The Wah pedal is one of the oldest and most popular guitar effects ever made. It has a very distinctive tone that even those who don’t play the guitar can recognize. The feature that sets apart this guitar effect from others is that it is directly controlled by the foot movement of the guitar player by pushing the pedal forward and back. By manipulating the peak frequency in the pedal, it produces a sound that resembles to a human voice; more like when we say the word ‘wah’. This is the guitar sound that you can hear in many Jimi Hendrix songs, or in the guitar solo of the Guns and Roses song Sweet child of mine.
The wah effect was designed to mimic the crying sound of a muted trumpet, and later it was implemented into a guitar pedal. It is mostly used in guitar solos, but it is also an excellent tool to create funky styled rhythms. Check out some wah pedal sound samples here!
History of the Wah Pedal
The first wah wah pedal was created in 1966 from the Vox Continental Organ volume pedal by the Warwick Electronics Inc. The first wah effect was designed by a young engineer, Brad J. Plunkett. Although his task would have been to redesign the USA Vox amplifier to create a new product line for the company (Vox Amplifonic Orchestra), Plunkett accidently created the the first wah sound.
Plunkett was instructed to replace one of the circuit switches to a transistorized circuit from a Thomas Organ. When he adjusted the amplifier using an electronic oscillator and connected the output to the speaker, he and the other engineers noticed the new sound that was produced by this new bread-boarded circuit. They went on testing the wah effect, first on a saxophone, then they tried to install the circuit into a volume control pedal. The first guitarist who connected his instrument to a wah pedal was Del Casher, who also suggested that this new effect is better used with guitars rather than with wind instruments.
The first wah pedals were marketed under the famous jazz trumpet player, Clyde McCoy’s name. The new guitar effect became known as the Vox Clyde McCoy Wah-Wah Pedal. The Clyde McCoy pedals were originally made in Italy and featured the famous Fasel inductor. The pedal has an image of Clyde McCoy at the bottom. The name of the pedal was later changed to Cry Baby, which became the most popular and recognizable wah pedal in the world. Warwick Electronics Inc. successfully patented the wah pedal in September 22, 1970.
Modern Wah Pedals
After the success of the first wah pedals other companies came out with their own versions. The most popular one is the Dunlop Cry Baby Wah pedal. The Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc. managed to register the name “Cry Baby” as a trademark and has created a number of different versions, including many signature pedals endorsed by famous guitar players such as Slash, Dimebag Darrell, Zakk Wylde, Kirk Hammett or Eddie Van Halen.
Today’s wah pedals usually offer more than just a wah sound. Some of them feature a number of different settings, have volume boost and/or distortion options, or allow the players to create their own unique wah tone. There are also wah pedals available for bass players.
Feel free to browse through our wah pedal articles and product reviews, or watch videos about great wah guitar solos.