The Thomas Vox "Clyde McCoy" Wah-Wah Pedal - 1967
The History of the Development of the Original Vox Wah Pedal


Introduced in 1967, the "Vox Clyde McCoy Wah-Wah Pedal" was the original wah pedal, designed by the Thomas Organ Company of Sepulveda CA. It was initially built at the Thomas Organ facility in California before production was moved to Italy. Two versions were produced. The base plate of the earlier version featured a line drawing of jazz trumpeter Clyde McCoy (see above). The later version replaced the image of McCoy on the base plate with the name "Clyde McCoy" in bold cursive script.

The Clyde McCoy Wah-Wah pedal was powered by a nine volt battery and featured a 500mH "halo" inductor. 100kΩ audio taper potentiometers were sourced from either ICAR in Italy, Centralab or Allen Bradley. The photo at left is courtesy Spacetone Music, San Antonio TX.

The History of the Vox Wah-Wah Pedal
The history of the development of the wah-wah pedal starts in 1964, three years prior to its introduction.

Riding the wave of the British Invasion in 1964, Jennings Musical Instruments (JMI) of Dartford, Kent UK looked for distributors to offer Vox products throughout the world. JMI appointed the Thomas Organ Company of Sepulveda CA to handle Vox distribution for the North American market in the fall of 1964. Not all went smoothly. Due to the intense worldwide demand for Vox gear, JMI was able to supply only a small fraction of the inventory needed to satisfy the needs of the North American marketplace. Thomas also found that the high cost of importing Vox gear from the UK severely limited profitability. By mid 1965, Thomas Organ entered into talks with JMI to address these issues.

A new deal was struck between JMI and Thomas Organ as a result of these discussions. Thomas Organ purchased the North American trademark rights for the Vox brand from JMI. This gave Thomas full and unrestricted autonomy to design and manufacture Vox products in the US without any licensing fees or oversight from JMI. After the agreement was finalized, the importation of Vox products from JMI to Thomas Organ effectively ceased.

Now in charge of their own destiny, Thomas Organ wanted to free itself from the costly, labor intensive hand-wired tube circuitry used in UK made Vox amps. A conversion to modular solid-state circuits and printed circuit board construction offered Thomas significant cost savings. Thomas Organ introduced the only hand-wired tube amplifiers they would ever produce in their September 1, 1965 price list: the V-1 Pacemaker, V-2 Pathfinder, V-3 Cambridge Reverb, V5 Student and V-8 Berkeley Super Reverb Twin. These five models were offered briefly to buy time for Thomas Organ to complete the development of an all solid-state Vox amplifier line.

JMI Vox Lead Engineer Dick Denney Visits Thomas Organ - October 1965
By mid October, 1965, the engineering department at Thomas Organ was making progress on the new solid-state Vox amplifier designs they planned to introduce for the North American market. Thomas Organ invited Dick Denney, lead engineer for JMI Vox, for a visit to their design lab in California to evaluate and critique these new designs. Denney's visit extended from October 18, 1965 to November 4, 1965.

MRB
During his October 1965 visit to Thomas Organ, Thomas revealed a new three channel solid-state guitar preamp/control module to Denney that included a plethora of features. One was a Thomas innovation called "MRB." MRB was an acronym for Mid Range Resonant Boost, a tonal effect included in the "Brilliant" channel of the new solid state preamp/control module. The "MRB Effects" control offered a significant boost in mid-range response at one of three selectable frequencies: ~500hz, ~700hz or ~1000 hz.


At the heart of MRB was a "LC circuit" that combined a 500mh inductor with one of three capacitors that were selected from the three position "MRB Effects" switch. The combination of inductor coil and selected capacitor caused the MRB circuit to resonate, accenting a particular mid range frequency.

In a letter written after Denney's return to the UK on November 4, 1965, Stan Cutler, head engineer at Thomas Organ introduced the MRB circuit to Tom Jennings, president of JMI Vox. Cutler stated: "Tone control circuits, and in particular a [mid-range] resonant-type of boost circuit used in the treble [brilliant] channel, were examined and judged to be satisfactory. The [mid-range] resonant boost feature may represent a new sound in guitar amplifiers and can be carried to any degree of variety by providing multiple switch positions in which different effects may be obtained."

Cutler also makes note of a "wah-wah" effect that was observed when toggling between MRB switch positions: "An interesting wah-wah effect is obtained by operating the boost switch between the two positions. A remote control for this at the guitar would be novel, however, the cost and complication would probably be high." This observation by Cutler foreshadowed a minor modification to the MRB circuit that would give birth to the wah-wah pedal a year later.

The entire text of the letter from Stan Cutler to Tom Jennings was printed on pages 141 - 146 of the "The Vox Story," published by Bold Strummer in 1993 and written by David Peterson and Dick Denney.

Common Misconceptions Regarding the Origin of MRB
It has been commonly reported that Thomas Organ adapted the MRB circuit found in tube JMI Vox amplifiers (particularly the AC-100) for use in their solid-state Vox amps. Some have attributed the design of the MRB circuit and the Wah-Wah pedal to JMI lead engineer Dick Denney. All of these statements are untrue.

MRB was not included in the design of any JMI Vox tube amp. In fact, the first appearance of MRB in a UK produced Vox amp was in the solid-state Virtuoso, Conqueror, Defiant and Supreme amplifiers introduced in mid 1967, two years after the first US Vox amps with MRB rolled off the assembly line.

Further proof that Thomas Organ developed the MRB circuit is provided in the November 4, 1965 letter cited above from Thomas head engineer Stan Cutler to JMI president Tom Jennings. This letter was published in a 1993 book co-written and published by Dick Denney himself, giving all credit to Thomas Organ for the design of the MRB circuit.

A "Sweepable" MRB Circuit
Ever conscious of reducing manufacturing costs, Thomas Organ assigned one of their young engineers, Brad Plunkett, to redesign the MRB circuit to replace the expensive three-position MRB Effects switch with a rotary potentiometer. In addition to eliminating the pricey three-position MRB rotary switch, substituting a rotary control would allow the MRB to be "swept" to an exact mid-frequency. Lester Kushner, a senior engineer at Thomas/Warwick, advised Plunkett that a properly tuned "Armstrong oscillator" circuit might accomplish the desired frequency sweep.

In a video documentary by Guard House Pictures entitled, "Cry-Baby, the Pedal that Rocked the World," Brad Plunkett stated that after he completed the prototype for the continuously variable MRB circuit, he asked a friend, John McGlennon, to bring a guitar to his work bench to test the circuit. Both were surprised and excited to hear the results. Plunkett then installed the variable MRB circuit into a Vox organ volume pedal to allow a guitarist to sweep the mid-frequency boost by rocking his foot on the pedal. This would simulate the "wow-wow" effect of a trumpet with a harmon mute. Vox guitar demonstrator and clinician Del Casher claims to have offered Plunkett advice in the tone and frequency sweep of the pedal.

Although the original intention was to design a circuit that would replace the three-position MRB Effects switch with a variable control, it resulted in the birth of the Wah-Wah pedal.


Del Casher demonstrated his guitar through the Wah-Wah to the sales and marketing executives at Thomas Organ. All recognized that the Wah-Wah had great sales potential. However, Joe Benaron, the president of Thomas Organ, had a different vision for the Wah-Wah that didn't involve guitar.

Vox Ampliphonic
Not content to limit themselves to the combo market, Thomas Organ developed a line of Vox "Ampliphonic" products aimed at the band and orchestra market. Vox branded brass, woodwind and stringed instruments were offered with electronic pickups for connection to amplified music stands faced with black Vox diamond grill cloth. Effects processors such as the
Vox Octavoice and Vox Stereo Multivoice allowed a musician to electronically drop the amplified pitch of their trumpet or clarinet by one or two octaves. Thomas Organ even organized the thirteen piece "Bill Page and his Ampliphonic Band" to promote the Vox Ampliphonic line.

When Joe Benaron, president of Thomas Organ, heard Del Casher's demonstration of the prototype Wah-Wah pedal with a guitar, it reminded Benaron of big-band trumpeter Clyde McCoy. McCoy was the master of the "wah" trumpet style and had a hit in the 1930's with the song "Sugar Blues." Benaron was convinced that the Wah-Wah pedal should be offered in the Vox Ampliphonic line as an accessory for brass instruments.


"Sugar Blues" by Clyde McCoy

By 1967, Clyde McCoy was living in Memphis and had invested in a venture with his brothers-in-law, Allin and Frank Means, to franchise IHOP (International House of Pancakes) restaurants in Tennessee. Thomas Organ reportedly offered McCoy $500 in exchange for the right to use his name on the Wah-Wah pedal. McCoy accepted the payment, and in all likelihood, never tried the Wah-Wah pedal that bore his name.

Promotional Record For the Vox Wah-Wah
Some at Thomas Organ, including Del Casher, disagreed with Joe Benaron's decision to limit the promotion of the Wah-Wah to the Vox Ampliphonic line. To that end, Casher collaborated on a promotional recording that demonstrated the capabilities of the Vox Wah for guitar. Dated February 1967, this "punch out" paper record was distributed to Vox dealers throughout North America.

It didn't take long for Thomas Organ to realize that the true sales potential for the Wah-Wah was as a guitar effect, making the affiliation with an aging big-band leader irrelevant. Thomas Organ soon dropped the Clyde McCoy name from the pedal, simply renaming it the Vox V846 Wah-Wah. As a result, not that many pedals were produced bearing the Clyde McCoy name, making them quite collectible today.

Patent #3,530,224
On February 24, 1967, Thomas Organ applied for a US patent for the "Foot Controlled Continuously Variable Preference Circuit for Musical Instruments" (wah pedal), listing Bradley J Plunkett and Lester L. Kushner as the inventors. A patent was granted to Thomas Organ on September 22, 1970 (see patent abstracts below).

Merely applying for a patent offers no protection against your competition copying your invention. Before long, Gibson introduced their version of the wah pedal, the "Maestro Boomerang." Many others followed. Thomas Organ had an interesting response for those infringing on their design.


Vox Wah-Wah Promotional Record - 1967

Only authorized Vox dealers could offer the original Vox Wah-Wah pedal to their customers. However, this did not stop Thomas Organ from offering their wah pedal under a different brand name. Thomas stymied their competition by offering "Cry Baby" and "King Vox Wah" pedals to music stores not representing the Vox product line. The basic circuit design of the Crybaby and King Vox Wah pedals was identical to the original Vox Clyde McCoy and V846 Vox Wah-Wah.


Cry Baby Pedal
It has been misreported in various sources that the Vox Cry Baby pedal was introduced due to a disagreement between Thomas Organ and JMI. It was alleged that both were selling the Wah-Wah and neither wanted the other to have a pedal with the same name. For this reason, some have suggested that Thomas changed the name of their wah pedal in 1968 to the Cry Baby. This was not the case.


As explained above, Thomas introduced the Cry Baby simply because it gave them to opportunity to expand the market for wah pedals beyond their authorized Vox dealership base. The V846 Vox Wah-Wah pedal continued to be offered through the final Thomas Vox price list, dated February 2, 1970.

The UK Vox Wah-Wah
Contrary to common folklore, JMI lead engineer Dick Denney played no role in the invention of the Vox Wah pedal, as evidenced by the inventors listed in the patent application. Rather, in the spirit of collaboration with their British counterparts, Thomas shared the Wah-Wah circuit design with JMI, allowing JMI to produce their own wah pedals in the UK.


Unlike the Thomas version, the UK made JMI Vox pedal had a painted, rather than chrome plated rocker pedal and "Wah-Wah" decals on both sides.

JEN
Thomas Organ president Joe Benaron had long been a proponent of moving Vox production to Italy to save labor costs. Benaron and Italian importer Ennio Unchini set up JEN, a manufacturing plant to produce Vox products in Italy. JEN was an acronym of the first names of the founders Joe and Ennio.

A relatively small amount of Vox Wah-Wah and Thomas Crybaby pedals were built in the US in early 1967. After a brief production run by EME (Electtronica Musicale Europea) in Italy, Wah and Crybaby production moved to the JEN facility, also in Italy. JEN supplied Vox wah and fuzz pedals to Thomas Organ in America and for the JMI, VSEL, VSL and Dallas Vox eras in the UK.




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