As far as effects go, tremolo can sometimes be overlooked – but just like reverb, delay or chorus, having one of the best tremolo pedals on your pedalboard can give your tone that extra bit of personality it needs to stand out. If you’ve ever wanted your sound to have a little more ‘vibe’ to it, then a little bit of tremolo can go a long way.
Introduced by DeArmond as early as 1941, the tremolo effect has been a staple guitar tone addition for the last 80 years. Fender has famously included it on its amps since the early ‘50s (although Leo called it vibrato) and as such, it’s found its way into the hearts, minds and guitar tones of players without them even realizing it. We’ll explain why it’s not vibrato further down the page.
In this guide, you’ll find eight tremolo pedals ranging from $45 to $300, which offer thoroughly different playing experiences from one another. Some pedals recreate a rather more artificial, digital sound which is great for modern styles, and some go down the route of amp-like harmonic tremolo – which helps to bring the old-school vibe back in droves.
We’ve included some in-depth buying advice at the end of this guide, so if you’d like to read more about the best tremolo pedals, then click the link. If you’d rather get straight to the products, keep scrolling.
Best tremolo pedals: Guitar World’s choice
Choosing the best tremolo pedal from this list is tough. Every pedal in this guide is an impressive tremolo unit for one reason or another, so here are our three favorites at different price points.
For those on a budget, we’d recommend the TC Electronic Choka. For $45/£35 there’s no better tremolo pedal on the market, and with TC’s signature metal enclosure, smooth footswitch, simple layout and a host of versatile tones onboard, the Choka will do just about anything you can throw its way.
If you’ve got a bit more to spend, then we’d advise you to go for the Boss TR-2 or JHS Tidewater. At around $115 and $135 respectively, both pedals deliver a wide range of tremolo – from subtle and amp-inspired to disruptive square-wave tone-chopping. Both pedals are a compact size, with the JHS’ ‘mini’ stature making it a great choice for those who don’t have much pedalboard space.
For the people for whom budget isn’t an issue, we’d tell you to go straight for the Strymon Flint. Yes, it’s the most expensive tremolo pedal on this list, but it’s also the best in our opinion. Obviously it’s not a dedicated tremolo pedal, with three different types of reverb onboard too, but it’ll cover all your tremolo-related needs from sweet and amp-like to true intensity.
Best tremolo pedals: Product guide
TC Electronic pedals are some of the best around when it comes to buying effects on a budget. Their pedals are all about durability and tonal quality, and the Choka is no exception.
The Choka is a simple pedal, with speed, depth and LFO controls onboard to help craft your perfect tremolo sound. Although there’s not loads that can be tweaked on the Choka, we found that each dial has an impressive range of tonal movement – meaning that your tremolo can go from super slow, shallow and vibey to fast, square-wave rhythmic chopping and anything in between.
Like all TC Electronic pedals, the Choka tremolo is true bypass, which delivers a level of tonal purity which far surpasses most pedals of this price bracket. The pedal itself is enclosed in a metal chassis making it perfect for any type of musical scenario, and the internal circuitry is all-analog. We’re aware that we sing TC’s praises an awful lot here, but how can you not when they keep doing great things?
Boss is one of the biggest names ever when it comes to effects pedals, with their products being regarded as some of the greatest to ever have existed. You can expect reliable, usable and high-fidelity tones from all Boss pedals, and the TR-2 is no exception to that rule.
The TR-2 delivers vintage-inspired, warm tremolo tones to suit any player or playing style. Designed to provide some amp-like warble to your tone, the trick to the TR-2’s fame is its simplicity. Three dials – rate, wave and depth – bring the vintage vibe in spades, where even the most extreme set of parameters still delivers a sensible, musical-sounding effect. As such, it’s not a pedal for those who want extreme tremolo sounds – but it’ll do just about everything else.
The sheer build quality of this pedal is another reason it’s so popular. Like all other Boss pedals, the TR-2 is nigh-on bulletproof, and is ready to be used, loved and gigged hard – hence why we see so many Boss pedals on the ‘boards of the greats. Boss even guarantees the TR-2 with a 5-year warranty.
The JHS brand is one of the most highly respected by new artists nowadays. They’re a fairly new company, but the quality of their effects ensures us that they’ve been doing their thing for a very long time. ‘Their thing’ just so happens to be making killer effects pedals, and the Tidewater definitely comes under that definition.
If you’ve ever played an old Fender tube amp you’ll understand and appreciate what a slight old-school tremolo effect can do to your tone. The JHS Tidewater wants to recreate that sweet, tasteful amp-style tremolo without taking up too much space – and it does it well.
This pedal looks the same as all of the others in terms of dial layout, but the volume and mix controls have an ace up their sleeve. With the volume up and the mix down, your Tidewater tremolo doubles up as a killer boost pedal – but when you start to bring in the mix level, the volume control offers a great-sounding platform to boost your effected tone for solos or chunky rhythm work.
Well, Strymon needs no introduction in any of our pedal guides. If you’ve read any of our other pedal guides, or have had the luxury of being able to try a Strymon pedal, you’ll know just how fantastic these pedals are – and the Flint continues that trend with style. They’re expensive, but they’re so worth it.
Much like the Tre-Verb, the Flint has one side of its enclosure dedicated to tremolo, and as a result the amount of tweakable parameters and controls is limited. What you do get, however, is intensity and speed controls which have massive ranges. Just from tweaking the intensity control, we found that you can go from hardly anything at all to extreme, jarring tremolo – and when you take the speed control into account too, the range of effect you can coax from this pedal is vast.
The tremolo type switch helps to take you through the ages of tremolo in the form of ‘61 harm (a harmonic tremolo), ‘63 tube (a tube bias tremolo) and ‘65 photo (a photocell/optical tremolo) – so if you’re a fan of vintage American amp tones, then this pedal will see you right. You’re really out of luck here if you’re after modern tremolo tones – this pedal is vintage vibe all boxed up.
Ibanez is popular for one range of pedals in particular – the Tube Screamer – but with pedal form that good, we’d be doing them (as well as you) an injustice if we didn’t include the ultra-compact TRMINI in this guide.
The Ibanez TRMINI is one of two mini pedals on this list, and with Ibanez making a huge success of the Tube Screamer mini, we’ve seen this pedal take the exact same format. The footswitch – which has a reassuring clunk to it when pressed – is placed on a raised platform in order to help you avoid knocking any dials with your foot. While this isn’t always successful, it’s thoughtful touches such as this which makes the TRMINI such a great choice.
The tones this pedal produces are up there with some of the best too. For under $100, we were surprised to discover that this pedal covers so much ground with its simple setup of knobs. The wave type, speed and depth are all highly tweakable, and while the depth control perhaps doesn’t have the largest range of variation, it still holds up respectfully against other tremolo pedals in this price range. The level control is designed to help up the output of the pedal, and comes in the form of a recessed screw – allowing you to set and forget.
When it comes to effects pedals, Fender isn’t a name you’d usually think of. Famous for making some of the world’s best electric guitars and amplifiers (as well as misusing the words ‘tremolo’ and ‘vibrato’), it’s no surprise to us that they’ve turned some of their attention to effects pedals. They’ve done a stunning job.
The Fender Tre-Verb is enclosed fully in lightweight, anodized aluminum to ensure that it can withstand the rigors of touring, live performances and most importantly, getting repeatedly stamped on. As you’ve likely guessed from the name, the Tre-Verb is half tremolo, half reverb – but these effects are independent of one another, as to get the best from each. The Tre-Verb delivers a super tasteful range of tremolo effects, including Optical, Bias and Harmonic. All of these tremolo types err on the side of classic, but there’s still a wide range of effect to be appreciated here.
The Tre-Verb is, in all honesty, an exceptional pedal. If you don’t need any reverb in your tone, then half of this pedal may be lost on you – but if you’re in the mood for some luscious Fender-amp inspired tones, then this pedal is worth a look. The layout is simple and straightforward, each parameter has a great range of tonal variation, it’s built like a tank and it looks like something straight from the Apple design playbook. Well done Fender, well done.
Walrus Audio is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly new to the party of pedal brands. Having quickly gained a cult following for making some of the very best modulation effects around in the Julia and the Slö, there’s no surprise at how highly people rate the Monument V2.
The Monument V2 has an exceptional amount of tweakable parameters, and it’s these parameters which help to make the Monument V2 such a versatile pedal. You’ve got the fairly standard Shape, Rate and Depth controls on board to get you in the tremolo ballpark, and then with the addition of a volume control (to help you cut through a mix) and a ‘division’ control to edit the rhythm of your tremolo, there’s not much this pedal can’t do. The division control can be set to quarter, triplet, eighth or sixteenth notes.
On the Monument V2, you can swap between standard tremolo and harmonic tremolo with the flick of a switch. This takes you from a more modern style to something significantly more vibey and reminiscent of Fender Brownface amps. The sheer amount of controls on the Monument V2 can prove a little challenging at first, but this pedal is worth putting in some time on – trust us.
Electro-Harmonix is one of the guitar world’s most iconic pedal brands. Well known for creating some frankly incredible effects with a zany twist, EHX hasn’t let us down on this occasion. We often say that EHX pedals are 80% usable, and 20% mental – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Nano Pulsar has a broad feature-set which helps set it aside from other tremolo pedals in this price bracket. It has the seemingly standard depth, rate and shape dials, but the addition of a volume control and a wave type switch enables players to really sculpt and tweak the sound of their tremolo to fit nearly any playing style. While these extra features make the control panel kind of crowded and prone to being nudged with a foot, the extra parameters make the Nano Pulsar an exceptionally versatile unit.
The Nano Pulsar also features a stereo output, making it easy to pan your tremolo effect between amps to create luscious and wide-sounding stereo effects. This pedal will take you anywhere from smooth to sharp, with some ring modulation-esque tones creeping in as you up the rate and depth controls. We did say it can do some crazy stuff.
Best tremolo pedals: Buying advice
What is a tremolo pedal and how does it work?
The tremolo effect is a type of modulation which affects the volume of your signal. This volume change is created by an LFO (low frequency oscillator) which creates a waveform that turns your signal up and down. Usually made with triangle or sine waves, the types and characteristics of tremolo can be significantly different depending on the type of wave.
As sine waves are more rounded waveforms, they deliver a softer sounding, more luscious effect – great for huge rhythm guitar tones. Triangle waves tend to deliver a more harsh effect which is often used more as a ‘standout’ effect, rather than something you might leave switched on.
All of the pedals in this guide have at least three controls onboard, with two of them being ‘Rate’ and ‘Depth’ – although sometimes referred to differently. ‘Rate’ is just another term for ‘speed’, and this dial (as you’d expect) controls the speed of the effect. This helps a player synchronize their tremolo effect to the tempo of their song. ‘Depth’ sets the amount of volume variation, meaning that a small amount of ‘depth’ will create a subtle effect and a large amount will deaden your signal when the wave reaches a certain point.
What different types of tremolo are there?
Although all types of tremolo do the same thing, they do it in different ways. This creates a different set of characteristics, and therefore each type of tremolo has a different sound.
One of the most common and most popular types of tremolo is the Tube Bias tremolo. This works by using the LFO waveform we mentioned earlier to vary the bias of an amplifier’s power tubes, which turns the signal up and down. Considered to be the ‘original’ type of tremolo, it features on some of Fender’s earliest amps – and is characterized by a smooth, mostly shallow effect which adds depth and texture to a guitar tone.
Another tremolo circuit which was often used in Fender amps is the Optical tremolo. This type of tremolo is also referred to as an ‘optocoupler tremolo’ (‘opto’, in the case of the Fender Tre-Verb) or a photo cell tremolo (known as a ‘photo’ tremolo on the Strymon Flint).
In this circuit, the LFO is used to turn a light bulb on and off, which varies the resistance in the optocoupler (a light dependent resistor). That varying resistance turns your guitar signal up and down, creating a tremolo effect. Again, this effect is very smooth sounding, but the wave itself is quite lopsided. Think of the pulsating tremolo in Johnny Marr’s guitar tone from ‘How Soon Is Now?’ by The Smiths.
The third main type of tremolo is Harmonic tremolo. It’s one of the most commonly used and emulated types of tremolo, thanks to the rich, wide tone it creates.
Harmonic tremolo is achieved when a low- and high-pass version of your guitar signal are modulated against each other, but 180 degrees out of phase. This means that when one signal is falling, the other is rising, and as such, your tone is sweet and full-bodied. When people reference amp-like tremolo, they’re usually talking about harmonic tremolo – and if you want an effect that makes your tone sound bigger than it is, then this is the type of tremolo you should seek out.
Why do I need a tremolo pedal?
Tremolo pedals are criminally underrated pieces of gear. Just like any other type of modulation or time-based effect, tremolo adds a certain amount of personality to your tone that you otherwise wouldn’t get.
As we mentioned, a tremolo effect ducks the volume of your signal in and out, which can create either a smooth, subtle texture that brings your tone to life, or a harsh, choppy, rhythmic pattern which adds a valuable percussive nature to your performance — think the intro of Boulevard of Broken Dreams.
Tremolo vs Vibrato
Now, we’ve seen the terms ‘Tremolo’ and ‘Vibrato’ bandied about everywhere – and often incorrectly. These are not interchangeable terms, and although the effects do similar things, there’s one main difference. Tremolo is an effect which changes the volume of your signal, whereas vibrato changes the pitch.
This means that, in fact, the ‘vibrato’ on a Fender amp is actually a tremolo effect, and a ‘synchronized tremolo’ bridge on a Strat is actually creating a vibrato effect. We’re only pointing it out to be pedantic and a little bit controversial – but it’s definitely a fact worth knowing.
Which brands make the best tremolo pedals?
Tremolo pedals are becoming more and more popular as time goes on, and as such, nearly every pedal company is getting in on the action when it comes to making one. For this reason, many of the best pedal brands also make the best tremolo pedals.
For anyone who likes their pedals to be as small as possible, companies such as Ibanez and JHS offer killer tremolo pedal choices in the TRMINI and Tidewater Tremolo. We’ve seen companies such as Donner, NUX and Valeton offer up super-cheap alternatives which are fine if you’re really in a financial pinch, but as is the case with everything, if you spend more, you’ll most likely get a better product.
We can’t forget the big names either. Boss, Electro-Harmonix and Strymon make some of the industry's best pedals, and their tremolo pedals are truly second-to-none. Boss’ TR-2 is simple, easy to use and chucks out some great tremolo tones, much like the Strymon Flint – which also has a reverb effect built in. These pedals both produce smooth amp-esque tremolo – with the TR-2 also pushing on into slightly more crazy territory.
Fender and TC Electronic sit at either end of this price-ordered guide, but their pedals are equally as impressive for the money. The Fender Tre-Verb is highly sophisticated to the ears, and using it as part of your signal chain is bound to be a highly enjoyable experience. For a company who, up until fairly recently, hadn’t quite hit the mark with its pedal ventures, the Tre-Verb is emphatic proof that Fender is up near the top, where it belongs. On the contrary, we think that nobody makes budget-friendly pedals like TC Electronic does. The Choka is so cheap, and for the money, there is no better tremolo pedal on the market. Expect to pay roughly double the price of the Choka to get anywhere near that level of quality.