It’s been a good year or so since I’ve needed to borrow a piece of gear, but the most recent track I’ve produced needed some whammy! The track in question is ‘Out Of Place’ by Ollie Woods which should be out later this year (I’m really excited about this one.) Luckily my student Pete had one which he’d bought to play a couple of Black Keys riffs in his band and he graciously lent it to me.
For anyone that plays guitar and loves rock and metal it is highly likely you’ve heard if not tried the infamous Digitech Whammy. This pedal allows you to shift up or down to another pitches using the foot pedal control, as well as creating chorused guitar tone. The modern incarnations of this device now offer full polyphonic shifting allowing players to shift full chords avoiding the glitch noises we used to suffer.
Some notable regular users of he Whammy include Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave), Jack White (The White Stripes, Dead Weather) Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Dimebag Darrell (Pantera). Let’s take a look at the latest version the DT Whammy.
The construction of the whammy pedal feels really good under foot. It’s very solid and stable which is so important if you are going to do fast shifts in quick succession. The whole pedal feels like a tank and the momentary switch is really responsive, that said it’s not light!
Let’s start with looking at it’s various functions; traditional whammy pitch shifting, harmony modes, drop-raising/tuning raising and chorus/detune.
The basic whammy mode allows you to shift up and down the more useful intervals; major 2nds, 4ths, 5ths, octave and to 2 octaves. I found the ability to jump octaves and 5ths up and down and the most useful setting. I was impressed with how smooth the tracking is, none of the glitching and jumping some of the older models have. In this latest version version they’ve included a ‘Dive Bomb’ setting with is designed to sound like a Floyd Rose tremolo dive bomb. I imagine this will be popular with stop tail guitar players (any guitar without a tremolo) looking for that classic metal divebomb.
The harmony settings takes some time to get used to. The octave up and down harmonies are simple enough and a great way to fatten up a riff. I’m sure plenty of musicians have gotten great results through trial and error but I found I needed to know what the intervals were and intentionally dial them in for specific notes or chords. I liked being able harmonize up a 5th for pentatonic runs and inject major and minor thirds on resolving notes of lead runs. I will say throwing the up 4ths or 5ths harmony was a fun thing to throw on 5, sus2 and sus4 chords.
The ability to shift the overall pitch of the instrument poly-phonically is a god send for anyone that regularly changes tunings in quick succession. As well as some more experimental uses I can see this becoming a mainstay in cover band and teaching rigs were there isn’t the luxury of time to change. The ability to drop tune quickly will be popular with the modern rock and metal crowds and the raising of the tuning will do a similar job to a capo. There is also a momentary switch allowing you to quickly jump up/down for short passages. Last chorus key change anyone? If you are reading this paragraph and thinking I need just this part Digitech now offer this as a separate pedal called the Drop-Tune which you can view here.
The chorusing setting is interesting as it allows you to blend the amount of chorus with the footswitch. This is a great way to utilize the pedal when you don’t need the pitch shifting.
Don’t forget you can combine the drop-tune feature with either the whammy, harmony or chorusing options. There is a lot of options open to you with this unit.
A few things to consider…
There are a few criticisms I have of the unit and whilst they mostly come down to personal preference they are worth considering. First off it’s big and heavy. For those with huge pedal boards were the real estate isn’t an issue I’m sure you could find a home for it. It’s common knowledge but it will need it’s own power supply as it runs on 9vDC at 1300mA, thankfully it does come with one.
The world of pitch shifting is still moving really fast. It doesn’t feel like more then a few years since Morpheus introduced the Drop-Tune and with the latest offering from Electro-Harmonix in the form of the Pitch-Shift there is a lot of competition.
The final question I always ask in this series is simply would I buy one? The answer is yes, it’s a wonderfully creative tool, especially for you riff writers looking for something to take a tune to a totally new place. That said I’d prefer, if my budget allowed, a Digitech Droptune and a separate Whammy IV for versatility and real estate when I’m out teaching or tracking. This model of the Whammy does an awful lot for the money and comes in around the same price as it’s competitors so I’d would A/B them in a local shop an see what sound and feels the best for your needs.
Do you have a Whammy or pitch-shifter in your arsenal of effects? I’d love to hear what your favorite pitch-shifting pedals are or your favorite whammy tunes are in the comments below. Till next time keep strumming!