It was thanks to Captain Sensible of punk rock band The Damned that I found out what a wah-wah pedal was. I’d heard the sound many times, but didn’t know how it was produced. This was in the early ‘80s, long before the Internet, and information on guitar gear was hard to come by. But after accidentally leaving his pedal engaged at a live Damned gig, Sensible pitched into the guitar intro to Wait For The Blackout, then stopped abruptly and said: “I left my wah-wah on, what a wanker, eh!”. As he embarked on an impromptu, tongue-in-cheek process of listing ‘altogether more professional guitarists’ who would never have made a mistake like that (starting with Eddie Van Halen), I was thinking to myself: “Ah, a wah-wah. Must get one of those.”
Above: The Boss FT-2 Dynamic Filter with an old Boss Pocket Dictionary and a winter 1988 dealer price list. Note that both the FT-2 Dynamic Filter and the TW-1 Touch Wah are shown in the list - the FT-2 costing just £4 more, at £75. The FT-2 would be the obvious buy in technical terms, but the TW-1 was discontinued by this time, so may have had value to a collector.
I ended up getting a Cry Baby. But whilst it made the sounds I was looking for, I found it a total pain having to put in the footwork. Ideally, I wanted something that could make those wah-wah sounds without the constant manual effort. Feet, I thought, were for putting on foldback monitors and posing – and shouldn’t be rooted to a pedal. Subsequently, however, on the local live music scene of the mid ‘80s, I discovered the Boss T Wah (or Touch Wah) – the forerunner of the Dynamic Filter.
THE TOUCH WAH – FORERUNNER TO THE FT-2
The TW-1 Touch Wah – one of Boss’s early pedals – was a fantastic concept, automating the wah-wah effect based on the user’s playing technique. Simply, the volume of the guitar's signal altered the tonal filtering, and the inevitable variations in volume created as the guitarist played, generated an automated wah-wah. Once the pedal was engaged, there was no need for foot control. Brilliant.
The Touch Wah did, however, fall short of replicating the Cry Baby’s depth and personality, and the quality was compromised by quite an unpleasant high frequency edge, similar to the type of top end you’d hear in low sample-rate digital audio files. Boss even went as far as to recommend the use of an equalizer, post effect, as a measure to suppress the “unneeded high frequency bands”. They also seemed well aware of the Touch Wah’s loss of tonal substance, and suggested that the guitarist might mix the original signal in with the effect. This was an issue with wah-wah in general, and didn’t just apply to the TW-1, but it definitely seemed to irritate Boss enough to suggest a cure.
THE DYNAMIC FILTER
The FT-2 Dynamic Filter was a major update on the TW-1, and it addressed several of the earlier unit’s drawbacks. It continued to use the same basic method of automation, centering around a Sensitivity control to effectively tailor the pedal’s response to suit the user’s playing. Both units also had a directional setting (Up or Down), which determined the sweep of the wah in relation to the signal volume from the instrument.
But the Dynamic Filter addressed the TW-1’s tonal substance compromises by working on the harmonics rather than the entire frequency spectrum. This left the fundamental frequencies intact, eliminating the need to mix the raw signal back in. A Cutoff Frequency control made the Dynamic Filter very flexible indeed, and put a hell of a lot of control into the player’s hands. Not only was the Dynamic Filter better than the Touch Wah – it was also, arguably, better than an original wah-wah pedal. You could even control the wah precisely in a Manual mode, which turned the unit into an actual wah-wah, subject to the addition of an expression pedal.
There was only one problem. It was the mid '80s. And in the mid '80s, wah-wah effects were definitely not flavour of the month. It’s likely that Roland/Boss’s decision to cut the word “Wah” out of the unit’s model name had a lot to do with this. Dynamic Filter was a good name in that respect, because the sophistication of such a title was very ‘80s and may have helped the product connect with a new audience. But it was a bad name in that anyone actually looking for an automated wah may completely dismiss it.
In fact, so indifferent was the world to lure of wah-wah in the late ‘80s, that Boss stopped making auto wah pedals outright before the end of the decade, and didn’t restart until the early 1990s, beginning with the AW-2. This made the Dynamic Filter a very short-lived pedal indeed in production terms. Even though the Dynamic Filter was out of production by 1989, it remained on retailers' shelves in the UK throughout 1989 and 1990, and spring '90 was clearly a chronic low point for the auto wah concept, as the FT-2 was basically on sale at half price and still wouldn't shift. Prices did recover (although not fully) in the second half of the year, before the units finally sold out.
It was a shame the FT-2 came at such an unconducive time, because it was a great pedal. A guitarist in one local band, whom I first met in the ‘80s, used his Dynamic Filter throughout his many years with the group, and it would be fair to say that the FT-2 was a defining factor in their sound. In the end, the FT-2 was a brilliant product, but it came at the wrong time, with confused branding and marketing.
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