The DigiTech Whammy Pedal first arrived on the scene in the early 1990s (I remember first seeing it in an ad in the British magazine Guitar way back then), and was quickly adopted by the big wigs of the shred movement, such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, for high pitched sonic freakout squeals and other tricks. The pedal was originally designed and marketed as a way of copying whammy bar effects on fixed bridge guitars such as Les Pauls and Telecasters, right around the time that dive bombs and racing car effects started to go out of fashion. However, players soon realised that the ‘pitch up’ settings were of more musical use than ‘pitch down,’ and a sonic revolution ensued.
The more textural side of the Whammy Pedal effect was explored by Jimmy Page on the Coverdale-Page album, where it was used to simulate slide guitar in the song “Over Now.” Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine continues to use the Whammy to good effect as a pitch shifter and to simulate DJ scratching, and Living Colour bass player Doug Wimbish is rarely seen without a Whammy underfoot.
I got my first Whammy Pedal in about 2004 or so, and while I later traded it in when I was lured by a multi effects pedal, I’m planning to buy another soon (A WH4 was provided on loan for the purposes of review). I’m such a Whammy Pedal geek that I even had an ad for the WH-4 reissue stuck up on my wall for a while. My name is Peter, and I am a Whammy Pedal Addict.
Back to the WH4. The Whammy effect is turned on and off by a switch at the bottom right corner of the unit, while a wah-style expression pedal provides for realtime control of the effect itself. An effect matrix with LEDs and a control knob allow you to select the basic setting from three effect groups: Harmony, Whammy, and Detune. Options in Harmony mode, with the pedal down and up respectively: Octave down/Octave up; 5th down/4th down; 4th down/3rd down; 5th up/7th up; 5th up/6th up; 4th up/5th up; 3rd up/4th up; flat 3rd up/3rd up; and 2nd up/3rd up. Detune modes include Shallow and Deep, for doubling or chorus effects. Whammy settings include 2 octaves up; 1 octave up; 1 octave down; 2 octaves down; Dive Bomb; and Drop Tune. The WH4 updates the original WH1 with MIDI control (as well as the Dive Bomb setting, which gives the effect of a whammy bar pushed all the way to the body of the guitar). So now you can program patch changes via your MIDI controller, very handy indeed if you wish to switch from pure, straight octave-up mode for one part of a song, and a harmony setting for another.
The Whammy has wet and dry outputs, for sending an unaffected signal to one amp and the effected one to another for extra wide harmony or chorus effects. Just imagine stomping on the pedal and having your original note coming out of one amp, while the other is blasting out the same riff a 5th below (hint: try this with the groovy main section of Steve Vai’s ‘The Animal’). When only the wet output is used, it combines a dry signal with the effected one.
By the way, I like to place the Whammy Pedal first in my signal chain, so my rig responds to it just like it would if I actually bent the note that far with my fingers. This also helps to drastically reduce the digital artefacts you hear if you run the unit through your effects loop, and also allows it to track more cleanly than if it had to distinguish your notes through a sea of effects and distortion. However, if you plan to use it for harmonizer effects it will sound better in the effect loop.
The most logical (and fun) thing to do with the Whammy pedal is set it to 1 or 2 octaves up and step on that sucker for wild “Weeeeeeee!” sounds. Chances are that this is the very first thing pretty much everyone does when they first get their feet on one. But there’s so much more to it than just making monkey noises and playing Satch’s “Cool #9.” The Detune settings can be operated by the rocker pedal to precisely time chorus effects to the tempo of the song; can be left static in Shallow for that Eddie Van Halen wide stereo sound (from the 5150 album onwards); or can be set to Deep for a similar effect to the automatic double tracking used on the second guitar solo of Pink Floyd’s “Money.” The 5th up/6th up setting is great for faking pedal steel lines with a clean tone – just hold a note and rock the pedal for authentic B-Bender-type licks.
The 4th up/5th up setting is home to some unique sounds used by Vai on “The Blood And The Tears” and “The Ultra Zone,” and while different players prefer to place the pedal in different points in the signal chain, this particular setting seems to work especially well as the first pedal your guitar plugs into. At one rehearsal I used this setting with a fuzz pedal, and the shifting harmonic overtones and feedback were beyond cool.
The octave down Harmony settings add a lot of girth and muscle to low riffs: try the Octave Down pedal position while using the Octave Down/Octave Up setting to add a lower octave to chunky single-note riffs, then emphasise specific notes by pressing the pedal down to raise the doubled note by an octave for a cool fake pinch harmonic sound.
The DigiTech Whammy is a gateway to creativity, and while it’s easy to get caught up in some of the more classic tricks and settings, its’ worth delving that little bit deeper to see what unique sounds you can come up with. The sound of this pedal can vary wildly depending on where you place it in the signal chain, and luckily DigiTech seem to be very aware of what kind of punishment players could put the unit through in the heat of passion, as it’s very solidly built – able to withstand a hefty stomping and keep going.
Sample Rate: 46.875 kHz
Frequency Response Dry: 20 Hz to 20kHz
Frequency Response Wet: 20 Hz to 12kHz
Signal to Noise Ratio: Greater than -95dB (A weighted); ref = max level, 22 kHz bandwidth
THD: 0.006% (1kHz); ref = 1dBu w/ unity gain
A/D Conversion: 24-bit
D/A Conversion: 24-bit
Max Input: +8.8 dBu
Max Output: +8.8 dBu
Pitch Bend: +2/-3 Octaves
Detune: -4 to -30 cents
Dimensions (L x W x H): 8 x 6.3 x 2.5 in.
Weight: 1.6 kg
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CLICK HERE to buy the Digitech Whammy WH4 from Guitar Center for $169.95.