The Digitech Whammy Pedal is the effect made famous by Rage Against the Machine guitarist, Tom Morello. If you’ve ever heard the solo to ‘Killing in the Name of’, you’ll know exactly what this pedal does!
If not, then the clue is in the name. The whammy pedal acts like a whammy bar, by lowering (or raising) the pitch of the strings. Only difference is that this is an effects pedal, and not something physically loosening or tightening your strings.
The effect is also used by:
- Dimebag Darrel (main riff to Pantera’s ‘Becoming’ and others)
- Joe Satriani (‘Cool #9’ and others)
- Jack White (Bass line to the White Stripe’s ‘Seven Nation Army’)
- Steve Vai (‘Building the Church’ and others)
…and those are just a few examples!
The Fifth Generation
To original Digitech Whammy pedal came out in 1989, and then was discontinued in 1993. It essentially combines the functions of both an octave pedal- adding a second pitch in harmony with your guitar- and a pitch-shifts. At the time, this was the only effects pedal with this functionality, but it wasn’t hugely popular.
It took guitarists such as Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave) to really boost the popularity of this device.
Out of all the pedals and effects available for guitarists, there are always two pedals that receive the best reactions from students: the wah and the Whammy. The first time a student plays the wah or Whammy, it suddenly opens up their playing to new ideas and inspiration.
If you haven’t played with a Whammy before, read through this review and get yourself one. I consider it to be one of the essential effects every guitarist should have (others include a wah and looper pedal).
DigiTech Whammy DT Features
The original DigiTech Whammy was released in 1989 and inspired a large range of 90s guitarists through to today. The Whammy DT (link to Amazon for price and full details) came out in 2011 so while it’s already a few years old as of this review, it’s still seen as the top pick out of the Whammy lineup in terms of features.
10 Whammy settings
To the left of the expression pedal, you will see a range of LEDs for different whammy settings. The whammy effects allow you to bend your guitar notes up or down based on different intervals. For example, you can set it to one octave higher, a fifth higher, a fourth lower, etc. The basic idea is that when the pedal is in the heel position, your signal is untouched. As you roll the pedal forward, it will bend the note (or chords) up or down based on your setting. The 10th setting is ‘Dive bomb’ which simulates what you would be able to do if your guitar has a tremolo arm.
The lower right ‘Whammy’ footswitch enables/disables this effect as well as the harmony or detune effects mentioned below.
9 Harmony settings
The harmony settings are similar to the whammy settings, but instead of bending the original signal up or down, it creates a harmony on top of your signal. You can also use the pedal to glide back and forth between two different pitch shifting intervals. So you could set it so when the pedal is in the heel position it will play a harmony an octave lower then as you roll to the toe position, it will glide the harmony up until it reaches an octave higher. Other combinations such as 4th above (heel) and 5th above (toe) are possible.
In addition to bending your tone up or down or creating a harmony, there are two additional ‘detune’ effects. This effect is similar to a chorus or ensemble effect where your tone is subtly raised and lowered to create a warbling sound. The expression pedal controls how much of this effect is produced. Two settings are available: ‘shallow’ or ‘deep’ based on how subtle or exaggerated you want the effect to be.
To the right of the expression pedal, you will see another range of pitch shifting with a separate footswitch. This area allows you to shift your guitar’s signal up or down one semitone at a time until you’re either up or down an entire octave. The easy way to think about this is to imagine that you can use the pedal to detune your guitar (eg: from E down to D) or you can use it as a ‘virtual capo’ by shifting the pitch higher.
You can even mix an octave above or below with your original signal. This feature doesn’t make use of the expression pedal so the effect is instant when you hit the footswitch.
After the Whammy DT came out, DigiTech took the Drop Tune feature and created a standalone pedal for it called the DigiTech Drop which I reviewed here.
The drop tune effect can be enabled/disabled with the ‘Drop Tune’ footswitch. You can also control the effect with the ‘Momentary’ footswitch which only activates the effect while it is held down. This allows you to rapidly enable/disable the drop tune effect with speed and control. This feature was also carried over to the DigiTech Drop pedal and allows you to produce interesting rhythmic effects with pitch shifting not possible on other whammy pedals.
MIDI Input and FS3X option footswitch
The Whammy DT can be controlled via MIDI which is useful if you use a lot of different pitch based effects and don’t want to constantly tweak the knobs during a gig. Alternatively, you can connect an external footswitch to allow you to switch between different settings without using your hands.
Polyphonic pitch shifting
It’s important to note that the Whammy DT is fully polyphonic which means you can play full chords and expect each individual note to properly shift up or down without problems. Older whammy pedals and other pitch based pedals often struggle to shift more than a few notes at once so this is an important feature.
If something is ‘polyphonic’ then it contains multiple notes at once. For example, a song where the bass is playing something different to the guitar line is polyphonic.
Poly = many
Phono = sound
This is different to ‘monophonic’, which refers to only one sound at a time. The original digitech whammy pedal was monophonic, which meant it struggled to pitch-shift ever note correctly in chords. the first pedals could only produce one note along with your original sound.
So, the new 5th generation pedal has two modes. It can be run in only monophonic mode- the same as the original pedal- or you can use it in polyphonic mode. Polyphonic mode allows you to transpose entire chords. For example, you could play an open A chord, hit the pedal down, and end up with a chord one octave lower.
It would be as if you’d detuned every string!
The new pedal also has a true bypass function. This means that the dry signal (the one without effects) is completely untouched by the pedal. It’s literally just in and then out. This is really important, because if your guitar signal is sent through too much wiring, it can dull the tone.
True bypass allows you to completely turn off the pedal and it will be as if it isn’t there.
Ease of use
This pedal crams a lot of features in and quite often that means that you will need to check out the manual to figure out all the functions. Fortunately, the DT is very self-explanatory. Within five minutes of playing around with the switches and pedal you will know how to dial in all the different settings.
The individual LEDs tell you at a glance what pitch setting you’re on and all you need to do is turn the relevant knob to move between the settings. So if you want to switch from an octave up whammy effect to an octave harmony effect, you simply turn the knob until the right LED lights up. My students had no problem setting up the right pitch settings.
The pedal is well designed and the Whammy and Momentary footswitches are in ideal positions. If you use the Drop Tune footswitch, you’re likely to leave it on or off for an entire song so it doesn’t matter that it’s higher up the pedal. The important thing is that the momentary footswitch is easily accessible.
Some of my students play a lot of songs in drop tunings (eg: Drop D, Drop B) and it’s incredibly easy to use the Drop Tune section to shift the pitch down as needed to the correct pitch.
Older whammy pedals and cheap pitch based pedals often sound artificial. Bad sounding pitch pedals due to old technology has given digital pedals a bad reputation. The Whammy DT is an incredibly natural sounding pedal and does not sound ‘digital’ in any way when used properly. It’s one of the best sounding pitch effects I’ve heard recently along with the newer DigiTech Drop because DigiTech knows how to deal with pitch effects properly.
When using the Drop Tune feature, it sounds almost identical to a guitar tuned down. Of course the further down you go in pitch the less clarify you will hear, but it’s still high quality.
Sometimes I hear people bass guitarists complain that it produces an artificial sounding tone when tuned down more than a few semitones. There’s always going to be a big difference between a detuned bass and a pitch-shifted bass. That’s not due to the pedal, that’s physics. So if you’re a bass player considering this pedal (or the Drop) to detune your bass, while there are whammy pedals designed for bass guitars, you’re unlikely to ever find a perfect result.
The first thing players often do (and what my students do) when they first play a whammy is to set it to an octave higher and push the expression pedal back and forth to get a waaaaaeeeeeee waaaeeee sound. The solo in Like a Stone by Audioslave (guitarist Tom Morello) is a classic example of how the whammy can be used. But that’s only just the beginning. Tom Morello often combined the whammy with his wah pedal to produce outrageous effects. In my guide to Tom Morello’s RATM rig (and Audioslave rig here), I explain how the Whammy is an essential effect to replicate his tone.
Other guitarists such as Dimebag Darrell, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, David Gilmour, and Jack White have used the whammy in different ways throughout their careers. Whether you set the pedal to a harmony, use it as an octaver or create space like effects when combined with delay, chorus or wah pedals, there are so many different sounds you can get out of the whammy.
- Classic Whammy Sound
- Chordal Whammyv-01 Pitch Shifting
- True Bypass
- 10 Whammyv-01, 9 Harmony and 2 Detune Settings
- Standard 9V DC power (included)
- Next generation pitch shifting algorithms
- Rugged metal chassis
- MIDI input
- Sample rate: 44.1 khz
These are the different settings to change the pitch of your notes.
- 2 octaves up
- One octave up
- 5th up
- 4th up
- 2nd down
- 4th down
- 5th Down
- One octave down
- 2 octaves down
- ‘Dive Bomb’- three octaves down
These options add a note that harmonizes with your original notes (controlled by the pedal).
- Octave below or above
- 5th to a 4th below
- 4th to a 3rd below
- 5th to a 7th above
- 5th to a 6th above
- 4th to a 5th above
- 3rd to a 4th above
- Minor to Major 3rd above
- 2nd to a 3rd above
So, as you can see, there are plenty of options available to keep you busy!
What We liked…
With any effects pedal like this that I use, speed can be an issue. There is a slight delay between when you play a note and when the note sounds. This is due to the processing time in the pedal. What it means is that when you play super fast, you can sometimes be slightly ahead of the sound.
This feels just weird, and can be frustrating.
BUT this pedal doesn’t have that. I mean, obviously there is some latency, due to physics, but it isn’t very noticeable. The processor can also keep up and harmonize with notes that are flying by every second.
The only thing is that the notes produced by the pedal tend to ‘slur’ when you’re going really fast.
- All the pitch shifting effects you would want in one pedal
- Drop Tune is surprisingly useful to quickly switch into lower tunings live
- Excellent construction and great quality
- Momentary footswitch adds a new source of inspiration for creative licks and riffs
- No perceptible latency or tracking issues
- Excellent layout and easy to understand
- Quite a large pedal so it will take up space on your pedalboard
Who is the Whammy DT for?
Almost all of my students enjoy using the Whammy even if they don’t like the style of music Whammy players such as Tom Morello tend to play. The fact that quite a few of my students have bought a Whammy yet they all play different styles gives me the confidence to recommend this for almost all guitarists.
Who isn’t the Whammy DT for?
Acoustic guitarists could use this as well, but unlike other pedals (eg: delay, chorus, reverb) that sound good when you hear them blended with your guitar’s resonance, hearing a pitch-shifted guitar blended with the natural resonance of your guitar will be a nightmare unless you play with headphones.
That means the Drop Tune feature isn’t going to be as useful to you as it is for an electric guitarist. So if you’re an acoustic guitarist, just remember that while you will hear the pitch change from your amplified signal, you will still hear your unaffected pitch from your guitar and it won’t be pretty. It would work well in the studio, but at home or live it’s likely to annoy you.