Justin Chancellor: On His Signature Cry Baby Wah

In this exclusive interview, the Tool bassist discusses his new signature pedal alongside the team at Dunlop who created it

Justin Chancellor: On His Signature Cry Baby Wah

In this exclusive interview, the Tool bassist discusses his new signature pedal alongside the team at Dunlop who created it

In the music of Tool, Justin Chancellor’s tone is a thing to behold. As the conveyer of constant propulsion powering the band’s inimitable sound, his frequencies are as gritty and fiercely cutting as they are distinct.

His iconic Wal Basses, Mesa Boogie cabinets, Gallien-Krueger heads, and jam-packed pedalboards are all key components to his tone, along with the magic that lies in his aggressive pick attack that is unique in itself. There’s nothing else quite like it in the world of bass, and trying to emulate it is no easy feat. But now thanks to his collaboration with Dunlop, players can cop the key elements of his sound for the first time ever with the new JCT95 Justin Chancellor Cry Baby Wah.

Built by the expert team of engineers at Dunlop, and meticulously refined until it met Chancellor’s approval, the wah is the first of its kind to offer three of the bassist’s go-to effects in one package: a powerful midrange fuzz, a custom-voiced midrange filter (based on the circuit of his Wal Basses), and a modified wah. Every design element inside and outside of the box was thoroughly considered in its creation, and the outcome is one of the most exciting pedals to hit the bass world in some time.

Inspired by the Cry Baby 105Q Bass Wah, along with several other mainstay pedals that he uses, the JCT95 covers a stellar sonic range — and to those averse to heavy music, never fear, as this pedal has functionality in any range of genres. The wah elements on their own would make for a worthy pedal in itself, as the Justin Chancellor Cry Baby Wah was created exclusively for bass frequencies and offers two separate modes (traditional and “UK Filter”). And of course, what would a Chancellor signature pedal be without a proper fuzz component, which this one delivers superbly, with enough grit and low-end presence to serve as a singular vehicle as well. But the beauty of this pedal is that you get all of these combinable and modifiable options right at your fingertips, in a package that’s easy to navigate.

The members of Tool have never been known for making public appearances, granting frequent interviews, or putting their names behind many gear products, so the bass world rejoiced at the announcement of the signature pedal. Most fans and players never fathomed that something like this would ever see the light of day. But when Dunlop first approached Chancellor about the idea, he was thrilled at the prospect. “I was just so excited to be asked to come up with my own take on an iconic piece of gear,” he says. “My mind immediately went to Cliff Burton playing Metallica’s ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth),’ and I was sold. I couldn’t wait to get started designing it.”

We chatted with Chancellor about his pedal just as he was gearing up for rehearsals for the 2022 Tool tour, launching his new website (LobalOrning.com), and releasing a single with drummer Aric Improta titled “EXU.”

What role did you play in the creation and development of this pedal?

I decided what I wanted it to be capable of, and then I let the scientists at Dunlop figure out if some or all of the ideas were possible. We went through a lengthy back and forth on how it would function, involving many prototypes and lots of sonic tweaking at the same time. It was a long process, but it was definitely worth it to have a final product like this.

This pedal is so much more than simply a bass wah. Which of its functions are you most excited about?

The fuzz is the perfect complement to whichever wah setting you choose. So to make it more accessible and available, the on/off switch is positioned next to the heel, which means everything starts from the basement.

Are there specific Tool songs and riffs that you’re already using this pedal on?

I use it toward the end of “The Pot.” This was a big reason for coming up with the heel fuzz button. I also use it for bits and pieces all over the place in our set. It’s invaluable for any kind of sonic jam, and I also love that I can use the fuzz independently. Since we finished it, I have been incorporating it more into my playing every day.

How do you most commonly have the pedal dialed in when you use it?

I mostly use the UK Filter setting (blue), but I play around with the volume and Q. The Fuzz tone and UK tone are usually set around 12 o’clock for some bite and volume, so it naturally steps up a notch switching from clean to dirty with the Fuzz at 2 or 3 o’clock.

What was it like working with the engineers and staff at Dunlop?

The best part of the experience was being encouraged to keep asking for exactly what I wanted it to be. The patience — everyone produced the result that I think we all aspired toward in the first place.

How does the wah component compare and differ to the Cry Baby 105Q Bass Wah you’d been using?

I feel like we managed to stretch the dynamic range of tone by offering two different wah options, the UK Filter offering warmth and low end, and the first wah, a higher ceiling with bite. Now that you mention it, I’m going to have to sit down and do a comparison of the two.

How closely does the midrange filter match the tone circuit in your bass?

It’s really an interpretation of a sweeping action I used on the intro to “The Patient” using the EQ button for the pickup to create a wah effect. The range of tone and the Q emulate this pretty damn well.

Explain how you use the pedal topper on the fuzz select while engaging the wah.

I just wanted to make sure that it being for a bass, the fuzz could be activated from the heel position, where the pedal’s tone is deepest. We designed the topper to raise the height of the fuzz select, so you can effortlessly pivot your heel and activate it, or stomp on both simultaneously and start ascending the screaming beast! This is very important for me with the nature of our live shows.

Chancellor will be the first to say that this pedal never would have been executed so immaculately without the expert team of engineers and bass experts at Dunlop. Known for developing some of the most used and beloved pedals for bass, Dunlop’s effects are the cornerstones of many players’ pedalboards. We talked with VP of Marketing Scott Shiraki and Senior Engineer Bob Cedro to get their perspective on what it was like working with Justin in creating this wah.

How did the idea first come up and what sparked the creation of this pedal?

Scott This project was started by Justin and then-AR Director Chrys Johnson, who now serves in that same role for Kiesel Guitars. I was helping out in the background and took over the project after Chrys’ departure. Veteran Dunlop engineer Bob Cedro spearheaded the pedal’s technical design and execution.

How closely was Justin involved with the design and testing?

Scott Justin knew exactly what he wanted to achieve early on. He was very hands-on, traveling to our HQ in the Bay Area for early testing of prototypes. He had very specific requests to solve issues and open up new creative doors. He even added little details, such as the pedal topper with the rubber cover for the fuzz bypass switch, so that he could easily pivot his heel to engage it, and he spec’d out the height to the millimeter to fit his needs.

What were the biggest challenges in engineering this pedal?

Bob The JCT95 design presented many electrical and mechanical engineering challenges. The first challenge for any new product is defining it. Justin was very easy to work with and initially knew what wah sound he wanted to create. A successful artist signature project, however, needs creative freedom to evolve and be redefined until it’s just right. Implementing and documenting the many changes is a challenge unto itself: shaping the tone of each effect, increasing system headroom to match active basses, balancing the interaction between each effect, adding an adaptive silent switching system for all possible operating modes, a total noise-reduction redesign of the UK Filter and Wah control circuits. On the mechanical side, we battled with adding more controls than its prototype Cry Baby casting had room for, which led to some very creative out-of-the-box solutions. All of this led to many electrical and mechanical overhauls.

The pedal’s physical design makes it easy to operate. How many prototypes did you go through to get to this package?

Bob Thank you for the kudos. We had this backburner “Sidecar” casting project for a while, but we were waiting on a special wah-wah configuration to pair it with. Meanwhile, early JCT95 prototypes were housed in our standard Cry Baby casting. However, we started calling it “Porcupine” because it evolved into seven backlit knobs, two kick switches, and a custom kick switch plate poking out from it — a beautiful mechanical sight that only a mother could love, but not very user-friendly. After all the changes, and seeing and hearing Justin play through the Porcupine prototype, we knew that his wah-wah was that special wah-wah for the “Sidecar.”

How different is the wah circuit from the 105Q Bass Wah that Justin used?

Bob We use three completely different filter-circuit topologies to create the 105Q filter sweep and those of the JCT95’s Wah and UK Filter modes, each of which is uniquely voiced. The JCT95 UK Filter’s starting point was the character of the tone control on Justin’s bass. The JCT95 Wah section was born out of Justin’s suggestions after he played through our GZR95 Geezer Butler Signature Cry Baby as a starting point. He wanted that pedal’s smooth transitional sound from bypass to engaged, a unique heel-position mixing of wah and dry signals that we first used in the 105Q. We further tailored the JCT95’s heel-position mixing by adding a 400Hz dry signal mix boost to both the Wah and UK Filter modes. The basis for the 105Q’s sound was actually a famous envelope filter, providing an altogether different vibe.

Which other pedals from his board did you replicate or get inspiration from?

Bob A classic fuzz pedal has been a staple on Justin’s board for years, and we used that as our benchmark for the JCT95’s fuzz circuit.

How would you describe the sound and function of the UK Filter to someone who hasn’t used it?

Bob The UK Filter has a very throaty, voice-like sound with pronounced peaks throughout its sweep.

Can we expect more pedal collaborations with Justin in the future?

Scott We have not discussed future projects with Justin, but of course we would be open to them. –BM 

For more visit: Jim Dunlop

For More on Justin Chancellor: Click Here

Jon D'Auria   By: Jon D'Auria

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