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There are few pedals as iconic—and instantly recognizable—as the DigiTech Whammy. Many players originally cast it aside as a novelty effect, but the pedal found its purpose and realized its potential with a new breed of guitarists in the mid and late ’90s that recognized its expressive pitch-shifting capabilities as an avenue for sculpting new, otherworldly tones.
The pedal has gone through several revisions and build changes since its inception, but real pitch-shift connoisseurs still turn their gaze back to the pedal that started it all, the coveted and highly regarded WH-1. And the fifth-generation Whammy reviewed here gets ever so close to the original’s famed sound, while packing in some much-needed modern updates.
Wham Bam, Thank
With a depth of 7 3/4" and length of 6 1/2", the newest issue of the Whammy is closer in terms of look and size to the original than the fourth-generation model. This might not seem like something worth mentioning, but if you’ve ever played an original Whammy, it’s kind of a big deal. They were pretty small pedals, which gave them a very different—some say more immediate—feel beneath the player’s foot. Under the hood, the pedal’s pitch-shifting algorithms have been updated for smoother response. The update also includes true-bypass switching and 9V DC power-supply operation so the pedal can finally run off of the power bricks on most pedalboards without a special adapter. There are also four additional Whammy modes taken from the Whammy DT pedal. And a polyphonic pitch-shifting mode has been added too, just in case you don’t like the Whammy’s chaotic, glitchy reaction when playing chords (don’t fret noisemakers, you can switch between the two). The Whammy IV’s drop-tune mode has been scrapped, along with the dedicated dry-output jack, though you can achieve the same effect using the new, 2nd DN mode.
Many—including DigiTech themselves—have tried for years to capture the same magic of the first Whammy. And doubtless, many will find that the Whammy V gets the closest. Employing a Les Paul Custom and a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, there was a perceptible improvement in the smoothness of the pedal’s pitch bending as I moved up and down through the octave-up mode. There were no hiccups anywhere in the sweep. And as I moved down the neck to try and confuse the pedal and upset the tracking with low, guttural notes, the effect remained slick and very precise.
The harmony modes are excellent, and offer up a smorgasbord of wild, dual-guitar lead possibilities, thickened single-note drones, and oddball, dissonant textures. Creative possibilities aside, you can still hear digital artifacts in the harmony mode. When I would play a melody and shift up or down, then move to where the previous notes had been shifted, there was a slight, digital sheen to the attack. You don’t lose all the warmth though, and I don’t recall using a Whammy that was this natural and smooth sounding since the years I owned an original Whammy II.
In the polyphonic mode, the pedal handles simple and complex chords with ease. Throwing a 9th chord or tritone in the mix can induce a little glitching for just a fraction of a second, but generally only when playing fast rhythms. DigiTech also made a wise decision by adding the Whammy DT’s 5th and 4th interval-up, and 2nd, 4th, and 5th interval-down modes to the pitch-shift menu, and they yield some seriously sick tones when you slowly shift one chord down or up to another.
Through five design iterations, the Whammy has added new dimensions and textures to countless songs. And for all intents and purposes, the Whammy V is one of the best Whammys to bear the name. With the addition of true bypass, a slightly smaller and more comfortable footprint, and tighter shifting programming, it’s a real winner—and still one of the most fun and interesting pedals you can add to your arsenal.