1/11/2008 – Real McCoy Wahs Interview: Geoffrey Teese
Geoffrey Teese, world renown as the leading expert on wah pedals, takes a moment of his time to sit down with Six String Soul & discuss his new Joe Walsh signature model wah pedal, idiosyncrasies of the wah pedal design, some of his influences in both the gear & artist worlds, and a NEW wah model based on a wah from a “VERY” famous guitarist (due to be released in late 2008).
Hear a Real McCoy Wah: The Wizard Wah
SSS: You’re known as the authority on wah pedals. Yet, wah pedals seem very simple. What are some of the “extras” that go into your wah pedals to set them apart from others in the market?
G.Teese: Well, I don’t know about “the authority” – I sort of consider it just channeling or focusing my OCD. When I started doing my own thing, I was literally laughed out of some Los Angeles music stores with them saying, “Who needs a tunable wah-wah pedal?” The primary differences between my wahs and others are the sounds and tones that mine have. Everything I do, with the exception of the RMC4/Picture Wah, is an original sound that I had in my head. The RMC4 is a sonic reproduction of one particular old Italian Vox I repaired well over a decade ago. Other than the sound itself, I use the tightest tolerance modern components I can get. No NOS or “mojo” parts. I do include an output buffer licensed from Dave Fox of Foxrox Electronics in all my wahs now so they work well with most distortion units, but there are other people that have already copied that. Actually, there are people out there who have copied practically everything I do. Other people go so far as to modify the casing but don’t realize what a train-wreck that is. I choose to do things electronically, like designing a better potentiometer.
SSS: Do these improvements really make a difference?
G.Teese: I think the sound makes a definite difference. I’ve been a working guitarist for going on 40 years now and there are just certain sounds and textures that I like. The CTS pots that I used to use, and almost everybody else still uses, have some quality control issues that I just couldn’t get worked out by their engineers. You know, the early-in-life scratchiness, the short life-span. Those are things that aren’t supposed to be there and weren’t there in earlier years. I’ve actually been using custom CTS pots since the mid ‘90’s so I know the problems that all the other folks are going to be facing. There are no work-arounds with the CTS pots. They simply are not as good as they used to be and I’ve been forced to drop them as a supplier. Superior quality is more important than loyalty to a component manufacturer. You’re only as good as your weakest part. My new RMC ROC-POT5 is a sealed pot, not open like the CTS, and is ultra low-noise. You’d be surprised how much noise is actually being generated by the CTS pots. I know I was surprised when I compared the two pots. The new pot should last the lifetime of the wah and is standard in all of the Joe Walsh Signature Wahs and all of the new white tread RMC wahs. Of course, RMC owners can contact me and send in their RMC wah for one of the new pots at a low price. The new pots will not be mailed out for DIY installation. That will be done only by me.
SSS: When it comes to gear, many guitar players can hear things without being able to verbalize what’s actually going on electronically within the circuit. What are some of the idiosyncrasies of the wah circuit? In other words, what are some of the characteristic sonic traits of most wah pedals that people eventually find out, have to get used to, adapt to, grow to love, etc?
G.Teese: Oh man, talking tone is so hard – everybody seems to use different words for the same thing. With wahs, the basic thing is the sweep range – how low and how high it goes. Everything else falls within that sweep range – the low end emphasis, the quality of the mids, “haunting,” perhaps (that is a long-running joke that some people have taken way too seriously), the position of the resonant peak, the “quack factor”, and how quickly the tones change within the sweep.
SSS: Word on the street is that you’re coming out with a new signature model wah pedal. Can you tell us about this?
G.Teese: That is my new Joe Walsh Signature Wah. I started working with Joe when he put the James Gang back together in 2006. I used an RMC3 to get as close to the sound he wanted as possible, tweaking it as he said what he wanted different. I managed to get really close to the sound he wanted but I couldn’t quite nail it with the RMC3 at that point in time. I had only about 3 or 4 minutes during sound-check to get it right. Joe knows what he wants, and if its not “it” he won’t mince words and he won’t use it. A few months passed and my phone rang again with Joe’s guitar tech on the other end. Joe was curious if I had been able to get that last little something right. Of course, I had put a LOT of thought into it in the meantime and had figured out what to do in order to get that last little bit that Joe wanted. I told his tech that I was pretty sure that I had what Joe wanted and so I shipped the prototype out to him for the start of the Joe Walsh Band tour in the summer of 2007. The wah was on his pedal board at the very first rehearsal and has never left. Everybody in the Joe Walsh Band and crew couldn’t get over the fact that the wah sounded just like Joe’s old recordings. The smile on Joe’s face was priceless. He even uses it with the Eagles. He loves his wah and even told his tech call me during one of the Eagles shows at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles just to tell me again how much he loves it. That is the kind of thing that makes this whole business worthwhile.
SSS: What prompted this new wah model?
G.Teese: Simply put, Joe Walsh. When he first saw the prototype pedal with the sparkle blue metallic finish, he said “Man, where’s the flames?” So, there are flames on the production model. When I met up with Joe again I actually brought over a dozen flame samples with me so he could pick out what he liked and give the color scheme. There was one that caught his eye and so I had Perry Hall, a graphic artist and RMC user, work up a color rendition and I sent it to Joe for his approval. I also got Joe’s approval on the bottom plate silk-screening.
SSS: Any new wah models in the foreseeable future?
G.Teese: You bet. I plan on releasing my next model in late 2008. It will be a reproduction of a VERY famous wah-wah that I was fortunate enough to get inside of for a few minutes. Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific as I do not have the rights to use the guitarist’s name or likeness.
SSS: Talk to us about wah placement…before and after overdrives, fuzzes, distortions, modulation effects, compressors, etc. What’s your preferred placement?
G.Teese: My personal wah placement is right after the guitar. However, there is no “right” way, just what gives you the sound you like.
SSS: Any unique signal chain placements/tones you’ve achieved from your years of experience with the wah pedal? Most of us just go whacka-whacka, but since you know the wah pedal so thoroughly, surely you’ve gotten bored by now and have experimented a bit wildly, eh?
G.Teese: Well, I’ve used wah-wah pedals since the late ‘60’s so I’ve developed quite a “wah-foot” for lack of a better term. That gives me most of what I want but I do, from time to time, hook 2 wahs up together. I don’t rock them at the same time, there’s no piece of wood involved or anything like that. I just set one for a specific tonal shape and then use the other to wah off of that. I use 2 different models when I do the double wah thing. I can also get pseudo phase shifter and Leslie sounds out of my personal RMC3. That’s something that I don’t mention in my site description of the RMC3 as it takes a bit of tuning skill and good wah-foot. Those are just my own, personal tricks-things I’ve learned to do over the years.
SSS: Who are some of your favorite artists who use the wah pedal? What is it about their wah tone that you enjoy so much?
G.Teese: Jimi Hendrix, first and foremost. He used the wah in so many different ways. I also dig Mick Box from Uriah Heep and Roger Hodgson from Supertramp. Both of those guys have great wah-foot. They do a lot of tone shaping, not just whacka-whacka stuff. Joe Walsh, I’ve always loved his wah sound. The solo at the end of Walk Away just kills me. Brad Fernquist with the Goo Goo Dolls is another player that has really tasteful wah chops.
SSS: It seems like the basis of most guitar effect designs, these days, is based on classic designs from days past. The old Parapedal wah made by Tycobrahe (newer version being Chicago Iron’s Parachute Wah) is one of the only “unusual” wah designs, yet it’s not as popular as more classic vintage wah designs. Do you think the wah pedal has the potential to continue to evolve, or do you think it’s so specific in function that there’s “nothing new under the sun?”
G.Teese: Oh, I think there is still more that can be done. When I developed the RMC3 back in 1994, it was the first fully tunable wah pedal. I put in 5 tuning points into that model, but there are more tricks that I haven’t put in production pieces yet. There are cats out there that have started to copy my RMC3, but I don’t think they really “get it” – they’re just copying some of what I’ve done. I don’t think they have the “vision” that I do. I mean, the wah IS me. I’ve loved it since Brad Plunkett invented it. I’ve researched the hell out of it, long before the internet. Oh yeah man, there’s more…
SSS: Okay, now to get a little off-topic. The boutique guitar gear market has really exploded over the past 10 years. In your mind, what is the current state of this “Golden Age” of guitar equipment? Is it more difficult than it used to be with the increased competition? Do you think the increased competition is healthy for the market, driving more innovation?
G.Teese: I’m glad I started off in the early ‘90’s, with the blessings of Vox, Dunlop, and Brad Plunkett. I actually started off as the authorized vintage wah repair station for Vox and I learned a lot during that time before going out on my own. The competition is so fierce in the “boutique” market now. It seems like everybody is building the same things only they don’t tell you that their “magic box” is a Tube Screamer, or a Fuzz Face, or a Tone-Bender, or a Phase 90, or whatever. They make up some bozo product name and get some shills to hype it on the Internet music boards and make people think that they’ve just GOT to buy this “new” toy. Meanwhile, the musician already has a TS-9 or two, a Fuzz Face, and everything else. Internet shill hype is such bullshit. Man, I haven’t even advertised since 2000 or displayed at a NAMM show since 2001 and I don’t have shills on any kind of payroll or trade-out or anything. I don’t even have paid endorsees. All of the professional players that use my stuff do so because they sought my wahs out. I think there are VERY few innovators out there. I wish there was more creativity. There are WAY more wannabes that think they can get rich quick building some kits and selling them on the ‘net. Most of these “businesses” are just kitchen tables, a computer, and a snazzy website that proclaims them to be the “Next Big Thing.” Let me tell you, the effects business is anything BUT a get rich quick thing. If you want to do it for real, there are international laws that have to be followed. The consequences of not following those laws can be quite severe. But “kids” (I can say that – I’m getting bloody old these days) get stars in their eyes, a 5 dollar soldering iron in their hand and think they’re going to conquer the world. It simply is not that easy.
There are certainly a few “boutique” guys that I really admire. Bob Sweet and his Ultra-Vibe, he knows his skill and knows what a Vibe should sound like, and he’s one helluva friend in the business. Zach Vex. He’s changed his models to adapt with time without compromising tone, quality, or his vision. Some people, he rubs the wrong way, but he’s definitely earned my respect and I use his Box of Rock in my personal rig. His BoR is “tits on a blonde” – that’s alright to say, isn’t it? I’ve never met either of these guys face-to-face but I’m sure our paths will cross.
SSS: For anyone who’s followed the development of boutique pedals over the past 10-20 years knows that Teese wahs are “top of the line.” Congratulations on your success over the years! In closing, what do you think you would be doing had Real McCoy Custom not grown into what it is today?
G.Teese: Well, first off, I’d have a lot more time to be a working guitarist. I don’t get much playing time in anymore, and that is my first love. I’ve done so many things over the years that it is hard to predict what else I’d be doing. I’ve always dug rock-radio and used to be on the air in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, but the state of modern radio is crap. I’d have to be on something like Sirius Satellite Radio, but I don’t want to live in New York. Gee, I don’t really know. Hmmm, you want some fries with your order???
For more information on Real McCoy wah pedals, please visit www.realmccoycustom.com.