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.

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INTERVIEW: George Lynch

George Lynch is one busy dude. Souls of We, Lynch Mob, his new album Orchestra Mayhem, not to mention various gear-designing and art projects. Lynch is heading to Australia soon for an Allans Music clinic tour, and I caught up with him via email for this quick chat:

You’re coming back to Australia soon for Allans Music. You’re quite a regular visitor here now! What can we expect to see and hear at the Allans clinics?
A little bit of everything. Plying along to tracks, improvising with other live musicians, meeting fans and signing my name a lot! lol

What can you tell us about Orchestral Mayhem (CLICK HERE to buy Orchestral Mayhem from How did you approach it?
Very casually. I didnt have to write the material and that takes a lot of pressure off. This record is basically just me blowing over a bunch of tracks over a two-day period

Can you tell us about the Morley Dragon 2 Wah? What do you look for in a wah pedal? The wah lock function is a great idea.
I always liked the idea of having a notched wah selector incorporated into a wah pedal. You can get that Schenker throaty EQ by hitting the switch every time. You don’t have to search around for the sweet spot.

A few questions about Lynch Mob’s Smoke & Mirrors:  The album sounds so powerful and earthy, and it seems to me that there’s a lot of blues or blues-rock influence. Is that what you set out to do, or did it evolve naturally?
Thats just the natural chemistry between Oni and I. I know where he lives melodically and I just naturally gravitate to that place when I’m writing the music.

There’s some very cool slide playing on the title track. Do you play a lot of slide? Who are your slide influences?
I love slide, pedal steel, slack-key …I’m not an accomplished slide player by any stretch of the imagination but i enjoy dabbling. I actually used a 9v battery on the record because I didn’t have a slide. Derek trucks and Duane Allman are two of my faves.

What gear did you use to record the album?
Guitars: ESP Super V and ESP custom Tele for rythms, Tiger and Tele for solos.
Amps: Randall Lynch Box with various modules, 68 Marshall plexi, 65 Fender super reverb, WEM Domintator, Lynch Box cab with super speakers, 71 Hiwatt cab with Fanes
Effects: I used many differant OD pedals; Cusack Screamer, Japanese Boss DS-1, Ting of Tone, Tube Screamers, DOD 250… Lots of vintage MXR Phase 90, morley Dragon Wah and Tripler pedal, Zoom G2G for various fill-in sounds, Fulltone Deja Vibe (old).

Last time I interviewed you, you said you had a guitar design you hoped ESP would build: you described it as “a Lexan body with a carbon fibre exoskeleton and a throbbing rose coloured LED embedded in the body.” Any luck convincing them to do that yet?
No! lol.. I get wacky ideas that are not practical. They’re polite enough to listen to my insane ramblings for awhile then usually tell me no. They learned their lesson when they built the 7-string motorized pickup guitar called the Aardvark which didn’t work very well and went over like a lead balloon.

Any other new guitar designs in the pipeline, either for your own use or available to the public?
I’ve got a signature guitar model I share with a Japanese artist that’s a camo Strat, 24 fret, invader pickups, not for the faint of heart. I’m also working with ESP on a Tele design and I’m working in collaboration with them and hand making Mr Scary guitars as well. You can chek them out

You’ve recently started building/modifying guitars and selling them online. What’s your philosophy regarding these guitars?
The heart of the guitars are the woods that we pick, the radical designs that are very organic, and achieving incredible tone and effortless playability, all in a package that looks 100 years old and feels like you’ve been playing it for 40 years

I was interested to read that you were making your own pickups. Any plans to make pickups available to the public? I think it’d be a very cool limited edition thing.
Seymour Duncan has taken me under his wing and given me hands-on experience building unique pickup designs from scratch.. I’m also recreating the prototype Distortion and Screamin’ Demon models.

You’ve also started selling art online. Is this something you’ve always been into or is it a more recent development? And do you see it influencing designs for your ESP guitar line?

This last year I dived into creating these art pieces which led to carving the guitars. I’ll actually be doing some gallery art showings where well be performing with acoustic instrumentation, banjos, mandolins, percussion … real laid back.

Finally: how on earth are you balancing Souls Of We, Lynch Mob and projects like Orchestral Mayhem?
Thats not even the tip of the iceberg, my friend! But I love playing and being creative, and I promise you it will all make sense when we look back a few years from now.

May 25 – Allans Music – Melbourne
May 26 – Allans Music – Sydney
May 27 – Allans Music – Brisbane
May 28 – Allans Music – Adelaide


REVIEW: Morley Bad Horsie 2 Steve Vai Signature Wah

Legend has it there are few guitarists who are more demanding to design signature gear for than Steve Vai (see my interview with DiMarzio pickup designer Steve Blucher for more on this). You don’t rise to such technical and compositional levels of excellence without being extremely driven, and Vai’s demands on gear companies are the thing of legend. So when he turned to Morley to design a signature wah pedal, I’m sure a few white hairs sprung up on the heads of Morley engineers.

The first cool thing about the Bad Horsie’s design is that it features switchless activation. There’s no chunky switch at the top of the pedal’s travel to stamp down on to start wah-ing. You simply put your foot on the pedal, and the effect engages. Take your foot off, and the wah effect tails off over a period of 1.5 seconds. Or you can pop the bottom off the pedal and adjust a tiny internal trim pot for your preferred off time, from instantaneously all the way up to 3.5 seconds.

The next design twist is the pedal’s operation itself. Instead of using an assembly to rotate a potentiometer when the pedal is moved like other wahs, Morley pedals use an Electro-Optical design which uses an LED light array and a light-sensitive sensor to control the wah sweep. What this means is that instead of stepping on the pedal to rotate a pot, stepping on the pedal brings the LEDs closer to the sensor, and the nearer it gets, the higher the wah tone sweep gets. The benefits are twofold: extremely smooth linear wah sweep, and best of all no pots to wear out and become scratchy and noisy. Some higher end tremolo and compressor pedals use similar technology to regulate the effect dependent on internal settings or the strength of the input signal, but it’s a logical fit for expression pedal effects.

The original Bad Horsie wah pedal – named after the opening track from Vai’s 1995 “Alien Love Secrets” EP – was a pretty big success, but because it was customised for Vai’s particular needs and rig, players wanted a little more flexibility. So the Bad Horsie 2 takes the exact sound of the original, and adds a foot switchable second mode, Contour mode, which enables the user to adjust Q and wah level.

More practical but by no means less exciting features are a Clear-Tone buffer circuit, which maintains a pure guitar tone and signal level whether in wah or bypass mode, and an easy access battery compartment which is simple to operate and extremely durable. It’s also a very heavy, robust unit, and its spring loaded design, while preventing traditional “set in one place as a tone modifier” techniques, is well suited to aggressive “stomp the bejabbers out of the pedal” styles.

The Bad Horsie 2 is definitely not a vintage sounding pedal. Then again, could you imagine Vai going for a traditional sound? Instead there’s a round smoothness to the tone across the pedal’s range, but even so, the treble peaks way up in the stratosphere. The top quarter of the pedal’s sweep is especially good for pulling pinch harmonics out of guitars that usually put up a bit of a fight against such techniques, and it even made my Ibanez’s neck pickup squeal with Dimebag-style harmonics.
Vai’s original Bad Horsie mode is the best way to get a ready-to-go sound out of this bad boy, but fiddling around with the Contour and Level controls in the Contour mode reveals fresh layers of flexibility. With the Contour control down low, the sweep reminds me of the classic fat Jimi Hendrix wah tone, with darker treble and reduced range compared to the wild sweep of Bad Horsie mode, and yet a hi fi sheen that seems to take that classic funky “wow-wow” wah sound of the 60s, grab it by its scruffy neck and drag it into the future.

By way of reference, the original Bad Horsie mode seems to be replicatable by setting the Contour control to 10 and Level to 0. Cranking up the level while on this setting thickens the tone considerably, which you can use either as a gain boost or just to compensate for thinner sounding pickups.

If you’re familiar with the wah tones of Zakk Wylde and Nuno Bettencourt when they used Morley wah pedals in their golden years, or if of course you’ve listened to Vai in the last decade or so, you have a rough idea of the charm of Morley wah wah pedals. The sweep is bold and drastic, and the tones have a glassy sheen which leaves no doubt as to whether the effect is on or not, even under huge amounts of distortion. Vai’s own spin on this classic effect is as extroverted and extravagant as the man himself, and whether you want to put a bit more Vai in your sound, or you just want a flexible and in-your-face wah pedal, it’s worth saddling up this Bad Horsie for a test.