Hands-on review: DigiTech Whammy DT

(Brian Johnston | Posted 2011-10-27)

Hands-on review: DigiTech Whammy DT

Some reviews are more complex than others, such as comparing a basic ‘dirt’ box with 1-2 knobs to that of a delay unit that has multiple settings. The latest Whammy by DigiTech, the Whammy DT, offers so much that it is no longer simply a Whammy! For those unfamiliar with a Whammy pedal, a true classic among pedal collectors and guitarists wanting to perform tricks in leaps and bounds, first introduced in the 1990s, it will be described in brief in this review, as well as all the wonderful features of the new DT model. As well, I will compare its build and sound to that of the Version 4 Whammy, which I purchased about two years ago (I do not have experience with earlier models, Versions 1 and 2 being very popular among guitarists and vintage collectors, and I will not and cannot comment as a result).

The most obvious and used function of a Whammy is exactly that... it emulates the ‘whammy bar’ on a guitar, although it does so to extremes – increasing pitch by upward of two octaves for those high squeals and two octaves (plus a three octave dive bomb) for those super low growls. Although this may sound like a heavy metalist’s tool, including that of Tom Morello, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, I encourage you to listen to David Gilmour’s Marooned and The Blue songs to really appreciate what a slower and more ‘tasteful’ guitarist can do with a Whammy.

Before delving into the sound quality, I will state that this pedal is built like a tank. That expression may be used too often, but it’s true of the Whammy DT. Most obvious is the quality of the foot pedal (treadle) as it feels far more solid than with the Version 4 unit.

On a related subject, I’ve read a few complaints on Internet forums that this pedal is too heavy (4.5 pounds) and too large... and this is what I have to say on those issues and to the ‘haters’ who like to make pointless negative comments when never having used or owned this pedal:

Just about any guitar is over 4.5 pounds and it’s strapped around your neck – why complain of a 4.5 pound workhorse of a pedal that sits on the floor? If it’s an issue of lugging it around with a pedal board, consider that a guitar in its case usually is over 10 pounds, and how heavy are those amp heads and speaker cabinets? If you’re still having difficulty, take up weight lifting and build some muscle.

In regard to its size, any person who wants a Whammy and uses one will find it indispensable, like a Wah pedal. Yes, this version is slightly larger, but for another 2.5 inches in width you have a drop-tune feature and a capo (tune-up) feature. A competitive manufacturer offers ‘drop-tune’ and a ‘capo’ pedals and when combined they take up a lot more than a few inches extra on your pedal board. This Whammy version is a bit larger, but offers a plethora of features and options that still would take multiple pedals to emulate.

Harmony and Whammy Functions
OK, now back to the review. The basic Whammy features include Harmony, Detune and Whammy. The Harmony part allows you to add a full octave up or down from the note you are playing, and everything between – such as a 5th down or a 4th up. And in that instance, as an example, when the pedal is in the heel down position you get the 5th and when in the toe down position you get the fourth. Of course you get options of a 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th and various combinations thereof. Having those harmonizing tones may not be useful for every guitarist, but the point I want to make is on the quality of those tones: it is superior to the Version 4 Whammy and not far off the mark from expensive harmonizers (which I own). What would make this feature even more compelling is if you could adjust the dry to wet mix. Steve Vai is known for his harmonizing work and the Whammy DT certainly is a great place to start for musicians wanting to travel down that road in song composition.

The Detune function on the Whammy side of the pedal (not to be confused with the latest drop-tune feature) offers both shallow and deep. Deep is very obvious and shimmers like a good vibrato or tremolo. I do like the shallow detune as it produces a nice chorus effect without being too blatant. The extent to which the detune mixes with the dry is affected by the pedal positioning (the more the treadle is pressed down, the more the mix), and it does give a very good ‘classic’ chorus from barely audible to quite obvious.

Next up, I was curious as to how well and clean the Whammy part shifts notes, particularly up two octaves, which gives some eerie whale-type sounds (which is why Gilmour chose video whale footage for his Marooned song when playing live). I am more impressed with the DT model than with Version 4 as the DT transitions very well, but more importantly... it hits those high notes without any shrill or break-up of the note – those high notes remain very clean and sustained without any digital fluttering.

Drop-tune/Shift up
So far the features addressed are standard and exist on earlier versions of the Whammy, and again the quality of the DT version surpasses Version 4. But what I think most review readers are waiting for is information on the ‘DT’ aspect of the pedal. The name is a bit of misnomer since the new version definitely does more than simply drop-tune. I almost invested money in a competitor’s pedals, one for detuning and a capo version to ‘up-tune.’ I won’t give opinions on those pedals, not having used them, but there seems to be both good and bad in the reviews I’ve encountered, including speed and quality of tracking/latency, as well as tone quality and background noise.

Bear in mind, once you manipulate a tone, to increase its pitch up or down, there always will be some degree of alteration – and the higher or lower that shifting, the most obvious the audible change, even if only slight. The Whammy DT not only is super quiet, but it does an excellent job at pitch conversion. There is no latency and the tone holds very well. As stated, shifting up or down can make a difference in tone to some degree, and shifting down or up 6 semi-tones make a bigger difference in quality than only 1 semi-tone. And so, what I did was listen very carefully while dropping my standard tuning to a C (common for heavy metal), and also raising it three positions as though using a capo... both while using the Whammy DT function. The verdict: whether using distortion or a clean amp the quality maintained very well and there is nary a difference to my ears. Chords sounded very good, although single and double-note playing really shined.

Now, how did I make this comparison so that both standard tuning and the shifting could be compared quickly? Get this... I used a special feature on this pedal, the momentary by-pass feature. The pedal comes with two true-bypass switches, one for the Whammy part and one for the Drop-Tune part, so that you can have one or both engaged. But what the Momentary by-pass button does is alternate between the Drop-Tune and your guitar’s regular (actual) tuning. This allowed me to play a passage normally (foot down on the Momentary switch) and then by lifting my foot I could hear (engage) the up or down shifting versions. There is no audible clicking or switching to be heard, and what makes this so darn fun and interesting are fast lead lines. Imagine playing arpeggios or fast scales while flipping that switch back and forth at the same time between your standard tuning and up/down a fifth... it makes you sound like a wizard on the guitar – notes all over the place although you may be in one small area on the fretboard. Very cool!

The DT part of the pedal really is worth the upgrade as you can go from playing a riff in E to D without detuning the guitar, removing a capo or buying a 7-string guitar... all at the flip of a switch. And as important, no complaining of floppy guitar strings when drop-tuning!

Other features
There are a few other nice features to the DT half of the pedal. For one, you can increase or decrease pitch by an entire octave, but also there is a secondary ‘octave’ function (up or down) that allows you to add a dry signal for a fatter sound. This means that you can have that thick chorus sound and still apply a different harmony or dive bomb, etc. But it doesn’t end there. Suppose the pitch is up one octave and you add the regular dry signal (an octave down, but at your regular tuning). Next, on the Whammy side of the pedal you add the octave down from your dry signal (two octaves below the up-shift) – that’s three notes all sounding at the same time for a super fat tone... the regular note, an octave up and an octave down.

A related feature to the Whammy DT is a new footswitch option (purchased separately). One switch allows you to select which side of the pedal you are controlling with the footswitch – the Whammy half or the Drop-tune half. The other two switches are ‘up’ and ‘down,’ which allows you to select any of the settings and as you move from one to the next in a clockwise rotation. This is a great new feature as before you had to make your selection with the hand control knob – now you can move from a dive bomb to a shallow detune to harmonization without touching the pedal and without stopping play.

Likewise, for example, you can move from a drop-tune of C for heavy riffing to a capo of several semi-tones higher for chording and to change the key for singing. This is perfect for a concert setting that requires diversity in playing without having to switch guitars and while making adjustments with the foot. A basic feature that has remained is the MIDI port that allows for remote control of both the effects and the position of the treadle. Effects can be selected in either an active or bypassed mode. A new feature is the DSP bypass, which allows the Drop-Tune Momentary footswitch to transition smoothly between momentary on and off states (as it removes the true bypass from the circuit); however, even without this engaged I did not notice any noise or glitching when using the Momentary switch.

One feature I’m disappointed to see gone is the ‘dry out,’ which I had running to a rack-mount electronic tuner. I suspect DigiTech thought it to be an add-on that wasn’t used much and did away with it. Such is life... lose a bit to gain something else, albeit a lot more than what was offered in earlier Whammy versions.

PLUSES: A higher grade Whammy than with Version 4 with better quality tones and output; a lower spec version is available for less money, but the quality with the DT function is well worth the upgrade; works on its own or with the drop-tune function (which also can work solo); offers both shifting up and down of pitch, unlike some pedals that offer only one or the other option; allows for a foot switch for maximum control, as well as a ‘momentary’ bypass for even more creative possibilities as you shift quickly (back and forth) from regular tuning to a shift up or down in pitch; includes a power source that can be used in North America or Europe.

MINUSES: The ‘dry out’ option is gone; the Whammy DT version takes up more pedal board space and weight than other Whammy versions, but for good reason.

The DigiTech Whammy DT carries an MSRP of $449.95 USD and a street price of around $299.

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