This is a guest post by James Abel
To say that the Wah pedal is one of the most widely used effects in the world of guitars, with the exception of maybe the overdrive and delay, would certainly not be a million miles from the truth. With the market swimming with a wide variety of options, finding a wah that suits you should be no problem. This review covers what Custom Audio Electronics have to offer to the whacky and wild world of Wah Wahs.
Although designed by the legendary rig builder and the brains behind Custom Audio Electronics, Bob Bradshaw, this wah is produced by none other than Dunlop. The pedal may not be part of the company’s ever-growing Crybaby family, but it does boast the same housing and sturdy build quality that Dunlop’s most famous wahs are well known for. Featuring a brushed black steel body with a rubber foot rest that sports the Custom Audio logo, this little rocker is an utter charmer. Under the hood reside both red and yellow Fasel inductors that allow the user to change the voicing of the wah via a kick-switch on the right hand side of the pedal. But the features of this little gem don’t finish here. Oh no. This Swiss army knife also boasts one of Custom Audio’s MC401 boost/linedriver that can be switched on via a kick-switch situated on the left hand side of the pedal. On the adjacent side lays a trim pot that allows the user to control the volume of the boost. If that’s not enough, internal trim-pots for gain and ‘Q’ sweep, for each inductor, reside on the neat and well-constructed board within the belly of this beast. The MC404 also features a true bypass, long life potentiometer. This truly is a tweaker’s wah wonderland.
With the mini switch on the right hand side of the pedal in the “OUT” position the Wah is in the red Fasel mode, which is usefully indicated by a fairly bright LED situated next to the kick-switch. Pushing in the kick-switch switches this to an even brighter yellow LED on the other side of the kick-switch. No prizes go for guessing what that means! The LED indicator for the boost is on the top left of the pedal and shines a bright blue when engaged. Pressing the wah down onto the true bypass switch engages the pedal, and is demonstrated by a bright green LED situated next to the LED representing the boost.
Yellow mode: Dunlop describes this Fasel inductor as a classic Crybaby tone, and they’re certainly not wrong here. All of the classic bite and quack that would be expected of a Crybaby is generated from the sturdy rocker, as it produces a gorgeous sweep with a nice emphasis on the high-end. Oodles of vintage wah tone are up for grabs here, as the pedal adds a gentle and glassy texture to your tone. With humbuckers the pedal pretty much screams late ‘60s early ‘70s tone, with the likes of Cream and Zeppelin begging to be played. Switching over to singlecoils yields a softer tone that would be more than suitable for funk. It would be an absolute crime not to bust out the Hendrix licks here, as this little box really does do it justice. Buddy Guy’s wah sound also comes to mind a little here, as the yellow mode really does have a sweet singing quality. However, depending on your amp, this setting can get a little bit too ‘top-endy’ when in the factory mode. To this reviewer’s ear this mode generally functions best when the amp is set anywhere between clean to a vintage overdrive. A high gain sound may struggle a little here, as the top end can get a little too much. Nevertheless, tweaking the internal trim-pots or rolling off the tone knob helps to control this.
Red Mode: Switching to the red mode really does change the flavour of this wah. Immediately the response is different here, with a throatier and larger sweep. The emphasis is much more on the mid-range, with a deeper response and resonance. Although it works fairly well on clean and vintage sounds, it doesn’t really compare to the excellence of the yellow mode on these tones. Instead, the red Fasel is a different beast altogether. This Fasel really does thrive in the medium to high gain Ball Park. With some nice harmonic overtones coming through, the pedals gritty and throaty side really shines. Slash’s cocked wah tone is easily achieved here, with clarity and depth being heavily expressed, while the pedal just as easily handles a good metal wah tone by delivering a Tremonti like gurgle. For some, the sweep on this mode may seem a little deep and unyielding in terms of getting the right amount of high end. However, for a great Hard rock, Metal and Heavy Blues tone, the red mode is hard to beat.
MC401 boost/linedriver: With up to 20db of boost of offer, the MC401 is very usable indeed. On both modes the MC401 can either a nice subtle volume boost, or when really cranked, a kick of additional gain. When using some amps, it really helps to give the valves a good lashing and pushes them into a sweet spot. At higher volumes I generally found the boost a tad more usable on the yellow mode, as it really helped to give the pedal that extra push into sweetness. However, on lower volume settings I found that it pushed deep sweep in the red mode up slightly, allowing for a slightly brighter tone on the red setting.
At the price of $169 the Dunlop/CAE MC404 is not exactly a steal. In fact, if the pedal only featured one voicing and no boost, I would probably not recommend a purchase at that price. However, the beauty of this pedal is that it doesn’t feature one voicing. Usually a wah excels at one particular tone, and doesn’t do too much else that well. That’s not the case here, as what CAE have rather intelligently done is provide two different wah voices that perfectly cover the ground that gets left behind by the other. People looking for a basic and simple wah tone should definitely look elsewhere due to the somewhat hefty price tag. However, for those that play a wide range of music and are looking for a wide palette of excellent wah tones, should certainly look no further. The Dunlop/CAE MC404 may be a jack of all trades, but it is quite nearly a master at all of them.