WAH WHA WAU BOW WOW YOY YOY
07/17/12- Wacka wacka
wacka wacka arf arf... I'd always thought that they were called "wah wah pedals",
but I've run across folks who call them "wha pedals". At first I thought
it was just sloppy spelling (like the infamous "teh") or dyslexia, or an
attempt to be cool and different, or ignorance, but then I saw that Schaller
had immortalized the "wha wha" spelling in the third version of their pedal
from the '70s. Of course, what do they know? They alternately spelled it
as "wau wau" and "bow wow"! So spell it however you like. Me? I'm claiming credit
for "waugh waugh". Auuuuggggh.
Circuitously, this leads us to the second version of the Schaller Bow-Wow/Yoy-Yoy pedal. That was my first "serious" wah wah pedal, bought in the early '70s during my high school years. (My very first one was one of those zany Japanese gadgets with a built-in surf and siren sound, now highly collectible.) It sounded great between my Strat and Deluxe Reverb, and I was so sad when it finally bit the dust.
The "Bow-wow" sound is the familiar wah wah sound, but its distinctive feature is the yoy-yoy mode. The Yoy-yoy voice sounds like making a wah sound with your mouth, but with your tongue forward, rolled with the sides against the walls of your cheeks. A fun gimmick, but not very useful since it lacked cut-through power when played at band levels with distortion.
By today's standards, it's pretty funky. It's strictly battery powered, and doesn't have a 9-volt external jack. The input and output jack locations are reversed from what's become a de facto standard (input on right, output on left). Version 2 shed the art nouveau-ish panzer-like metal enclosure of the first version for a lightweight plastic enclosure, painted on the inside with conductive paint for shielding. That's the main reason why my first one expired: The plastic treadle hinge broke, and I was too stupid to realize that I could transplant its guts into a metal Crybaby. Instead, I gutted it to harvest its coils.
That's not the whole story though. The pot had become scratchy and was a specialized ganged 100K pot with a long shaft-- not exactly an off-the-shelf part that you could find at Radio Shack. Also, the rear-mounted footswitch had become iffy, and it was a weird 4-pole double throw latching switch: Another difficult-to-replace part.
These parts were contributors to another part of da funky: One section of the ganged pot was used to control the "wah", while the other turned the pedal into a volume pedal when the wah was switched out. Pretty nifty, huh? The only problem was that the switch was at the heel, so when you switched, the volume was at zero. Not so nifty. Nevertheless, I must have gotten used to it since I don't recall it being a big deal 40+ years ago. Even today, I kinda like idea of the wah being engaged in the muffled bass range instead of at the full treble position. (For whatever it's worth, the volume pedal function works without a battery, so I guess that makes it a true bypass pedal.)
Nostalgia being what it is, I jumped at the opportunity to get one on eBay. When it arrived, it was covered with vintage grunge, probably 40+ years old. (For what it's worth, forty-year old dust doesn't just wipe off with a towel.) The main thing was that it was in perfect working order: The pots weren't scratchy, and from what I could tell, the capacitors hadn't died. It sounded pretty much like what I remember it sounding like.
I always thought it had a really sweet wah sound and sweep. When I eventually replaced my original Schaller with a late '70s Crybaby, I was soooo disappointed. I don't remember exactly what I hated about it, but basically I didn't use it until I replaced its guts with a Roger Mayer wah kit in the nineties. Since then, I've been very, very happy with that pedal, and eventually grafted a Rat 2 circuit onto its snout. It's a great combination-- basically a redo of a popular idea back in the day when manufacturers often put fuzz circuits in the wah wah pedal (which usually sounded like shit). The difference is that the Rat 2 actually sounds good following the wah circuit. The cool thing is that it's a portable, only-the-essentials solution for dealing with any amp, including a super-clean Twin Reverb.
In recent years, I'd become curious about some of the highly-regarded wah wah pedals that I'd never have considered buying before because of the cost. I'd read lots of glowing praise in particular about Fulltone's Clyde and the Teese Real McCoy pedals, so I began to do my research into the different models. Fulltone's line has fewer choices, but I was attracted to the RMC-3FL because of its tweakability and a mention in the sales literature about it having as high a frequency range as the Schaller Bow-wow/Yoy-yoy. Wow! Bow! (Unfortunately, I misread that as it being capable of doing the Yoy-yoy sound, so I was pretty disappointed when it didn't.)
I have to admit that the RMC-3FL is a tweaker's wet-dream and I consider myself a tweaker, but with all it's external DIP switches and pair of externally accessible trim pots, it was a bit over the top even for me! After many hours of fiddling and trying to understand the cause and effect and interactivity of all those controls, some very subtle, I felt a bit frustrated. The printed and online instructions seemed to be just shy of leading to a full understanding. I think you have to be a circuit sniffer to truly understand and appreciate the genius of its design.
That's not to say that you can't just twist a few knobs and be satisfied with what you're hearing, which is probably the best way to approach it. The pedal does put out a nice range of wah wah sounds, and it's clearly a high-quality and superbly-built pedal. Damn purdy too, bearing some resemblance to the Schaller.
In retrospect, I probably would have been happier with a simpler RMC pedal, but I have to admit that I didn't really need a new wah wah pedal. My mutant pedal works just fine, and I actually prefer its shorter travel. The RMC satisfies my curiosity about a top-notch ultra-gizmodified pedal, but it doesn't have the functionality of the mutant pedal. I'm too intimidated by the Teese pedal to do any such mods to it. Similarly, I didn't get the Schaller to replace my mutant pedal; it's purely to satisfy nostalgia. Although I know I could improve it (and would enjoy the challenge), I wouldn't put it in a metal shell, add a 9-volt plug to it, or replace the pot and switch and strip the volume pedal functionality. (The Les Paul Personal... well, that was a different story!)
If I were a practical man with actual wah wah needs, I'd probably consider a modern Crybaby pedal. Lots of people have reported satisfaction with the current issue Crybaby versions, and they're affordably priced. They do offer a lot more features than they did in the old days, which might not have been such good old days.
Sheesh... guitar toys!