||Download Example 1
Stock program 5 (4 steps). Clean guitar with portamento.
||Download Example 2
Stock program 5 (16 steps). No portamento. Neck pickup, tone at 0, with ZVex Fuzz Probe set to mid-gain fuzz.
||Download Example 3
Stock program 6 (4 steps). No portamento. Amp set clean with ZVex Fuzz Probe.
|All clips recorded with a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom through an Egnater Tourmaster combo and DigiTech Whammy IV Reissue.
In a lot of ways, we guitarists like to keep things simple. The simple steps of plugging in a ¼” instrument cable into an amp and guitar, perhaps with a pedal or two thrown in, has served our kind reliably for decades. Of course, over the years we’ve all seen more complex gear trends come and go, from expansive guitar synthesizer systems to intricately-constructed rack gear. So why, at this point, would the common guitarist be concerned about MIDI? Surely a musical software language geared at keyboards would be of little use to us, especially in this golden era of guitar gear that pretty much allows anyone to attain any sound that they wish to have.
Yet an upstart company in central Oregon aims to change that perception with a neat little box they call the Molten MIDI 2. Molten Voltage was born when co-founder William Wardlow, enamored with Jack White’s DigiTech Whammy solo on The White Stripes hit “Icky Thump” began providing mods with partner Karl Vivary for the famous DigiTech pedal. Soon after, they debuted the Molten MIDI pedal to take it to the next level, then tweaked their original design with the release of the Molten MIDI 2.
Comfortable Pitch Shifting
Imagine having 16 Whammy pedals, all lined up in a signal chain with each one set to just one of the steps. Each Whammy processes each note, one at a time. The Molten MIDI 2 manages to accomplish this in a box smaller than my hand. For a fraction of the cost—and effort—that it would take to accomplish such a feat with multiple Whammy pedals, Molten Voltage offers a sequenced pitch shifter that has fantastic results.
Molten MIDI 2 pulls it off by sending a bevy of signals to the Whammy, each with a command to change a setting on the pedal without having to lean over and turn the Whammy’s control knob. So, if you want to jump between one octave up to harmonizing 4ths, you can program the Molten MIDI 2 to do this automatically. On top of that, the Whammy pedal instantly
switches between the settings, rather than cycling through all of the settings in between. The capabilities are pretty vast, and you can set up a sequence that can jump through several settings in a row.
On top of that, the Molten MIDI 2 can set the Whammy’s internal circuitry to think its expression pedal is set in any position in its sweep. For example, the first setting in the Whammy’s Harmony presets is for bending the pitch between an octave down in the toe-up position, and an octave up in the toe-down position. If Molten MIDI 2 is set to use this base setting in the selected program sequence, you can set the pedal to bend the pitch as if the Whammy’s expression pedal is halfway down, or anywhere in the sweep along a chromatic scale, creating intricate melodies by playing a single note on the guitar.
Whammy it Up!
A total of 15 different programs can be stored in Molten MIDI 2, and each can be programmed either manually or by way of a nifty computer program—both PC and Mac compatible—provided free by Molten Voltage. An inexpensive USB-to-MIDI interface cable connected the pedal to my Mac with no problems, but the manual has extensive instructions on programming the pedal manually if you prefer that or do not have access to a computer.
Eager to test the sounds, I plugged in the power adapter and connected it to Molten MIDI 2, then connected a small MIDI patch cable to the powered-on Whammy. The OCT UP/OCT DOWN, SHALLOW, and DEEP program LEDs on the Whammy all flashed very fast, indicating that the proper connection had been made and Program 1 was selected.
I stomped on the Molten MIDI 2’s Start/Stop/Step button, and the device’s first preset kicked in. The sound was really interesting, taking my single, plucked note an octave down for several steps, then raising it a 5th, then 6th before hitting unison. It didn’t stop there though, taking it up a 3rd for two more steps before going back to unison for two more. This entire sequence took place over the course of about 1.5 seconds, creating a beautiful, rhythmic melody.
Immediately, I was having a blast cycling through the different presets, each with their own unique rhythm and melody-affecting steps. It really forced me to play differently with more simplistic, single-note melodies, reminding of years ago when I was learning the craft by listening to Robert Smith from The Cure.
Some of the presets used the pedal’s very cool feature of optional portamento between steps. With no portamento, the note changes very abruptly to the next step. With portamento activated, the note glides into the next. It’s a really neat feature that greatly expands the Whammy’s tonal capabilities, giving a more synth-like vibe to the tones that it creates.
Fans of Digitech’s rare Bass Whammy pedal can recreate its famed 5th UP/OCT UP setting using the Whammy 4 with Molten MIDI 2’s computer interface program by selecting the Step—with or without portamento—program type, base setting of OCT DOWN/OCT UP, and a 2 step program with the first step at a 5th up, and the second to an octave up. (In fact this setting is preset Program #9) By tapping Start/Stop/Step on the Molten MIDI 2, the Whammy moves between these settings, effectively recreating that sound that bassists like Justin Chancellor of Tool are known for.
The Final Mojo
Molten Voltage’s Molten MIDI 2 was one of those devices that reminded me why I love cool, interesting guitar sounds. I was able to achieve some really wild, unique tones, and rediscovered my affection of the Whammy pedal in the process. The Molten MIDI 2’s greatest strength, however, is that it forces the use of the Whammy to be musical, and not just some gadget that makes crazy sounds that some players might only use for one song. Granted, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the Whammy is not a traditional guitar effect, so if you’re not into the Whammy sound you probably aren’t going to change your mind after hearing the Molten MIDI 2. Those players that dig the Whammy and are looking to expand their musical palette with the device should definitely give it a try.
you have a Whammy IV, but would like to push its capabilities to the limits.
you’re not a fan of the Whammy tone, or the sounds that it can create.