In Praise of the Digitech Whammy

It’s red and it rocks…literally. The Digitech Whammy pedal has been through numerous iterations but it’s arguably the most famous item of gear in the stellar lineup of stompboxes from Digitech. With a sound somewhere between an air raid siren and an algorithmic Jedi mind trick, the Whammy is in a class all its own.

Like any good story, we should probably start at the beginning. The tale of the Whammy is nearly thirty years old and has now involved five generations with a few variations even within those stages. The Digitech Whammy WH-1 was born to the world in 1989. Even a quick glance at this pedal shows it was doing something different, then it hit the recipe just right as the basic design persisted for the next three decades.

The WH-1 was controlled by a pedal for pitch bending and had a single rotary knob for sixteen presets. These included three classes of effects: “Whammy” (this kicks your signal up or down by full octaves), “Harmony” (this turns your signal up or down in harmonic increments), and “Detune” (this drops a bomb on your tone in the best possible way). The original run of this pedal lasted until 1993, but Digitech wasn’t done with the effect.

In the years that followed, the Whammy saw various incarnations with differing degrees of success.

When Digitech turned up for round two it was with a touch of class. The Whammy II (1994-1998) abandoned the fire engine red exterior in exchange for a tuxedo black chassis. This pedal also included a screen for effect engineering and preset storage. With the octave shifting capabilities of the pedal, Digitech didn’t want to leave our four-string friends out of the party. While less famous than its sibling, the deep blue Bass Whammy was born to the world in the same era as the Whammy II.

The Whammy XP100 marks the first real change of the effect’s infrastructure. This pedal attempted to integrate wah style effects with the already tone bending nature of the design. These relics of the mid-1990s were both loved and loathed, which makes them highly sought after for a cult following of fans lurking the used market.

I promise I can count but trust me on this one, the next major release of the pedal is the Digitech Whammy IV. This pedal is arguably the closest to the original and where the effect really hit its stride. With a stripped down design that channels the WH-1—a single pedal and a knob for effect selection—the Whammy IV gave the impression of the classic but reimagined it with some modern appointments, including midi integration. This little guy is what you’ve probably heard most in modern rock as it’s cropped up in tracks by Tom Morello, Jack White, and Troy Van Leeuewen.

The fourth generation pedal was discontinued as Digitech did a rebuild on many items in its stompbox range. The Digitech Whammy DT (short for “drop tune”) hit the floor of NAMM in 2013 and featured extended pitch shifting capabilities and displays, as indicated by the right-side crescendo LEDs to display the skyrocket or crashing range of the sound.

The current iterations of the Whammy family channel the past and reimagine the core of the effect. The Whammy V features many options of the classy WH-1 but included some other innovations, such as a toggle to go from “Classic” to “Chords.” As its name suggests, the latter results in an otherworldy evolution of chordal ambient tones. To bring the Whammy into the modern day, this version also features true bypass.

The stompbox size Whammy Ricochet is also part of this generation. This effect is foot-switchable to launch an array of pitch bending ballistics into your arsenal. With seven pitches already preset, the Ricochet has a latching effect that engages when you depress the footswitch. Without the rocking required of the larger-format Whammys, the pedal automates some of the most loved pitch and frequency flipouts that defined the DNA of the larger lineage.

Few if any pitch shifters have been as bold and successful as the Whammy family. Oddly, it’s unlike any other effect you’ve experienced yet somehow can find a home in any genre of playing.

3 thoughts on “In Praise of the Digitech Whammy

  • October 29, 2018 at 8:04 am
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    I wish you would have included a video to demonstrate the differences and new features between each generation of the Whammy..

    Reply
  • October 30, 2018 at 5:45 am
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    The Whammy is not entirely in a class of its own. It’s not unlike the Bomber pedal,which I think was made by a company called Proteus, but don’t quote me on that. It was obviously the work of a non-pedal company because in some ways it was more logical. The in and out went from left to right, it was centre-positive, and ran on 12V. It was also polyphonic, something that the Whammy didn’t achieve until quite bit later. Unfortunately, despite the polyphonicality (Is that even a word?), it didn’t have the Whammy’s harmony effects, it was simply an octiveder on steroids with a 3 octave dive bomb (One more than the Whammy, but really only suitable for chords,or at least, my Boogie couldn’t reproduce the bottom of the bomb if I was dropping from bottom E).

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    • November 12, 2018 at 3:46 pm
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      Yup, I was wrong, I just dug it out. The company was Morpheus. I wonder if they made anything else…

      Reply

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