Friday, November 14, 2014

The Tide - The looney Tremulus Lune super tremolo

The Tide - A Tremulus Lune adaptation
It seems that every pedal fiend on the planet has dozens of overdrive, fuzz and other noise making pedals. The ratio of overdrives and fuzzes to that of other effects is on the asymptotic curve towards infinity. There's no doubt that other sound manipulators are important, and are regarded as crucial components of some legendary guitar tones but there is no comparison when you start digging deeper in the numbers. If you combine all the phasers, choruses, tremolos, envelope generators, filters, delays and compressors together you wouldn't reach the plethora of noise pedals available on the market, and there's a good reason. While the modern guitarist uses about 4 overdrives/distortion/fuzz pedals on his board, he usually has only one of each of the above mentioned modulators. A good delay, a good phaser and a good chorus would suffice the average pedal board. Wahs are an exception as people like to have two of those to get the versatility of having a wah either before or after a fuzz without pulling out patch chords every time.

So, after this lengthy introduction it is obvious that this post is gonna tackle a non fuzz/overdrive pedal. This blog had seen some non noise pedals in the past. Recall the incredible Mutron III clone a while back which is still a fantastic sounding envelope filter in every sense and the Tri-Vibe from Runoffgroove which is one of the most versatile vibratos you could imagine.

The 1948 Gibson GA-50T (above) and the
1947 Multivox Premier "66" add (below).
A great addition to any fuzz, and certainly to some 60's relics is the tremolo which used to be a very common addition on some classic Fender amps. These used to sit at the end of the amplification stage right next to the reverb (if there was a reverb) and with the fuzz on (or off for that matter), you could get that surf-rock sound identified so well with Dick Dale, The Ventures and the likes.

As far as I understand, tremolo was first used in classical music during the 16th century. The effect was used either as a way to sustain notes, chords or intervals (trill was a sustain between adjacent notes) by percussive repeating or by alternating notes to create tension and all kinds of psycho-acoustic effects. Vocals, organs, bowed instruments all used this effect to great extent.
The DeArmond Co. from Ohio owns the patent for the original design from 1946 which was the model used for the Story & Clark electric pianos. It was the first stand alone effect unit ever created (16 years before the Maestro Fuzz Tone !!!) and was based on an electro-mechanical motor shaking a conductive liquid in a canister with each shake it grounded the instrument's signal so that it was damped in a soft watery manner before reaching the amp. Sounds quite unbelievable. While Hammond had tremolo units in their organs since the 1930's, Danelectro in 1947 were the first to really stick them on a guitar amplifier. The effect was originally meant to get the guitar to sound like the modulation effect heard on the Storytone electric pianos which came out in 1941. During 1947 Multivox issued the Premimer "66" (Gibson joined in 1948 with the GA-50T) which also featured this early style of tremolo. Later in 1955 Leo Fender issued a Tremolux amp and then quickly changed it to Vibrolux in 1956. Magnatone also issued their model in 1955 featuring a tremolo unit.

Although we all call this amplitude modulation effect a tremolo, it seems strange today that Fender coined the name Vibrato on their early amps. There was a big mix-up over the years between pitch modulations and amplitude modulations both called vibratos at some point. Today the vibratos are known as pitch modulators while tremolos - volume/amplitude.

The 1956 Vibrolux with it's simple electronic design
The first tremolo recorded on a guitar was probably made by Big Bill Broonzy on some Roosavelt Sykes recordings (it is assumed that these recordings were made using organ tremolo units). In the mid 50's it was Muddy Water (Flood) and Bo Diddley (Bo Diddley and Pretty Thing) who were using the mechanical DeArmond 601 Tremolo to shape their bluesy sound. It was only in the late 50's that the tremolo became a staple sound for surf rock and country rock. A major change in the tremolo design appeared in 1963 with the Fender Blackface amps which featured a photocell (opto-coupler) to modulate the voltage instead of modulating the bias of a vacuum tube (Link Wray's 1964 hit Rumble, Doors' Riders on the Storm). Nancy Sinatra recorded a lean version of the song Bang Bang in 1966 featuring a duet with a mandolin-like guitar and vocals. The song became an instant hit. The eruption of psychedelia around 1966 took the tremolo a step further from mere dynamic enhancement to a complete tripped out mind blowing effect. It complemented very well the vibrato/tremolo effect which was already a big part of the Hammond, Vox and Farfisa organs sound. Take for example the garage psych classics like The Electric Prunes with I Had Too Much To Dream, The Standells - Medication, Codine Blues by The Charlatans, Q65's Ridin' on a Slow Train, The Velvet Underground on Train Round the Bend, 13th Floor elevators with Earthquake. The southern sound of CCR also got it's share of surf sound as heard on Born on The Bayou. Many riffs are stuck in the back of my mind and I can't recollect their names. Bummer! Tremolo was also used a lot on vocals, as on Plastic Factory by Captain Beefheart (Harmonica) or on the Hurdy Gurdy Man version by The Butthole Surfers. Far out...The tremolo sound sort of faded away during the 70's and became a niche sound for those seeking either country or retro-surf psychedelic sounds. During the 80's the tremolo made a comeback with shoegazing bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride (listen to Polar Bear).

The complexity of these circuits are usually intimidating for the average DIYer so people didn't experiment with these circuits too much, although the basic effect is pretty simple and straightforward. It's only during the past two decade that tremolo regained its popularity thanks to some enhanced designs that transformed the pedal from a simple modulation effect to a full blown variable envelope shaping tool. Take for example the Tremvelope by Pigtronix and the Pulsar by EHX, Pentavocal Trem by Red Witch. All excellent pedals with some serious synth-like manipulation capabilities. The digital age of sound enabled most big companies to issue some serious tremolos all of which look highly interesting but very pricey, too.

Premier guitar has some great info about tremolos history:
For me, as a fuzz freak, I knew I had to have a good tremolo for some classic tones but I am also a big synth lover and I love weird psychedelia all together, so getting a regular tremolo was somewhat of an underwhelming experience. I then decided to tackle a serious, creative and a more mature tremolo to give me some artistic freedom.
Some of the tremolo effects available today on the market
(well, not the DeArmond 601 Tremolo).
Again, I took on a long web research to understand the tremolo world. Seems that every pedal company on the planet has a tremolo, either a simple DEPTH, SPEED, VOLUME unit which is very very simple, sometimes with the addition of a shape switch/knob or a pompous design with many knobs and switches to enable every possible amplitude modulation known to the human ear.
As opposed to the great selection of names of fuzz/drive pedals, tremolo pedals have pretty lame names, usually just Tremolo or some other take-off on the trem word (Pulsar and Shape Shifter are great names, though). After a year of reading, listening, playing and estimating circuits I narrowed down the options and focused on a little-known circuit called the Tremulus Lune by Dann Green. The circuit is available on the web from Commonsound and TonePad which are known to many DIY builders. I couldn't find too much info on the circuit origins but it seems that many have experimented with it and had very good results. Another version of that circuit was Culture Jam's Shoot The Moon design which became very popular over the years and seemed like a good candidate. A simpler version from Runoffgroove - the EA Tremolo - was also considered.

Some basic periodic modulation functions
From my experience and listening it seems that two major factors should be considered when picking up a tremolo, either for building or buying. The most important is the modulation smoothness. Amplitude modulation can be as sharp as a square wave, linear as a triangle or smooth as a sine wave. Getting real sine wave smoothness is not trivial and most pedal will offer the shape variability. The modulation circuit usually considered as having the purest sound would be an optical LFO (low frequency osicllator) which affects the circuit via a light dependent resistivity (LDR) which mean the modulation circuit is electronically isolated from the signal path and thus offer a cleaner, pristine tone. I don't know how correct this statement is, but building the Mutron envelope filter I learned a few things and the idea of doing my own LDR this time got me excited. The second factor was versatility. Sure I wanted a round vintage trembling effect, but getting more shaping options is very interesting, and inspires creativity. I knew I wanted a wide frequency range, a way of getting both sharp and smooth modulations, sawtooth shapes and some live playing mods.

The Tide artwork with other name candidates
and my knob scheme
And the build report, right. The Tremulus Lune, in its full complexity offers all these and more. It even offers "duty-cycle" controls affecting the off time between periods which could get you a very unique pulsing effect at low speed levels. After going through some of the layouts and mods available I took the complete 5 knob version shown on the GuitarFXLayouts blog and modded it some more to add a 6th knob for the FINE speed, and two momentary switches for extra action during live playing scenario. The circuit basically employs the regular DEPTH, RATE configuration but adds much more versatility through the SMOOTH, SYMMETRY and SPACING pots. The basic idea of the design is to create to signal paths, one for the passing audio signal, and one for the LFO (low frequency oscillator) which is the modulator. The modulator generates an oscillating voltage which modulates a red LED. The LED is hooked up face to face with an LDR which is in series on on the audio path. This way the modulated LED modulates the LDR and this modulates the audio signal in a clean isolated manner through light. I covered the optocoupler/photocell/optoisolator, call it whatever you like (LED-LDR) with a heat shrink and it was really a piece of cake, and sounded great on first fire-up. The LDR I used was 5k-500k and was very cheap too.

The Tide complete
It took me some playing to figure how everything works but I think I've got it and it is a super able pedal:
DEPTH - Modulation depth, from zero to full 100%. That's the ratio between the ON and OFF levels.
SMOOTH - From sharp rectangular modulation to smooth linear slopes. Between these two there is a pseudo sine-like area.
RATE - This is the speed knob which ranges on a very large range.
FINE - Fine tuning the speed for easier tweaking - I though I didn't need it, but playing for 2 hours on the circuit made me understand how much I needed it.
SYMMETRY - This is one useful mod that enables some unique versatility but it's very interactive with other knobs so it takes time to understand how to use it. With the SMOOTH at minimum the SYMMETRY behaves like a duty cycle control, meaning that it can take you from a long ON and a short OFF to a pulsing ON and a long OFF. This effect is stronger at low RATE settings and with the SPACING knob at max. With the SMOOTH at max it shifts the envelope from a triangular shape to sawtooth. At minimum SYMMETRY the shape is a positive sawtooth (slow rise) and at max it's a negative one (slow fall). The middle positions are symmetric slopes. This is an interesting knob because it dramatically changes the sound, giving fast and slow attacks and can get you that pulsing sound which normal tremolos are not supposed to have. It really take the pedal into new territories.
SPACING - This is also a tricky mod and while it really just changes the OFF time between periods, and hence the duty cycle, it also affects the RATE, because the period is made up of the ON + OFF times, and thus it is also very interactive with other knobs. I found this knob extremely useful for either getting really nice pulsing sounds and also to get the modulation depth all the way to complete silence between periods.
Now let's go to the fun part:
Gut shot - Inside the Tide...
BYPASS switch - I added this momentary SPST stomp switch for hooking up the FINE lug 3 to ground which enables you during live playing to quickly move between bypass and non-bypass so that you can actually step on it while playing without using the hard latch 3PDT. It's great and makes tremolo a great fun pedal which you want to bypass during riffs.
DOUBLE switch - This is another very useful SPST stomp momentary switch which changes the RATE to half speed (not double....I know). During live playing any changes to the tremolo speed is a great addition. Tapping my feet for the slow/high rate and the bypass give the tremolo a whole new dimension of playability. The mod can be done by hooking up a cap from SMOOTH lug 3 to ground through the switch. Only problem is that the cap value changes the speed ratio. While 100uF was originally recommended, I got the half rate using a 10uF cap. You can change the ratio according to the cap but I couldn't find a value that gave me actual double speed. Just slower.

Another issue I had with the build is the use of the RATE/FINE pot. While the layout recommends 10k/1k respectively, the results on the range of speeds I got with a 100k/10k pair were much better. Don't know why. I used the schematic on the Commonsound page and it looked OK and par with the layout on the GuitarFXLayouts except for some really minor changes. Though my build is definitely along the layout shown on GFXL.

Anyway, a really amazing circuit for anyone seeking a great sounding tremolo and wants to play with it more than the occasional CCR Bayou rhythm guitar. Experiment and adapt, let the pedal lead you on. I could really live without a GAIN knob and set the trimmer slightly above unity to give the pedal the extra meat it needs when it's engaged to overcome the volume drop from the less RMS of the amplitude modulation. Other than that each control here means the world.

Get the layouts for the various versions on:

Get the schematic here:

The 4ms schematic upon which the GFXL layout is from:

And the entire info page on:

Also verified and always trustable is the Sabrotone layout:

Notice that the LFO monitoring LED is hooked up in a way that keeps the light blinking even when the pedal is OFF. Sort of to let you set the pedal before you fire it up. You could change that by getting the (-) soldered from the 3PDT instead. Also notice that the SPACING is backwards. Longer spacing is with the pot at CCW. I switched the lugs so that CW is longer spacing.

So if you want a really really great sounding, flexible, versatile don't look any further. Once you start playing around with the controls getting from sweet, vintage country blues trippy vibe to hard, spiky, futuristic retro pulsations - You'll ask yourself 'How come I never got more into this?'.

The hardest part here was really the artwork and name choice.  I wanted an original name for this one which doesn't have the word Tremolo in it and I had to give some respect to the original Lune so I was looking for something that has to do with the moon. It seemed good to use the idea around the tides, waves, oceans because the pedal is so watery (as they described the original 1941 mechanical DeArmond 601), and the tides and tidal waves are, in nature, a lunar based phenomenon. I dropped all the technical terms like amplitude, oscillations, pulsations and modulations, and I didn't even go for the cool idea of the word waves with a 'z' like WaveZ. In the end I went for The Tide as simple as it is great. Once I decided on the name I started looking for tides and waves art on the web. I came across this famous Japanese image of 'The Great Wave Off of Kanagawa' which I really love (and my wife does too) and tried to paint it using my, almost dried out, set of ceramic paint bottles. With blue, black and whit, and a hint of yellow I started mixing colors on my palette and got these beautiful tones for the great wave and the night skies. I really started liking my artwork as a really important thing lately and I think it really got some of that painter artist hiding in me from my very early childhood. Who knew?  

So before you start, if you wanna listen to it, there are a few clips over the web. And below are 4 which I recorded on my MIM Tele through The TIDE with some pedals and amps. You get a clean vintage style on track 1, A more fuzzy clip with some really classic riffs on track 2. Track 3 is to demonstrate the great live options with the real-time foot switches. Track 4 blew me away. I don't know how many people tried that before but the idea of the tremolo going into the Nu-Tone (Mu-tron III clone) is simply brilliant, I think, and the fact that it's a 15 minute clip just shows how much fun I had with it.

Enjoy! and comment if you gotta something to say.