The Tremoloa: History&#039s Weirdest Slide Guitar

This monstrosity is the Hawaiian Tremoloa, a strange fretless slide guitar thing produced by the Oscar Schmidt Business in the mid-20th century.

Oscar Schmidt is well known for its other zither-like instruments such as autoharps. Guitarists know them as the creators of Stella and Harmony guitars. This mutant is neither an autoharp nor a guitar. It’s its personal beast!


Patent courtesy of Patent Posters

The Tremoloa was produced and patented in 1932 by H.G. Finney to money in on the Hawaiian music craze that swept the U.S. It features a warbling slide contraption, supposedly to enable every novice to turn into the subsequent Sol Hoopii. However, these issues are almost not possible to play. To give you an concept of the unwieldiness of the Tremeloa, right here are two individuals wrestling with a straightforward melody:

It requires two hands operating separately to play the Tremoloa. A single melody string under fairly low tension is played with a rolling weight connected to a thumb choose. Music note places are marked on the huge note label below the string. That position controls the pitch of the string when plucked.


The heavy weight of the slide arm truly bounces on the string and raises and lowers its tension a small, causing a ghostly vibrato. In addition, as the weight moves from one played note to the subsequent, the weight stays in get in touch with with the string, and creates a glissando that is reminiscent of the sound of a Hawaiian steel guitar.


In addition to playing the slide with their proper thumbs, Tremoloa players had to strum grouped chords with their left hand…not an easy activity!

The majority of these instruments have been sold door-to-door by dubious salesmen in rural America from 1932 to the mid-1950s. Unsuspecting would-be musicians were promised that this was the instrument the complete household could play. Tremoloas sported soundhole stickers with a whopping $ 35 price tag tag printed on them. Nevertheless, the salesmen would reassure the unsuspecting victim that he could do better on the price. In fact, numerous Tremoloas have been sold on payment plans to the women of the property although the man was in the fields. And, not surprisingly, Oscar Schmidt received loads of returned units sent back by irate husbands declaring “swindle!”

Thousands and thousands have been sold, yet quite handful of men and women ever mastered them. You can uncover Tremoloas on eBay for as tiny as the $ 35 sticker value. Yes, they’re challenging to play, but they make cool conversation pieces. And if you ever need to have that one particular specific instrument to track freakish slide sounds on your next album, this might be the ticket. 

Till next time, keep getting weirder, folks!

Shane Speal is “King of the Cigar Box Guitar” and the creator of the modern day cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal’s newest album, Holler! is on C. B. Gitty Records.

Guitar Planet