By Scott Auld
Reviewing pedals can be tedious if everyone keeps sending you their take on the same old circuits. Fortunately, Eric Barao at On the Road Effects sent in two pedals that woke me up. Eric sent two very pretty pedals, a Tremble dual-speed tremolo pedal and a gorgeous ruby-red Betterizer.
At its core, the Tremble is inspired by the classic 'EA Tremolo' circuit, with some innovation built in. The biggest twist is that there are two independent speed controls, which you can change on-the-fly, while you are playing. The Tremble has two different speeds – Slow and Fast. You can adjust the speed of both of these two modes with their respective knobs, and then use the speed switch to go back and forth between fast/slow - this creates a Leslie speaker-like effect, with a slowing/speeding up effect, and can become a part of your performance. The ‘More’ control is basically a gain boost control within the effect’s signal, allowing you to overcome the perceived volume loss when the trem is operating.
When the tremolo is not engaged, you can engage the 'boost-only' switch to use it as a boost pedal to push a tube amp into 'crunch' territory, for solos or dirty rhythm playing. According to Eric, the boost section of the Tremble’s circuit shares some lineage with the Electro-Harmonix LPB-1. Thanks to its linear volume boost, using the Tremble with trem turned off, just as a boost, is a very versatile addition to any pedalboard. I actually found the tone of the boosted signal to be so sweet that I left it on for a long while, and forgot I had made it a semi-permanent part of my pedal board’s sound. When I took it back out of the chain, to return to Eric, I wondered what would do to get that nice sparkly sound back. Well, the answer to that is the Betterizer.
The Betterizer Buffer pedal, with a luscious ruby red finish that looks good enough to eat, has no controls other than the stomp switch. Unique to pedals, instead of a boring LED light, the Betterizier has a pretty jewel lamp on it, like old Fender amps had. But beyond looks, the SOUND is what we’re after.
If you're using long cable runs (I don’t), or have a pedal board full of true bypass pedals (I DO), your tone could be weak and muddy due to increased capacitance. This is what I think was happening when I took the Tremble back out of my signal chain. Like the Tremble in non-tremolo mode, the Betterizer restores the full strength of your pickups by converting the signal from high impedance to low impedance. Your amp is then presented with the true sound of your pickups, as if you were plugged directly into the amp with a short cable.
The Betterizer also seems to be slightly enhancing the sparkle … those higher frequencies that makes your adds the shimmer and glimmer. I’m not talking about that nasty brittle high end that you get with some of the cheap modern amps – I am talking about those harmonic overtones that you don’t quite realize are there until you remove them. Like adding a subtle compressor, the Betterizer Buffer seems to brings your tone up to the front of your attention a little bit. I realize this is a somewhat subjective description, but that really is what it seems like to me. Eric describes it as adding 'dimension' to your tone, and I think that’s a pretty good description too.
I’m sad to see the Tremble go back to Eric, but the good news is that someone at TGP is going to win the Betterizer Buffer, and they’re going to sound just a little bit better when they do. For the rest of us, the Betterizer and the Tremble both are very fairly priced, and can be found at Eric’s store at ontheroadeffects.com.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Eric also contributes heavily to the DIY community, and has provided the world with what he calls the 'Pedal Builder's Vector Pack' … a free download of pedal artwork for use in making drilling templates, dry-fitting parts in an enclosure, creating wiring diagrams & external artwork, etc. The tool works with Adobe Illustrator as well as other vector art software. See ontheroadeffects.com/vectorpack/