Review Date: Friday 9th of November 2012 03:54:21 PM Last Updated: Thursday 1st of January 1970 01:00:00 AM Reviewed By: Alan Clayson
The latest version of the legendary Whammy mixes tried-and-tested features with some brand new ones. Will we be squealing in delight or dive-bombing in despair? Review by David Greeves
Since first appearing on earth at the tail end of the 1980s, the Digitech Whammy has lost none of its strangeness. The Whammy allowed us to do something new: to alter the pitch of notes using an expression pedal. From bends to divebombs to squealing pitch raises, the Whammy took the Floyd Rose antics of the ’80s and kicked things up a notch with two octaves of bending ability. Steve Vai, Dimebag Darrell, Jack White – they’ve all been inspired to stomp on the red treadle of doom and show us what the Whammy is capable of, but it’s arguably Tom Morello of RATM and Audioslave who has done the most to guarantee this effect’s immortality.
This latest fifth-generation version retains just about all of the features of the original and sought-after Whammy while adding some new tricks, like true bypass, new pitch-bend modes and a pitch-shifting algorithm borrowed from the larger Whammy DT, designed for polyphonic pitch bends. Pedal nerds will notice that the raised ‘Whammy’ logo on the treadle mimics that on the original WH-1, albeit rotated 180 degrees. The treadle has a pleasing action with enough resistance to feel accurate and to stay put when you take your foot away, but not so much as to hinder a fast motion. Like the rest of the enclosure, it’s made from metal and feels near-indestructible.
Nearby, a rotary knob lets you select from 21 modes. First, the nine ‘Harmony’ modes add an additional note above or below the one you’re playing, and the pitch of the harmony can be altered between two fixed points using the treadle. For example, in ‘5th up/7th up’ mode, the harmony is a fifth above the note with the treadle in heel-down position, rising to a seventh above as you sweep the pedal to toe-down.
Next, 10 Whammy modes shift the entire signal up or down. In addition to shifting one or two octaves up or down, there’s a ‘dive bomb’ setting that sweeps a whole three octaves down by the time you reach toe-down. Modes for a whole tone down and for a fourth or fifth up or down are also included. Last but not least are two ‘detune’ modes mixing the dry signal with a detuned version of itself, with the treadle controlling the wet/dry mix.
In ‘shallow’ detune mode, mixing in a slightly detuned signal creates a fairly subtle chorus effect, while the ‘deep’ mode creates a pronounced swirling vibe.
This edition’s MIDI input means that once you’ve set the Whammy to any of the 16 MIDI channels you can sweep the treadle remotely using continuous controller (CC) messages and activate or bypass any of the modes using program change numbers.
This partially makes up for the one thing this pedal is lacking – the means to switch mode mid-song. Though it would break from tradition, adding a second footswitch to cycle through the modes could have been a solution. But you’ve got to respect this pedal’s simplicity. With its rugged construction, clear LED indicators and distinct lack of knobs, this is a really dependable pedal with no distractions and little that could go wrong.
Finally, the small switch above the selector knob marked ‘Classic/Chords’ switches between standard Whammy pitch-shifting and the newer algorithm from the Whammy DT designed for polyphonic pitch-shifting.
With any pitch-shifting effect, the further away from the original note you go, the more artificial things generally start to sound. Shifting several notes at the same time makes things rather more complicated and can compound tracking troubles, resulting in glitchy noises and a strange, chorus-like warble around the shifted note. The Whammy is not immune from these problems, but for single-note bends and riffs its note tracking is very solid and a match for any other stompbox in the same price range. When playing chords, switching to the ‘Chords’ algorithm helps to give glitch-free results. Just don’t expect tricky diminished jazz shapes to ring out crystal-clear when they’re shifted two octaves down – that’s asking too much.
As this kind of pitch-shifting is a digital process, converting the signal from analogue to digital and back introduces a small delay. On the Whammy, this is just about audible with single notes – slightly more so on ‘Chords’ – but it’s only when picking very fast that it can become distracting. Some players may not notice it at all, and it’s certainly no barrier to using the Whammy effectively.
It’s a safe bet that, in most cases, this pedal is going to be used with plenty of distortion and put to work creating squealing, grinding and wailing noises. In this context the fifth-generation Whammy is just as grin-inducing as its ancestors.
The temptation to abuse this pedal’s capabilities just for the hell of it is too much to resist, but beyond the dive bombs, siren sounds and other special effects there’s a huge range of applications to explore. Shifting a second, fourth or fifth down is great for grungey rock or dark metal, while flicking to an octave up and back while repeating a lick creates an instant ‘call and response’ solo. Playing clean, the major/minor third Harmony mode can, with practice, be used for Brian May-style harmony scales, while you can imitate pedal steel-type bends using the 2nd/3rd and 5th/6th Harmony settings.
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So is this a case of ‘the original and still the best’? If you want to imitate Rage Against The Machine riffs or tackle some of Matt Bellamy’s solos, a Whammy pedal is what you need. The new features aren’t earth-shattering, but they add to an already enticing package. It might not be the cleanest, most natural-sounding pitch-shifter, but it’s a rugged, roadworthy pedal built for expressive and, most likely, completely over-the-top live performance – and under £200 to boot. How’s that for a triple Whammy?
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