From Jimi Hendrix to Frank Zappa, wah pedals have enveloped the sound of guitarists throughout history. Here are 10 of the best to play in 2020.
Sitting somewhere between organic and mechanical, the wah pedal (or wah-wah) produces a unique sonic pull. The harmonic content of a wah-effected sound often occupies some of the same frequencies of the human voice, and as a result, it can make the guitar tug at the heartstrings, scream with anger, laugh and cry.
As guitarists’ favourite, wahed-out licks have come to define the distinctive sounds of funk, soul, jazz, rock and many of their genre offspring.
The first wah pedal sounds can be heard on the steel guitar parts of country tracks like Chet Akins’ Boo Boo Stick Beat from the late ’50s and early ’60s. During this time adventurous guitarists were manipulating the tone nobs of volume pedals as well as their own custom devices to achieve the unique effect.
The wah pedal continues to evolve, finding itself in far-flung genres. It can be paired up with a clean tone for slick and funky rhythms, or distortion for an all-out rock ‘n’ roll assault.
So in honour of the versatile and soulful effect, we’re counting down the ten best ones you can get your hands on (or foot on) in 2020.
Dunlop Cry Baby Standard Wah GCB95
Sometimes, going old school can’t be beaten, and the Cry Baby GCB95, is the modern interpretation of the ’60s classic: the very same model that was made famous by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
Key to the sound of this wah is the red Fasel inductor which pushes the top end and as a result, places the wah guitar at the front of the mix. The classic wah tone, in an enclosure that will stand the test of time.
Visit Dunlop for more details.
With the V845, VOX puts the iconic effect of wah into the hands of more guitarists than ever. Why? Its price tag of $99 is nigh on unbeatable.
Alongside many other instruments of the classic rock ‘n’ roll era — think the VOX Continental and the VOX AC30 among others — this British company was a pioneer of this iconic effect, basing their first ever wah on the sound of Clyde McCoy, a trumpeter. Makes sense when you think about it.
Visit VOX for more details.
Hotone Soul Press
The Soul Press from Hotone is no one-trick pony. Sure, it more than happily does the classic wah effect (and does it well).
But with a flick of a switch, the Soul Press is transformed into an active volume pedal (no passive tone suck here), plus, it also supplements your other pedalboard favourites as an expression pedal.
Visit Hotone for more details.
Morley Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2
Yep, there are the aforementioned archetypal guitar gods of the ’60s, but few have managed to wring more tone and expression out of the wah than the certified shredder, Steve Vai.
This is a classic wah with a kick — with its contour mode, you can adjust the frequency range of the wah’s sweep. Just the thing if you want to go for deep and lush filtered tones in the lower register of guitar, then ascend to the upper register for all your shredding pleasure.
Visit Morley for more details.
Tom Morello Cry Baby
Like Vai, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello is a modern virtuoso in the truest sense of the word — formidable textbook chops, but willing and able to throw that textbook out when required.
The seminal works of RATM are soaked in wah, so it’s only logical that Morello should get his own signature model. The same classic DNA of the GCB95 is in action here, encased in a special finish that features quotes that have inspired Morello throughout his career.
Visit Dunlop for more details.
Electro-Harmonix Cock Fight Cocked Talking Wah
Now for something different. The Cock Fight from Electro-Harmonix is a wah that allows you to dial specific frequency ranges, just like you would on a traditional wah in a ‘cocked’ position.
You can alter the character of the wah, with classic ‘crying’ or funky ‘talking’ tones on tap. Plus, there’s a built-in fuzz circuit. But it looks like a standard stompbox, so what gives? Well, it can be augmented with an expression pedal, so it can be played exactly like a classic wah.
Visit Electro Harmonix for more details.
Fulltone Clyde Standard Wah
We’ve already name-checked Clyde McCoy, but he didn’t only inspire VOX. Fulltone bought up a bunch of the original units and used this collection as the basis for the Clyde Standard.
As it turns out, Fulltone isn’t just the name of the company. Owing to its custom full-range potentiometer, the frequency range of this pedal’s sweep is unmatched. With adjustable treadle tension, the Clyde Standard offers a range of sophisticated expression options.
Visit Fulltone for more details.
Xotic XW-1 Wah
From the workshop of the Californian boutique Xotic comes the XW-1 wah. Inspired by a very specific vintage of VOX Clyde McCoy wahs (1967 and 1968 to be exact), XW-1 is a high-class affair indeed.
With adjustable Wah-Q — for dialling in an exact frequency range — plus bias controls for optimising the pedal for your rig, this pedal is for the wah connoisseur. With unparalleled build quality, this pedal is an investment for a lifetime.
Visit Xotic for more details.
You can’t go through any self-respecting roll call of pedals without calling in the BOSS, and not surprisingly, this ubiquitous pedal brand has its own flavour of wah: the PW-3.
Though BOSS isn’t usually at the top of the list when people are searching for a wah, it’s not without its unique charms. For one, it has a unique ‘rich mode’ for when you’re looking for a mellow wah experience that’s focused on the lower reaches of the frequency spectrum. Plus, that look! Straight out of the ’80s.
Visit BOSS for more details.
Morley 20/20 Power Fuzz Wah
This updated version of the classic Power Fuzz Wah features an elegant switchless design, meaning you can jump on the thing and it roars into life — no awkwardly hard presses to activate the wah.
There are two colours of fuzz on offer — a vintage ‘ripped speaker’ tone and a modern mode that offers up a tighter style of distortion. And the fuzz circuit placed before the wah, this pedal will slice through the mix like a hot knife through butter.
Visit Morley for more details.