James Demeter Introduced the Tremulator, his first production pedal, some 30 years ago. The new Plus version incorporates features that make it a more flexible tremolo, while it retains the analog, optical-based circuitry that was key to the original’s lovely sound.
Housed in a plus-size metal enclosure, the unit reveals hand-wired connections to the jacks, pots, LEDs and footswitch. There’s also a small circuit board that grips the caps, resistors, socket-mounted ICs and VTL5C1 opto-coupler — the heart of the tremolo if you will. Power comes from either a nine-volt battery (you have to remove the bottom plate to access it) or the adapter of your choice. It’s a very tidy package, built in what Demeter dubs his “barn” in Templeton, California.
The Tremulator Plus greatly expands on the control set of the standard two-knob Tremulator by offering depth and speed controls, as well as knobs for wave (normal, square and triangle), bias (just a trimpot on the original Tremulator) and gain. The waveshape selections all offer nicely textured volume modulation, and while I mostly used the normal wave, because it feels so much like classic Fender “vibrato,” there’s plenty to like from the other settings. Triangle reminds me of some old amps I’ve played that bias-shifted the output tubes to create tremolo, and square delivers a staccato modulation that’s cool for accenting breaks, endings and so on. The neat thing is that since the wave selector is actually a potentiometer with a trio of detents, you can find in-between positions (such as when moving from normal to square) that yield intriguing hybrid sounds as one waveshape morphs into the next. The speed range is entirely useable (an LED blinks in time with the rate), and the gain control is handy for adding a little boost to the effect to make it punch though a loud mix.
The bias control is interesting too, as it moves the sounds from thicker and more midrangy when turned fully counter-clockwise, to brighter and skinnier when dimed in the other direction. The middle spot (another detent) is labeled Cooder, and I’m guessing it represents the bias setting that Ry Cooder preferred on the tremolo pedal Demeter made for him back in 1982. The story goes that the original Tremulator was sonically modeled on Ry’s Fender Twin Amp, so, unsurprisingly, the Cooder setting is perfect if you’re seeking a warm, amp-like vibe.
The Tremulator Plus is a great all-round pedal that will cover the range of sounds you need most when wanting to color parts of your songs with sweet pulses of volume. If you are seeking more extreme forms of modulation, you should probably investigate the new breed of digital reverb pedals (but that’s another subject entirely). The bulk of what you get here is the electronic DNA that was created when a great designer and a great musician got together to make a type of tremolo pedal that answered a specific need, decades ago. But tremolo is one of those timeless effects, and the Tremulator Plus evolves it in smart ways to make it one of the best trems you could plant on a pedalboard.
PRICE $299 street
CONTROLS Depth, speed, wave selector (normal, triangle, square), gain, bias
FOOTSWITCH Click on/off mechanical, true bypass
POWER 9-volt battery or external adapter
DIMENSIONS 3 5/8” x 4 5/8”
KUDOS Three delicious trem flavors, a wide speed range, bias and gain controls