LET’S get one thing straight: that metal stick that you waggle to bend the pitch of your guitar strings? That’s not a tremolo. It’s a vibrato unit. But vibrato is also the name of a popular guitar effect, and both a picking-hand and fretting-hand playing technique.
Confused? So was Fender when in 1954 it christened the Stratocaster’s vibrato system the ‘Synchronized Tremolo’, and in 1956 when it launched the Vibrolux, an amp with a built-in tremolo circuit billed as offering onboard vibrato.
Although the terms have become interchangeable, they are separate effects and definitely not the same thing. Tremolo is a periodic variation in the volume or amplitude of your guitar’s signal. At its most dramatic, tremolo creates the kind of choppy stutter you can hear in Green Day’s Boulevard Of Broken Dreams and How Soon Is Now? by The Smiths, but more subtle flavours can lend a cool retro flavour to your sound.
Vibrato is a periodic variation in pitch. This can be achieved manually by waggling your whammy bar or moving your fingertip while you fret a note. Vibrato stompboxes tend to simulate the popular sound of a 1960s Leslie rotating speaker cabinet. Both pedals operate in a fairly similar way, with a rate control setting the speed that your volume/pitch throbs at, and depth control adjusting how much of your signal is being effected.