Just about every bassist and guitarist on the planet has regretted letting go of a particular piece of gear at one time or another, be it a vintage amp or instrument, or perhaps more commonly, a stompbox. But it’s doubly painful when you let go of something rare that becomes much more costly to replace by the time you see the error of your ways.
Such has been the case for many owners of the original DigiTech Bass Whammy. Introduced to the low-end community in the ’90s, the pitch-stretching pedal was a hit with a small but avid niche of players, but eventually it was discontinued and fell into pawnshop purgatory. But lately, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the original, and as usually happens with popular rare gear, the resurgence brought a marked inflation in price, too. Luckily, DigiTech recently rolled out the next-generation Bass Whammy, which builds on the beloved quirks of the original while also offering more modern options for those who like the concept but prefer sleeker execution—and this one won’t set you back a small fortune, either.
Big Box, Big Upgrades
There’s no way around the fact that the Bass Whammy is larger than most pedals—especially in light of the recent trend toward ultra-miniaturization—but there’s also a lot going on inside. The layout is quite easy to navigate. Like other Whammys, there’s a knob for dialing in the desired whammy or harmony selection, but there’s also a MIDI input option.
A mini toggle above the selection dial lets you choose between classic and chords settings. Classic mode is monophonic and yields the lovably glitchy tones of the original Bass Whammy, whereas chords mode has a new polyphonic algorithm that tracks better, even when you’re playing more than one note.
The latest Bass Whammy’s range of harmony and whammy effects has been expanded, too. There are nine bending possibilities, from two octaves up to an octave down. The original’s large, rectangular plastic footswitch has been replaced with a heavy-duty metal footswitch, and the separate wet and dry outputs from the early version have been replaced with a single output. Unfortunately, the only way to switch between effects is the settings dial, so using the pedal to its fullest potential requires bending down a lot. Being able to scroll through the settings with a footswitch would be a welcome addition.
Lo-Fi or Sophisticated
I tested the new Bass Whammy with a Fender Precision 4-string driving an Eden Metro with ported 2x10s. If you haven’t plugged into a Whammy before, playing one for the first time can be a little like your first trip to an amusement park: You’re overwhelmed by sensory overload, so you run from ride to ride and try as many as possible as fast as possible. Once that initial rush of power is over, though, you find that the unique possibilities—whether employed subtly or in an over-the-top way—can easily inspire new riffs and song ideas, or open up new ways to transform stale tunes or bass lines.
Both the harmony and whammy sides of the pedal possess great modulations ranging from subtle to full-speed adventurous. But I started out on the whammy side, going through all the available pitch-bending options. The two-octave-up setting is the extreme end of the spectrum and doesn’t track especially well, so I personally would use this setting sparingly. Being able to pitch-bend down in variable increments such as 4ths and 5ths is a useful feature. And I dug the dive-bomb effect, which can make your bass sounds like it’s a record slowing down to a halt.
For bassist with a thing for warping harmonies, the Whammy’s harmony side can yield a lot of intervallic fun. For example, with the pedal toe-down on the 5th-up/6th-up setting, a 5th is added on top of the root note. Move the expression pedal up, and a 6th is added to the root—and you can gliss up or down within the chord, keeping the root intact. And because the root stays in place on every one of the harmony settings, there are almost infinite possibilities. And you could have a ton of fun pairing the Bass Whammy with a looper to emulate keyboard- and guitar-like parts.
Indie-rockers and more experimentally minded players will appreciate that DigiTech included the monophonic classic mode. For these guys, the digital artifacts and somewhat glitchy sound of the original Bass Whammy weren’t a problem—they were part of its charm. Meanwhile, those with more traditional tastes will probably leave the pedal in chords mode, because its algorithm is much more accurate, and the modulated tones sound more robust and natural in this mode.The Verdict
The Bass Whammy has always been a fun pedal that also happens to offer a lot of possibilities for bassists to push their creativity into uncharted territory. And thanks to the latest version’s classic and chords modes, the potential is even greater now. It’s got the weirdness factor that cult collectors crave, but it’s also compelling for those with more particular hi-fi sensibilities. The dive-bomb and chorus-type effects are nice bonuses, too. Best of all, the new incarnation won’t break the bank and it has more features than the original version.
Watch the Review Demo: