What is a Wah Pedal? The Essential Tool for Funk, Rock, and Blues Guitarists

Dive into the world of wah pedals, tone filters transforming guitar sounds. Unravel their history, impact on music, types, and more. Gear up, rock on!

Ever jammed to the iconic opening of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’ or grooved to the funky rhythm of Isaac Hayes’s ‘Theme from Shaft’? Then you’ve experienced the mesmerizing charm of a wah pedal. But do you know what this piece of gear actually does or how it adds that extra ‘wow’ to your favorite tunes? Let’s take a foot-stomping journey into the world of the wah pedal, the voice-like magic box that transformed the sound of the electric guitar forever.

What is a wah-wah Pedal? A wah-wah or simply, a wah pedal, is a type of guitar effects pedal that alters the tone of the signal to create a distinctive effect, mimicking the human voice saying the onomatopoeic name “wah-wah”.

What is a wah-wah pedal?

A wah-wah pedal, or simply a wah pedal, is a type of guitar effects pedal that jazzes up your guitar’s sound, tweaking the tone and frequencies to cook up this unique ‘wah-wah’ kind of vibe. This is done through the use of a foot pedal that controls a filter sweep over the frequency range of the guitar’s tone, accentuating different frequencies as it is moved back and forth.

Image of a guitarist stepping on a wah wah pedal. Source: unsplash
Image of a guitarist stepping on a wah wah pedal. Source: unsplash

Wah pedals are commonly used in various music genres, including rock, funk, and blues, and are a favorite tool of many guitarists for their expressive, voice-like quality.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is a wah pedal? The essential tool for funk, rock, and blues guitarists | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

Why ‘wah-wah’ though?

This foot-operated dynamo is named for its incredible mimicry of the human voice, sliding through tonal frequencies like a pro. Imagine singing ‘wah’. That’s the effect this pedal creates! It’s like having your guitar chat with the audience, and who wouldn’t dig that, right?

Whether it’s about creating a bass-heavy timbre that jazz aficionados love or a treble-focused tone that makes country music, surf music, and funk shine, the wah-wah pedal handles it all. Remember Isaac Hayes’s ‘Theme from Shaft’? Those unforgettable wah-infused tones were possible due to this humble piece of gear.

How does the wah-wah pedal work?

Unlike the tone knob on a standard guitar, which is rarely fiddled with during a song due to the need for the right hand to pick, a wah pedal places this control at your feet. It’s like having an extra hand, but you’re using your foot instead – nifty, huh?

When you rock the wah pedal all the way back (heel end down), it serves as a low-pass filter, letting low frequencies through while blocking higher ones.

When you rock the wah pedal all the way back (heel end down), it serves as a low-pass filter, letting low frequencies through while blocking higher ones. And guess what happens when you rock it all the way forward (toe end down)? Yep, you’ve got it – it flips the script and becomes a high-pass filter, allowing treble to cut through at the expense of bass. This back-and-forth rocking action is what creates that spectral groove we call the “wah effect.”

The ability to rapidly and smoothly transition between these different filters is what gives the wah pedal its unique charm. It’s like the unseen vocalist of your performance, adding that extra layer of expressiveness and nuance.

Do experiment with different genresDon’t use it excessively
Do use it to emphasize your guitar’s vocal qualitiesDon’t forget to maintain it
Do pair it with other effects for unique tonesDon’t underestimate its versatility
Do’s and Don’ts of Using a Wah Pedal

What is the history behind the wah-wah pedal?

The first official wah pedal was introduced by the Thomas Organ Company in 1966, a sibling company of the folks who made Vox amplifiers. Despite not being the very first to experiment with tone-shifting effects, they were certainly the first to bring it into the mainstream.

It’s worth mentioning that even before the wah pedal’s birth, trumpet players had been creating “wah wah” effects for ages. Guitarists like Chet Atkins and Peter Van Wood also dabbled with tone-shifting pedals. This tells us that the desire for dynamic tone control is as old as music itself. It’s the wah pedal that brought this desire to the forefront of popular music.

…trumpet players had been creating “wah wah” effects for ages.

And it didn’t take long for this brilliant invention to find its way into the limelight. Within a year, the likes of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were already incorporating the wah pedal into their music, carving out sonic landscapes that still echo in the halls of rock history.

Which iconic tunes made the wah-wah pedal famous?

A bunch of iconic tracks has put the wah pedal on the map, and it’d take ages to list them all, but here are a few worth noting:

  • Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer” (1986)
  • The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “The Burning of the Midnight Lamp” (1967)
  • The Band, “Up On Cripple Creek” (1969)

And it’s not just guitarists who have embraced the wah pedal. Tracks like “Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band showcased the wah pedal’s versatility when Garth Hudson used it to filter a clavinet, creating a unique jaw harp effect.

Which wah-wah pedals should be on your radar?

We’ve jammed through the history of the wah-wah pedal, and we’ve rocked out to some iconic tracks. Now let’s get practical and talk gear. What are some of the best Wah-wah pedals you should consider adding to your setup?

Image of different guitar effects pedal. Source: unsplash
Image of different guitar effects pedal. Source: unsplash
  • Dunlop Cry Baby series: First off, no discussion about wah pedals can skip the Dunlop Cry Baby series. Seriously, these guys offer around 30 different variations on the original Cry Baby wah. Some are tweaked to the tastes of specific players, like Slash and Joe Bonamassa, while others, like the 535Q, offer a wide variety of tonal filters to choose from.
  • Vox V847A: This pedal is designed to mirror the original Vox Wah pedal from 1966, and boy does it deliver. If you’re into that vintage vibe, this could be your go-to. Plus, how cool is it to have a piece of history on your pedalboard?
  • Morley Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2 & MXR MC404 CAE: As for those of you into more modern tones, the Morley Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2 and MXR MC404 CAE are well worth checking out. Both pedals are built upon the original design of the Thomas Organ Company, but with several upgrades that bring them into the 21st century. I mean, who wouldn’t want to sound like Steve Vai, right?
  • Keeley Neutrino Envelope Filter V2: This one’s for you adventurous types out there. It may not be your traditional wah pedal, but if you’re the type who likes to push the envelope (pun fully intended), this might just be your new secret weapon.

Oh, and by the way, if you want even more great tips and information, check out the video below.

Advantages and disadvantages of using a wah-wah pedal

A wah-wah pedal can be a powerful tool in your gear arsenal, adding a fresh dimension to your sound. However, as with any piece of equipment, there are both advantages and disadvantages that come with its use.

Advantages of using a wah-wah pedal

Whether you’re a seasoned guitarist or just starting, using a wah-wah pedal can bring numerous benefits:

  • It adds unique tonal versatility to your playing, letting you shift from smooth lows to crisp highs on the fly.
  • It can help you emulate the sounds and styles of iconic guitarists.
  • It encourages creative experimentation, pushing you to explore new sounds and techniques.
  • It serves as a foot-controlled tone knob, freeing your hands for picking and strumming.

Disadvantages of using a wah-wah pedal

However, there are some potential drawbacks to consider as well:

  • It may be challenging to master for beginners, requiring practice to get the right feel.
  • It can clutter your pedalboard if you’re already using multiple effects pedals.
  • It requires extra care and maintenance, as foot-operated gear can be prone to wear and tear.
  • It might not suit all styles of music, potentially feeling out of place in certain genres.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Let’s dive into some common questions I’ve seen popping up in our music community about wah-wah pedals.

Do wah-wah pedals work with all types of guitars?

Absolutely! While wah-wah pedals are typically associated with electric guitars, they can be used with any type of guitar that can connect to an amplifier. This includes electric-acoustic guitars and even bass guitars. However, the impact and effect may vary depending on the instrument’s characteristics.

How can i integrate a wah-wah pedal into my existing pedalboard?

Great question! Generally, it’s recommended to place the wah pedal at the start of your signal chain. This means it should be the first pedal your guitar connects to. This placement allows the pedal to interact with the raw signal from your guitar, which typically leads to a more expressive and dynamic wah effect.

Can I use a wah-wah pedal for genres other than rock and funk?

You bet! Although wah-wah pedals are iconic in rock and funk music, they’re not limited to these genres. You can find wah-wah effects in jazz, blues, pop, and even country music. The key is to experiment and find where the wah sound fits into your own musical style.


The wah-wah pedal is a fantastic tool in any guitarist’s toolkit. It’s like the secret sauce that can make your guitar sing, wail, or even talk. Did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and reply to every comment. If you found this article helpful, share it with a buddy and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on wah-wah pedals and other music production topics. Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep those groovy vibes going!

Key Takeaways

This article covered the use, history, and varieties of the wah-wah pedal. Here are some key takeaways:

  • A wah-wah pedal is a tone filter that allows musicians to glide through tonal frequencies using a foot pedal.
  • The first wah pedal was issued in 1966 by the Thomas Organ Company, and it has since been used by legendary guitarists and featured in countless iconic songs.
  • A variety of different types of wah-wah pedals are available, each offering unique tonal profiles and features.
  • The wah-wah pedal is a versatile tool that can be used across multiple genres, and it’s all about experimenting to find your unique sound.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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