The 5th generation Whammy may just be the best Whammy yet
MSRP $249.95, $199.95 "Street"
By Phil O'Keefe
Digitech's long-running Whammy series of pitch-shifting pedals has been a huge hit for them over the years. Starting with the release of the original 12 bit WH-1 Whammy back in 1989, the focus has been on monophonic pitch shifting. While stunningly impressive in its day, the limitations of the technology of the era meant rather glitchy tracking and pitch shifting, especially on lower notes. In the years since, it has become possible to do considerably more in terms of complex pitch processing, but the quirkiness of the original WH-1 Whammy has remained popular with many players.
The latest, 5th generation Whammy (Figure 1) promises improved tracking and 24 bit fidelity as well as polyphonic capability so you can use it when playing chords. It also retains the ability to recreate the original mono 12 bit tones of the WH-1, complete with glitches and miscellaneous and somewhat unpredictable chaos when you try to use it with chords. Can you really get both in one pedal?
Figure 1: The DigiTech Whammy 5 (click on images to enlarge)
Does Size Matter?
It does to some players - especially those with limited pedalboard real estate. Measuring only 5" wide and 6.5" deep, the original WH-1 was a pretty small pedal, and all subsequent models have been noticeably bigger. The Whammy V (or Whammy DaVe, as it's been nicknamed over on the Harmony Central Effects Forum) is still larger than the WH-1, but at 6.5" wide and 7.75" deep, it's slightly smaller than its predecessor, the Whammy IV. The fact that it's not as minuscule as the original WH-1 is the one aspect of the Whammy V which may disappoint some players, but considering its function, it's not an unreasonably sized pedal at all. The beefy all steel construction quality of the USA built Whammy 5 inspires confidence; it looks like it will withstand years of the inevitable knocks and bumps that gear gets subjected to, and come back for more. While the basic cosmetics of the pedal are similar to its predecessors, with the treadle's cosmetic design being restyled slightly compared to the Whammy IV, it's easy to tell them apart.
EFFECTS TYPES AND MODES
Like the previous Whammy pedals, the Digitech Whammy 5 has three main effects types - Whammy Effects, Harmony Effects and Detune Effects. Let's take a look at each one.
Detune Effects are somewhat similar in sound to a chorus. A copy of your input signal is pitch shifted, and by varying the pedal, you to control the mix of how much of that signal is blended in with your sound. In the heel down position, only your dry signal is heard, and in the toe down position, an equal amount of the pitch shifted sound is heard along with your dry signal. There are two Mode settings for the Detune effect - Shallow and Deep. Shallow is less drastically detuned than Deep, and provides a nice lush sounding alternative to chorusing, although without the LFO sweep of a chorus pedal. Deep mode is more dramatically detuned, and can provide more seasick inspired chorus-like tones when you have the pedal in the full toe-down position.
Whammy Effects allow the user to bend the entire sound of the incoming signal - no "dry" guitar is blended in when using these modes. New Whammy Modes have been added to the Whammy V. Where the Whammy IV had six, the new Whammy 5 features ten:
The Dive Bomb mode drops the pitch three octaves when you fully depress the treadle, and is kind of similar to doing a deep drop with a Floyd Rose vibrato bar. The Drop Tune mode of the Whammy IV is gone, but you can achieve a similar effect with the new Down 2nd mode. I really like the new modes that allow you to raise or lower the pitch by a 4th or 5th. They provide a nice alternative to the octave oriented modes of the previous Whammy units. While playing with the 4th setting, I was able to maintain an A chord shape on the guitar and have the sound go back and forth between A and D chords just by depressing the pedal. With the Classic / Chords switch in the Classic mode, the sound is just like the original 12 bit WH-1. It glitches and complains when you try to play chords, but when the switch is set to the Chords position, it tracks them beautifully. In fact, for relatively close intervals like 4ths and 5ths, the sound is remarkably natural, with relatively few audible pitch shifting artifacts - although these do become more audible with octave intervals.
The Harmony Effects offered are similar to previous Whammy pedals, although with better fidelity. A copy of the input signal is pitch shifted up or down and blended in with the original sound, and as you move the treadle between the heel down and toe down positions, the harmonized note moves back and forth between the two intervals of the Harmony Mode that you've selected on the Whammy. Available options are:
The Harmony modes are great for playing harmonized leads ala Duane Allman and Dickie Betts, and for thickening up single note riffs. I was also able to get some pretty convincing pedal steel type effects with them too.
MIDI AND OTHER GOODIES
The Whammy V features a standard 5 pin DIN type MIDI input jack on the right side of the pedal, directly next to the input jack. (Figure 2) The Whammy 5 can respond to MIDI messages on any of the 16 individual MIDI channels, or it can be set to omni mode so that it will respond to MIDI messages from all of them. MIDI continuous controller messages can be used to adjust the virtual treadle position. MIDI program change messages allow you to access any of the Whammy, Harmony and Detune modes. You can also select from Classic and Chords, as well as active and bypassed states for the pedal with MIDI commands. This can be really useful when coupled with a sequencer because it allows you to use the sequencer to change the modes as needed for different parts of the song, virtually adjust the treadle position, or even turn the effect on and off for you, allowing you to focus on your playing.
Figure 2: The Whammy 5 includes a MIDI in jack which allows you to control the pedal remotely
A lot of people have requested true bypass switching, and the Whammy V is the first Whammy to feature this. Even if you unplug the power, the input signal still passes through the pedal. The active / bypass LED has also been moved to just above the switch itself. On the Whammy IV, it was located up near the top, in the area occupied by the Classic / Chords switch on the Whammy 5. To me, the new location makes sense and it's now much easier to tell the bypass status at a glance.
Speaking of power, the Whammy 5 now uses a DC power supply. A 9VDC, 1300mA adapter is included with the unit, and as you can see in Figure 3, "9VDC 1300mA" is printed on the side of the pedal next to the standard 5.5mm x 2.1mm center negative power jack, but the actual current draw of the pedal is significantly less. In fact, power consumption is only 2.4 Watts, so the pedal requires no more than 265mA for proper operation. This means that if you're using a multi-out power adapter such as the T-Rex Fuel Tank, Dunlop DC Brick, Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2 or similar pedalboard powering solutions, you'll no longer have to use a separate adapter just for the Whammy pedal.
Figure 3: Unlike previous Whammy pedals which used AC power adapters, the Whammy V is DC powered, allowing it to be powered with common pedalboard power supplies
THEY PUT THE WHAMMY ON ME
I'll admit it - the Whammy 5 totally put me under its spell. If you're a longtime Whammy user, you're going to really like this pedal, and if you're new to pitch shifting and harmony pedals, this is an excellent pedal to introduce you to the fun. And the Whammy V is definitely a lot of fun! With the Whammy 5, DigiTech has really stepped up to the plate and given users most of the improvements that they've been asking for. They did so while also improving the tracking and overall sound quality, but not at the expense of sacrificing the glitchiness that has become so important to so many Whammy users. With the simple flick of the Classic / Chords switch, you can go from mono shifting with all the glitches and quirks of the original Whammy, to first-rate modern shifting with improved signal to noise ratio, lower THD, excellent tracking and the ability to handle chords. It really is the best of both worlds, and makes the Whammy 5 the best Whammy pedal yet.
|Instrument Input Type: 1/4" Unbalanced TS
Max Input Level: +5 dBu
Input Impedance: 1MΩ
Output Type: 1/4" Unbalanced TS
Max Output Level: +10 dBu
Output impedance: 1kΩ
MIDI Input: 5 pin DIN
Sample Rate: 44.1 kHz
Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20kHz
Signal To Noise Ratio: > -105 dB (A weighted); ref = max level, 22 kHz bandwidth
THD: 0.004\\% @ 1 kHz; ref = 1 dBu with unity gain
A/D and D/A conversion: 24 bit
Power Consumption: 2.4 Watts (< 265 mA @ 9VDC)
Power Requirements: 9VDC External Adapter (included)
Dimensions: 6.5" W x 7.75" D x 2.5" H
Shipping Weight: 3.6 lb
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.