INTERVIEW: Morley’s Bill Wenzloff

Morley Pedals was started by brothers Raymond and Marvin Lubow in LA in the 1960s, when players were first really started to explore how they could use effects to enhance their music. Their first product was an electro-mechanical echo uni under the brand name Tel-Ray Electronics, but a subsequent product – a rotating speaker simulation in a box – provided the inspiration for the Morley name: the new unit was ‘More-Lee’ rather than ‘Less-Lee.’ But what really helped Morley to break into the big league was their line of treadle-operated pedals – wahs, volume pedals and the Rotating Sound pedal, the original ‘More-Lee’ pedal. Today Morley makes a variety of effects, including Steve Vai’s Bad Horsie and Little Alligator pedals, signature gear for Mark Tremonti and George Lynch. The company was bought by Chicago firm Sound Enhancements, Inc in the late 80s but Morley continues to use the innovations of the Lubow brothers as inspiration. I Heart Guitar caught up with Morley’s Bill Wenzloff to talk shop.

Tell us about your background as a player – how and why did you start? What did you play? 

I started playing guitar at about age 12. I was already a Beatles fan but once I discovered Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Rush and other rock icons, I knew I wanted to play guitar. One of the first rock songs I learned was Dirty Deeds by AC/DC. It felt so awesome hitting those chords out of a loud amp; it felt slightly naughty and yet so cool. I was hooked. I played in many bands throughout my life; some original, some cover and even a few tribute bands (I was Ace Frehley in Kiss Tribute “Kissed” and Brad Whitford in Aerosmith tribute called “Big Ten Inch”). Music has been the one constant in my life and I am continually grateful that I have the gift of playing music.

What was your first pedal?

It was an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff that my friends Dad bought used at a flea market. That thing had sustain for days! Typical amps in those days didn’t have great overdrive channels like they do now so having a distortion pedal really opened things up. I probably overused it but the sound of an open E chord with full on distortion was quite addictive – still brings a smile to my face. Later, pedals became my fascination. A funny story; when I was in my teens, I played in a band and the other guitarist had a Morley Wah that he used on every song. It really used to annoy me that he used the Wah so much – especially on songs that didn’t really need it. Ironic that I ended up working for Morley years later.

How has the internet transformed your job?

The Internet has certainly changed the way we work but in the end, we’re still just trying to create the best pedals out there. We are able to communicate, learn and create so quickly now. The computer in general is an extension of the person using it, so not everyone will reap the vast benefits of using one. The internet makes it possible for anyone to get information on anything within seconds. It makes it so easy to compare products and pricing which levels the playing field so companies rely heavily on creativity, good quality and customer service to stand out. The internet has made it easy for people to discover and learn music and any musician can now record their own music, distribute it online and have some level of success. It’s a different industry than it was but one thing hasn’t changed; people love to play and listen to music. Music remains a key aspect of our daily life!

How does the process differ between creating a pedal for the general market and creating a signature one for an artist?

We always attempt to create a product that we know will be useful and make sounds that will enhance the creative process. Since we are musicians, we know what things we need when gigging and that usually translates to a new product that others will find useful too.

When we create a signature pedal, we have to listen to the needs and desires of the artist very carefully. We want the pedal to be their creation and vision and our job is to assist them in achieving that. We can make suggestions but ultimately the artist has to be the one driving the project.

In either scenario, the goal is always to make a useful, great sounding pedal that is quality made and durable. Fans of our products then cast their vote with their purchase – we quickly see what people like and don’t like and we take that information very seriously.

Tell us about the development of the switchless Wah. It’s such a logical function that it’s almost bizarre that nobody else thought of it first!

We designed the first switchless Wah back in 1992. Prior to that, Morley Wahs had the switch located to the side of the foot treadle as opposed to underneath the foot treadle like other Wahs. We noticed a continual debate amongst our users about the location of the switch and the difficulties with a mechanical switch in general. After years of hearing this debate, our Director of Engineering (Scott Flesher) thought, “It would be best if there was no switch at all.” and proceeded to develop the circuitry that allows the pedals to turn on/off automatically. Morley pedals have always been controlled by our Electro-Optical circuit (consisting of LED-Light Emitting Diode and LDR-Light Dependant Resistor); Scott was able to use this same Electro-Optical Circuit with a spring loaded treadle to make the pedal turn on and off automatically.

Interestingly enough, when we first released the WAH-SP (which stood for Wah w/Spring) it didn’t really catch on right away. Some criticized the design because you could no longer leave the Wah in a fixed position for that “Michael Schenker Tone” as it is known. It wasn’t until we developed the Bad Horsie Wah with Steve Vai that the switchless thing really took off for us. These days, about half our Wahs use the switchless design.

Morley used to have some very funky ads back in the day (eg: the old “Morley Men Do It With Their Feet” campaign). Ever think of issuing them as limited edition prints? They’d make such great collectibles, and really celebrate the history of the company (which is why I love that they’re featured in the header on the Morley website).

We do still use an updated version of the same “Morley Man”. The original drawing had him in striped bell bottoms and a big butterfly collar shirt with boa feathers sticking out – definitely a 70’s vibe. While we are careful to remember our history, we try to continually move forward. That is why we have never yet reissued an old design or reverted back to the old chrome look of the 70’s Morley pedals. We are who we are because of our past but it is important for us to continually evolve at the same time.  Morley just celebrated its 40 year anniversary in 2009; perhaps in 2019 we’ll do something nostalgic for our 50th.

Tell us about your George Lynch pedals – the Tripler is an especially brilliant idea.

I had met George a number of times at NAMM shows over the years, we always talked and George was a great guy, very friendly and down to earth. I was also a fan and have great respect for his playing. Eventually, I asked George if he would be interested in doing a pedal with Morley. At the time he wanted to be able to use three amps and select or combine them. So, the Tripler became our first endeavor together. We had previously released our first take on an ABC box but it was configured different and didn’t sell very well. Doing the Tripler to George’s specs helped make that a popular product. Then, we set out to do a signature Wah for George which was the Dragon Wah. It was a limited run but there was such great demand for it, we actually produced a few more “Limited” runs of that model. It did so well overall that we ended up creating the Dragon 2 Wah as a regular part of our line. The Wah Lock feature finally solved the complaint about not being able to use our switchless Wahs as a static tone filter.

What is Steve Vai like to work with? I’ve seen his incredible ears at work during soundchecks (and jammed with him, woo!) and he REALLY knows his stuff.

First, I should mention that I have been a major Vai fan for as long as I can remember – well before I was with Morley. To be able to visit with him at his house and studio and help develop all three Vai signature pedals was like a dream for me. Through it all Steve has been great, he is very passionate about music and everything else that surrounds the process of creating music. He is focused and determined to get what he wants but is also understanding and encouraging. He inspires you to be better than you are and do better than you’ve done. There probably isn’t a whole lot I could say about Steve that hasn’t already been said but I will simply say he is a great human being, an extremely talented individual and a source of inspiration not just to guitarists, but anyone who encounters him. I am privileged to know him and work with him.

What was Mark Tremonti looking for in a Wah?

Mark is another great individual to work with. Through all his success with Creed and Alter Bridge he has always been down to earth, easy to work with and hard-working at everything he does.

Mark was a fan of the original Bad Horsie Wah. I met with Mark at NAMM and suggested we work on a pedal together. While Mark loved the tone and switchless operation of the Bad Horsie, he wanted his pedals to have a wider frequency range over and a bit more presence in the signal. Then, he wanted the 20dB Boost control to really be able to cut through the mix during solos. We were able to deliver what he was looking for with one aspect that doesn’t get talked about as much; our TrueTone Buffer Circuit. Our buffer circuit has existed since early 90’s and we’ve been tweaking it and improving it regularly since that time. It maintains the true character of the guitar tone and level in both Wah mode AND bypass. It is actually better than True Bypass as it is always working to maintain tone and level and improves the entire signal chain making other effects work a bit harder.

Mark runs 50 ft cables (or longer) from his onstage rig to two remote pedals at center and opposite stage side. Without our Buffer, his signal would be loaded down by the long cable runs and sound like mush. If you have ever heard Mark live his tone is killer. The Buffer works so well, we now sell it in a new stand alone pedal called the Buffer Boost.

The FX Blender pedal is genius and I can’t believe its not standard issue equipment for every guitarist! What’s the history of that one?

Morley had several effects in the 70’s that used the foot pedals to control different parameters of effect like delay time, flanger speed, etc.. The idea was basically to take a parameter that was normally a knob and control it with your foot. As time went on, effects loops became popular in amps and players were looking new ways to use the same old effects. Some digital FX Processors allowed you to program in the effect blend with the bypassed guitar tone but we wanted people to be able to blend in their old analog effects too.

We actually designed the FX blender in the mid 90’s but never released it as we weren’t sure that people would embrace it. We revisited the idea in 2007, made a few improvements to the design and it has been in our regular line ever since. For those who understand the device, they love it as it allows them to use their old effects in a new creative way.