Wah Pedal Player’s Guide

Wah Pedal Player’s Guide 

The electric guitar has a unique ability to mimic the human voice.  Since the player has direct physical control over the string and thereby the sound production, a pitch can be modified and modulated to sound like a vocal expression.  The effects chain likewise offers  further ability to control the sound. One of the best electronic tools for mimicking the voice is the “wah-wah” pedal, so named because of the syllable pressing down on it seems to create.  The wah pedal is forever entwined the sound of modern guitar, first being used by eminent psychedelic guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, later being adopted by funk players and still being used by many modern rockers today.

Though now a guitar staple, the wah pedal was originally designed in the mid-1960s by Vox to emulate the crying sounds of a plunger mute on a trumpet.  The wah pedal utilizes a “band pass” filter which boosts the output of frequencies between a certain threshold.  By using a long, rocking foot pedal connected to a potentiometer, the peak response of the filter can be manually manipulated up and down the frequencies spectrum.  Pointing the toe up boosts the low end while depressing the toe downwards shifts the boost to the high end.   When the peak response is traveling from one end of the frequency response to the other, the characteristic “wah” syllable is created.

Common Wah Pedals

Vox V845 Classic Wah Pedal- Produced by the manufacturers of the very first wah pedal in the 1960s, this model was developed to capture the vintage sound of the original model.  It is a straightforward model, made of sturdy but lightweight aluminum and at an affordable price 

Dunlop GCB95 Crybaby Wah- While it is not the original wah pedal, Dunlop Crybaby has become the industry standard.  This simple and versatile pedal can be used to cover a broad varieties of sound, from rock leads to the funk rhythms. 

Morley Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2- This modern model was designed for its eponymous virtuoso to be switchless and true bypass.  Rather than requiring button activation, the Bad Horsie begins to work as soon as the player places their foot on the pedal and ceases to be activated as soon as they remove their foot.  To maintain the original signal level, a TrueTone bypass circuit is used.  The Bad Horsie 2 also includes knobs to control the frequency and output of the wah effect.


A wah pedal generally only has one control, the foot pedal which controls the filter’s sweep through the frequency spectrum.  Many will have a switch underneath the foot pedal which activates the wah effect when fully depressed.  Some pedals, like the Bad Horse 2, will activate as soon as the pedal begins to be used.  Some will also include potentiometers to control the frequency and output of the effect.

Common Uses

The wah is pedal that can be used in many unique ways in combination with various styles of guitar playing.  Below are a few methods along with musical demonstrations.

1. In sync with a melody-  By moving the pedal up and down in time with a piece of music we are performing, we can place the “wah” syllable on the downbeat of our melody.  This was a staple of psychedelic rock best exemplified by Jimi Hendrix on. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

Jimi Hendrix - Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

2. With percussive attacks- Funk guitarists love add flavor to their muted strum techniques by adding a wah sweep.  This is most famously performed on Isaac Hayes “(Theme From Shaft)”.

Theme From 'Shaft' - Isaac Hayes
Theme From 'Shaft' – Isaac Hayes

3. To boost a band of frequencies-  If the pedal is activated and “parked” in a certain position, it acts as a boost to the frequency at which it is left.  This technique was a favorite of Michael Schenker of UFO.

UFO - Lights Out
UFO – Lights Out

Common Signal Chain Placement 

The wah is a filter effect and is therefore placed at beginning of the chain.  If you are using a compressor, whether to place it before or after the is a matter of preference.