Morley pedals have been around forever (well, since the '60s at any rate) and the range includes some of the most respected models on the market - particularly the Morley wahs. We gave two to Gi's latest team member, Levi Clay. Go on then, Levi, we said: stomp on that! And he did...
There are few big names in the wah genre. You have your Crybaby/Vox design (I know this may sound like heresy to a pedal addict, but they are the same basic idea, with different voices) and even the Ernie Ball design plays on the same basic idea. There are some really wacky ideas out there like the Plutonium Chi wah (check out our review here) and even the Zvex Wah Probe; but these are so far removed from the classic design they almost belong in a class of their own. In fact the only company that has really come close to a potential improvement on the classic design is Morley, with its electro-optical driven expression pedals.
Now Morley are not new to the game, in fact the Lubow brothers started the company in the '60s manufacturing everything from innovate echo units to faux Leslie units (apparently this is where "Morley" comes from, more-lee as opposed to less-lee). The earlier units have faded from the public eye somewhat, but that electro-optical design is still going strong. The concept is simple, when you move the pedal from heel to toe, you control a shutter which controls the amount of light reaching an LDR (Light Dependant Resistor). This means that, unlike almost every other wah on the market, you don't have a potentiometer which can deteriorate over time and become crackly.
Both of the pedals we looked at fit nicely into the "built like a tank" cliché, and both can be powered by either a 9v battery, or a traditional power supply (not included). So far my only complaint is the size of these pedals. Us gear heads all know that pedalboard real estate is a big factor in what we choose to take out on the road, and these wahs are a little bigger than many other on the market measuring (23.2cm (L) 15cm (W) 7cm (H) (or, in English, 9.13" x 5.88" x 2.75" - Ed)
So how do they work and sound? Read on...
Steve Vai Bad Horsie II
When it comes to instrumental guitar music, there are few names bigger than Steve Vai. The Bad Horsie II is the result of a long relationship with Morley and (as the name suggests) is the second signature wah from Steve, and an improvement on the original in every way.
The pedal's unique feature is without a doubt the switch-less engage design. In short, the treadle is spring-loaded so when the pedal isn't in use it will flick right back to the heel down position. When the pedal is here it's off and in buffered bypass mode, when you begin to move the treadle the wah turns on (which is indicated by the on board LED). This is such a lovely feature, as it means you will never accidentally leave the pedal on, or fail to engage it at the right point. It's also cool to point out that the spring loaded feature allows you to use this wah as more than an effect, instead using it as a feature in a tune. Steve uses this to great effect in his classic tune, The Audience Is Listening. The only downside here is that when you switch on the wah there is a minute delay and you obviously have to start the wah on the lowest part of the sweep (which isn't really a bad thing).
The big feature not present on the original Bad Horsie pedal is the contour. This is best seen in the video, but basically it gives you double the wah for your money. The original Bad Horsie only has the built in sweep range, this pedal allows us to adjust the frequency range and level of the effect and then switch onto contour mode, using the switch on the left hand side of the pedal. This is pretty cool as it's easy to not like a wah and that be the end of it, but this facility allows you to tweak your wah, giving you everything from a ballsy mid-range quack, to an all out treble screech.
I have to say, I really like this wah as it gives you just a few more options than my current wah does. If you're looking for a pedal which you can make a feature in your playing and writing, this is probably the wah for you! Bravo Morley and Bravo Mr Vai!
In comparison to the Bad Horsie, Morley's Classic Wah might seem like a bit of a step down in terms of features. We have a treadle and an on/off switch - that's it. In my opinion, that doesn't really justify the size of this pedal, as most wahs that are this stripped down have the on/off switch below the treadle. On the other hand, this does mean you can engage the wah in any position. As with the Bad Horsie, we have an LED to indicate the pedal is on. That's quite a cool feature as it allows you to find the "sweet spot" and leave the pedal there, then you can kick in the wah for that nasal half-cocked sound, or your all out Schenker vibe. Just remember though, you'll have to turn this wah on and then move over the treadle to begin rocking.
This wah is, by design, suited to the classic sound of the '70s where the wah was more associated with that "boom chicka wah waaaah" vibe you get on Parliament Funkadelic records, or from Hendrix when he's in full flow. It's not suited to the more flamboyant lead guitar style you find in the post '80's shred guitar style.
Aside from that, this is a great sounding wah and if it's your only option I don't think you'd be upset with it: it just doesn't offer as much as the Vai pedal. Then again, it is a good deal cheaper!
The way I look at it, this pedal would be a great buy if you needed a wah which is built to last and won't begin to crackle at an unexpected moment. Although of the two I'd pick this one if push came to shove, I appreciate that for the majority of players, this wah won't offer everything and they'll probably prefer the Bad Horsie II. It's nice to have the choice though, isn't it?