Voodoo Lab Wahzoo

September 1, 2009

THERE WAS A TIME WHEN WAH PEDALS WERE simple—some of the simplest effects pedals you could find, in fact. They did one thing, and that thing was so cool and funky that it was all they needed to do to be the go-to effect for Hendrix, Clapton, and others. But then companies like Dunlop and Morley upped the ante by providing pedals that not only did wah, but also fuzz, boost, switchable voicings, variable Q, and other goodies designed to enhance your wah experience. Now the idea men at Voodoo Lab have thrown their hat into the wah ring with the Wahzoo ($400 retail/$279 street), an innovative, flexible, and inspiring pedal.

Although the name might suggest that this box offers a menagerie of filter effects, it really doesn’t. It does three things incredibly well, with enough variation built into those things to make for near-infinite possibilities. At a glance, the Wahzoo looks like many modern wahs, with a generous treadle and, to the right of it, an on/off switch and knobs for Mode, Autowah Sensitivity, and Step Sequence. The overall feel is very sturdy and inspires confidence. The throw of the pedal is smooth but not so loose that it will just fall to the toedown position when you take your foot off it. This one will stay where you leave it, which is perfect for getting the Michael Schenker tone at a moment’s notice. The guts of the Wahzoo are top-notch, with true-bypass switching via a gold relay and a rock-solid switch that’s rated at 1,000,000 stomps! Interestingly, there is no inductor in this pedal—a bold departure from the classics—nor does it use an optical circuit. Voodoo Lab’s Josh Fiden explains the reasoning behind these innovations: “Eliminating the inductor was one of the original goals of this design. An inductor picks up any stray magnetic field and creates noise. This makes traditional wah designs inherently noisy. If you’ve ever built a pedal board and mounted the wah near a wall wart, you know exactly what I mean. Put a classic wah alongside Wahzoo, both in toe down position, crank up the gain and listen. That’s the advantage.” One other thing you will not find inside is a potentiometer, at least not in the traditional sense. “It’s not entirely accurate to say there’s no potentiometer,” says Fiden. “Wahzoo uses an industrial linear position sensor, which is really just a very reliable potentiometer for translating the treadle angle to a control voltage. What we don’t have is a potentiometer in the audio signal path. The result is no more scratchy pot sounds and the ability to do the other tricks, like Autowah and Stepwah.”

I plugged into the Wahzoo with a PRS Classic 22 into a Mesa Dual Rectifier halfstack and set the mode switch to Vintage wah. Modeled after the classic Clyde McCoy wah-wah pedal, the ’zoo has a full, aggressive voice that will appeal to rockers, metalheads, and modern bluesmen alike. Although there isn’t a boost per se when the wah is engaged, there’s no way this tone will get lost in a band mix. It’s easy to find the exact spot to make each note jump to the fore, and infinite sustain almost anywhere on the neck was a cinch with a little gain and volume on the amp. There is a trim-pot adjustment inside the Wahzoo for determining the cutoff frequency of the toe-down position, and rolling it back just a bit took an already sweet tone and sweetened it up even more.

I turned my attention to the Autowah, which is one of the hippest versions of the effect I’ve ever tried. Rather than a simple band-pass filter, which can introduce a lot of unwanted (and not particularly guitarfriendly) frequencies, this is a narrower band, resulting in a sweeter, more wah-like sound that can be controlled with your picking attack. Cool! They didn’t stop there, however. If you rock the pedal forward, the envelope is reversed. That means that soft notes are open and full of treble content, and a harder attack closes it down and sucks all the high end out. Voodoo Lab voiced the attack and release settings differently for the forward and reverse envelopes to get the most musical tones out of each, and to my ears they nailed it. (Bonus: Pumping the treadle in this mode produces a great wah-onacid sound.)

The real mindblower in the Wahzoo has to be the Stepwah function. In this mode, you get randomized, split-second snapshots of a Clyde McCoy’s tones that cycle over and over at any tempo you want. The ’zoo comes preloaded with four bitchin’ patterns, but you can easily overwrite those with your own customized sequences by turning the mode switch to the Create Seq position. Then you sweep the pedal to the desired frequency, hit the Bypass button, then move the pedal to another frequency, hit the Bypass button again, and so on. You can enter up to 28 different steps in your sequence, although you will get amazing results with as few as three or four. Then you can rock the pedal to change the speed, from slow and choppy to a fast gurgle that’s like a beautifully deranged Leslie. If you want to sync the Stepwah to a groove, you can enter tap tempo info with an external footswitch.

The Wahzoo was many years in the making, but props to Voodoo Lab for taking the time to make it unique, inspiring, tough, and reliable, not to mention gorgeous sounding. It earns an Editors’ Pick Award. Well done!

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