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K-Devices

Tremolo Basics and Arbitrary Controls | WOV Walkthrough ep. 1

By January 26, 2021 No Comments

Hello, and welcome to this blog post about WOV! It is the first episode of a series about our creative tremolo. Today we’ll cover the basics of a tremolo effect, how it works, what it does, and why you may need it even if you don’t play old Western movie soundtracks. As usual, this post complements a youtube video with a proper tutorial: if you want to jump straight to it, scroll until the end of the page or click this link!

1. What Is a Tremolo?

A technical definition of a tremolo is an effect that changes the amplitude of our sound through an LFO. A more practical definition is that it is something that raises and lowers the volume of our sound cyclically: up, down, up, down, and so on.

Tremolo, however, existed as a technique long before the electronic era: you can achieve a tremolo with some woodwind instruments by controlling the amount of air blown through them, like the flute does at the beginning of this traditional piece:

As you can hear, the tremolo is a very recognizable effect that adds dynamics and expressiveness to any melodic line.

2. Is It Like a Sort of Vibrato?

No: it’s a whole different thing. Both effects operate through an LFO, which is a cyclical modulation; the difference is the modulation target: in a tremolo, the LFO cyclically rises and lowers the amplitude, while in a vibrato, the LFO changes the frequency (which is the pitch). Nearly any stringed instrument can produce a vibrato, but the most recognizable is perhaps the one performed by bowed strings, such as violin, viola, or cello, like at the beginning of this Mendelssohn concerto.

3. Why Tremolo?

The tremolo is a reasonably easy effect to manufacture in the analog domain. Originally (around the 50s and 60s), it was a nice and relatively cost-effective feature to include in early electric instruments and amplifiers to improve their expressiveness. Some instruments that would otherwise have sounded quite flat, like old transistor organs, took a high benefit from built-in tremolos; other instruments that sounded pretty good per se, like the Fender Rhodes, achieved through the tremolo an even more iconic sound.

(On a side note, with Fender instruments, there’s always a lot of confusion going on, since their tremolo effect is often called “Vibrato”, while the signature Stratocaster bridge, whose lever can produce a lovely vibrato, is actually called “Tremolo Bridge”.)

Probably the most iconic tremolo use is in the classic Spaghetti Western guitar soundtracks. Still, also other famous songs toon advantage of tremolos in slightly unconventional ways, like… this.

The famous “Won’t Get Fooled Again” sound is nothing but an organ part played in sync tola tremolo. Why does it sound so different than the flute piece at the beginning, then? It’s because this specific tremolo has a square-wave LFO and a deep modulation amount, which creates such a unique “chopped” sound. If this all sounds a little too abstract, make sure to check the video below: we’ll get through it in detail!

4. Ok but I Don’t Play Classic Rock.

Fair enough: in fact, the tremolo’s popularity slightly declined as new, fancy audio effects were developed in the 70s and 80s. However, we at K-Devices believe that a tremolo is still a must-have effect in a contemporary producer’s arsenal.

The reasons are simple:

  • A tremolo controls the amplitude.
  • Amplitude variation generates dynamics.
  • Dynamics is always a good thing in a track.

Jokes aside, an advanced tremolo like WOV can easily breathe new life to your samples (thanks to its unconventional features like Response or Silence); it can also add expressiveness to your leads or even sidechain your basses. (Yes: after all, sidechaining is just another form of amplitude variation.)

We’ll cover all the details of WOV in this series, and we’ll also provide some creative tips and tricks. Before getting to the more advanced stuff, however, we need to cover the basics. To learn everything about the essential features of WOV, check this video tutorial!

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