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One of the real treats of this year’s Summer NAMM was hanging around the Daredevil booth with founder Johnny Wator. The Daredevil booth felt like a throwback to NAMMs gone by. From the (very genuinely) weathered amps and guitars on hand, to the flow of offhanded licks coming from Wator’s SG, there was an air of industriousness and a relaxed irreverence—the perfect mindset for building great stompboxes, as far as this editor is concerned.
Wator doesn’t seem interested in reinventing the wheel, at least at this point. But as a member of the band The Last Vegas, and with musical predilections including Bowie and the Stooges, Wator understands the enduring musical worth of classic stompbox tones. He also gets the importance of durability and offering a good deal to gigging guitarists. Daredevil’s pedals—mostly fuzzes inspired by classics like the Fuzzrite and Big Muff—reflect a focus on those fundamentals. But with the Atomic Cock, a very cool “variable-fixed wah in a box” Wator created a bold-sounding, potent, and unusual pedal capable of some very overlooked and heavy-duty tones.
There’s a thoughtful design economy at work in the Atomic Cock. The kelly green enclosure is arresting, even on a crowded pedalboard. And the logo, which includes atomic orbitals and a lightning bolt (a nod to Mick Ronson and Bowie’s Spiders from Mars, we suspect) is hip and distinctive without cluttering up the works.
The control layout is simple. The gain (or boost) control is on the upper left corner and can be easily nudged with your toe to add or reduce the boosted signal. The smaller blend knob is located in the middle and isn’t quite as easy to adjust on the fly, which is a shame given how significantly it can reshape your tone and the pedals reactivity to your playing. The rocker pedal you’d normally find on a wah is replaced by the “heel/toe” knob, which can be adjusted pretty readily with your foot. All three knobs have near-ideal resistance—just enough to prevent accidental tweaks but not so much that you can’t make those little adjustments with your sneaker in the heat of performance.
Cracking open the green enclosure reveals careful, professional, and very tidy wiring. The circuit board itself is affixed to the flat backsides of the potentiometer enclosures with soft foam double-sided tape, which keeps the board very secure and helps soften any knocks the pedal might take onstage.
Song of a Snotty Brat
By itself, the Atomic Cock adds an air of punkish brutality to any guitar/amp setup. The basic voice is not unlike a vintage Italian Vox wah with a little less vocal richness and slightly more piercing character. With the heel/toe knob at noon, it’s nearly the guitar analog to Johnny Rotten’s spite-spitting vocal delivery. Backing the knob all the way to the heel setting gets you the snorkliest, most bassy, and fattest tones—like a fatter version of Ronson’s live “The Width of Circle” tone. Rotating the knob clockwise makes your tone progressively more trebly and pinched, and adds some very cool ghost harmonics and a strange aural illusion of phaser/flange style modulation.
The boost isn’t exactly a clean boost, nor is it strictly an overdrive or treble boost. Instead, it exhibits characteristics of all three—a little fuzzy grit, but nothing with so much color or rich overdrive that it would alter the wah filter’s voice. But it’s definitely effective—especially with big rigs that include humbuckers and 4x12s. And the boost is substantial enough to get a solo way over the top.
The blend knob may be the most valuable control on the Atomic Cock. It’s definitely the one that contributes most to the pedal’s versatility and sets it apart from a standard wah. You can use it to dial out the wah voice entirely or eliminate your clean signal completely. But the real treats are the settings that lie between these extremes.With the blend control set right in the middle, you get some of the richest wah-inflected tones you’ll ever hear—a beautiful balance of unfiltered and aggressively filtered tones that create a fat, singing, and snotty sound brimming with muscle and attitude. Paired with a good fuzz, these settings are nothing short of massive. It’s also a wonder to have such a wah’d-out signal retain so much in the way of pick dynamics.
Pairing a wah and fuzz is only natural. So in honor of Mick Ronson, I paired the pedal with a Tone Bender Mk 1 clone (built by none other than Senior Editor Joe Gore). It’s hard to imagine a nastier range of tones than the ones a primitive fuzz and the Atomic Cock produce. As with any wah, the effects order is critical. With the Atomic Cock placed between the fuzz and the amp, the Daredevil thins the fuzz and creates less harmonically rich, but in some cases, more focused fuzztones for a given setting. Most wah users who put a wah after a fuzz depend heavily on manipulating the filter sweep with the footpedal to create swooshing fuzz filter effects. This is one case where the Atomic Cock’s lack of a rocker pedal will be a hindrance to some.
My favorite setup, and the most versatile one, is placing the fuzz after the Atomic Cock. In this configuration, the filter on the Daredevil pedal becomes exponentially richer and enhances rather than strangles the meaty and buzzing voice of the Tone Bender clone.
Daredevil’s Atomic Cock probably won’t be the only pedal you have in your line. (Though a player who works with a colorful medium-to-high-gain amp could probably get away using the Atomic Cock and little else.) For most players, it will work as a texture to break up the monotony of the same old fuzz and distortion tones. It’s rarely subtle in that function, but man does it have attitude and a whole lot more range than you would expect. At 130 bucks you’ll get a lot more mileage out of this pedal than a second or third fuzz or overdrive. And provided you’re comfortable with its basically extroverted voice, you’ll never tire of unleashing this green monster on your audiences, bandmates, and recording engineers.