The Digitech Whammy is one of the first, and most famous, pitch-shifting pedals ever invented. In the couple decades since it was first released, it’s graced pedalboards of famous guitarists like Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien.
However, the Digitech Whammy has also become a cult favorite pedal with hard rock and grunge guitarists. Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine has put a Whammy to good use, and Jack White loved to use a Whammy to accentuate his guitar parts in the White Stripes. If you’re after some of the tones from those famous guitarists, you should check out a Whammy of your own.
Beyond those players, the Whammy pedal has found a home in a wide set of different styles. If you like to play metal guitar, classic rock guitar, or even blues guitar, you might want to check a Whammy pedal out. If you do, you’ll be following in the footsteps of players like Jimmy Page, Noel Gallagher, David Gilmour, Kevin Shields, and countless others.
There are a lot of different types of Whammy pedals available on the market, with multiple versions of the pedal released in the past few years. There are also smaller versions of the pedal like the Whammy Ricochet, and some other pitch-shifting pedals that aim to accomplish a similar task within a smaller form factor enclosure.
In this guide, we’ll focus on a Digitech Whammy review while also mentioning and highlighting some of the features of the other pedals in the Whammy lineup (the older pedals and the newer, smaller pedals). At the end, we might include references to a couple of the other pedals, if you want to check out a wider range of options as well.
Let’s start by checking out the main features of the flagship Whammy pedal: the Digitech Whammy V. This is the latest incarnation of the Whammy pedal, and it takes the best features of past versions of the Whammy while also incorporating a few new and improved aspects to make this the best version yet.
Digitech Whammy V
The first thing you’ll notice about this pedal is its size. Like all of the versions of the Whammy released over the years, the Whammy V comes in a massive enclosure with an expression pedal built into the housing. This has created a distinct look for the pedal, but it’s also a tough thing to fit on pedalboards.
Over the course of the Whammy’s existence, guitarists have had to learn how to squeeze this massive pedal into boards with compact and smaller sizes. While this is hardly a dealbreaker considering the outstanding sounds that the Whammy offers, it is one negative to think about.
If you’re in the market for a Whammy, you might also want to check out a larger pedalboard to go with it. Many guitarists find themselves buying new pedalboards after they purchase a Whammy, in order to rearrange their setup and find space for more pedals without kicking the Whammy off of their effects rig.
PedalTrain makes a set of great pedalboards, for relatively affordable prices. They’re exceptionally durable, and many of them come with long-lasting, high-quality velcro strips to keep your pedals locked in place at all times. They’re also built with angled slats, which makes it easier to press the pedals accurately and helps you keep all of the cables tucked under the board and out of sight.
If you want to, you can mimic some of the effects of an expression pedal by adjusting your amp controls.
One major advantage of this form factor is the built-in expression pedal, though. Most pitch-shifting pedals like the Whammy work best with an expression pedal. While technically you can use some of them with only the footswitch latch, it takes more time to learn and it’s difficult to consistently hit the switch correctly.
You also don’t get the dynamic variance that you can get out of an expression pedal. Having a tilting foot pedal allows you to control just how much of the pitch shifting you let into your final sound, as well as the tone or degree of shifting that you get out of the pedal. Having this expression treadle included in the Whammy saves you the hassle and cost of needing to purchase a separate unit.
The Whammy’s expression treadle is also optimized to work specifically with the variances and response curve of the onboard circuit. If you want an expression pedal that offers you the greatest degree of control and precision over your sound, the Whammy’s built-in expression pedal is a big advantage.
Finally, the Whammy V’s expression pedal is outlined with a grippy rubber border. It helps keep your foot secure on the pedal, but it also doesn’t lock it into place. If you want to move your foot slightly or take it up and off of your pedalboard without affecting the position of the Whammy, there’s still the flexibility to do that as well.
This design is a definite upgrade from the design of the Whammy V, which was covered in a sandpaper material that was similar to the feel of a skateboard deck. While it was a good way to keep your foot secure on the pedal, it was pretty rough to the touch, and could be tough to move around without accidentally depressing the expression pedal and changing the sound of your unit.
Controls and Functions
Beyond the form factor of the pedal, you might also notice a set of knobs, dials, and switching lights towards the right side of the unit. These are the controls — and they’re some of the most detailed control settings that you’ll find on any mass-market pitch-shifting pedal!
The 5th Gen version of the Whammy includes one central knob, with a black brushed metal finish. It’s flanked by rows of LED lights with different options for pitch shifting. These affect the way that the pedal shifts the sound of your guitar. Atop of that black knob, there’s also a metal switch.
This switch controls the style of the Whammy effect, between “classic” and “chords” modes. The classic mode offers you vintage-style Whammy pitch shifting effects, just like the first four versions of the pedal. The second mode allows you to harmonize your notes with entire chords built around them.
This is a massive new innovation compared to the first versions of the pedal, and it’s a big step forward in pitch-shifting technology as a whole. The ability to bend entire chords and shift around with digital harmonies behind your playing makes it much easier to play on your own. In fact, sometimes this effect can even approximate the sound of a second guitarist playing with you!
As far as the pitch-shifting goes, this pedal offers more options than nearly any other unit on the market. There are 10 different intervals that you can use to set the sound of the pitch effect harmony behind you.
Those intervals range from close intervals, like 2nd and 3rd intervals, up to larger gaps like multiple octaves. You can either harmonize these with your dry tone, or use the whammy effect to take over your sound entirely.
Tone of the Effect
While the Whammy might be a “pitch-shifting” pedal, it’s not designed to change the frequency coming out of your guitar while retaining the same tone. To that end, the Whammy gives your guitar sound a very characteristic, unique “colored” tone when you play through it. A lot of players love this tone, and it’s adjustable using different aspects of the pedal like the expression control.
However, if you hate the sound of shifted pitches and tools, you won’t like to use the Whammy. It’s obvious when a guitarist is using the Whammy to shift their pitch, because it’s very metallic, spacey, and otherworldly. There’s no way to get rid of this sound in the pedal and make it sound like your natural guitar tone, without any pedals active. That means that it’s important to love this tone.
Thankfully, the sound of a pitch-shifted Whammy has been used on dozens of famous guitar records over the past few decades. If you want an iconic tone that’s instantly recognizable, the Whammy is a great way to get that sound with a pitch-shifting pedal.
The fifth generation of the Whammy also cleans up some of the imperfections in the tone of its predecessors. Early versions of the Whammy would often bungle notes played very quickly, or struggle to harmonize chords and fast passages along the guitar neck.
This led to a lot of electronic “artifacts” coming through in the final sound. In other words, the early Whammy models could be a bit finicky and unstable, and might miss some notes. This led to unpleasant, sterile electronic noises coming through in your final tone.
These earlier versions also had a very broad frequency response, which could sometimes lead to harsh or rough sounds coming out of the pedal as it shifted your guitar’s pitch. While some players appreciated this effect, others would prefer a more stable, “buttoned-up” sound out of their pitch-shifting pedal.
The Whammy V solves both of these problems with aplomb. Most importantly, the years since the release of the Whammy IV have seen digital technology in pedals grow much better. That allows the Whammy V to track notes with greater precision, and not get lost among a lot of different notes as other versions of the pedal used to do.
Digitech have also changed this version of the pedal to get a more reliable, consistent sound out of it. The frequency response curve has been smoothed out, and overall the sound of this pedal is a lot more measured and accurate to the original pitches than other incarnations have been.
That makes this pedal a great fit for all players. However, gigging guitarists will appreciate the updates made to the pedal in particular. The more reliable, workhorse version of the Whammy means that players don’t need to worry about their pedal freaking out or inserting a lot of electronic coloration into their sound as they’re playing on stage.
What is it Good For?
As we’ve mentioned already, the Whammy has found a home on the pedalboards of a lot of different artists. These range from the guitarists in Radiohead — Ed O’Brien and Jonny Greenwood — to hard rock players like Jack White and Tom Morello.
They’ve all used the Whammy for a variety of different things, but a few features of the latest edition make it particularly suitable for a couple of specific uses. If you want to use a Whammy pedal for quick, accurate pitch shifting and to add an expressive touch to your playing, this will be a great option for you.
These strengths make the pedal a great entry to the world of pitch-shifting effects. It’s simple to use and get the hang of, but it’s also got a lot of power — you won’t need to worry about not being able to do anything that you want to with the Whammy.
The Digitech Whammy pairs great with other pedals like a boost and a delay, for spacey ambient sounds.
In terms of playing style, this translates to a couple different genres. Many atmospheric and ambient players like the sound of a Whammy, particularly because it cuts through the mix of their songs well. The sound of the pitch shifted guitar after running through the Whammy sound metallic and sparkly, with a bit of an otherworldly “modulated” sound.
That tone provides a great contrast for ambient chord backings, which emphasize slow, watery playing and deep, cavernous “spaces” within songs. The presence and sharper tone of a Whammy pedal helps keep the mix sharp, and provides you with a bit of an edge to play lead lines and more prominent rhythm tracks alike.
The built-in expression pedal is also a great bonus for ambient players. It’s smooth and has plenty of range, which allows guitarists to shift the tone of the effect throughout a song without needing to adjust the knobs with their hands. This can also work well in conjunction with volume swells and expression swells — two favorite tools of many ambient guitarists.
Rock and Garage Rock
However, the Whammy is a far more versatile pedal than just ambient playing. As we’ve already mentioned, garage rock and hard rock players like Tom Morello and Jack White have also loved to use this pedal. However, they find uses for the Whammy that are a bit different than its uses in ambient guitar playing.
The Whammy’s prominent pitch-shifting effect can double your sound, beyond just changing the pitch of your guitar. At times, this can make your guitar sound like there are two players — one doubling the sound of the original guitar at a different pitch. This is a fantastic effect for a lot of rock bands which only use one guitarist.
If used properly, in these scenarios a Whammy can fill up the empty space in the mix and add another dimension to your sound. It works great together with reverb pedals and delay pedals. You can also play it either clean or with an overdrive pedal, and it adapts to your tone.
To get a better feel for how these players have used the pedal, listen to Jack White play “Blue Orchid” with the White Stripes. Because he doesn’t have a bass player in the band, it’s important to provide rhythm with his one guitar part.
However, that prevents him from laying down a lot of rhythm tracks with a looper pedal to solo over conventionally. If you want to find a looper pedal, check out our list of the top ten looper pedals.
To get around this problem, Jack White uses his Digitech Whammy, set to two octaves up in order to play most of his solos. This gives him the high, screaming solo tone that he wants to achieve, but allows him to play near the base of the neck and stay within range of rhythm parts.
To switch back to playing rhythm, all he needs to do is switch off the Whammy and he’s right in the place on the guitar neck that he needs to be. Sometimes, he also uses the Whammy as a doubler for playing guitar licks underneath his singing.
These licks combine traditional aspects of “rhythm” guitar strumming and “lead” guitar, and allow him to get two jobs done with just one guitar part.
Tom Morello often uses the Whammy in a similar way — to double-track parts that he’s already playing, or as an added tone boost for his solos. While it’s not an “always-on” effect for these players, it does have a massive impact on their sound overall — and it’s a good idea to check out a Whammy if you like how these players and other garage rockers get their tones.
The combination of a Digitech Whammy with a Line6 DL4 is one of the most common in alternative rock.
We’ve mentioned Radiohead a fair amount, and for good reason — the lads from Oxfordshire are some of the most influential musicians in any genre from the past 30 years. However, they’ve also been influential in one way that you might not have thought about: how they use the Digitech Whammy.
The Whammy does a great job of getting novel, unique sounds from standard guitar inputs. That’s particularly true of the latest version of the Whammy pedal, which has cleaned up some of the quirks and inconsistencies of earlier versions to give you a smoother, more repeatable final “weird” tone.
Radiohead have taken full advantage of these novel sounds, in all of the Whammy’s incarnations. Guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien have been using Whammy pedals since the band’s second album, 1995’s The Bends.
On that album, the band centered the Whammy pedal as an instrument to accentuate lead playing. You can hear the characteristic effect on songs like “My Iron Lung,” where it’s used to pitch-shift the main riff of the tune up an octave. In fact, it’s hard to find a better example of the Whammy’s metallic, otherworldly sound than this track!
However, the Whammy also saw a lot of work as a chordal tool, and for accompaniment during this period for the band. This effect was particularly prominent throughout the rest of The Bends, and the band’s follow-up album: 1997’s OK Computer.
On that LP, the Whammy played a role in the backing instrumentation. You can hear it throughout “Paranoid Android,” where Ed O’Brien uses it to shift his guitar up underneath Thom Yorke’s vocals. This lends the track a spacey, ethereal vibe and shifts the song’s center of gravity up an octave or two — it’s a perfect contrast to the grinding bass rhythm.
It’s also used to provide space and texture to the lead riff on “Subterranean Homesick Alien.” Once again, this is a feature that the modern Whammy V excels at — if you want a pedal that will respond with consistently outstanding pitch-bending effets, it’s hard to top this pedal and its characteristic sound.
There’s been no drop-off in the sounds of the pedal over the years, thankfully. In contrast with the struggles of the technology in the earlier editions, the Whammy V continues to hone and refine the features that made the unit famous, without ever sacrificing the core of the pedal’s appeal.
If you’re in the market for a pitch-shifting pedal, the Whammy V is one of the best options that you can check out. Simply put, it’s a fantastic pedal that deserves a look from every player, no matter which styles of music you like to play. Our review of this unit gives it a full endorsement for all of the players out there to use.
Digitech Whammy IV
Of course, the Whammy V is a great pedal. However, the Digitech Whammy V is also too expensive for some players to get their hands on. In those situations, it’s helpful to take a look at Digitech’s Whammy IV, which is the previous incarnation of the same pedal. If you’re on a budget but still want the Whammy tone, it’s one of the best alternatives you can find for cheap.
The Whammy IV maintains a lot of the same features as the Whammy IV. It’s got nearly all of the same pitch-shifting tools as the Whammy V, with just a couple of differences. Overall, these distinctions don’t change the key features of the pedal, but they are helpful to know before you decide to buy.
The first difference is the limited number of Whammy effect options. While the Whammy IV preserves all of the same harmony settings as the Whammy V, the earlier version doesn’t have as many ways to actually shift your pitch alone with the expression pedal. The fewer settings lead to a more pronounced Whammy shifting effect, but without as much complexity.
The remaining options allow you to shift your pitch either up or down, by one octave or two octaves. This gives you a wide total range, with a simpler set of choices. You can’t, for example, use the Whammy effect to shift your pitch up or down a fifth, outside of the harmony settings.
Like the Whammy V, the Whammy IV contains a “second down” setting — on this unit, it’s named “drop tune” instead. This takes the pitch of your guitar down by a second interval, which simulates the effect of tuning your guitar down a whole step.
Of course, that might be a niche effect for some players, but it’s a useful feature to have up your sleeve. Unfortunately, the Whammy IV does not include the “second up” feature of the Whammy V, which took your tuning up two frets in the opposite direction, for a tighter sound similar to using a capo. 2
Thankfully, there are also dedicated settings for the most famous Whammy effect in its history: the dive bomb. This has been a favorite tool of guitarists since the pedal’s first version, because it combines the aggression and attack of heavier pedals with a unique, spacey vibe. The special setting makes it easy to achieve this classic effect with just the flick of a switch.
Overall, if you want the full-size Whammy sound and feel without paying quite as much cash, the Whammy IV is the best alternative on the market to the Whammy V. It’s got the essential expression pedal, and it’s comfortable with most of the settings of the Whammy V. Using this instead is just a good way to save money and add some vintage flair to your pedal rig.
One new product in the Digitech Whammy lineup is the Whammy Ricochet. Unlike the Whammy V and Whammy IV, which both include expression pedals, the Whammy Ricochet offers a stripped-down version of the pedal. This preserves the key features of the pedal’s design, but gets rid of the expression pedal to make it fit in a chassis that’s basically standard size.
Out of the gate, we should mention that this doesn’t do exactly everything that the full-size Whammy does. In other words, if you purchase this pedal you won’t get the full-size Whammy just “minus the expression pedal.” However, it does preserve the features that made the original Whammy great — and for a much lower price and size, it’s a tempting option for many players.
Reviewing the Whammy Ricochet is definitely a unique task compared to the original unit. Taking away the expression pedal changes the player’s mechanisms of interacting with the pedal completely. With the Ricochet, there’s no way to hold your foot over the treadle and softly sweep through the different sections of the effect.
If you love the Whammy series of pedals and want the best pitch-shifting effect that you can find, the Ricochet might not be the right pick for you. It’s just too simple, and the lack of an expression pedal makes it very difficult to manipulate and make it truly your own.
On the other hand, for guitarists who just want a taste of what the Whammy pedal can do, it’s almost impossible to beat out the Whammy Ricochet’s combination of price, build quality, and value.
The Ricochet provides all of the core features of the full-size Whammy effect –shifting your pitch both up and down — but instead of using an expression pedal to alter the characteristics of the effect in real time, you control it via a set of concentric knobs.
One knob controls the rate at which the pedal changes your pitch up or down, while the other knob controls the “return” — or the time it takes for your pitch to return to normal. These knobs can be overridden through the “momentary” switch. If you turn the switch on, your pitch will move to the shifted sound immediately, without any shift or return.
To use the pitch shifting, you just need to press your foot down on the footswitch and the effect will engage. Keep pressing your foot down on the pedal to hear the effect continue. There’s a line of “trajectory” LEDs on the left side of the pedal, which come in very handy to help you gauge where your pitch is shifting and how quickly it’s getting to the full tone of the effect.
You can also lock your pitch to rise or fall with the latching footswitch. When you engage this mode, you can take your foot off of the footswitch and the pitch will continue to rise or fall (whichever mode you set it to).
Final Verdicts & Conclusion
The Whammy series of pedals is one of the most famous lines of pitch-shifting units in history. From the very first incarnation of the Whammy, guitarists around the world have loved to use this pedal for an array of wacky, spaced-out tones. And even today, it continues to deliver.
The Whammy V is a thoughtful update on a modern classic, with plenty of astute new features and tracking that’s been further improved from the (already very good) previous editions. If you want a pitch-shifter pedal, look no further than this model!
For players on a budget, the Whammy IV offers almost all of the same effects as its newer cousin. The Whammy IV’s voicing is a bit different, and it’s not quite as reliable with the tracking, but it’s still a fantastic pedal in its own right. We would pick the Whammy V if money was no option, but considering the price differential the Whammy IV is a very tempting alternative.
Finally, the Whammy Ricochet captures most of what makes the Whammy pedal great and puts it in a much smaller enclosure. This makes it a lot easier to fit on your board, and it drives the cost down by removing the bulky expression treadle built into the pedal. It’s not a full-size Whammy experience, but for its price and size it’s a fantastic introduction to the sound.
No matter what type of guitar music you play, you can use a Digitech Whammy on your board. Go ahead and check out the Whammy pedals that we’ve discussed! You might just find yourself one of your favorite new pedals of all time.