Programmable MIDI controller pedal that greatly expands the capabilities of the DigiTech Whammy
$124.95 MSRP, $124.95 "street"
By Phil O'Keefe
The DigiTech Whammy line of pitch shift pedals has been a big success for DigiTech. The most recent model in the series, the Whammy 5, adds polyphonic shifting capabilities, better bypass switching and other useful goodies. For those who are not familiar with the latest version, you can check out my review of the Whammy 5 right here.
The Whammy 5's predecessor, not surprisingly, was known as the Whammy 4. For the past couple of years, Molten Voltage has been making a popular accessory pedal for the Whammy 4 called the Molten MIDI 2, and they have updated it to work with the Whammy 5. The result is the Molten MIDI 5, which is under review here (Fig 1). The Molten MIDI 5 is a control pedal, and makes no sounds of its own. What it does do is to allow you to make sounds with your Whammy 5 that would be very difficult, if not impossible to do without it.
Figure 1: The Molten MIDI 5 and DigiTech Whammy 5 (click on images to enlarge)
HAVING A LOOK
The Molten MIDI 5 is housed in a small stompbox measuring approximately 4 1/4" W x 3 1/8" D x 1 7/8" H, including knobs and switches. Externally, there is a standard "Boss style" 2.1mm center negative 9V DC input jack, a 5 pin MIDI output jack, and a tempo / select knob, all mounted on the side of the pedal furthest away from the user. On the top surface, there are two footswitches, labelled Tap / Pgm and Start / Stop / Step. A single dual-color (red / yellow) LED rounds out the controls. (Fig 2) While minimalistic, the controls are more powerful than they would appear on the surface, and when connected to the Whammy 5, the indicators on its front panel augment the Molten MIDI 5 and display various programming and setup parameters, such as which preset is selected.
Figure 2: The controls, while simple, allow the Molten MIDI 5 to do quite a bit
No power supply is provided with the Molten MIDI 5, although Molten Voltage does offer an optional 9V DC power supply on their website for $15. There is no room inside the pedal for a battery clip, and no user serviceable parts or adjustable controls inside. (Fig 3)
Figure 3: There are no user-adjustable controls inside the Molten MIDI 5. Also note the lack of a battery connector - you'll need a 9V adapter
No modifications to the Whammy 5 are required - the Molten MIDI 5 is designed to work with stock Whammy 5 pedals. If you have an older Whammy 4, the Molten MIDI 2 is the unit for you - due to the different features of the Whammy 4 and Whammy 5, the Molten MIDI 2 and Molten MIDI 5 are not mutually interchangeable. However, both the Molten MIDI 4 and 5 can be set to transmit clock data, which makes either model useful for anyone needing a way to set MIDI tempo by tapping a footswitch, even if they don't own a Whammy pedal. But the real fun is when using it with a Whammy, and I suspect that's how the vast majority of owners will use this pedal.
SETTING IT UP
On a basic level, setting up the Molten MIDI is pretty easy. Molten Voltage recommends placing the Whammy 5 first in your signal chain, or close to it - at the very least, it should be placed before any distortion pedals for best tracking. In most modes or "program types", the treadle should be placed in the toe-down position for proper pitch shift tracking, and a MIDI cable of 15' or less used to connect the MIDI out of the Molten MIDI 5 to the MIDI input on the Whammy 5. Molten Voltage also recommends using a separate or isolated power supply for the Molten MIDI 5. Battery power is not supported, and if it's used on the same daisy chain as other pedals (particularly, high-gain dirt pedals), audible clicking can result.
The Molten MIDI 5 is pre-programmed to transmit on MIDI channel 15, which is compatible with the Whammy 5's factory MIDI settings, so there's no need to change MIDI channels unless you've changed things on the Whammy 5. The MIDI output of the Molten MIDI can be daisy chained and routed through another MIDI device, just as long as that device supports MIDI Thru that doesn't make any changes to the incoming MIDI data stream before sending it out the Thru port and on to the Whammy 5. When programming the Molten MIDI with their software app, it's recommended you connect the computer MIDI interface and Molten MIDI 5 directly, without MIDI daisy chaining.
PROGRAM TYPES - AND WHAT THEY CAN DO
The Program types are the key to how the Molten MIDI 5 works. The pedal operates differently depending on which one is in use. In all of them, the Molten MIDI 5 sends MIDI Control Change messages to the Whammy, causing it to internally change its settings; most significantly, the "virtual" position of its treadle, and the harmony / whammy / detune control knob setting. You can program the Molten MIDI 5 to make your Whammy 5 jump instantly from one virtual treadle position to the next. You can also select the original Whammy 5 presets with your foot, without having to bend over and manipulate the knob on the Whammy pedal. In fact, you can switch instantaneously between any Whammy settings. For example, you can jump from the octave up / octave down setting on the Whammy to the third up / fourth up setting, or any of the other Whammy settings, without having to cycle through any intermediary knob positions. You can manually control the progress through the various pre-programmed steps with clicks on the Start/Stop/Step footswitch. For live performance use, this is a real help. Need to go from a minor to a major third setting on the Whammy, but don't have time to bend down and manually change the setting in mid-song? With the simple click of a footswitch, you can make the jump as often as you need to.
There are five Program types:
When one of the Loop settings is selected, the pedal automatically runs through a sequence of pre-programmed pitch shifting steps. These can be thought of as virtual pedal (treadle) settings that the Whammy 5 switches through in sequence. Play a single note or chord on your guitar, and the sound will pitch shift through these various steps, as if you had changed pedal positions on the Whammy itself, except the Molten MIDI is capable of accuracy and speeds that would be impossible to pull off in real-time with your foot. This can give you a very synth-like sound, with similarities to a keyboard arpeggiator as the single note is instantly transformed into a variety of different notes, with the melody and rhythm determined by the pre-programmed sequence. Of course, while it's running through the pitch shifting sequence pattern, you can play other notes and chords, and the pitch shifting sequence will apply to them too. At the end of the sequence, it loops back to the beginning and starts over again, and will repeat indefinitely until stopped by the user. The tempo is set with either the tap tempo footswitch, or the tempo / select knob on the Molten MIDI 5.
In the Step modes, the pedal functions similarly, except the steps of the sequence are advanced by the user - when you hit the Step switch, it advances to the next virtual treadle position in the programmed sequence. As with the Loop modes, each sequence can have anything from two to sixteen steps.
Portamento effects can be enabled for both Step and Loop modes. When used, portamento causes notes and chords to "slide" from one pitch to another, similar to the way notes can glide from note to note on a synth with portamento engaged. With portamento, the sound becomes even more synth-like. Without it, the sound jumps much more abruptly from pitch to pitch, with minimal glide between notes. There is a limit in terms of how fast the portamento can go, and at very fast tempos, there simply isn't enough time between pitches for it to audibly glide from note to note.
In the Different Settings mode, the pedal will progress through each of the pre-programmed Whammy settings under user control via the Step footswitch, but it does not actually make any changes to the Whammy 5's virtual treadle position - just the Whammy's main knob setting. Unlike the Loop and Step program types, when the Molten MIDI 5 is in Different Settings mode, you don't have to leave the treadle placed in the toe-down position; the treadle can be positioned however you want, and you can use your foot to adjust the treadle in real-time, allowing for foot control of the Whammy in conjunction with the Molten MIDI 5.
There are two ways to program the Molten MIDI 5 - manual programming, which uses the knob and footswitches on the Molten MIDI 5, along with the LED indicators on the Whammy 5 itself for visual feedback to the user while programming. While it's not exactly simple or intuitive, it is a somewhat less tedious process than it sounds, although you'll definitely want to watch the manual programming tutorial video on Molten Voltage's website and have the PDF manual for the Molten MIDI 5 (which is also available online) open before attempting it, at least until you memorize the LED combinations and their meanings, as well as the switching combinations needed for manual programming.
A much simpler way is to use your computer to assist you with programming. Beyond a single page Quick Start Guide, there is no manual or software "bundled" in the box with the unit itself, but you can download a free programming utility directly from the Molten Voltage website. This small applet is available for both Mac (OSX10.5 and above) and PC (Windows XP / Vista / 7) users, and allows you to easily program the Molten MIDI 5 using your computer and a MIDI interface. If you don't have a MIDI interface for your computer, Molten Voltage sells the M-Audio Midisport Uno USB-MIDI interface for $39.95, along with other accessories you may need, such as MIDI cables of various lengths, and an optional DC power supply.
The programming application (Fig 4) is quite simple and straightforward, and easy to use, with drop down menus listing all of the available options for most parameters.
Figure 4: A free Mac / PC compatible programming utility from Molten MIDI's website greatly aids in programming the pedal
There are 19 memory locations (called "Programs") for storing your settings. From the factory, these memory slots are filled with a variety of settings that have been pre-programmed by Molten Voltage. This is great for those who like instant gratification - plug it in, and you can start playing with it and getting new sounds out of your Whammy 5 without having to do any programming of your own. However, any or all of these factory programs can be replaced by user data. Be aware that, unlike with manual programming, the programming utility over-writes ALL the patterns at once, so you may want to start with the factory presets file loaded and work from there. If you've created patterns that are important to you, make sure to also save your settings to your computer as a back-up. If you overwrite your stock settings and want to return to them later, there is a sysex file on the Molten Voltage website that you can load into the programming applet that will allow you to quickly return to the factory settings if you so desire.
I found the programming applet to be a much faster and easier way to program the Molten MIDI 5 than manual programming. While it helps if you can think musically and have a decent grasp of theory and harmony, even putting in random values can be fun - leading to interesting and unexpected patterns and musical inspiration.
IS IT FOR YOU?
If you have a Whammy 5, then this pedal is a must-have. It takes an incredibly cool pedal and multiplies its capabilities, allowing you to get far more out of it than you could otherwise. Do I have any gripes? Not really - especially not at this price point. I do wish it had the ability to slave its MIDI clock to an external clock source. This would make it easier to synchronize it with a MIDI sequencer or DAW for recording purposes. You can do so now, but you have to do it the other way around and sync the DAW to the Molten MIDI 5. Fortunately, the Molten MIDI 5 can be set to transmit MIDI clock information, and the tap tempo feature makes it easy to get the pedal and DAW into the same ballpark in terms of tempo, but the ability to lock to an external clock would be even better. Still, it would require a second MIDI port for MIDI in, and would add significantly to the Molten MIDI 5's size, and price.
I really have been having a blast with the Molten MIDI 5. It's way more than a one-trick pony or gimmick device, and with a little thought and some programming, you can get your Whammy 5 to do all sorts of interesting and useful things that would simply be impossible without the assistance of the Molten MIDI 5. Considering the musical inspiration, utility, and sheer fun it adds to the Whammy 5, and its reasonable price tag, it's also a terrific value. If you have a Whammy 4 or Whammy 5, I highly recommend you check out the appropriate Molten MIDI pedal for your device. You'll be amazed by just how fun it is, and how much it expands the capabilities of your Whammy.
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.