one of the more creative tremolos around. The combination of controls and hidden features lets you do some really extreme, crazy effects that other tremolo pedals just can’t get to. Again, no traditional waveform selector here, but the speed range should be plenty to work with for most people. The ZVex Sonar gets lots of recommendations, likely because it’s much more than just a simple tremolo, allowing you to get very sonically creative. It’s not inexpensive by any means, so make sure the extra capabilities are something you truly need before going for this one.
Are you reading a guitar pedal buyer’s guide? Is a Boss pedal on it? Ok, all is well in the universe! The Boss TR-2 is a great no-frills, compact tremolo pedal with a relatively budget-friendly price tag.
You get the traditional tremolo Rate and Depth knobs, and a central knob to select your waveform; from triangle to a square wave. The most important thing a tremolo pedal needs to do is deliver a great sounding tremolo effect, and the Boss fully delivers here. Of the pedals that made our top 5 list, the TR-2 is the least versatile and customizable. Essentially, if the ZVex Sonar is on one end of the spectrum of sonic capabilities, the Boss TR-2 is on the other end. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
This pedal is tremendously sturdy and durable, which is something Boss pedals are notorious for. It also has a small footprint, so it can easily fit as your tremolo of choice on your pedalboard. One thing we noticed as we read user reviews is people cautioning the volume drop that turning it on causes. Some further research indicates that this used to be an issue with this pedal, but some time between 2006 and 2007 Boss fixed that for all units going forward. Still, many owners recommend going with either the Keeley or Analogman mods of the Boss TR-2.
The Keeley mod, for example, does several things:
- Solves the volume drop issue (again, not a problem with this pedal starting 2007)
- Upgrades the audio circuitry
- Reduces unwanted distortions and noise
- Makes it so that the Boss TR-2 can be used as a clean boost
Great sounding, dependable, affordable, and “moddable,” the Boss TR-2 Tremolo earns a solid place on our top 5 list.
Electro-Harmonix Stereo Pulsar Tremolo Pedal
The Electro-Harmonix Stereo Pulsar is another no-frills tremolo pedal, comes in at an even lower price than the Boss TR-2, and is a rock solid option that deserves a space in your pedal board.
Just like the TR-2, you get nice and big Depth, Shape, and Rate knobs. No hidden features here, the EHX Stereo Pulsar does exactly what it says it will do. It does have a triangle/square wave toggle, which together with the Shape knob allows for a very wide range of tremolo types. This thing can get really choppy.
Perhaps one con of the Stereo Pulsar is that some users describe it as rather clinical and bright, as opposed to the warm sonic characteristics found in some tremolo pedals (the Fulltone Supa-Trem ST-1 comes to mind). The word “extreme” is used by quite a few reviewers of this unit. The again, this might be a very desired quality by some guitarists!
If you use both outputs, the tremolo effect is panned (hence Stereo Pulsar), which could work well if the signals are going to separate amps. The resulting effect could be good or bad depending on your particular amp setup.
While it’s not a pedalboard game-changer, given the price-point and legendary Electro-Harmonix reliability and quality, it’s hard to not recommend the Stereo Pulsar tremolo pedal.