18 July 2013

Pedal Effects: Area 51 Wah - First contact


The Wah is one of those few effects that allows your personality to shine in the sound. Most of effects, once set up, modify your sound in a single way but, wahs allow you to modify the effect in real time and, therefore, you are expressing yourself in real time.

Two people, playing same riff can dramatically change the intention when applying a wah. Sweep range, voice and rest of variables make one wah different from the other but, what makes them really different is the player.

We already discussed about the differences between wahs, in this past entry: Pedal effects: the Wah Effect.
You've guess it. I love wahs!.

But I am in the search of the right wah for a very very long time, since my old 80's wah was stolen, I've never had a wah that nailed the voice, the sweep range and the overall characteristics of that wah.

There are lot of people that just buys a cheap unit and, they are able to tweak it until they've got what they wanted. And, sure, maybe this is the way to go, if you are so skilled.
For those that aren't, to be in the market for a new wah to test is the common way.

Very satisfied overall with the sound of the Real McCoy RMC4 Picture wah, my complains where more related to its floor noise. Compared to a Vox 847A or a Roger Mayer Vision Wah, the RMC4 is noisy as hell and, tends to introduce lot of feedback when used with gain enough.

So, one more time, I was in the market again for a wah with all the good of the RMC4 and none of the bad. That search addressed me to the Area 51 Wah and, this entry is all about it.


This is a make-to-order boutique wah so, there is no available wah for you. Dan will build it to your particular specifications. The 'standard' waiting time is about 4 - 6 weeks but, unfortunately, mine took 8 weeks (two months), what was a bit frustrating.

Even that Dan is very friendly, he had some kind of personal issues during that period and, didn't answered my mails. When he answered back, he did it very correctly and was a pleasure to deal with him.

Once the wah is ready, shipping time is short, just 3 days from US to Spain.

But then, Customs enter in the game and you are sold. It took me one more month to clear customs duties and have the wah at home. So, overall, 3 months waiting for this Wah.

I was so upset that thought "I really hope this wah worths the waiting time, otherwise, I will burn it!".

If you are in the US, you are lucky and, your waiting time will be probably 4 to 6 weeks and, you will never have to fight against Custom's employees.

Wah Customizing

Dan is possibly the only boutique maker that allows you to choose every feature of the wah and, he build it to your specifications.

You can add a led, a buffer, a growl control, a quack control and a range selector. You can even order it as a lefy unit, for left-handed people. You can also select the color (5 different available).

After hearing lot of youtube videos, I was convinced that this probably was the wah I was after.
When I was filling in my order, I recognize that I firstly marked every option, very excited with the possibility to get the exact wah effect I was looking for.

But price, easily goes up and up, when you are adding options so, I've quiet myself and tought: "Let see. This wah should be designed to sound good with no additional tweaks so, what do I really need from all those options, if the sound is already there?".

In my honest opinion, there are just two options that were a must for me: the led and the buffer.

If you leave your wah switched on, usually you realize about it but, a led lets you to know if it is on or off at a glance.

The buffer is a must if you think to run a wah with a vintage fuzz. This is the only way you will get from your fuzz the right sound., since fuzz and wah compete to be the very first pedal in your pedal board.
Fortunately, Area 51 buffer is internally switchable on and off (with a microswitch inside). So, if you order it with a buffer, you can switch it on or off at any time.

To be honest, I don't like this "Martelle" paint finish. Even that some colors could be attractive, that Martelle make them to look odd. A plain (or metalized) color paint could have a more attractive look, IMHO.
In my case, since Dan had issues with his paint provider, he sent me a "custom grey" color:  metalized grey!!!.

Martelle paint was fashion during the 80's but, not nowadays. I hate the look of my Hudson Electronics Stroll On fuzz, because it has same kind of finish and, looks ugly compared to rest of the pedalboard.

But seriously, color or look didn't matter to me. The only I really wanted was the sound and sweep.
Has it those?.

The Sound - First contact

Voltage again, my son

As any other pedal I buy, the fire test is to try it inserted in my pedal chain. If it reacts accordingly with rest of the pedal board, the new one is very well welcome. Otherwise, even if it is an outstanding unit, I must remove it from the pedal board, to not compromise my sound.

As every time a new pedal comes, I've read maker' specifications and, had to review again the DC output assignations for each pedal, to balance the drain in both Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus units.

One of the techs notes that called my attention, when reading the short explanation that comes with the pedal, is that this pedal will provide a nice sound if AT LEAST 9V are being provided.
If you are following my blog entries, you will remember how inconsistent is my mains voltage and, how hard it affects to the whole rig and, that's one of the main reasons why I've decided to go for Weehbo effects.

To be sure I am delivering at least 9V to this unit, I've toggled the micro dip switch of the Pedal Power 2 Plus unit to feed this wah at 12.3V (any of the outputs between 1 and 4).

This 12V recommended value took my attention. When I was discussing with Eike (Weehbo Effekte) if, his Bastard distortion pedal will sound better at 18V (as the Dumbledore, JCM Drive and PlexDrive do), he told me that not really but, that he personally likes the Bastard at 12V.

Well, at 12V is how I am currently running Wampler Ego Compressor, Wampler Decibel+ Buffer/Booster and how I've planned to run the Weehbo Bastard Distortion (in a near future). And, after reading the tech note from Dan, I've decided to run the Area 51 at 12V, as well.

All that discussion about voltage is to let you know that I am not sure if this is what made it to sound so good. I don't know if I was running the RMC4 at same voltage if I would get same results. Honestly, not tested by now. I don't know if it was a key decision or, if it just was one more drop in the cup of the tone.
Anything I am describing below is related to how it worked at 12V.

How it compares to...

Let me clearly state this: this is a plug & play wah. I didn't feel in the need of tweaking anything else to make it better. It works awesomely stock and, totally suits my needs, in every single sense.

Basses are guttural and deep but, without messing and masking the sound as in other units. Very vocal sounding. You can tweak the shape of basses with the option "Growl control" but, as it comes standard, I absolutely love it.

Trebles are well represented but doesn't go piercing and thin, as in the case of the Vox 847A or (in less measure) the RMC4. Just the right amount of trebles, just the right amount of basses.

Sweep range is just perfect for my foot. The three "main areas" of the sweep, basses, resonance mids and trebles cover a nice range and, doesn't go so extreme that you can hate any of those areas in particular. All them have the right amount, nothing less, nothing more.

The "transition knee". That borders between the three "main areas" are, sometimes, very distinctive in some wah units (as the Vox 847A), what produces a dramatically change when crossing every border. In the case of the Area 51, that "transition knee" is soft and smooth, no "chask".

Respect of the voice, I would say this is an "enhanced" version of the RMC4. Bottom line is very similar but, in my opinion, every frequency range is better represented, avoiding extremes and, making it softer or even EQ'd.

Respect of signal strength, the signal is full bodied, as the Vision Wah (with the booster in the right position) and, doesn't sound weak (as in the case of the Vox 847 and, in less measure of the RMC4).

Well, probably "crazy tweakers" will be very happy with all the available options but, I just prefer simple operating pedals that deliver an outstanding sound and, that's what I am getting with the standard Area 51, as it was designed.

One of the thing I was discussing with Dan is the quietness of the wah, when switched on. I've let him know that, even that I loved the voice of my RMC4, the main issue I had and, why I was in the market again for a wah was the floor noise of the RMC4 and, I've asked him how the floor noise was in the Area 51.
He answered: "I took lot of attention to this. My wah is quiet enough but, take into account that as per design any wah will introduce some floor noise".

So, what about its floor noise?. Awesome!. It's so quiet as the Vox 847A or the Roger Mayer Vision Wah and, way quieter than the RMC4.

I've tested it with some backing tracks, alone and before some overdrives (Weehbo JCM Drive, Plextortion and Dumbledore) and before a vibe effect (Dry Bell Vibe Machine V1.0) and, results were fully satisfactory.

I need to test it deeper for several weeks until I have the final decision but, I am having same sensations I had with my good scores, as the Vox Night Train, the Marshall 1923C, VHT Special 6 Ultra, Strymon El Capistan, Dry Bell Vibe Machine or my Weehbo effects.
It seems like this time I really have THE WAH.

Video / Demo ?

Not right now. There are videos enough available in youtube that demo the sound of this unit alone.
You will probably hear it in my future videos, since it's now in my pedalboard to be a keeper (I hope, my last wah).

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