Australian Guitar - - Reviews - WORDS BY PETER HODG­SON.

Leg­end has it, there are few gui­tarists who are more de­mand­ing to de­sign sig­na­ture gear for than Steve Vai. You don’t rise to such tech­ni­cal and com­po­si­tional lev­els of ex­cel­lence with­out be­ing ex­tremely driven, and Vai’s de­mands on gear com­pa­nies are the thing of leg­end.

So, when he turned to Mor­ley to de­sign a sig­na­ture wah pedal, I’m sure a few white hairs sprung up on the heads of their en­gi­neers. That was over a decade ago, and the re­sult was the Bad Horsie wah, fol­lowed by the Bad Horsie 2, which ben­e­fit­ted from the ad­di­tion of a footswitch­able sec­ond mode called Con­tour, en­abling the user to ad­just the Q and wah lev­els.

The Bad Horsie 2 has re­mained in the cat­a­logue con­sis­tently ever since, but Mor­ley has just un­veiled a new ver­sion as part of a Cus­tom Shop trio of smaller ped­als with graphic fin­ishes – right in line with cur­rent mar­ket trends for smaller ped­al­board foot­prints (and re­ally cool-lookin’ stuff). Thus, we have an al­ready solid pedal in ‘mini’ form. Neat!


The first cool thing about the Bad Horsie’s de­sign is that it fea­tures switch­less ac­ti­va­tion. There’s no chunky switch at the top of the pedal’s travel to stamp down on to start wah-ing. You sim­ply put your foot on the pedal, and the ef­fect en­gages. Take your foot off, and the wah ef­fect tails off over a pe­riod of 1.5 sec­onds. Or, you can pop the bot­tom off the pedal and ad­just a tiny in­ter­nal trim pot for your pre­ferred off time, from in­stan­ta­neously all the way up to 3.5 sec­onds.

The next de­sign twist is the pedal’s op­er­a­tion it­self. In­stead of us­ing an assem­bly to ro­tate a po­ten­tiome­ter when the pedal is moved – as is com­mon in other wahs – Mor­ley ped­als use an Elec­tro-Op­ti­cal de­sign which uses an LED light ar­ray and a light-sen­si­tive sen­sor to con­trol the wah sweep. What this means is that in­stead of step­ping on the pedal to ro­tate a pot, step­ping on the pedal brings the LEDs closer to the sen­sor. The nearer you get, the higher the wah tone sweep gets. The ben­e­fits are twofold: ex­tremely smooth lin­ear wah sweep, and no pots to wear out and be­come scratchy and noisy. Some higher-end tremolo and com­pres­sor ped­als use sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy to reg­u­late the ef­fect de­pen­dent on in­ter­nal set­tings or the strength of the in­put sig­nal, but it’s a log­i­cal fit for ex­pres­sion pedal ef­fects.

Lim­ited to 500 pieces, the Mini Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2 Con­tour Wah is dec­o­rated with Vai’s orig­i­nal art­work, and mea­sures 6.85-inches by 4.5-inches by 2.5-inches. It has glow-in-the-dark trea­dle rub­ber and a Mor­ley logo, and is pow­ered by one nine-volt bat­tery or op­tional adap­tor. It’s con­tained in a rugged cold-rolled steel hous­ing with LED in­di­ca­tors, quick-clip bat­tery door and a one-year war­ranty.


The Bad Horsie 2 is def­i­nitely not a vin­tage sound­ing pedal. Then again, could you imag­ine Vai go­ing for a tra­di­tional sound? In­stead, there’s a

round smooth­ness to the tone across the pedal’s range, but even so, the tre­ble peaks way up in the strato­sphere. The top quar­ter of the pedal’s sweep is es­pe­cially good for pulling pinch har­mon­ics out of gui­tars that usu­ally put up a bit of a fight against such tech­niques, and it even made my Ibanez’s neck pickup squeal with Dime­bag-style har­mon­ics.

Vai’s orig­i­nal Bad Horsie mode is the best way to get a ready-to-go sound out of this bad boy, but fid­dling around with the Con­tour and Level con­trols in the Con­tour mode re­veals fresh lay­ers of flex­i­bil­ity. With the Con­tour con­trol down low, the sweep re­minds me of the clas­sic fat Jimi Hen­drix wah tone, with darker tre­ble and re­duced range com­pared to the wild sweep of Bad Horsie mode. Yet, with a hi-fi sheen that seems to take that clas­sic funky ‘wow-wow’ wah sound of the ‘60s, grab it by its scruffy neck and drag it into the fu­ture.

By way of ref­er­ence, the orig­i­nal Bad Horsie mode seems to be repli­cat­able by set­ting the Con­tour con­trol to 10 and Level to 0. Crank­ing up the level while on this set­ting thick­ens the tone con­sid­er­ably, which you can use either as a gain boost, or just to com­pen­sate for thin­ner sound­ing pick­ups.


If you’re fa­mil­iar with the wah tones of Zakk Wylde and Nuno Bet­ten­court when they used Mor­ley wah ped­als in their golden years, or if you’ve lis­tened to Vai in the last decade or so, you have a rough idea of the charm of Mor­ley’s clas­sic wah ped­als.

The sweep is bold and dras­tic, and the tones have a glassy sheen which leaves no doubt as to whether the ef­fect is on or not – even un­der huge amounts of dis­tor­tion.

Vai’s own spin on this clas­sic ef­fect is as ex­tro­verted and ex­trav­a­gant as the man him­self, and whether you want to put a bit more Vai in your sound, or you just want a flex­i­ble and in-your-face wah pedal, it’s worth sad­dling up this Bad Horsie for a test. And if you’re a col­lec­tor, the Bad Horsie just got even cooler with this new liv­ery.

RRP: $589

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