Mar 18, 2013
Time to blow some minds – the most famous incarnation of the wah pedal has got to be the Dunlop Crybaby, right? Well it turns out that they just went ahead and copied that name from the original wah pedal: The Vox Crybaby. That’s right. I did NOT know that until I started doing some research for this review. It’s funny how history works – he who copies an idea and shouts about it the loudest seems to win. Actually, that makes perfect sense, I see it in the world around me ALL the time. For those of you whose attention spans are too short for a history lesson, here’s basically what happened:
1968: Thomas Organ Company/Vox Amplification produce the first wah pedal.
Some time later: For whatever reason, Thomas Organ Company/Vox Amplification fail to trademark the Crybaby name.
Today: Everyone associates the Crybaby brand name with Jim Dunlop, who blatantly copied it.
I can only assume that this string of events has caused many a palm to connect to a face at Vox HQ, seeing as they still to this day make a killer range of wah pedals that hardly anyone really identifies with. Hopefully, this review might help open your eyes to the fact that there is another range of wah pedals available with arguably more classic heritage than the Dunlop Crybaby – but the good thing is, they’re not just standing still either – they’re putting the effort in to design cutting edge new pedals to suit the modern player as well.
Toe (switch) to toe (switch)
Aaaaand in the red corner…
Going toe to toe today we’ve got two opposite ends of the heritage spectrum, courtesy of our friends at Music Planet. In one corner is the Vox V846 Handwired – pretty much as vintage as you can get.
The legendary V846 is back, and it’s better than ever. Introducing the V846-HW: The ultimate Wah Wah pedal for the tone enthusiast, featuring hand-wired turret board construction and premium components.
Features & Highlights
- A premium rebirth of the classic VOX 846 Wah Wah.
- The pedal that continues to be loved by legendary guitarists around the world
- Hand-wired turret board construction uses absolutely no printed circuit boards
- True bypass circuit eliminates loss in audio quality when bypassed
- Vintage spec Halo type inductors reproduce the distinctive sound of the classic V846
- New VOX potentiometer design provides precise control and excellent reliability
- Low-noise carbon composite resistors (made in Japan by KAMAYA ELECTRIC CO., LTD)
- High-quality polyester film capacitors
- Foot switch made by Carling Technology, chosen for its durability and unbeatable feel underfoot
- Solid and trustworthy jacks made by Switchcraft®
A cool thing about the Handwired is that you can switch out the bottom plate for a transparent one, so that you can show off the handwired-ness to, uhm, whomsoever chooses to turn your wah pedal upside down. Behold.
Aaaaand in the blue corner….
On the other end of the spectrum we have the most newfangled gizmo-looking wah that Vox have ever made. Manufactured as a signature series pedal for a certain chrome-domed godfather of shred (sigh, it’s Joe Satriani, if you didn’t get it), I present the badass, the inimitable, the footswitchable…. BIG BAD WAHHHHH! (Please imagine all of these being said by a boxing ring presenter. Thanks)
- Dual-mode design offers two distinct wah sounds in a single pedal
- Wah One is classic VOX; with that decidedly sweet UK tone
- Wah Two provides Joe Satriani’s original drive and voice controls, delivering a wide range of sound-creation possibilities.
Big Bad Wah is one in a series of pedals designed by VOX and guitarist extraordinaire Joe Satriani. Joe contributed numerous ideas that were unheard of in existing wah pedals, endowing the Big Bad Wah with an unparalleled range of sounds from vintage to modern, as well as those that are totally original. The heart of any wah pedal is the “inductor.” The Big Bad Wah allows you to select between a vintage UK style inductor, and the more modern USA style. Designed to Joe Satriani’s custom specs is the design of the pedal pot itself, delivering a smooth, musical tone throughout the entire sweep of the pedal. Big Bad Wah features a dual-mode design. Wah One faithfully replicates the classic VOX wah sound that conquered the world. Wah Two delivers all the wah pedal know-how that Joe has accumulated over his many years of experience. The Drive knob mimics the Wah 1 gain at its lowest setting, and delivers a 10 dB boost at the maximum settings for those aggressive, growling overtones. One of the most powerful aspects of Wah Two is the Voice switch, providing traditional wah voicing; or a dark, resonant tone reminiscent of a vintage talk-box. This is the ultimate wah pedal not just for Joe Satriani fans but for any wah pedal user who enjoys creating their own sound.
Pre-fight weigh in
Continuing with the boxing theme, let’s put these two head to head and see how they compare on paper. The Handwired weighs in at 1.3kg, vs the Big Bad Wah at an ever so slightly more svelte 1.2kg. This might not seem like much, but holding them both in your hand, you can definitely feel it. The Handwired is smaller in size, and resides in a metal housing, while the Big Bad Wah has a much larger footprint, and I believe is largely constructed from plastic, with metal in the important bits. This makes the Big Bad Wah seem like it’s much lighter than the Handwired.
The Handwired is the perennial solid old-school fighter – no tricky bullshit, it doesn’t turn into a southpaw mid-fight, and it’s not juiced full of power-ups. In fact, it’s so damn old-school that there isn’t even a goddamn 9V adaptor input. Yes, you heard right. You’ll need a 9V battery (but there’s no easy access battery compartment, so go ahead and take the bottom plate off), or a battery clip to power this guy off your power supply. All it’s offering you is authentic, vintage tones – nothing more, nothing less.
The Big Bad Wah on the other hand, represents the new school – tricked out with LEDs, knobs, switches, all sorts of clever flash. Wah 1 is meant to be voiced similar to traditional Vox wahs, while kicking in the footswitch to Wah 2 opens up a world of tonal variation. You can switch inductors for a more classic/modern feel, use the Voice switch change between upper/lower mid emphasis, as well as dialling in as much or as little additional drive to the signal as you want, using the, well, the Drive knob.
I have to start off with a caveat – for me, using a wah pedal has more often than not been oriented towards high-gain, solo wailing. Sure, in my cover band I often use it as a filter for poppier stuff, but most of the time I just want to be Zakk Wylde (before he became samey and boring and faux-redneck). So the prospect of using an old school wah was a little bit daunting to me. So I got everything all set up, guitar’s plugged in, the amp’s going, click on the toe switch and… nothing. Doh. This is how I quickly discovered both the lack of 9V adaptor input, as well as the fact that the pedal definitely is true bypass! Wonderful. After scrambling to get a battery, I got down to some actual playing. It was pretty cool – definitely the most “subtle” sounding wah that I’ve ever played. Not that you can’t hear the effect or whatever, but just that it’s way less “in your face” than most of the wahs that I’ve owned. The wah effect itself seems to concentrate within a midrange spectrum that leaves the lowest and the highest notes somewhat unaffected. The end product is a sweet, mellow sounding wah that is most at home with chicka-chicka percussive strumming as well as vocal sounding solo passages. Here’s the clip:
Big Bad Wah
Now let’s step over to the Big Bad Wah – a much more complex beast. The first mode, Wah 1, is meant to be voiced quite similarly to a “classic” Vox wah, so, like the Handwired that we just listened to. In comparing the two, I felt that the voicing was indeed quite similar, but the Handwired was a little sweeter sounding.
However, the strength of the Big Bad Wah is its extreme versatility – and switching over to Wah 2 opens up a whole new world. The sweep on Voice 1 has obviously been tailored to Joe Satriani’s needs, and this is clearly evident in the sweet, vocal quality that comes through.
It feels perfect for soloing in the middle to upper register, but if you need a little beef for some Rage-style riffing, that’s what Voice 2 is for! This shifts focus to the lower mids, giving you a bit more growl and a bit more control over your low end wah sound.
You can also switch between a more classic and “modern” style of inductor sound, but to me the difference wasn’t really that huge.
The Drive knob is good to get a bit more gain, especially handy if you’re playing into a clean-ish amp that you want to give a bit of a kick in the pants.
Oh, and remember how I said I wanted to be Zakk Wylde? Here’s an attempt:
And the winner is….
Well, it’s not really a fight now, is it. Two wahs for two distinctly different breeds of guitar player – if you want classic, no frills wah sounds, go with the Handwired. If you like to dabble and tweak, and are partial to high gain wah sounds – then the Big Bad Wah is for you. In any case, I’d score both a healthy 4 out of 5 Fuck Yeahs! Thanks again to Music Planet for basically shoving these into my hands the moment I walked into the shop that weekend – good call!