Few guitar effects—or musical instruments, for that matter— made as much impact on arrival as the wah pedal. And at the feet of Hendrix, Clapton, Mayfield, and Wah Wah Watson, it helped define the sound of ’60s guitar and ’70s funk. Brad Plunkett created the original circuit in the late ’60s as a replacement for the MRB (mid range boost) switches on a Vox amplifier. But when the switch was replaced by a potentiometer and the circuit placed in an organ’s volume pedal, Plunkett’s creation became a history- making, tone-altering monster.
It didn’t take long for wah to mutate into an effect of a thousand flavors. And perhaps nowhere does the rainbow of wah sounds exist in more numerous colors than in the Jim Dunlop line. Dunlop has developed signature pedals to suit Kirk Hammett, Jerry Cantrell, Slash, Zakk Wylde, and Eddie Van Halen, as well as Jimi Hendrix signature wahs built to the spec of his original Thomas Organ-designed unit. Now, Dunlop has honored bluesrock legend Joe Bonamassa with his own signature wah, the JB95, which is modeled on his custom wah and packed with special modifications to capture his distinctly vintage tone.
Canary in a Copper Mine
Like his signature Fuzz Face, Bonamassa’s JB95 Cry Baby sports a shiny copper rocker—a very eyecatching and luxurious touch. The top surface is a textured rubber pad. The lower half of the JB95 is done up in a sleek, gloss-black finish. It’s a hefty unit on the whole, and if you’ve ever had a regular Cry Baby that seemed to last through droughts, hurricanes, and a million beer-soaked bar gigs in its lifetime, this one feels built to last twice as long.
Inside the JB95, things look every bit as sturdy and precise. The 9V battery compartment is secured to the bottom plate and can be accessed without removing all four screws, though a standard barrel adaptor may also be used for power. One of the most critical components in Bonamassa’s signature wah is the halo inductor. Halos appeared in the early Vox wahs and are considered one of the keys to their rich, vocal capability. And while debate rages among wah heads about the true significance of inductors in the overall tone of a wah, many regard the halo as an indispensable part of the best vintage-wah sounds.
You’ll also find a unique truebypass toggle inside that allows you to switch the operation on and off. Apparently, Mr. Bonamassa prefers the coloration achieved without true bypass. Thankfully for true-bypass adherents, this pedal gives you an option.
Sweep for Days
With a mini humbuckerequipped Epiphone Firebird, a Stratocaster, and a range of amps from a 13-watt Fender Excelsior to a Twin Reverb, the Bonamassa seemed at home and capable regardless of the amp/guitar combination. Leaving the wah in nontrue- bypass mode means you can engage the on/off switch almost noiselessly. Once the JB95 is on, it’s hard not to be drawn right into the sweet, high-end range of the pedal’s sweep, which has the pleasing whine and longing tones of a permed and SG-wielding Clapton. Rocking back to the heel position plummets you deep into a cavernous low end that turns in a throaty bellow when coupled with an overdrive or a saturated tube amp. The bassiest tones aren’t quite as low as say, a vintage Macari, but the range of frequency modulation is astounding, and it may take you some time and a delicate touch to get used to micromanaging the rocker if you’re accustomed to a ham-fisted potentiometer of a cheaper wah.
Wide, expressive sweep. Sweet, low and high end.
No additional tone-tweaking controls beyond standard wah treadle.
The Bonamassa wah was designed with an output buffer so it would work better with fuzzes (and Fuzz Faces in particular). All too often you dial in a fuzz tone that’s perfect, only to have your wah suck the character entirely. But both a NYC Big Muff and Fuzzrite clone retained their respective voices and the JB95’s sweep-accentuating frequencies in a manner that seemed to work hand in hand with the fuzz. Switching the toggle into true bypass gives the tone a touch more high end which worked fine with the Muff, but was a bit brittle for the already trebly Fuzzrite.
Dunlop might not be able to talk a vintage-wah fiend out of shelling out hundreds of dollars on eBay for a vintage Vox or Cry Baby. Any player that’s less obsessive about such matters (or nonflush with cash), however, should give the Bonamassa JB95 a spin. It’s suitable for just about any amp, pickup, and pedal combination, provided you set up your chain right. And details like the halo inductor help get you very close to the specs of a vintage unit. But more importantly, the Bonamassa performs in so many of the ways that make purists long for a vintage wah—long and expressive sweeps, deep lows, and rich, high end. The $169 street price isn’t pocket change, but given the quality, the brilliant tones, and what you could pay for a vintage unit or highend clone, the Bonamassa Cry Baby is a bargain.
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from Dunlop site
Whether he’s blazing through the blues on his own or rocking with Black Country Communion, Joe Bonamassa’s playing is fiery, deep, and powerful. And when he really wants to express himself in a solo, he steps on a Cry Baby wah. That’s why we at Dunlop worked with Joe to develop the Joe Bonamassa Signature Cry Baby, specially engineered to fit in perfectly with Joe’s system, from the way it looks to the way it sounds. On the outside, it sports a classy copper top with a smooth-finish black body. On the inside, it features large, vintage-style thru-hole components, a Halo inductor (for added harmonic content), an output buffer (to prevent impedance imbalance with vintage fuzz pedals), and a switch for true-bypass or non-true-bypass operation (Joe prefers non-True Bypass as it darkens the high end). With its huge vocal sweep range, this is one of the most expressive Cry Babys ever, and it’s Joe’s tool of choice to accentuate every soulful bend and bluesy wail. “The first pedal I ever purchased was a Cry Baby, 25 years ago,” he says. “I am so honored to have my name on this pedal and hope it brings you as much fun as it brings me every night on stage.”
We worked with Joe to develop the JB95 Joe Bonamassa Signature Cry Baby, based on a custom wah wah built by Jeorge Tripps to Joe’s specifications so that it could be easily integrated into the vintage aesthetic of his rig. It sports a classy copper top and smooth-finish black body to fit perfectly with the copper finish of the Joe Bonamassa Signature Fuzz Face. What really sets Joe’s Cry Baby apart from others, though, are its guts. We sat down with Jeorge Tripps and asked him a few questions about the latest addition to the Cry Baby family. What was the design process for the Joe Bonamassa Signature Cry Baby? Well, this whole project started when I was working with Joe on his Signature Fuzz Face and I noticed he was using a vintage wah wah. I asked him what he liked about it so that I could give him a Cry Baby with all of that and more. I had him try all of our different Cry Babys and we noted what he liked about this or that pedal. I had a handful of prototype Halo inductors that Dunlop R&D Director Sam McRae made, so I put one of those in there. Joe loved the final product. How did the halo inductor change the sound of the Cry Baby? Halo inductors give the Cry Baby a very throaty, punchy tone and allow for a very wide sweep. The sweep on this Cry Baby is one of the widest out there—it’s incredibly expressive. What did you add for the official signature model? Well, Joe isn’t a big true bypass guy, he prefers the high end roll off that non-true bypass brings—that darker sound you get. But a lot of players don’t like their tone to be colored that way, so we added a switch on the inside that toggles between true bypass and non-true bypass – See more at: http://www.jimdunlop.com/blog/inside-story-joe-bonamassa-signature-cry-baby/#sthash.B52Fkujs.dpuf
And go pick up Joe’s latest album, Dust Bowl, to hear the Joe Bonamassa Signature Cry Baby in action, particularly on the track “You Better Watch Yourself.” – See more at: http://www.jimdunlop.com/blog/inside-story-joe-bonamassa-signature-cry-baby/#sthash.B52Fkujs.dpuf
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JB 95 Wah manual: JB95_V2
Vintage Guitar Gear review: DUNLOPAPR2012
Guitar Player fever stompbox: gp1012-JB95_EJF1