The Digitech Whammy is another legendary pedal whose reputation precedes it & one could perhaps view it as Digitech's most significant product. While Harman's Digitech brand is largely known for budget effects pedals that offer a certain amount of bang for your buck, the Whammy has always been a unit that has bucked that trend & it can be found on the pedalboards of the pros across many a genre. (Digitech themselves cite the pedal's use on over 60 different Grammy awards). The unit has been available in many different incarnations over the years, but the current offerings are true to the original 1989 model, while also offering up a slew of new features that make the pedal all the more intriguing. So, with all this in mind, why don't we jump in & see what these crazy red pedals are all about!?
DIGITECH WHAMMY - THE CONCEPT
Back in 1978 when a certain young Eddie Van Halen burst onto the scene brandishing a self-styled guitar featuring the relatively new & unheard of Floyd-Rose Locking Tremolo, the crazy dive bombs & high pitched squeals that he managed to coax out of the instrument seemed like they had come from outer space. Mr. Van Halen had taken guitar playing to a whole new realm & his unique use of the Whammy Bar was just one of the employed techniques that has managed to capture the minds of guitar players ever since.
As a direct result of this, Floyd-Rose systems were to be found on the guitars of any self- respecting player during the 1980s & '90s & (while this particular bridge system is undeniably the most stable Tremolo unit to date) it certainly wasn't without its drawbacks. String changes became a nightmare (allen wrenches & wire cutters became essential pieces of the guitarist's toolkit) & backup guitars now became a must due to the drama that ensued if one were to break a string. On top of this, while new vibrato & pitch-bending techniques were available with a Floyd-Rose equipped guitar, existing techniques such as double-stops & behind-the-nut bends were compromised. Consequently today you will only find the most dedicated of Whammy Bar users with Floyd-Rose equipped guitars; however, the development of the Digitech Whammy pedal in 1989 sought to utilise digital technology & make a lot of the more extreme Whammy Bar techniques possible regardless of your guitar.
The Digitech Whammy is a digital pitch-shifting pedal that can be controlled by the movement of your foot (much like the way in which one would operate a wah pedal) &, being digital, the amount of pitch-shifting on offer is far more extreme than that which can be achieved with the use of a Whammy Bar. Essentially, you select the desired setting that you wish to use (for instance 'up one octave') & then, when engaged, the pedal will go from the guitar's natural pitch in the heel-down position through to the selected pitch in the toe-down position. This enables you to achieve smooth pitch bends with varying extremity in either direction depending on the setting.
In addition to this, it also offers the ability to generate harmonies with your playing (perfect for players who want this facility but don't have additional guitar players in their band). This works by the unit outputting a 50/50 mix of your guitar's dry, unaffected signal & the pitch- shifting effect. Rocking the pedal with your foot when in harmony mode will bend the pitch of the harmony note between the two intervals specified within the chosen setting, but will leave your dry signal unaffected. This means that you can shift the harmony part from being say an octave below, to being an octave above etc. with a simple rock of the foot.
The final feature that the Whammy offers is two 'Detune' settings. These are labelled 'Shallow' & 'Deep' & their purpose is to blend a slightly detuned copy of your guitar's signal with the dry unaffected sound. In the heel-down position the detuned signal is not present at all & in the toe-down position it is at maximum volume. The idea is that this functionality will enable you to achieve a sound similar to doubling up a guitar part (the slight difference in pitch will have a similar effect to hearing two different guitars playing the same thing).
The extended range (up to 2 octaves in either direction) & the harmony facilities are both great reasons why you'll often find this pedal at the feet of performers who play Floyd-Rose equipped guitars (Steve Vai & Tom Morello to name but a few) & in use, the Whammy pedal is capable of achieving tonal results that one cannot achieve elsewhere.
DIGITECH WHAMMY - CURRENT MODELS
Today Digitech offer not one, but two Whammy pedals: the Whammy (5th Gen) & the Whammy DT. The latest incarnation of the regular Whammy features all of the settings that one would expect from a Whammy pedal (as well as a newly appointed toggle switch that enables you to select either 'classic' or 'chords' mode), while the Whammy DT features an additional circuit that adds the facility to alter your guitar's tuning. Let's look at both of these models in a little more depth...
The latest Whammy features 10 whammy settings, 9 harmony settings, 2 detune settings & the aforementioned toggle switch. The unit also features True Bypass switching & a MIDI input for remote control of the Whammy effects.
The unique feature of this particular model is the toggle switch marked 'Classic' & 'Chords'. When in Classic mode it utilises Digitech's traditional Whammy algorithm, glitches & all! However, when in Chords mode it utilises the updated algorithm that is featured in the Whammy DT. The reason it is labeled 'Chords' is because it is far less glitchy than the Classic algorithm & handles tricky chordal work without even breaking a sweat. Personally, I would think that most people would elect to use the unit in Chords mode the majority of the time, but I guess having the old-skool Whammy algorithm on tap may be an option that appeals to some.
When you first look at the Whammy DT you'll notice that it looks like a normal Whammy with an extra bit on the side of it... well, that's because that's exactly what it is! The Whammy DT is essentially two pedals in one: on the left-hand side you have the Whammy pedal & on the right-hand side you have the DT (Drop Tune) pedal.
The Whammy side of the unit does everything the standard Whammy pedal does with the exception of the Classic/Chords toggle switch (the toggle switch on the standard Whammy enables it to use either the more accurate Whammy DT algorithm or the glitchier traditional algorithm). Personally, I don't believe that the omission of this switch is of any real loss to the unit anyway but I guess it's worth bearing in mind if you're after 100% authentic Whammy sounds of yesteryear (warts & all).
However, the DT side of the pedal adds a practical edge: the facility to alter your guitar's tuning independently of the Whammy effects. The beauty of it is that you can use this side of the pedal to detune your guitar by, say, one whole step & the other side of the pedal is still at your disposal for any Whammy-fuelled riffery that you may wish to conjure. In terms of range, you can retune your guitar or bass a whole octave either way in semitone increments. The results are startlingly successful & I had great fun playing Larry Graham bass riffs on my guitar!
It is also worth noting that the DT side of the unit is equipped with a momentary footswitch that enables you to quickly toggle the effect in & out for hammer-on/pull-off style pitch shifting. The pedal also has the added facility of connecting up an external footswitch for hands-free selection of the different effects settings & the ability to set it to either True Bypass of DSP Bypass mode. True Bypass mode is the factory default setting & ensures that the Whammy pedal will not alter your tone at all when not in use. However, you may wish to switch over to DSP bypass if you intend to be a heavy user of the momentary switch as it will enable the sort of smooth & silent switching that cannot be achieved with a True Bypass relay.
DIGITECH WHAMMY - CONCLUSION
In reality, the Digitech Whammy never really did replace the tremolo system; however, it certainly did succeed in offering up some truly unique tones of its own. While there are now a few imitators on the market, none of them can come close to the reputation of the now legendary red box that Digitech has been offering since the late '80s &, with the addition of the Whammy DT, it would seem that the Whammy range has now managed to graduate to a new level. For those of you with extreme pitch-shifting needs, a Digitech Whammy is certainly hard to beat!
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