Sure, tremolo is great for vintage effects. But with
today’s plug-ins and recording
software, tremolo opens up
numerous rhythmic possibilities
for rock and dance music.
It’s crucial that the tremolo be
able to sync to the host tempo,
as this locks the tremolo rate
to the rhythm. Usually you’ll
see a sync button (Fig. 1).
Enable this, and you can set
a rhythmic note value for the
Fig. 1—The Tremolo in Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 5 has a sync button. When enabled, the Rate control chooses among various rhythmic values.
The simplest option is to
insert two tremolo plug-ins
in series. I usually set the first
tremolo in the chain to a fast
“chop,” like 16th notes. The
second tremolo gates this at
a slower rate—such as quarter
notes—to produce quarter-note
“pulses” of 16th notes.
A selectable LFO waveform
offers even more options. For
example, a square wave gives
tighter volume transitions,
while a sine or triangle wave
produces softer volume transitions.
Tremolo depth allows making
the effect more subtle, or more
dramatic. Mixing in more dry
signal results in a subtler tremolo
effect. Taking out the dry signal
gives a choppy, highly rhythmic
effect that’s right at home with
dance music. A parallel tremolo
effect also lends itself to stereo.
Split your guitar to two tracks
(or record the guitar and copy
it to a second track). Because
the tremolos in the two tracks
can have different timings, panning
the tracks opposite each
other creates rhythmic effects
that bounce back and forth in
the stereo field (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2—A guitar track has been copied to create two parallel tracks. One has two Bias Tremolos (from Line 6 POD Farm Elements) inserted in series, with a 16th-note tremolo gated by a quarter-note tremolo. This track is panned left. The other track—which is panned right—has a dotted-quarter-note tremolo gated by a half-note tremolo.
Applying tremolo effects to
bass (include a fair amount of
dry signal to retain a solid low
end) adds a rhythmic quality
that locks the bass to the drums,
thus propelling the song even
more. This same kind of technique
is also useful for background,
Other tremolo options! Try
using a time-based send effect,
like echo or reverb, with guitar.
Use series tremolo to chop the
signal going into the time-based
effect—only those sounds that
pass through the tremolo will be
processed. Chopping after reverb
can also provide cool results.
As pop music continues to
get more rhythmically oriented,
being able to overlay rhythmic
effects with guitar gives the
best of both worlds: the guitar’s
organic, expressive quality
combined with rhythmic
effects that provide a modern
flair. Give this technique a try,
and you’ll likely find plenty
of places where your guitar
will benefit from a rhythmic
Craig Anderton has played on
or produced more than 20 major
label releases, mastered hundreds
of tracks, and written dozens of
books. Check out some of his
latest music at youtube.com/