Up until recently, U.K.-based Sonuus
had been primarily known for its work
with guitar-to-MIDI converters. But for all
the company’s focus on software and interfaces,
the new analog—yes analog—Wahoo
pedal proves it’s not quite ready to commit
whole-hog to an all-digital future. This
dual-filter wah for guitar and bass captures
the squawky goodness of vintage-voiced
wahs, harnesses the musical potential of
LFO and envelope filters, serves up pitch-detect
functions, and delivers cool twists on
familiar modulation effects. But it also takes
advantage of Sonuus’ copious expertise in
the digital domain by marrying an analog
signal path with digital controls that yield
an impressive range of fat-toned effects—up
to 100 of which can be stored as presets.
The first thing most people will notice
about the Wahoo is its not-at-all retro
design (as well as the two convenient roll
bars protecting the knobs from errant
sneakers). At about the same size as a
DigiTech Whammy, it’s not a small pedal.
But for all the sonic resources it puts at
your disposal, many will be happy to ditch
a dated or underutilized box (or two) to
squeeze it on their board.
The top third of the Wahoo’s control
panel has an LED readout that registers preset
numbers, buttons for scrolling through
the presets, and a level knob. Pressing and
turning the latter selects the level of preamp
gain, the proportion of signal from the two
filters, the dry/wet signal, and the output
signal. You can also set presets from this
section. The middle third controls filter
characteristics. You can switch between filters
to shape them individually, control the
Q (resonance) at high and low frequency
extremes, control cutoff frequency in the
high and low ranges, shape the filter curve,
and select between low-pass and band-pass
filters. The lower third is home to the mode
selector, which selects LFO, envelope filter,
pitch shift, or customized modes.
Envelope mode is essentially an auto-wah,
and pitch mode can track notes so the
filter cutoff follows the note, or it can track
when you bend a note to give a unique
auto-wah effect. With patience, vision, and
a little time, you can shape these effects in
very unique ways. And if you’re into precise
signal arrangement, you can use the USB
port to plug the Wahoo into your computer
and tweak the mode templates with software
available on Sonuus.com.
One notable aspect of the Wahoo’s hardware
is the presence of a patent-pending
position sensor (which the company says will
never wear out) instead of a potentiometer
to control the wah and filters. If you’re a wah
addict, you probably know the hassle of greasing
up or changing mechanical pots well, so
it’s an intriguing evolution, and it works well
on the Wahoo. Sonuus also made improvements
to the true-bypass circuit, enhancing
transparency and eliminating mechanical
pops and cracks during engagement.
Wave After Wave
The Wahoo’s preprogrammed presets alone
are more wide-ranging than could possibly be
covered in this review, but the pedal reveals a
galaxy of possibilities the more you explore—whether you’re looking for familiar sounds
or more far-out textures. Using a Fender
Stratocaster and silverface Fender Bassman, I
set up the Sonuus Wahoo side-by-side with
a Crybaby Classic. The first preset on the
Wahoo is dialed in to simulate the latter, and
moving the rocker to the toe-down position activates the pedal with clickless engagement.
To my ears, the Sonuus seemed the more
precise and sensitive of the two units, with
a broader range of sweep and brighter tone.
The sensor technology is surgically accurate
and actually feels touchy if you’re used to the
clunky dynamic of a standard wah.
Wide range of high-quality wah, filter, and modulation effects. Easy to use and save presets. Top-notch build quality.
Deeper wave-tweaking functions have a bit of a learning curve.
Playability/Ease of Use:
Other notable presets include F91, a
phaser with variable speed you control with
the treadle. It doesn’t yield an intense, strobe-like/UFO-engine-room pulse, but it’s still very
sci-fi sounding. And altering the speed does
allow for some unique twists on the phaser
effect. Initially, I felt the top end could use
more color, so I engaged the filter knob and
increased the hi-Q to give the phase a whistle
effect when the wave reached its peak. The
result was an intergalactic police-siren effect.
Preset F61 is an LFO that uses a saw-up
wave with a backbeat and a rate you control
via the foot pedal. While the sound never
gets too mushy, you can turn the effect
level down with the wet/dry control. My
Les Paul gave this preset a bit more linear
continuity—and therefore better tracking—than I got from single-coils, and with the
rocker set about midway, I sat back and ran
a few funk-laden riffs using the backbeat as
a drum machine. It’s a cool effect, although
if you start missing notes or aren’t striking
them evenly, the tracking gets a little off
and loosens up the beat—but it can be a
fun tool for improving your timing, too.
Smaller amps—even solid-state practice
amps—still sound very rich, but you’ll want
to watch your gain settings to make sure
you don’t lose clarity if your amp has less
headroom or a lot of inherent compression.
Also, because of the wide frequency range
of some presets, extreme signal shifting can
distort the output or yield shrill sounds at
certain wave peaks. You’ll still get some of
this distortion if you’re using a tube amp,
but a 10" or larger speaker and an amp
with a little headroom is definitely preferable
for exploring these more radical effects.
The Sonuus Wahoo captures the spirit of
simple synthesis, the vocal responsiveness of
a great wah, and both classic and unusual
modulation effects in a single robust design.
What’s more, it’s extremely functional and
easy to navigate, considering its depth. The
$349 price tag is steep, but this is not a
stompbox of ordinary capabilities either.
And given the quality of both the sounds
and construction, it’s an investment that
may well pay itself back and then some.