Museum of Lost Effects:
Morley “Oil Can” Wah

The mighty Morley Rotating Sound Wah

Two indisputable facts about Leslie rotating speaker cabinets: They sound awesome, and they’re approximately the size and weight of Rhode Island. Since the ’60s manufacturers have attempted to mimic the spinning-speaker effect in a more modest package. And one of the best mimics is the second exhibit in our Museum of Lost Effects.

The Morley Rotating Sound Wah is less well known than an earlier pseudo-Leslie, the Univox Uni-Vibe,forever associated with Hendrix. Like the Uni-Vibe, it a) tried to duplicate the Leslie, b) failed, but c) wound up creating a cool tone of its own. But while the Uni-Vibe milks its modulation from a series of optical sensors, the Morley relies on a rotating disc inside a can of electrostatic fluid. The result is a cool and complex modulation sound unlike any other (and one I’ve never been terribly successful at mimicking digitally).

This technology is descended from the “oil can” delays produced in the ’60s by the Los Angeles-based Tel-Ray company.In fact, Morley was a Tel-Ray spinoff — company founders Ray and Marv Lubow chose the name Morley for their line of guitar pedals based on the boast that this relatively compact modulation effect offered “more-lie,” as opposed to “less-lie.” (Note that I said “relatively” compact, since this beast is far and away the heaviest stompbox I’ve ever owned.)

The Morley Rotating Sound Wah is ugly, clunky, and klugey. If you drop it on your foot, you’ll never walk again. But I think it sounds incredibly cool.

Have a listen and see whether you agree:

So what are some of your favorite Leslie-influenced effects? Anyone every played through a Fender Vibratone? Got a favorite Uni-Vibe clone? Are there any digital replicas that work especially well for you? Wobble on!

43 comments to Museum of Lost Effects:
Morley “Oil Can” Wah

  • Sam Geese

    Was this used on “Mamma Told Me Not To Come”?

  • David Fung

    Best demo ever of one of the coolest looking old pedals of the 70′s. I had this guys little brother, the original Power Volume Wah. I remember this one cost a ton ($400?). I tried it out in the store and we were all trying to figure out how to change the speed which was set in between a Leslie on slow and fast. The “wobble” knob didn’t seem to make sense at all. For what it’s worth, this sounded much more like a Leslie than any of the analog phasers or flangers at that time.

    Do the Mutron Bi-Phase next! I always dreamed of getting one of those!

  • Paul Boutin

    I wonder how hard a speed-knob mod would be? Anyway, I’m really enjoying this series. It keeps my Boss Dyna Drive from getting an attitude.

  • Oystein

    Man, I wish someone would make a modern, more accessible version of that vibrato! That might just be the prettiest vibrato effect I’ve heard. I’m less enammered with the wah, but then, I’ve never been a huge fan of wah…

  • el reclusa

    Dig it! Oilcan effects are some of my very favorite- though my own oilcan delay isn’t up to snuff. Oddly enough, I just took it out last night to clean it up a bit, and I was thinking about tinkering with it next weekend, adding some oil, and seeing if I could get that dog to hunt. Must be something Oilcanny in the air today.

    I played for a while in an experimental trio with a fella who used an old chrome Morley Power Fuzz Wah, and it’s AWESOME- on everything but electric guitar! It’s ok for its intended purpose, but slap that sucker on a single-string cello made of repurposed junk and sweep it slowly- mmm hmm. That’s what I’m talking about. Rules on Rhodes too. I’d like to find my own someday.

    Somebody really should look into making a modern Oilcan. The fluid’s no mystery anymore, though the anodizing of the discs is still mysterious as well as magnetizing the wipers that work as heads- at least last time I checked. They’re so much fun that someone needs to make a more reliable new one…

    • Oystein

      I agree completely! But what could be so mysterious about it? I’m no engineer or anything, so I’m asking from ignorance, not to be confrontational. It sure sounds great, though!

  • That’s some juicy wobble right there! Cooler sounding wah than the Morley I used to have, too.

  • Oinkus

    That is a very interesting sound ! Got to love ancient toys that are designed to kill feets and toes !Ton of texture too fun stuff! Was just bemoaning my lack of a rotovibe the other day you need to stop scanning my brain man thats kinda creepy.

  • el reclusa

    Oystein- so far a (rather small, but) number of cats have tried anodizing discs for these with limited success. The ”heads” are some kinda vulcanized, magnetized rubber or neoprene type stuff, as far as I know nobody has quite sorted out the proper formulas for either, and it seems the failure rate for these things was fairly high when they were new. There’s a forum called Tel-Ray Oilcan Addicts with a lot more info. It doesn’t seem like it should be so difficult. There’s also historically been a lot of misinformation about oilcans floating around, like the rumor that the oil is carcinogenic. It’s not, it’s just kind of expensive!

  • Frank

    Hell Joe,
    Where do you get this weird sh1t?

    • joe

      The first two “exhibits” are both from the old Starving Musician in San Jose, which I used to visit back when I was commuting from San Francisco to Cupertino for my Guitar Player gig. Like LA’s sadly defunct Black Market Music, it was the kind of chaotic but fun shop where you could find cool and weird stuff at bargain prices. (I think I bought four Magnatone amps at Black Market over the course of a year or so.)

      I’m not sure those sorts of shops exist in major cities anymore, thanks to EBay. I mean, I love my local cool guitar shop, San Francisco’s Real Guitars, but they’re so knowledgable, they know exactly what everything’s worth. I wish I knew more sources for weird, priced-to-move shit!

      One exception is the remaining Starving Musician shop in Berkeley, California, where you often find cool, weird stuff on the cheap side. Example: I recently needed a J-Bass in a hurry for a project, and I found one of those Japanese clones from the ’70s, from that time when those Fender clones were light years better than the real deal. I paid $400 bucks for it, and really, it’s as good as any vintage-style production J.

      How about you guys? Have any favorite “secret stash” dealers? Go ahead and share — it’s not like my blog is popular or anything. ;)

      • The Pawn Shop in Rantoul, Illinois was always a haven for bargains when I was still touring in that neck of the woods. Scored my old Kay Speed Demon and my ’39 Epi lap-steel there as well as strings, cables and a couple of Danecho’s (shoulda’ learned after the first one blew up) all at hefty discounts.
        Electric Ladyland in Bristol, UK is a sort of weird example, because the owner has one of the most legendary stashes of gear in the world and he doesn’t really want to sell any of it. However, if you get to know him, he’ll lend you stuff for years. Better than a seller in my book.
        Is Fatdog Guitars all it’s cracked up to be? Fatdog seems like, uh, a real character, but did a lot of cool custom builds with old Dano parts and seemed to try to keep his prices down. Plus, he has Freddie Roulette over to the house to jam, and that’s pretty freakin’ cool…

        • joe

          Oh, how could I not mention Fatdog and Subway Guitars? Sure, he’s a character — but he’s a GREAT character. And he was definitely hip to the glories of second-tier American brands LOOONG before anyone else got the picture.

        • mwseniff

          I used to live in Champaign, Illinois in the early 80′s and we made the run to the Pawn Shop once every work or two. Unfortunately by the end of the 80′s early 90′s they became rather mercenary and overpriced stuff to a ridiculous level. However I usually bought the broken stuff cheap and fixed it as well as doing some repairs for them occasionally especially on FX pedals. Champaign sort of became too hip for it’s own good and deals became rare at all the shops.

          • They liked us Canadians at the Pawn Shop; we always bought something as long as the prices were down. I used to get 3-packs of D’Addario’s in a shop In Champaign for $7.95, easily the best price I ever found on the road. But this is all ancient history, pre-financial meltdown, y’know, when a fella’ could make a living on the road…

  • Frank

    Sounds great by the way! Oh… and I’ve got a pair of those trousers… I’m sure that fashion will come back, just waiting for it. :cuckoo:

  • Digital Larry

    That sounds great! I’ve been trying to figure out how this thing might work.

    A ,a href = “http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://img.tfd.com/ggse/b2/gsed_0001_0015_0_img3703.png&imgrefurl=http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Magnetic%2BHead&h=185&w=196&sz=8&tbnid=5lgD8uRPPkk-rM:&tbnh=96&tbnw=102&zoom=1&usg=__lqH_TYrF-Vc7ApDNU1JJWKNDr6Q=&docid=-4aAuoyFaNGeaM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=nxVrUJDoBcijigKg9YC4BQ&ved=0CCIQ9QEwAQ&dur=3172″>magnetic recording head as used in audio tape, video tape, or magnetic disk recording starts as a loop of magnetic material (also called the core) with wire coiled around it. When you put current through the wire, a proportional magnetic field is created in the core of the magnetic material. You then saw a small gap entirely through the core material. This creates the “recording gap”.

    When a magnetic material, such as an iron plate or recording tape, gets near the gap, the magnetic field in the core will flow more readily through that material than the air gap in the core. This realigns the magnetic domains of the recording material. As the material (if it’s a disc) spins, the gap leaves waves of recorded (magnetically aligned) regions which can then be played back.

    The frequency response you get out of such an arrangement depends on the gap width and the relative speed between the tape and the playback head.

    “Anodizing” the disc may be a way to deposit something like iron oxide (which is the magnetic material used for tapes, disks, credit cards, etc.) which can then be used for these audio recordings.

    A high fidelity tape recorder would include an erase head to wipe the tape right before recording a new sound. If you don’t use this, you’ll still hear a faint remnant of the previously recorded sound. It’s possible this contributes in some way to the Oil Can’s “je ne sais quoi”.

    Another question is whether they used AC bias for recording. Tape recordings can be made by just amplifying the sound and blasting it through a recording head. However they have a lot of distortion if you do it this way. “AC bias” adds a high frequency wiggle to the audio signal while recording it which eliminates much of this distortion. Seems to me it might be using that.

    I’m thinking you might be able to rig up some old floppy disks to do this. You’d need to find a way to mount another head on the surface, so you could have 1 for record and 1 for playback. You’d need to figure a way to ensure they were aligned to the same track. Then you’d need to isolate the signal wires to the heads and get analog recording and playback electronics.

    Then you’d need a way to vary the spindle speed to get all your wobbly wooshies. Using the floppy disk could conceivably eliminate the need for oil! But you better stock up on those pups because they’re endangered!

    All in all it sounds pretty darn difficult! Advanced Maker Faire project.

  • Digital Larry

    OK kids, I got your floppy disk reverb here:

    http://www.adafruit.com/blog/2009/04/24/floppy-drive-reverb-how-to-recording-analog-audio-on-floppy-disks/

    Here’s a “performance” using a floppy drive with pre-recorded material.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vi_oE3ayn0M

    I think the biggest problem is going to be getting the second head onto the surface.

  • mwseniff

    Great demo video as always Joe. I haven’t seen one of these guys in a few years. I’ve fixed a few of them but the usually only had power supply issues or the lamp socket was bad either frozen or someone wound it too far and broke the contacts. Morley stuff had it’s own vibe for sure. I had a Wah/Fuzz combo with the foot pedal that went sideways as well as up and down. But I always thought the wahs didn’t quite do the trick for me but I started with an old Crybaby and a Dallas Arbiter Wah Face so I dig that sound. But the Foxtone wahs were pretty cool too. I sold the Morley fuzz/wah to a collector ten years or so ago.
    I would love to have one of the pedals you demoed but I never found one at the right price (cheap or free and broken but fixable is my favorite price).

    I’ve played thru and owned a couple of Fender Vibratones for 7 years or so they are very cool sounding almost as cool as real Leslie cabinet (I prefer the spkr to fire downwards it sounds swirlier that way). But when everybody wanted to be Stevie Ray Vaughn they became highly sought after and I sold mine for big bucks to a couple of obnoxious wannabes (I got them dirt cheap from a garage sale for $50 for the pair).

    My buddy used to get old home organs that had the same basic guts as a Fender Vibratone and built cabs around them in his shop in fact I think the guts were made by the Leslie like the Fenders. They are all kind of cheesy looking with Styrofoam rotors. My buddy had a lot interesting rotating spkrs from the console of old home organs he scavenged including some with 6X9 football shaped car type spkrs that mounted in an AC motor powered rotating hoops with a set of commutator rings to carry the spkr signal, they sounded amazing for guitar or keys (he only had one set but I know Heathkit used them in their organ kits in the 60′s and 70′s). They could actually rotate in 2 axis simultaneously for maximum mayhem.

    I also had a big Leslie with the tube amps, horns, separate dual speeds for horns and woofer (and the guitar interface) that I ended up selling because I was offered too much money to refuse. It came from a church that didn’t use it with the organ it came with (dunno why they had the extra interface tho’) it was in perfect shape cosmetically and I did a restore on the amps (filter caps etc.), lubed the moving parts and cleaned and lubed the motor bearings. I got it for hauling it away and fixing a small PA head for the worship band (simple repair). Last I heard it resided in a recording studio near Chicago somewhere. It was a heavy mother……

    I now have a small single rotor Leslie from a Wurlitzer organ. I rebuilt the amp chassis to be a simple 2-6L6 guitar amp. It has just the 12″ driver and rotating drum below (no horns). I added a couple of very small piezo tweeters between the 12″ and the wood baffle it mounts on. The piezo tweeters have an 8 ohm resistor across them and a passive x-over with a level control to kill them most of the time for guitar, I use the piezs for keys and synth stuff mostly. Piezo tweeters get a bad rap but if you put an 8 ohm resistor across them you can tune them in a x-over above 5-8 KHz and they can sound pretty sweet (IMHO they sound terrible at their natural 2KHz x-over they can’t handle that upper midrange very well). Piezo tweeters aren’t bad for a device invented accidentally during hydro-phone research by my uncle et-al at Motorola many moons ago (that’s why all the original piezo tweets were Motorola branded).
    I use a 120 VAC variable auto-transformer as a speed control with a bypass to go to high speed on a foot switch (you can set it very slow if you want to, much slower than a full Leslie’s slow speed). It sounds great and is easily moved compared to the big Leslie behemoth I cashed in. Works great for guitar synth too!!

    Everyone should play guitar thru a Leslie at some point in their life it is very inspiring, the sound just fills the room in a way that moves your soul. The guitarist in McKendree Spring played a tele thru a Leslie and he sounded great, as a reference. It makes all the Leslie imitator pedals and plugins sound lame by comparison. The Speakerphone Leslie impulse is pretty incredible tho’ maybe they need to do the Morley Oil Can wah they seem to have the touch (which I am sure is just downright OCD on somebodies part).

    I may get my brother to move my little Leslie upstairs to my bedroom from the basement studio so I can play it when my back gets me laid out it’s only about as big as an end table. Plugging my little Leslie’s speaker directly into a good guitar amp is an astoundingly great tone too. IIRC I have a Eminence BR-8 (Celestion V-30 clone sort’a) in it now which sounds pretty good. But like I said if you ever get the chance try a real Leslie with your guitar do it,and it will blow your mind!!

  • Hey, I have a museum like that too ;-)

  • zyon

    my very first amplifier was a Yamaha RA-50 with a built in Leslie speaker. I got it for $100.00 with the organ. Sold the organ for $50.00 to a piano store. I played that amp for a good 5 years before upgrading. I owned it for almost 20 years. Actually thinking about buying it back from the owner so I can use it again. Thinner sound than a guitar amp but it was a killer amp for use with effect pedals. It was about 4 foot tall, maybe 2 1/2 foot wide. About 50 pounds in weight. Had a rate control and a bypass, that was it. However, it gave a true Leslie sound.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QVDIoOtSzU

    • joe

      Oh, I bet you could get a GREAT guitar sound from it with the right low-gain distortion pedal — a Klon, or something of that ilk.

      • zyon

        My pedal of choice was a Danelectro Fab Tone and Danelectro Daddy-0. The older metal ones that actually sounded good. I also used an old Marshall Shredmaster at times too. None of which I would consider very low gain but that amp could provide you with tones that would remind you of “in Justice for All”

  • Thecoslar

    I don’t have a whole lot in the way of crazy or vintage effects. I’ve got a funky Crate amp that’s ten years older than I am; that gets some interesting sounds out of it. It sounds like it’s constantly got some sort of low pass filter running. I’ve also got an original Russian Muff (the tall font version). If you’re interested in hearing either of those, I’d happily throw a demo together.

  • Labes

    What about that, you got a great sounding speaker and exercise your legs ! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iqeh5fVDDFs

  • mngiza

    Great stuff!

    I hope you’ll cover the Jordan Boss Tone, specifically the original version that plugged directly into your guitar. That was the one with the black plastic case that you scotch-taped together after you stepped on your cable and the Boss Tone, held tenuously in place only by your input jack, popped out onto the concrete basement floor and cracked. A beautifully nasty buzzing tone, until there were too many pieces of the case to tape together. Anybody know what I mean?

  • antonius

    This is the closest simulation of a Leslie I have ever heard. I’m stunned. Beautiful. I played a marshall jcm 800 head through a Leslie cabinet for awhile and it sounded like the church of rock and roll. It was the most grand sound ever. I need to get one of these.

    I wonder if you can drink the oil. (pause) I’m not saying I would … I’m just wondering.

    • joe

      I read somewhere that the fluid was spectacularly toxic, but that could just be urban music legend. Hmm…I wonder how well you could mimic the sound digitally via impulse responses? Have to try that…

      • Digital Larry

        I’d be really interested to see what happens if you try that Joe! AS usual I’m going to go all theoretical on you here. Impulse responses are used for convolution effects like reverb. If you’re interested in an overly mathematical description with some animations, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convolution

        There is an important aspect of convolution theory, namely that it applies to LINEAR systems. One really important aspect of linear systems is that while they may adjust the relative balance of harmonics in a signal, they will not generate any frequencies that were not in the input. Distortion and its generation of harmonic and intermodulation overtones is an example of a clearly non linear process.

        The output of a linear system to an impulse input will be the same no matter WHEN you do it. Now in the case of modulation effects, that’s clearly not true. Sometimes they are sweeping up and sometimes they are sweeping down. The pitch shift effects you get clearly also violate the linearity requirement.

        That said though, you certainly CAN get an impulse response from it and use it in a convolution effect. I’m guessing that the result will have some characteristic of the real sound, but with a repeating cycle that is not in sync with the unit’s rotation.

        I think one of the things that makes this and the Leslie unique is the inertia of the mechanical rotating parts. I would really be quite interested to analyze the output of the device given a constant tone input. This would tell you what kind of waveform to use for an LFO.

        I’m probably wrong about all this, but I do enjoy thinking about it.

  • joe

    I guess I was imagining using the impulse response to mimic the distortion and spectral character, but using some sort of digital phaser for the modulation. My guess is it won’t be an exact copy — but that it’ll sound prethy cool. :)

    • Digital Larry

      I guess there ARE “impulse response” amp modelers these days, but how they work is beyond me. And I don’t know what you have at your disposal in terms of plugins etc. I really am quite interested in trying to model it in some affordable fashion for pedal deployment.

  • I have one that needs repair. Where can I send it? Thanks in advance

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