The Frantone Vibutron is a simultaneous exercise in both simplicity and sonic artistry.
On its face, the lemon-wedge yellow stompbox is a basic three-knob tremolo, but plug into one and you’d be hard pressed—at the very least—to discern a difference between the pedal and the tremolo circuit on your favorite vintage tube amp.
Now, as noted by TRW colleague and friend Nicholas Kula in an article entitled “Welcome Back, Frantone” for the June 19, 2015 issue of Tone Report, the term “amp-like” is one that’s thrown around all too often. But when it comes to amp-like tremolo pedals—Vibutron is king of the mountain.
From chopped-up and fully gated square wave pulses to the mellow sweetness of surfy sine waves and the something-snappy-in-between triangle shapes, the Vibutron dishes out more than its fair share of 100 percent analog goodness.
One component that helps achieve the Vibutron achieve its hi-fidelity amplitude modulation is an analog chip that was built outright as a function generator. This hardware selection yields the Vibutron’s ultra-precise waveforms.
Other controls include a Depth knob for blending in as much—or as little—of the effect as you like and a Speed knob to set the pace of the tremolo action.
Something to note here is that the knobs go in opposite directions. To the right of the Depth control, you’ll find more intense modulation and a full wet-and-dry mix on the square wave setting. Conversely, more rapid pulses are found on the left side of the Speed knob.
And since we’re talking about speed, it’s worth mentioning that the Vibutron has a particularly pleasing amount of range. From slowly undulated wobbles to a ring-mod-esque stutter, there’s a tempo in here for every player.
Plus, the sounds are as good as advertised. If you’re a tremolo fan and have a penchant for analog warmth—the Vibutron will wobble its way right into your heart.
Meet Your Maker
In the TRW article I referenced earlier, Mr. Kula described Frantone namesake Fran Blanche as “one of the original boutique manufacturers.”
And it’s true. If you aren’t familiar, Fran has been around since the beginning. Her first pedal, an overdrive called the Hep Cat, debuted in 1994—more than two decades ago—and was followed by the hallowed Peach Fuzz in 1997.
After that, Fran took a position at the venerable Electro-Harmonix and, as head tech and supervisor of production, designed the 2000 Big Muff. So if you’ve ever laid ears on one of those monsters—and it’s likely you have—you have her to thank.
Following that success, she left EHX and resurrected Frantone, only to be met with a variety of setbacks—including the 9/11 tragedy—that forced her to abandon the line.
But in 2015, Fran and Frantone made a valiant comeback and as of today, is back in the business of designing and hand building some of the finest quality analog effects pedals you can buy.
What we like:
There’s not much to the Vibutron—and that’s one of the things I like best. In a world obsessed with all bells and whistles and tap tempo and submenus, stripped-down pedals like this one feel somewhat refreshing. In a way, such simplicity is freeing. And that’s great.
The Vibutron comes with a price tag that makes it unobtainable for some players, but like I said earlier, if you’re a player with a passion for analog awesomeness, it’s absolutely worth a look.