By Nils Bryant –
Review of: Cusack Tremolo AME
Reviewed by: Nils BryantRating:3.5On June 29, 2015Last modified:October 8, 2016
Besides spending quite some time with the Cusack Delay TME, I’ve also had the opportunity to play around with another pedal in Cusack’s new “Retro Super-Science” series, the Cusack Tremolo AME (Amplitude Modulation Emulator). This one is yet again a stripped down version of one of their most popular pedals, the Tap-A-Whirl, which is quite the beast, being analog but incorporating tap tempo, stereo outputs, 24 waveforms and a preset function, among other things. Cusack have been on the boutique pedal scene for a long time and certainly know what they’re doing, so their decision to release a series of stripped-down versions of their ‘classic’ designs isn’t a hugely ambitious move but makes a lot of sense considering the growing demand for feature-packed compact guitar pedals. All that aside, let’s dive in.
- Controls for: Level, Depth and Rate
- Toggle Switch between 3 waveforms: Sine, Square and a Square/Ramp
- RCA jack for adding optional external Tap Tempo and ‘Ramp’ feature
- 9V DC or battery operation
- Top Mounted Jacks
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Since the Cusack Tremolo AME belongs to the same new pedal series as the Cusack Delay TME (see my Cusack Delay TME review), they share a lot of the same relatively unique features. This includes the soft-select relay switching (which I assume is true-bypass), an external tap input, top mounted jacks, the flashy color scheme (a nice bright and darker red in this case). And most importantly the translucent ‘Rate’ knob has a clear blue LED underneath which blinks in sync with the time and lights up/down according to the wave shape, a feature I am particularly fond of.
On the inside we again find boutique build quality, an efficiently laid out PCB, board mounted jacks and molex connectors. There are no trimmers this time (as there are on the Delay TME), and the only visible component on the underside of the PCB is a so-called ‘vactrol’, which is pretty much the heart of the tremolo circuit.
A vactrol, also called a resistive opto-isolator, is essentially an LED and a light sensitive resistor in one package, enabling the value of the resistor to be determined by the amount of light it receives from the LED, and since LED’s can relatively accurately emit light depending on the amount of voltage applied, this makes for a very practical and efficient way of controlling a signal.
Although there are other ways of achieving a tremolo effect without going digital, a Vactrol is probably the most common, and they are not only used in many popular pedals and amplifier tremolo effects, but also in Uni-Vibe, vibrato, envelope, and compressor type circuits as well as analog modular synthesizers.
Sound & Performance:
The Tremolo AME is a fairly traditionally voiced trem, on medium settings definitely comparable to the standard blackface Fender amp tremolo, with a musical and warm character. The Rate goes from almost unnoticeably slow and subtle up to quite fast, although not quite into inaudible range (even on the double speed Square/Ramp wave shape), but extreme speeds are generally reserved for more experimental tremolos anyway.
Due to its analog nature, even with the Depth control on maximum the Tremolo AME is not as stuttery as I’d hoped, even on the square wave setting (think of it as a little bit choppier than The Smiths’ classic “How Soon Is Now?”, which featured a Fender amp tremolo). Also, on faster Rate and maxed Depth settings the difference between the square and sine waveforms isn’t huge, so ‘killswitch’ type riffs aren’t really an option.
On more extreme settings a tremolo effect excels when in sync with the tempo of the music, but unfortunately I didn’t have the optional external tap tempo switch. For my testing I had to dial in the tempo by hand which was really tricky due to the sensitivity of the speed knob. I also missed out on being able to try the ‘brake’ function, although I can’t see this being as crazy as with the ‘brake’ on the Delay TME since it’s a fairly mellow tremolo even on maximum speed.
The ‘Level’ control is essential, as the perceived volume on a tremolo is generally lower whenever it is set at unity gain, so having it a little bit higher can make your guitar cut through a little better. On maximum it isn’t all that much louder, although it could definitely send an amp into clipping overdrive; with the Depth knob all the way down you could use it as a simple clean boost if needed.
I would imagine using the tap tempo would make it a lot easier to sync it up (and keep it that way by re-tapping occasionally), but I’m not sure how it subdivides your taps, if at all, and where it places them within each wave, which obviously has a huge effect on the usability of the pedal (accurately tapping 16th notes at 100bpm is pretty much impossible unless it interprets your taps at quarter or at least 8th notes).
The third, hybrid Square/Ramp waveshape is interesting although it’s challenging to make it work musically, so in that sense I would have either liked to see some more extreme/unique sounding waveshapes (like those available on its bigger brother, the Cusack Tap-A-Whirl). Otherwise that toggle switch could be a subdivision switch instead, maybe also allowing for higher speeds for some more experimental sounds.
The Tremolo AME by Cusack is certainly top notch quality, and features a couple of nice innovations (like the flashing LED Rate knob), but sound-wise it’s a fairly conventional affair, sweet sounding and easily implementable, just nothing too crazy. Definitely give it a try if you’re looking for a good sounding basic tremolo effect in an attractive package. Also, having the external tap tempo switch is highly recommended, as it’s practically impossible to get it in sync on heavier settings in a live situation otherwise.
That concludes our Cusack Tremolo AME review. Thanks for reading.
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