The BOSS TW-1 T-Wah (a.k.a. the Touch Wah on the earliest versions) is my latest guitar toy. I’ve wanted an auto-filter for ages, mainly for playing Inca Roads and other FZ mid-70s vibes, and remembered that Larry Carlton used the TW-1 for a while in the 80s. (Having since revisited the clip where he shows the TW-1 on his board, he actually says he uses it every two years, and not to buy one, which is exactly the kind of perverted recommendation/warning that I like.)
I paid £55 for it on eBay, which I think is a pretty good deal for a MIJ BOSS pedal from Roland’s golden era (roughly 1978-85 in my estimation).
Powering vintage BOSS pedals
One slight annoyance about this and other old BOSS pedals is that they don’t use a standard PSA-type power supply. Apparently, the idea behind the power supply design was for you to daisy chain several pedals, so they are designed for an unregulated 12V input, and then step down the voltage internally so that there is plenty of juice for all the other pedals. So the pedal runs at 9V internally, has a connector for a 9V battery, but needs a 12V input.
If you plug in a 9V supply (as I have tried), you get a dim LED and the pedal doesn’t function quite fully as you’d like. After all, the 9V input is then running through the same stepdown circuit that was intended for the 12V input.
Elsewhere on the web it is stated that if you daisychain the pedal with other BOSS gear then you can use a normal 9V input as having a common ground will bypass the stepdown. I have tried this out and it is not true – I used the output from a TU-2 and the pedal behaved the same as if you plug a normal 9V input in. (Perhaps the output of the TU-2 is isolated from the input and the GND is not shared, therefore the stepdown is still engaged?)
Ultimately I connected the pedal to a 12V tap on my T-Rex Fuel Tank Chameleon and normal operation was restored (although there’s something wrong-feeling about plugging a BOSS pedal into a 12V supply).
I’ve really enjoyed playing this pedal so far. I got it for playing leads à la Inca Roads, which it does very nicely, but have also found it to perform well for rhythm parts as well (and not just the furious-right-hand-funk people always demonstrate with this type of pedal).
Because the filter is triggered by attack, you can keep it closed by using the volume control on your guitar, which can act as a proxy for the peak control. This reduces the amount of gain you have, of course.
One cool effect I found is hitting a chord with the volume on your guitar set low (so as not to open the filter), and then rolling the volume slowly up to full. As the volume increases, the filter doesn’t open but the gain increases – because the filter is still closed it’s like rolling in a very deep, menacing texture. Something akin to the volume swells early on in Forty-Six and Two, but darker.
There is a big difference in the behaviour of the pedal with active pickups, and I imagine the same would be true of humbuckers.
The down/up switch on the pedal is a nice feature, but the ‘down’ setting sounds strange to my ears (and not in a good way). The settings I have fixed on are ‘up’, and both ‘peak’ and ‘sens’ set to 12:00.
Like Larry Carlton says, you’re not going to use this pedal all the time, but I have found myself reaching for it much more than I thought I would. Because it is an inherently dynamic effect, it forces you to play as such, controlling the filter with your picking. This is the best kind of practise: the kind you don’t realise you’re doing (i.e. the not completely life-suckingly dull version).
In the negative column, it’s very much not true-bypass, and having it in the signal chain sucks tone on par with older Electro-Harmonix gear, which is not something I normally expect from BOSS, even their non-true-bypass pedals. (To be clear, this is not a pedal geek allergy to anything that’s not true-bypass – it’s a real deal problem.)
In summary, the TW-1 is a vintage pedal that sounds good, unlocks some cool new playing techniques, and makes you think more carefully about pick dynamics. With that, and the fact that it’s not wildly more expensive than a new DS-1, I can forgive the power supply idiosyncrasies and tone suck. If you see one for cheap and fancy something a bit different, go nuts.