Subdecay Vagabond Tremolo

  • By David A. Evans @tonereport
  • April 26, 2017

Not more than 20 miles from the Tone Report’s office is Newberg, Oregon’s own Subdecay Studios. And its latest pedal, the Vagabond Tremolo, will please the heck out of lovers of tremolo and modulation effects.

According to Subdecay, the Vagabond offers not one, but two types of tremolo, each based on vintage technology from the ‘70s to deliver tone which is reminiscent of tube-based tremolos of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Because of technological improvements since those faraway decades, the Vagabond offers a bit more flexibility in its tremolo. Not only can it go deeper, it will also go faster.

The first mode, Bias, offers a traditional reverb that might be found in a Fender amplifier from the ‘50s or ‘60s. Bias tremolo actually works on a different principle than does the pedal’s other mode, Harmonic tremolo. A genuine tube amplifier’s trem section produces the tremolo effect by changing the bias of the tubes. The bias tremolo works on the principle of reducing, or increasing the flow of electrons. The result: a pulsating, smooth tremolo which tends to sound quite deep. Subdecay is onto something good here, because the Vagabond’s version fulfilled the fantasy of playing through a genuine tube amplifier.

The Vagabond features an Envelope Drift control which I found particularly fun to play with in the Bias and Harmonic modes. When the knob is set to noon, the pedal delivers the rich, smooth tremolo one would expect. However, when the knob is adjusted to the left of noon, the tremolo becomes responsive to playing dynamics—strum or pluck hard and the tremolo slows down. With the knob to the right of noon, the effect speeds up in proportion to the intensity of the player’s attack.

My favorite of the two settings, the Harmonic mode, truly won me over. I must admit that I am a sucker for any pedal which sounds remotely like a Uni-Vibe. To my surprise, the Vagabond fits perfectly into that category. Its harmonic mode produces tremolo by sweeping between a high- and low-pass filter. To my ears, the effect sounds a heck of a lot like a phaser combined with a vibrato, which is to say that it sounded like a Uni-Vibe. And, oh, what a vibe it was! The rich, moody sweep of the pedal; the deep sonic troughs which led to ear-pleasing peaks: it was all there, all of it. But the Harmonic mode need not take a person into Uni-Vibe territory, however. Alterations in the speed and intensity softened the psychedelic edge, but still let the tremolo hypnotize me with its charm.

Curiously, the waveform of the tremolo seemed to change when the pedal was in its highest Intensity setting. Perhaps I am just imagining things, but the pedal performed like a square wave tremolo when in the Bias mode and like something similar when in the Harmonic mode. I say similar because the Harmonic mode seemed to only partially blend the dry signal with the wet signal. In the Bias mode, the tremolo seemed to turn the signal on and off as a square wave tremolo seems to do.

Given the range of warm, tube-like textures the pedal produces, and given the excellent vibe-like Harmonic setting, I’d recommend the Vagabond to anyone in search of a tremolo that retains the best of the classics while adding a few interesting twists of its own.

What We Like: Smooth, deep tremolo as if from a tube amplifier; vibe-like tremolo for those psychedelic moments

Concerns: It’s not a concern, but a request: a jack for an expression pedal to control at least one parameter would suit this pedal just fine.

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