In an age where more and more pedal companies are cropping up and more and more esoteric circuits are resurrected to broaden the total tonal spectrum, it’s surprising when new old circuits crop up. Circuits like the S. Hawk Tonal Expander and SRS EQ Exciter ended up enjoying their time in the spotlight by virtue of being undiscovered one-off devices. But it’s even rarer when one such circuit hides in plain sight, but stays obscure for one reason or another. This is the Maestro W-2.
To be clear, there’s a definite reason why the W-2 didn’t get much due, and we’ll definitely get into that. And there’s a strong possibility that you, the reader, have actually heard of this unit. But the Maestro line is well celebrated in gear circles, both from its individual units and clones of more obscure devices becoming more popular than the originals (the DOD Carcosa becoming more well-known than the FZ-1S, for example). Instances like this are becoming less and less common, but there’s at least one more unit in the Maestro line that I don’t think many folks are talking about—stay tuned for that.
However, the W-2 remained in relative secrecy for three reasons, chief among them that it’s designed to be used in conjunction with a woodwind instrument (saxophone or clarinet) and special pickup. This generally implied a couple things: One is that the unit would only be purchased by reed effects enthusiasts or studio owners. Secondly, if you lose the pickup you were well out of luck. Even though a handful of units at the time used the same pickup, later models didn’t include the strange output configuration, making them harder to find as time goes by.
The second reason for the lack of recognition is the fragility of the unit itself. Finding them in good working order is a difficult feat, and finding someone to work on them is harder still. The units are notoriously hard to repair; because they feature a handful of moving parts, finding replacements can prove difficult. This leads right into the third reason.
Plugging a guitar into the W-2 is not feasible unless you provide some outboard equipment, which isn’t included with the unit, nor did Maestro offer such a device to make this conversion. Essentially, your guitar outputs a signal that’s low, relative to the expected input level of the woodwind mic. Such a device is a simple preamp booster, which Electro-Harmonix had been offering for a handful of years, but Maestro did not provide such an offering, and made no effort to divulge this info to non-woodwindists. To make matters worse, the input jack is a eighth-inch type, so you had to chase down an adapter.
In short, there just weren’t many of these produced, and the pickups were similarly scarce. When trying to redeem the value of the W-2 with a guitar, players will wonder if they’re connecting the device up properly at all, and when no sound comes out, they’ll assume the unit is broken. And given its reputation, that’s the end of the line. It’s a perfect storm for cult status, really.
Knowing this, once everything is hooked up and dialed in, you’re treated to a rich synthy sound along with many different horn emulations. Like the USS-1 in the same line, the W-2 is multi-effect unit, but unlike that unit which sought to transform the guitar into some type of malleable synth spectre, the W-2 cleanly emulates a variety of instruments, while adding tone controls for each section and a nifty tremolo section.
Much has been made about the relative limbo of this unit, as well as the limitations and the lengths that one must traverse to simply connect an instrument. But like many other obscure devices from this era, this particular one was used by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Though many things are mistakenly attributed to the man’s sound, the Maestro W-2 is not one of them. Zappa’s clarinet section ran into the W-2 and through a particular patch called “Oboe D'Amore” on “Dog Breath in the Year of the Plague,” from 1969’s Uncle Meat.
While Zappa actually used clarinets to generate those tones, you can thank that simple fact for keeping the prices of the W-2 at relative bay. Had he plugged his guitar into one, the prices on these would be ten times as much and one might not have found its way into the cabinet, and the knowledge of its existence into your head.