Monday, January 14, 2013

The Obama Wah: The “Yes We Can” Wah?

First saw the product and its advert back in 2009, but is the Obama Wah truly qualifies as the “Yes we can!” electric guitar effects wah? 

By: Ringo Bones

More recent adverts of the said product now run a disclaimer by the manufacturer that the product is not meant to be political, but does the Obama Wah truly qualify as the can do “Yes we can!” slogan of it’s political namesake who just got reelected to a second term in office during the 2012 US Presidential Elections back in November 2012? After all, there are already myriads of external 9-volt (pp3) battery-operated guitar effects already out there that another one could be just as useful as an another hole in one’s head?

The Obama Wah is currently distributed by Big John Music and you can buy one online at And according to the distributor, this truly unique effect is built point-to-point by hand in Belgium and has a 119 UK pound list price. Basically, it is comprised of two separate guitar effects in one box – a wah-filter and distortion connected in series. And the combo – based on my first-hand listening and playing tests – really worked symbiotically that I really wished the Obama Wah or something like it was available back in 1992 because almost all distortion pedals and wah pedals that I connected in series (at least those that I can afford or fortunate enough to borrow) back then never worked “symbiotically” from an electric guitar musician’s perspective.

The Obama Wah’s distortion section has a volume knob and a gain knob – but the gain section actually works as a voltage controller usable for strange textures in the distortion end of knob twiddling. The wah effect is added to have a sort of an alternate tone control or for filter purposes. For all intents and purposes, the wah section of the Obama Wah is nothing more than a built-in single-band parametric equalizer – just like a good-old wah pedal.

According to the Big John Music advert: “The Big John Obama Wah is for all you guitarists and bassists out there that have been begging for a fixed wah pedal, featuring a voltage-controlled gain distortion and a separate sweepable filter. The Big John Obama Wah brings a whole new ball game to effects pedals.” Probably the most famous recording to have used the Obama Wah is the cocked wah guitar tone of In My Head by Queens of the Stone Age. And the manufacturer also notes that the Obama Wah also works great for analog synths – at least those who already figured out the right tone knob settings since the products introduction.

Even though my Obama Wah sample was a dead-set one that I recently fixed back to life after the previous owner tried to sell it to me for around 10 US dollars, though I finally talked him down to 3, tone-wise, it is truly a must have guitar effects pedal with a “can-do” – and dare I say it “Yes we can!” capability. Even its brand-new retail price seems like a steal in comparison to similarly-priced products already out there. For a product that’s built near the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, it does have a tone of a product made back when Jimi Hendrix was still alive and despite being made with contemporary bog standard electronic parts of reasonable quality, the Obama Wah seems to have a tone as if it is made with germanium transistors and germanium signal clipping diodes from 1966.

Though one way to improve the Obama Wah further – if you are fortunate enough to buy a pre-owned one whose manufacturer's warranty has already expired and you are confident of your own D.I.Y. electronic tinkering skills is to separate the power supply tap points of the distortion effects section and the wah section of the Obama Wah. Doing this tweak will allow you to use weak 9-volt batteries on the distortion section a la Duane Allman to obtain a pleasing effect on tone, but to keep the Obama Wah's "versatility" across all types of musical styles, the wah - or parametric equalizer section - should be fed fresh and healthy 9-volt batteries. Using one weak 9-volt battery on an unmodified Obama Wah only make it acquire an unduly harsh tone that’s only appropriate for “Death Metal” specific guitarists.  Given it is already quite good as is, I wonder which musicians / bands invited by US President Barack Obama will be using the Obama Wah during the Presidential Inauguration this coming January 21, 2013.