I was watching Pink Floyd’s 1972 Live at
Pompeii recently, and David Gilmour—long known for his skill with effects—was
using a Fuzz Face, a Vox wah, a DeArmond
volume pedal, and a Binson Echorec. That’s
it. And he was just slaying it.
It got me wondering: At what point did
guitarists decide we needed one box for a little
edge, another for crunch rhythm, one more for
leads, a silicon fuzz for when things get wild,
and a germanium fuzz for those old-school
tones? Given how obsessed we now are about
having a pedal for everything, how did our
rock-god forefathers get along with so little?
Celestial Effects’ latest pedal, the Cancer
Wah the Fuzz?, may not solve pedalboard
sprawl or make players any less interested
in possessing every effect on Earth. But by
consolidating four top-quality analog effects
in a single unit, it’s at once simple, flexible,
and extremely powerful, and it delivers an
impressive combination of functional and
Fundamentally, the Wah the Fuzz? combines
tube overdrive, muscle fuzz, octave fuzz, and
fixed wah in a way that provides a nice combination
of familiarity and esoteric tone options.
The layout is smart and functional—considering
there are essentially six effect modes
activated by dedicated footswitches and
two toggle switches—and things don’t feel
at all cluttered, even though the housing is
relatively compact. By removing the bottom
panel, which is held in place by six flathead
screws, you access four additional trim pots
for the fixed wah (gain, mids, input impedance,
and width-of-sweep or Q control) and
the 12AX7 tube that drives the OD.
Thoughtfully, the LEDs are four different
colors, which makes it easy to see which
effect is on. It’s pretty hard to mistake the
overdrive from the paint-peeling sounds of
the octave fuzz at full throttle, but in a challenging
live-monitoring situation, telling
the two fuzzes apart could be a problem, so
I really appreciate features like this.
The WTF? is a good-looking box, too.
The knobs alternate between white and
red, from section to section, the enclosure
is bombproof, and the paint and art don’t
seem prone to scratches or nicks.
Many Legs of the Crab
The first effect in Wah the Fuzz?’s signal
path is the fixed wah. I’m surprised by
how few fixed-wah effects there are on the
market today, because it’s such a cool effect.
You know the sound—it’s one made popular
by famous players like Mick Ronson and
Michael Schenker, as well as lesser-known
greats like Kurt Heasley of the indie band
Lilys (one of my all-time favorite guitarists).
Sure, anyone with a wah can sweep the
filter until they find the sweet spot and
leave it there, but that can be precarious
to say the least. And wouldn’t it be nice to
have a set-and-forget version of the effect
that takes you straight to “Queen Bitch” by
simply stomping on a switch?
This is the pedal’s secret weapon.
Combined with the other distortions, the
fixed wah can either mildly accentuate the
mids or impart a more extreme sonic stamp.
My favorite use was kicking it in right when
my guitar was about to feed back, which
made it sing instead. (And boy, did it sing!)
Being able to adjust the Q control on the
fly might be nice—and something like a
MXR-style rubber knob that you can nudge
with your foot would be a smart addition.
Just downstream from the wah fuzz resides
the octave fuzz. Foxx, Roger Mayer, and MXR
have all made legendary variations of this
effect—and all are notoriously finicky. Octave
fuzzes tend to hate low notes, they don’t always
work well with bridge pickups, and they glitch
and gate out. In short, they can be a handful.
The Celestial tends to sound richer and
more focused, however. The basic sound here
is in the Octavia camp, but the addition of a
mini toggle allows you to switch the octave
on or off, essentially making it two different
specialty fuzzes. Horn-like effects are possible,
as are ring modulator tones, and it’s impressive
how subtly these effects can be employed
simply by varying the intensity.
The muscle fuzz is next in line. This is
my favorite fuzz sound in the unit, by far. A
normal/thick toggle lets you choose between
two styles of fuzz (A and B). The first is
a more classic sound in the vein of a Big
Muff, the other is heavier, doomier, and in
step with more modern sounds. It’s a versatile
fuzz, and it’s pretty easy to go from fizzy
to buzz saw to sludgy with a quick twist of
the tone knob and flick of the normal/thick
switch. And it’s fantastic when combined
with the fixed wah. Quite honestly, it’s one
of the best fuzzes I’ve ever heard.
The tube OD, the last in the chain, uses
an actual JJ Tesla 12AX7. I’m always a little
skeptical of tube overdrives housed in a pedal
like this, and it’s reasonable to wonder if a
9V wall wart delivers enough power to properly
drive the tube. And if you’re looking
for true amp-style overdrive, the tube in the
WTF? won’t really get you all the way there.
That said, it sounds great. The gain and volume
controls are pretty self-explanatory, but
there is a third knob for edge. When dimed,
this adds a very nice sizzle. Turning the edge
counter-clockwise gets you a softer, somewhat
squishy sound and response. The only
notable omission is a tone control, which is
puzzling, given that there’s enough room on
the front panel for one.
To mimic a shared backline situation, I
used the overdrive with three different amps
and, of course, got three very different results.
Typically, an overdrive pedal should function
as a leveler for guitarists who don’t have the
luxury of using their own amp, and a tone
control is a big part of that. I did love the
way it sounded in front of an AC30, though,
and it paired nicely with my old 12-watt
Fender Musicmaster Bass amp. There’s lots of
extra volume available, too, so it makes a nice
and very functional boost.
I know as much about Zodiac signs such as
Cancer as I do about Zoroastrianism, which
is to say nothing, but I do know quality
when I see it. This is a major consideration
when you’re getting ready to drop big bucks
on a stompbox, and the five-year warranty
suggests Celestial is confident in their work.
With the Cancer Wah the Fuzz?, Celestial
is likely dealing with a fairly narrow market,
since it’s targeted at the player who’s willing
to spend significant cash to simplify their
pedal rig while committing to an octave fuzz
and fixed wah—specialty effects for most.
On the other hand, it will be a bonanza for
open-minded players looking to explore new
tonal places and sonic spaces by combining
fuzz and overdrive. The selection of effects
makes great sense, and it would make one
hell of a secret weapon in the studio.