In the mid-50s, great guitar innovators like Duane Eddy (pictured) started playing lead riffs drenched in tremolo and echo in the lower registers of the guitar, creating the bass-y sound that since then has become synonymous with “twang.”
Tremolo, a regular change in volume which can be varied in speed and intensity, is an effect often confused with vibrato, which similarly affects the pitch. The confusion is due to the fact that guitar manufacturers used the terms interchangeably. Most notably the Fender Stratocaster came out in 1954 and was marketed with what they called a “synchronized tremolo” (or tremolo arm), which was really a vibrato arm since it affected the pitch rather than the volume. It was still Fender that introduced the first amplifier with a tremolo circuit in 1955: the Tremolux. That same year Gibson came out with the GA-55 twin twelve amp, with “built-in vibrato,” but – again – this was really a tremolo.
Danelectro and Premier were also selling amps with tremolo in 1956 – advertised as “electronic vibrato.” Things got more interesting and confusing when in 1956 now defunct manufacturer Magnatone came out with their Custom 280 amps and their effect marketed as “True Vibrato,” which actually affected both pitch and volume. That model (pictured) is what Duane Eddy used to create his signature twang sound.
Once guitarists realized they could change their sound with effects nothing was ever the same, and many of them started modifying their own gear. In 1958, Eddy famously modified his Magnatone 280 with a 15” speaker and brought along a 2000 gallon water tank as an echo chamber to record his breakout hit “Moovin ‘N’ Groovin” with Lee Hazelwood. The rest, as they say, is history. – By Sam Taylor (Southside Guitars)