As I’m often telling people around the Glassmill (our office in Battersea) having the idea is the easy part. And so it was with the Chet Atkins All Wah.
We started off with an all agency brainstorm. While it was fun, as ever with brainstorms most the ideas fell into two camps. The obvious and the ridiculous (a highlight was a trainer that knows how far you’ve thrown it. So you can do trainer wanging. Allowing you to anoint the winner the Wang King).
Having discounted that, we gathered a smaller group of interested folk and chucked (pardon me) some more focused ideas around. In the end we chose three to start scoping, but for me the All Wah always stood out. Firstly it was a nice, simple idea. I could explain it in a sentence and it sounded cool. Secondly, the connection to music. It seemed such a natural fit for the Converse Brand. Thirdly I’d already thought of a natty name for it and I love a natty name. And lastly, it sounded achievable. Just buy a wah wah pedal, dig out the working bits and stick them in there. I reckoned I could probably do it myself if it came to it. Hahahahahahahaha.
We don’t have a full time electronics expert in house. But Bash, one of our senior techs dabbles and so he became the point man on the project. Initially I had envisaged using a mobile phone accelerometer to measure the angle of the shoe and trigger the wah, but we soon decided that a flex sensor would be simpler. So we bought one, attached it to the wah wah and hey presto! Nothing.
Bash did some googling and then declared we needed a digital potentiometer. More noodling later, he also realized we needed an Arduino to relay the signal from the flex sensor, which was nowhere near as strong as the signal from the switch in the original pedal. One Saturday Bash came in and put the lot together. It worked. For about a day. And then something blew up.
We stood and looked at it for about an hour, at the end of which none of us still had any idea what had gone wrong. So we did the only thing we could, went down to Denmark Street, bought another wah wah pedal and started again. Again Bash got it working and Tom Cole our head of tech started the task of building it into the original All Star. I was in a client meeting when I got the text telling me we’d blown it up again. This was days, if not hours before we were supposed to be submitting it.
Another hour spent looking at it, scratching our heads. We had no idea whether it was the same problem, a new problem, an accidental short circuit or a fundamental design flaw. It seemed pointless just buying a third pedal and hoping for the best. It would have been very easy to give in at that point. And we did for about 4 hours. Then we slung everything in a box and went to see our good friends at Is This Good? It took them around half an hour to help us find the problem. I won’t embarrass Bash by going into the details, but suffice to say it’s often the simple stuff that trips you up.
Once we had a stable working All Wah, the rest was relatively easy. We put it into the shoe, called our guitarist Pete Boakes from Young Astronaut, shot the video. Got it off the Creative Social and Converse. And were very pleased when they let us know we’d won the whole thing.
As I’m often telling people around the Glassmill having the idea is the easy part. No matter how good the idea, it won’t just make itself. It takes effort and staying power and the pig headedness to say ‘No, fuck this… I’m going to make it happen’. And so it was with the Chet Atkins All Wah.
Author: Al Campbell