MXR MC404 CAE Wah by darkhorse
Designed in a joint venture between the MXR (Dunlop) CryBaby design team and legendary pedalboard designer and guru Bob Bradshaw (Custom Audio Electronics) ) it features a traditional heavy duty Crybaby framed Wah using true by pass wiring, versatile options and top grade components.
(Typical price approx. $170 US)
Featuring selectable dual (real) Fasel inductors, one (yellow)voiced to a more traditional wah voice, a (red) voiced to a darker centered wah. Each Fasel is selected via a side mounted kick or push switch which changes the side mount LED to "red" or "yellow". Real Fasel inductors are legendary and few pedals use them or can get them.
This wah sort of gives you the classical sense of the Crybaby but with modern true bypass and selection features. The switches are all high quality noiseless, and the side bumps made to hit with your foot to turn them on without having to bend over to adjust. A nice feature.
It also has an internal MXR MC401 Boost/Line Driver which serves to kick the output of the wah when on, but does not operate independently without the wah on. Boost is also selected via a side mounted kick or click switch, side mount "boost on" LED. Boost Level controlled by side mount knob, easy to nudge with your foot for a slight tweak if needed.
The POT is a special long life CTS potentiometer. A big concern for those of us who worry about wearing out the pot and getting noise. One reason I used several optic triggered wahs in the last years for no moving parts. There are also two internal pots stated for Q adjust and gain which are none to clear as to effect (more on these to follow).
Wahs are a fickle subject in the pedal board user arena. Despite what would seem to be a basic fundamental no frills or complex issues of a band pass filter to a pedal sweep, there seems to be a diverse issue with how they sound and how they play with other pedals. Some wahs sound good clean but not so great gained up, some sound better alone just into an amp, some sound better before or after gains and ODs.
Original wahs were notoriously not true bypass wired and some presented impedance issues against other effects. Crybaby models in particular had issues with some fuzz pedals. It is known that Hendrix used the Vox Wah pedal as the Crybaby presented problems in front of his Fuzz Face Distortion pedal.
Crybaby models have vastly changed over the years with many new signature models customizing the circuits, it would seem most of these are now true bypass wired. The advantage of the CAE MXR model is of course the true bypass wiring but also top shelf components, real classical legendary Fazel inductors, a long life pot and easy to alter and select side mount switches and a boost knob with bright LEDs to indicate all selections and wah, on/off.
Your basic wah of course, smooth range, typical all things crybaby, toe down on/off, the familiar feel and travel of the classical heavy gauge pedal. The CAE model seems to have been designed to adapt and fit into whatever placement or need the player might have in regard to a wah. I find it sounds fine clean or gained and the two inductor choices add to the voice options. I would say the “red” Fasel seems to like more gained and heavy tones while the “yellow” Fazel is a more traditional wah voice working well clean or dirty. The boost function adds to the overall push and intensity of the wah allowing it to come through more into an OD or gain. Boost might be too much on a clean wah.
All in all a really good wah, good voice and adaptable usage. I would not say it is the “best” because that is always a matter of the chemistry of your own rig and the interaction of your guitar and amp. That is why I gave it a 9 on sound, might be a 10 to some or less to another. I will say there is no doubt the CAE can work with your rig in whatever manner you place it and that seems to be the intent of the pedal, to provide a Wah that can adapt and sound good with whatever environment it is set. I am sure Bradshaw likes this wah as he can slap it in a board and get it to sound great no matter the config. He likes wahs after ODs or gains which differs from what I like or what most wah pedal users prefer.
First in chain is where I put my wah, I even have it before my front end high quality buffer pedal just to give it the true hi-Z signal from the guitar, seems to work better. I've had it on the other side of the buffer but I think it might be a little better in front, maybe my imagination, guitar players have notorious mythical hearing, I refer to Eric Johnson hearing battery differences or the different screw alloys in a cabinet. I am not going to go that far but some do.
That being said messing with the pots inside afforded me some odd results. The gain pot seemed to be set at an optimum place as turning it to what would be “more” brought forth an intense squeal and hum that was immediately a "turn it back to where it was" event. I did not mess with the Q pot much as at that moment as I worried I might mess the pedal up and off it from its apparent factory sweet spot settings.
I might venture to adjust the internal Q later on as the darker red fazel could be a little lighter in response for my rig. I have used a whole lot of wahs over the years, most did the deal. There are some really nice ones out these days, if you like the wah it is sort of a must have pedal despite I hardly ever kick mine on yet when it is not there you miss the option. If you want a wah and want to be sure it is going to work for you, then this is a good choice. You take your chances trying most effects, some might be "the tone' for your rig while others end up in the trade in collection. I cannot say I would never try another wah as there are a couple that peak my interest but I will keep this one just to have that sure thing available.
At any rate, a nice workhorse adaptable wah, top shelf components and design. There are a million wahs out there, really impossible to call one the “best”. This is a true dual Fasel inductor wah at true bypass with a long life pot. Delivers the goods even on a pro rig and you will see this wah with its circuit design top emboss on a lot of high end boards.