Vibrato units may be individual stomp boxes or built in to multi-effects units, but are traditionally built in to guitar amplifiers. They are particularly used in surf music. A vibrato unit normally has three controls:
There has been much speculation as to why Leo Fender chose to call it a vibrato unit, while he called a device that produced true vibrato a synchronised tremolo, in both cases reversing the established usage. The synchronised tremolo was introduced in 1954 on the first Stratocaster guitar. The only previously successful tremolo arm was the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, often simply called a Bigsby. In 1958, Fender reinforced his usage with the Fender floating tremolo on the Jazzmaster and some subsequent guitars. The synchronised tremolo became the most copied of these three basic patterns of tremolo arm, although both of the others continue to have some following. Similarly, many other amplifier makers introduced vibrato units producing similar effects to the Fender units. Some of these makers, including Gibson and Ampeg, referred to their volume-modulation effects as tremolo.
Although the Fender corporation called some of their later tremolo arm designs vibrato tailpieces (see tremolo arm for details), both the terms tremolo arm and vibrato unit became established, with the result that electric guitarists traditionally use the terms vibrato and tremolo in the opposite senses to all other musicians when describing these hardware devices and the effects they produce. From time to time it is proposed that this should be corrected, and the term tremolo arm rejected in place of a neutral term such as whammy bar, but there is no corresponding "correct" term for a vibrato unit.
The task of producing a similarly correct term for a traditional vibrato unit is slightly complicated by two factors:
Guitarists do also use "true" vibrato, in at least three ways:
In common with all other musicians, all guitarists from classical to rock use the term vibrato to describe finger vibrato.
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