Recently I bought a Digitech whammy, a guitar effects pedal from a good friend.
It’s the best thing I’ve bought in a while.
The whammy is a fairly well known pedal in the guitar world but I thought it would be interesting to talk about it with a non-musical audience in mind. As a product, there are some pretty good ideas to take from it.
The Digitech Whammy
The whammy was a pioneer in what an effects pedal could do and what an electric guitar could sound like when it was first introduced in 1989. Whilst the ‘Harmoniser’ and ‘Detune’ settings of the pedal created doubled-up and altered guitar sounds in similar ways to other pedals, the real selling point of the whammy came from its unique whammy effects.
One of these settings, the plus-two octaves, creates ear-catching, high pitch screams introduced on records by Tom morello, Jack white and other guitarists. Because of its popularity and high-pitched ability to cut through a mix the plus-two octaves is one of the most recognised whammy settings.
Hear it in action below:
As if transforming a deep male voice into a female opera singer and back again through the rocking of the pedal, the plus two octaves sound is unique and extreme
Another remarkable setting the whammy holds is the divebomb. Where the plus-two goes up, the divebomb setting goes down. A mighty six octaves down.
Having played with it a fair bit, the divebomb is great for fading in and out guitar parts in completely different ways and by combining effects such as delay and chorus you can conjure up huge underwater and bottom of the ocean sounds. The effect dramatically changes the original guitar sound and it is genuinely like nothing I’ve ever heard before from an effects pedal.
Digitech say this setting simulates a guitar’s whammy bar being pushed all the way through the solid body of the electric guitar and out of the other side.
Impossible with a normal guitar and amplifier, the fact that many settings on the whammy make the impossible possible could explain why this particular effects pedal has had such an impact.
A Niche approach
Brilliant for certain tracks at certain times, the majority of the whammy’s settings are not sounds you want to hear infiltrating the sound of a whole album track by track. A lot of the effects are just too overwhelming for every second.
The fact the whammy demands creativity and a certain level of music theory cuts the whammy’s mass appeal further too.
Naturally though, sounds that are completely different to the status quo are not going to appeal to everyone. The whammy keeps the guitarist looking for something different happy and is the key in unlocking guitar sounds for fans of Rage against the machine, The White stripes, Radiohead and many more artists that have used its sounds over the years.
The whammy isn’t for everyone and every track but serve it up at the right time and you can make something different and more importantly something memorable:
Saying this though, the whammy is a mixed bag to be fair and not a one trick pony (like many effects pedals out there) offering different sounds for different times.
“The whammy was just such a dramatic, extreme effect. That being said, there are very subtle, beautiful things you can do with it. I used it on “Peace on Earth” for this bizarre, atmospheric, almost Chinese-sounding part” The Edge, U2 (Guitar Player, 2001)
Although the whammy is well known for its extreme effects, it can also create mysterious, unusual and subtle sounds through the harmoniser and detune effects which is a strength to the pedal.
Being Innovative and being showcased by influential guitarists is likely to have influenced the whammy’s success in big ways. The earliest editions of the pedals are now highly sought after and new waves of influential guitarists such as Matt Bellamy from Muse, Russell Lissack from Bloc party and Dave Knudson from Minus the bear show signs of spreading the sounds of the whammy to newer generations of listeners and musicians.
Despite this, challenges lie ahead and Digitech shouldn’t sit tight. It will be interesting to see how the company responds to opportunities arising from guitar-effects based on computers, a trend set big for the future as well as seeing how the brand new whammy DT is received…
The new whammy DT set for release looks big and ghastly at first glance but it is a natural development from the original whammy shape after consideration with promises of new and unique sets of drop tuning effects. Promotion, publicity and demonstrations of the DT have been low-key and few and far between at the moment but keeping the Ferrari-red colour strong and a development from the winning formula of the whammy should boost its reception if not at first, but over time.
The Digitech whammy is a brilliant, unique piece of gear. It will be exciting to hear the new effects of the DT as well as seeing a digital, software-based version of the whammy for computer production somewhere in the near future.
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