Jimi Hendrix’s Wah-wah Pedal and Amp in J. Levine’s New Year’s Day Auction
Scottsdale.com Interviewed Dave Weyer, famous “Amp Doctor” to rock stars, says Hendrix used wah-wah pedal at Woodstock and amp was used in early Experience days.
Photo by Antoine Gedroyc
A part of rock ‘n roll history will be auctioned on New Year’s Day when one of Jimi Hendrix’s treasured wah-wah pedals and an amplifier he used to record hit songs go up for auction at J. Levine Auction & Appraisal in Scottsdale. The consignor, famous “Amp Doctor” Dave Weyer, built the wah pedal for Hendrix prior to Woodstock and said the amplifier he repaired and modified for Hendrix was originally used to record songs during his early days with The Jimi Hendrix Experience and used as a preamp later.
“We’ve spent a lot of time reviewing the provenance, listening to audio recordings, and examining photos and films from Woodstock, and we are confident that this was the wah pedal Jimi used during Woodstock,” says Antoine Gedroyc, J. Levine’s instruments and audio manager and consignment specialist. “It’s an honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent such an important part of music and American history.”
I recently had the chance to catch up with Weyer who still works in the industry and now lives in Montana. His interest in guitars, amps and pedals was one that developed early in his childhood. “It was probably too early as far as my mother and father were concerned!” laughs Weyer. “But it was a fascination. When I was just a tiny lad, I sat in front of a large wooden console radio that most folks had in their living rooms back in those days. I listened to the sounds coming out of it and I heard these people singing and I was sure they had to be inside there!” he pulled the radio away from the wall to find the singers. Thus began a storied career of tubes, capacitors and resistors, coupled with expert tinkering, fixing and tweaking that put him front-and-center in the colorful and psychedelic music scene of the 1960s.
Weyer worked with many great artists, including Hendrix, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash, Burritos Bothers, Vanilla Fudge, Three Dog Night, Ike and Tina Turner, and other rock legends of that era. Well-respected in his industry for his technical prowess, he started his career working for Thomas Organ Company. After a few years, he had pushed for building tube amps for guitar players for the Vox division of the company. When the company opted to stick with solid state amps, Weyer moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and began working for Jerry Sanders, owner of West Coast Organ and Amp.
Weyer credits Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix for making the wah-wah pedal a must-have for every up-and-coming rock musician.
“I look back on it and see that I didn’t actually trealize what it was at the time. I think a lot of people are that way. They don’t really know what they’re in to. It hadn’t been formulated yet. It hadn’t been formulated in the minds of the public. It hadn’t become a subject or a museum or an institution,” says Weyer he now sees the bigger picture. “Neal Moser who worked on Jimi’s guitars at West Coast said when I talked to him about this a while back, ‘You gotta remember, Dave, Jimi Hendrix was just Jimi Hendrix then, not Jimi Hendrix.’” In fact it was at West Coast Organ and Amp that Weyer first met Hendrix and he ultimately became Weyer’s customer. “He had a presence, that’s for sure,” says Weyer of Hendrix. “Neil Young did, too. They were big energy people.”
“If you recall seeing the pedal on TV or in film, you will likely associate it with one of these stars, or other mega-acts of the day,” Weyer explains. “Perhaps it was symbiotic, because what would Jimi have done without the Wah pedal?”
In 1969, Weyer knew Vox was coming out with a new wah pedal and wanted to create a special one for Hendrix. “Like many techs of the period, I wanted to keep my secrets for possible future business, or even just to create a mystique around the particular item to create musician interest, so I sanded off the small printing on the transistors, making them a mysterious unknown item. Of course, anyone could have reversed engineered the pedal and discovered what I did, but that was part and parcel of the thinking of ‘garage engineers’ back in those days,” he states, adding that the pedal took advantage of a new transistor by Motorola that set the standard for low noise and gain.
“We were extremely busy that late summer preparing all the equipment for Hendrix, Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash and others. West Coast Organ and Amp Service was overflowing with gear, including everything Jimi owned. All of it was to be repaired or modded for the Woodstock concert, including the now famous Stratocaster,” Weyer recalls.
The truckload of equipment included two of Hendrix’s favorite West Coast creations, the V846 “Sepulveda” wah pedal, which was still months from being available to the public, and the prototype used to create the three-transistor “always on” fuzz pedal which was later built into a standard Arbiter Fuzzface casting.
“Jimi had a box of wah pedals, and I had, over the course of the year, worked on every one. But Jimi’s favorite was the yet-to-be-seen by the public, Sepulveda model with the TDK inductor and the high beta Motorola transistors,” Weyer says.
That “favorite” wah pedal that Weyer built is the one that will be up for auction in J. Levine’s New Year’s Day auction.
“It can be identified by the lack of a Vox logo on the front, the relief where the logo was supposed to be glued on, a West Coast sticker on the bottom, and Jimi’s signature on the inside of the casing wall, applied at a difficult angle, but identifiable nonetheless — and, of course, the things he loved the most, the low noise and the sharp sweep, clearly audible in the Woodstock recordings,” Weyer says.
Weyer asked Hendrix later how all of the equipment performed at Woodstock, and Hendrix responded, “Groovy.” “I repaired the pedal again in 1970 after many concerts, fully intending to re-gift it back to him, but it all ended when he died in September,” Weyer states.
Interestingly enough, the wah pedal has been with Weyer for more than 40 years. “I obviously didn’t have a clue that it might have some incredible social historical value. It was just a pedal that I didn’t have a chance to give back to Jimi yet,” he explains. “I moved here to Billings and set up a recording studio. I brought the pedal down and put it in the studio. These studio cats have played on it from time to time. It’s been a nice little conversation piece to have in the studio.”
The amp was used in Hendrix’s early Experience days and played a significant role in his sound. “The fuzz prototype Dave and Jimi developed together changed Jimi’s sound forever,” Gedroyc says. Weyer is hopeful he’ll be able to come down and attend the January 1 auction in person.
The New Year’s Day auction is J. Levine’s biggest event of the year. The upscale auction house holds back the ‘best of the best’ rare antiques, fine art and other luxury items from affluent estates for this special event. This year’s auction includes a 1948 Luscombe SpeedBird airplane, a vintage Hermes Birkin Kelly bag, an unfired John Wayne's Colt presentation set with matching serial numbers, mid-modern furniture, guitars, estate jewelry and more.
J. Levine Auction & Appraisal is located at 10345 N. Scottsdale Rd., in Scottsdale, on the southeast corner of Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road. Doors open on January 1, 2017 at 9 a.m. MT with the New Year’s Day auction starting at 11 a.m. Complimentary Mimosa drinks will be distributed for the New Year’s toast beginning at 10:30 a.m. The auction house is currently open for a free preview from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit www.jlevines.com for additional information or to register for the auction.