- by Kevin Deal
We’ve all witnessed famous bands from different eras. Whether you’re a millennial or a 40-year old, you’ve heard that famous “wah” sound at one point in your life.
The wah pedal has been a staple in your favorite band’s music. This is true since classic bands like AC/DC to contemporary ones like Linkin Park have used it frequently.
However, wah pedals aren’t just for live performances on stage. You can use the wah pedal even if you’re an amateur or a beginner. Hence, if you’re planning on buying this pedal, you’ll need to have a clear idea in what you’re looking for.
This is because wah pedals come with different features. Some are advanced while others provide basic effects. Furthermore, you should understand that deciding on the best wah pedal is entirely up to your musical preference.
Short History of the Wah
A wah pedal is a guitar effects pedal that works similarly to its cousins. Particularly, reverb, distortion, delay and overdrive pedals are some of the other guitar effects pedals. What’s distinctive about the wah pedal is among the rest, it’s the only one that tries to mimic human cries.
This effect originated in the 1920s. The trumpet and trombone players first found about this by moving a mute in the bell of the instrument. After this discovery, it was simulated with electronics. This is where the first frame of the wah pedal was designed. It featured a pedal connected to a potentiometer.
The wah pedal was initially created by Warwick Electronics company around the mid-1960s. However, the concept of this pedal wasn’t entirely created by the said company. A lot of country music guitarists and famous jazz soloists have used self-designed tools that work similarly to a wah pedal before.
Even then, after a redesign of the famous Vox guitar amplifier, the wah pedal started to become a standard musical product for everyone.
The Mechanism of Wah Pedals
A wah pedal might only look like something you step on to produce music. However, there’s more science to its mechanisms than it seems. Knowing how a wah pedal can give you a clearer idea of how your music will be produced.
For a simpler explanation, consider an open pedal to have a “w” sound effect when pushed. On the other hand, a closed pedal will generate that “h” effect. Thus, stepping on it will produce a “w-to-h” sound. Hence, the “wah” sound is produced. Meanwhile, if you’re releasing your foot from the pedal, you’ll hear the sound go backward. Instead, it creates a “haw” sound.
These effects are created because your pedal acts as an audio filter. There are different kinds of audio filters around. For example, high-pass audio filters filter low frequency. As a result, it lets high frequencies pass beyond the cut-off mark of the filter. This is the opposite for a low-pass filter. It filters high frequencies instead. Similarly, it only lets lower frequencies pass the cut-off mark.
Your wah pedal is a combination of the two types mentioned. Hence, it’s labeled as a band pass filter. This is why you have the option to lower the lever with your foot or not. This mechanism gives you options if you want to go low or high in your frequency.
Pressing and releasing the pedal allows you to sweep through and make a variety of sounds. Why is it important to remember this simple fact? It’s because an open pedal has low range. In contrary, the closed wah pedal gives your music more treble.
Parts of a Wah Pedal
Now that you have an idea on the wah pedal’s mechanics, it’s time to focus on the parts. Having knowledge of your wah pedal’s internal parts will help you in many ways. For example, if ever your pedal gets busted, you’ll immediately know what’s wrong. Furthermore, you’ll have a better feel and an enhanced performance if you’re aware of the parts’ functions.
- Treadle - This is the lever that you push with your feet. You can’t go wrong with this part. Just try to check if the material is durable and fit for long-term use. You also want one that accommodates the size of your feet comfortably.
- Potentiometer - More commonly referred to as “the pot”; this is the core of your wah pedal. This is because this pot is responsible for the music it generates. Potentiometers are a three-terminal resistor that forms a voltage divider. This controls and measures the power supply to your wah pedal.
- Footswitch - This component features an adjustable switch that you operate by pressing it with your feet. Wah pedals come with different kinds of footswitches. One of the famous ones you’ll see is the 3PDT footswitch. It comes with a lot more spring tension. Hence, you’ll have more control over your footswitch. Adjusting the switch is the key here. You want a footswitch that doesn’t need a lot of foot pressure to activate. Likewise, you wouldn’t want a loose one. This is because you can trip it accidentally.
- Wah pedal switch felt - This works hand in hand with the footswitch. The switch felt is a self-adhesive pad for your treadle. It helps the footswitch to operate more smoothly when you adjust it. Thicker and more durable felt pads work better.
- Wah pedal bumpers - These are rubber bumpers that are found beneath your treadle. Its primary purpose is to protect the switch from too much pressure when you use it. Musicians used to remove pedal bumpers before. As a result, it gave the wah pedal more range. This practice is not advisable nowadays. This is due to wah pedals being more sophisticated in motion. It’s suggested that you shouldn’t risk squeezing out more range in exchange for durability.
Our Top 7 Best Wah Pedal 2017
Reviews Of Our Best Wah Pedal
1. Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah Guitar Effects Pedal
The Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah Pedal is constructed with heavy die cast meant for durability. The pedal itself is designed to change the tone of your instrument whenever pressed back or forth. Toe down, and the pedal will give you more treble. Heel down, and it will give you more bass. It also comes with a 100K ohm Hot Potz potentiometer which can produce an abrupt wah sound. The Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah Pedal can be powered by a 9-volt battery or the Dunlop ECB-003 AC Adapter. Finally, it comes with a 1-year warranty from the date of purchase.
- The pedal can instantaneously change the tone of your instrument with one step
- Its boost can create a sustain effect or feedback for your desired overtone
- The Hot Potz potentiometer will make it easy for you to produce an abrupt wah sound whenever you want one
- The Dunlop GCB95 also has several issues with quality control and durability
- It does not have its own on and off switch. Whenever you make a full step down to turn on the effect pedal, it will create a sound
2. Dunlop 535Q Cry Baby Multi-Wah, Black
The Dunlop Cry Baby 535Q Multi-Wah features an adjustable and switchable boost varying from 0 to +26 dB. It also comes with six new guitar wah ranges and a "Q" dial. A “Q” allows you to shape your wah from a narrow, sharp wah to a broad, subtle wah. It has a hard wire on/off switch and is powered by the Dunlop ECB003 AC Adapter or a single 9-volt battery.
- The Dunlop Cry Baby 535Q allows selecting the frequency center of the effect as well as the range of the effect
- The switchable boost can create an endless sustain effect on any note
- Its features and effects are very versatile and easily workable perfect for gigs or music jams
- It delivers a smooth, clean sound
- It can only be powered by the Dunlop ECB003 AC Adapter or a Single 9-volt battery
- There are several complaints about its durability/quality
3. BEHRINGER HELLBABE HB01
The Behringer Hellbabe HB01 features a spring-back pedal mechanism with resistance adjustment and a heel-down frequency range. The heel-down frequency range allows you to freely adjust the frequency range via its range control (440 Hz to 250 Hz). This can be used even with bass guitars. It also comes with a total optical control for free pedal operation.
It does not need mechanical pots and switches. Its ultra-musical Q control precisely filters shapes music out of your instrument to give you vocal-like effects or wah. Other notable features of the Behringer Hellbabe HB01 are its additional fine tune control and its tunable boost function.
The other fine tune control allows high-end extension of sweep range. The tunable boost function, on the other hand, includes an On/Off switch allowing you to push your licks up to their limit. Most importantly, this guitar pedal is run either on a 9V battery or the BEHRINGER PSU-SB DC power supply.
- Made with quality materials and assembled with components designed to last for a long time
- Has dual LED indicators for Effect On/Off and Boost On/Off at the tail of the pedal
- It is made with Ultra-low noise circuitry delivering you a cleaner, better audio quality
- You may have difficulty to tune and set it up for the first time
- It requires a mini screwdriver to set a bypass cut-in/cut-out timing
- The step-on/off feature sometimes switches back when you don't want it to. Especially when you're in the heel-down position
4. Vox V847A Wah Pedal
Vox V847A is a continuation of Vox hall of fame that revolutionized wah pedals. Furthermore, the Vox V847A has added several features from the 1960s Vox. Among these functions are the AC power capability and the buffered input jack. These effects help preserve the unprocessed guitar tones when the pedal is not in use.
Finally, it comes with add-ons such as a 9V DC battery and a vinyl carry bag. The 9V battery can last up to 100 hours.
- Buffered input jack helps make this device handy even when not in use
- Comes with a 9V DC battery and a vinyl carry bag
- Modeled after the superior 1960s Vox
- Wah sound could be subtle and not easily heard
- The range of this product appears to be lesser compared to other brands
5. Xotic Effects Xotic Wah Effect Pedal
The Xotic Effects Wah Pedal is based on the Holy Grail Wah 1967/8 built by Clyde McCoy Wahs. The effect pedal is equipped with different controls and can produce unlimited sounds. This is because the pedal gives you the ability to contour and shape the sound as you hear it. This particular wah pedal is also a true bypass which allows for clear, true bypass tone all while incorporating ultra reliable switching.
- Its controls will allow you to dial in the range of wah, color, shape and gain as well as its effect on your music
- The sleek, small footprint and compact size are perfect for musicians on the go
- Its versatile effects are easily workable and adjustable. This is ideal for those whole love experimenting
- Quite expensive compared to other brands with almost similar features
- Its LED light indicator is placed where your toes are going to be. When put on the pedal board, you might not see the red LED light
6. Morley VAI-2 Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2 Contour Wah
The Morley VAI-2 comes with a two-foot switchable wah mode. This is the main feature of the Morley VAI-2 that separates it from the rest. The two modes it has are the Bad Horsie 2 Mode and the Contour Wah Mode. The Bad Horsie 2 was named after the opening track from Vai’s 1995 “Alien Love Secrets”. In this mode, you get to maintain the original sound. The Contour Wah mode then enables you to adjust the frequency and wah levels.
Furthermore, Morley pedals use an Electro-Optical design. This model uses an LED light array and a light-sensitive sensor. These sensors control the wah sweep which gives out a good sound. As a result, the sensors let you use your pedal without relying on a pot. This provides you with a smooth wah sweep. But the best advantage of this is probably the lack of pot that saves you from the trouble of it wearing out.
- Doesn’t have a pot; makes it durable and easier to use
- Bad Horsie 2 and Contour Wah modes generate high-quality sound reminiscent of Vai
- Switchless activation
- Not much versatility in its sound, designed for certain band styles like Vai
- Doesn’t produce a vintage sound, entirely digital
7. Fulltone Clyde Standard Wah
The Fulltone Clyde Wah is a tried and tested wah pedal. It’s certified to be high quality because legendary bands like The Rolling Stones and Oasis have promoted this. So if you’re a fan of the bands indicated in the description, that’s always a plus.
These bands endorsed the Fulltone Clyde because of its superior sound quality. It comes with a handcrafted inductor that is tuned-core. It uses the same type wire and inductance as the great Vox from the 1960’s. In addition to the Vox design, it also features a resonance control. This is a large trimmer for bass. It’s also used for gain adjustment to mark your favorite settings.
- Endorsed by legendary bands
- Modeled after the credible Vox pedal
- Resonance control gives you a trimmer for bass sounds
- Sweep does not sound as good as other products
- High frequencies may be susceptible for squealing
How to Check Your Wah Pedal’s Sound Quality
There are many techniques to use for your wah pedal. Again, remember that you should consider this as another instrument you’re playing. Much like a guitar or a piano, you’d need some basic exercise to know if your wah pedal is top quality.
Before buying a guitar, you’ll usually test it out by strumming or plucking its strings. For the wah pedal, you test it by checking the sweep, filter, rhythm, and much more.
Here we present to you wah pedal exercises to check your pedal’s sound quality. These are very useful, especially for beginners. If you’re a pro, then this one is a walk in the park.
The Standard Sound: Wah-Wah
Funny as it may be, the wah pedal is also called a wah-wah pedal. The name is derived from the sound it makes, sort of similar to a human cry. This is the first sound you’d want to test on your pedal.
This is an easy exercise. First, you need to set your pedal and connect it to your electric guitar. Afterward, ready a set of notes to play on your guitar. As soon as you hit a note, press the pedal until it is closed.
Once you release the note, you also release your foot on the pedal. Do this repeatedly and quickly. Your feet should be in a rocking motion. After doing this, your pedal should have a “wah-haw-wah” sound.
The next trick here is to incorporate this into your music. For every beat you hit, the same should happen to your pedal. Once you mastered this, all that’s left is to adjust the tone to your preference.
Rhythm Patterns: Strumming with Your Wah Pedal
Simultaneously hitting your wah pedal together with your notes is quite easy. However, achieving harmony in your strumming and pedaling is challenging. This is a feel-good exercise if you’ve done it after a few tries. It gives you a sense of accomplishment because these can be seen in legendary songs like Jimi Hendrix’.
Although quite tricky, its principles are pretty basic. Since an open pedal means a lower sound, then strum your guitar’s lower strings. If you want to add treble, then pluck the high strings while closing your wah pedal. Your wah pedal should still rock back and forth like the previous one. Adding more tempo to this will give you exceptional results.
Wah Pedal as a Sound Filter
In layman’s terms, using your wah pedal as a filter simply means leaving it open at a particular angle. This is different compared to the first two. For this exercise, you won’t be using that rocking motion anymore. Instead, just apply a certain amount of pressure and leave it static.
Your pedal can be open, semi-open, or completely closed. The point of this is to give color and highlights to the sound of your guitar. As always, your ears will determine how you’ll play your pedal as a filter.
Sweeping with Your Wah Pedal
This technique is a relatively simple one to practice. Sweeping refers to the need to press your wah pedal gradually. By doing this, you’re generating a filtered sound. However, this time around it’s a shifting sound. This gives your music more variation in frequency. Remember, don’t worry too much about timing. Just play a riff and slowly rock your pedal until it closes.
If you are not very mindful of the price or the brand, the Xotic Effects Wah Pedal might just be the one for you. When it comes to size, durability, and versatility, this particular wah pedal is good to work with. Its controls will give you plenty space to go on experimenting with your music.
However, keep in mind that its compact size might also be an issue especially if you are not used to small wah pedals. As for the Dunlop GCB95 and Dunlop 535Q, though both have issues with durability, they are excellent for musicians who love making ad libs. Their controls are good for instantaneous adjustments in the middle of playing music.
At the end of the day, your music style and preference will decide what the best guitar pedal is for you. You must remember that sometimes the price of guitar pedals DO affect their quality. Depending on the parts and materials used to assemble it, a guitar pedal might or might not last long. Remember, it is not worth sacrificing the quality of your guitar pedal for its price.