is an album by Del Kacher
, released in 1979
Delton "Del" Kacher (aka "Casher"; born 1938, Hammond, Indiana) is an American guitarist and inventor. He invented the Wah-wah pedal
, the Ecco-Fonic, and the Fender Electronic Echo Chamber. He was the first to introduce the Roland Guitar Synthesizer for the Roland Corporation.
Kacher is an alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh where he majored in communications. After college, he moved to Hollywood and was invited to perform as the guitar and banjo soloist on the Lawrence Welk
Kacher was a popular studio guitarist in Hollywood. He appeared with Elvis Presley
in his movie Roustabout. Presley invited him for future engagements. Kacher appeared on Gene Autry'
s TV show. He also played with Eddy Arnold, Connie Francis, Bobby Vinton, Sonny and Cher, and the Mothers of Invention.
In the mid-1960s Thomas Organ Company acquired the Vox amplifier. Kacher was a guitarist and consultant for Vox. The solid state engineering staff at Thomas Organ converted the UK Vox amplifier into the US Vox solid state amplifier. To save costs, Vox had the Mid-Range Boost Switch redesigned into a variable tone control. As Kacher worked on the project, he discovered that when he moved the tone control from left to right on the amplifier, it created a "wah
" sound similar to a harmonica player cupping his hands around the microphone and harmonica. It enabled him to express a bluesy feeling on the electric guitar.
Casher asked the engineering team to have a breadboard with that circuit installed into a Vox organ volume pedal. This enabled him to play his guitar while moving the pedal. However, with the rich harmonics of the guitar, the sound was too harsh in the "bright" position and too muddy in the "mellow" position. With a little experimenting, Casher and the Vox engineering staff were able to create a sound similar to a trumpet "wah" mute. Vox saw no use for a "wah" sound for the guitar, believing it would be better for the electric trumpet. In 1967, after some negotiating, Vox agreed to have Del compose and release a record using the new Wah-wah pedal.
50 YEARS AGO THE WAH WAH, DEL KACHER, AND FRANK ZAPPA
“I had a nice garage studio at my place in the Hollywood Hills,” Casher recalls. “One day, Frank Zappa knocks on my door and says, ‘I hear you have a good studio.’ I’m looking at him, with the beard and the hair, wondering who he was.”
Zappa was on assignment to do a song for Roger Corman’s 1966 sci-fi flick Queen of Blood, and he needed an out-of-this-world sound. “Frank brought actress Florence Marly in, she’s singing these really wild lyrics, ‘Space Boy, Space Boy, sex without soul,’ and I thought it’d go nowhere fast.
“I started overdubbing my parts, and Frank says, ‘Make it as spacey and weird as you can.’ So I got my oscillator out, and soon the sounds were whizzing by, really weird and wild. And then Zappa says, ‘Can I overdub the drums now?’ And I thought this wacko is going to screw up everything I just did. In one take, he did it, it was perfect. We hit it off, and he invited me to join his band.”
Soon Casher was leading a double life, doing morning sessions for the squares who watched Autry’s Melody Ranch and at night sitting in with Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at the Whisky a Go-Go. “So I was doing the Hollywood music business from A to Z,” Casher quips.
But the wah was a hard sell, even to musicians who would later embrace it. “I played it for James Brown and he really liked my playing, but he didn’t understand the wah-wah at all,” Casher recalls. “He said, ‘Why the f*** would anyone want a guitar to do that?’ I tried to explain that it was a way to allow the guitar to really be expressive and reach people, like a voice, or a harmonica, to reach the soul. He didn’t see it. I mean, my conventional people who I worked for, Gene Autry, Lawrence Welk, you know, the suits, I couldn’t even try to use the wah with them — it was too weird, way out for them.
I called Frank Zappa and said, ‘I’m having a problem getting people to use it,’ and of course he took one. He was playing it in New York, and Jimi Hendrix heard it and asked him about it, so we made sure he got one. In ’67, Jimi was just getting started with his recording. He used it brilliantly, but it wasn’t until Jimi played it in the rain at Woodstock that everyone just went crazy for it. The rest is history.”
Hendrix would make the sound particularly notable in one chorus of “All Along the Watchtower.” In 1971, Isaac Hayes and Charles Pitts, a Memphis guitarist known as Skip, would use it on the “Shaft” theme. Mr. Casher remembers that when he first heard it, he was stunned. “They’d come up with this wacka-wacka-wacka sound by making the wah-wah move up and down like a cymbal,” he says. “You think you have it all figured out, and then someone comes up with more. I feel gratified that I was there at the beginning,” Mr. Casher says, noting that bands from Pearl Jam to U2 have recorded with the wah.
Casher says. “I still have that original prototype that Vox gave me, and I’d like to see it go into the Smithsonian or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s that significant.”
After this story was originally published online, I received an email from John W. Troutman, curator of American music at the Smithsonian Institution’s division of culture and the arts. He had read the piece and wanted Casher’s contact information. Subsequent exchanges between Casher and Troutman point to the Smithsonian’s impending acquisition of the inventor’s wah-wah pedal prototype.
“Over the last 50 years, only a handful of innovations have truly revolutionized the sound of the electric guitar,” Troutman wrote. “The wah-wah is one of them. It radically transformed the instrument’s voice in a slew of genres, and Del Casher stood at the pedal’s ground zero. Combine that claim to fame with the astonishing fact that Del held the guitar chair for both Lawrence Welk’s and Frank Zappa’s bands, and we find in his work a fascinating contribution to the pantheon of American music.”