Steve Vai’s iconic signature wah pedal gets a limited edition overhaul to take up less pedalboard space, but look cooler while doing it. 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.

• ​Switchless operation
• ​Optical effect operation; no pots to wear out
• ​Vai and Contour modes
• ​Compact form factor
• ​Vai-designed artwork

•​ Simple operation; just rock it with your foot
•​ Two great-sounding modes
•​ Awesome ‘limited edition’ bragging rights

•​ The artwork is cool, but... No swirl?

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