Even if you think you don’t know what a wah wah pedal (or just wah pedal) sounds like, odds are you’ve heard one before. And once you hear a wah pedal, you’ll know exactly why it’s called a wah wah pedal and exactly what it does.
So, is that the article on the wah pedal over? Sure, you can stop reading now!
But seriously. Wah is a pretty iconic guitar effect. It’s most notable when used not so subtlety, but it can be used a little less excessively if the player chooses. This article will be talking more about the uses of the wah wah pedal that are a bit more obvious.
So, let’s take a look at the wah pedal and what it does, and how it’s used in guitar playing.
What Is Wah?
As I mentioned, you’ll totally know wah when you hear it. The sound is in the name. Used effectively, a wah wah pedal creates a “wah wah” sound.
This sound is created by opening and closing the guitar pedal. Most guitar pedals are simply used in an “on” and “off” position. Sure, there may be settings that you dial in. For example with reverb, the player may increase or decrease the intensity of the reverberation, but ultimately either the reverb is on or off.
With a wah wah pedal, on the other hand, once it’s turn on, the player moves the pedal up and down with their foot, similar to the accelerator on a car, to change how the pedal operates.
What does moving the pedal up and down do? Well, it’s pretty simple. The wah wah pedal essentially acts as a movable equiliser. So, when the pedal is pushed down/closed fully, it removes the bass frequencies while upping the treble frequencies. Open the pedal and it does the opposite, cutting the treble and enhancing the bass.
Opening and closing the pedal sweeps through all the frequencies and creates that characteristic “wah wah” sound.
This is similar to the effect created with muted horns (like a trumpet). Often horn players will move a mute to change the frequencies coming out of the horn, giving it a similar sound.
How Does A Wah Wah Pedal Work?
As mentioned, a wah pedal works by enhancing and cutting either bass or treble frequencies. This could, theoretically, be done on a mixing board in real time, but obviously a guitarist’s hands are being used when they’re playing, so a pedal works for this.
And that’s really it in terms of how the pedal works.
The history of the pedals creation was that is was largely made by accident. According to Vox, the original creator of the wah wah pedal, they had created an amp (the Vox Super Beatle) in 1966 with a mid resonant boost built in. By accident, it was found out that this boost could be controlled with a volume pedal, and players could sweep through different tones and frequencies!
And the wah was born…
What Are Some Songs With Wah?
Wah wah is often either used as a rhythmic device to give a “wacka wacka” sound to emphasise on and off beats or with syncopation; you’ll often find this in funk music. More noticeably, you’ll often hear wah effects used in riffs and solos to give them some interesting flair beyond just the notes in the solo. In both instances, it really goes to show that a lot of great guitar playing comes down to not just the notes being played, but the tone as well.
Jimi Hendrix is, perhaps, one of the best known users of the wah pedal, and did a lot to popularise its use beyond something of a novelty.
And if you’re looking for a great example of Jimi using a wah pedal, look no further than the opening riff of Voodoo Child (Slight Return). Perhaps this isn’t the most over the top use of a wah pedal, but it’s iconic and it really pioneered the sound.
You’ll also notice that, before Jimi plays that opening riff, he also uses the wah wah for rhythm to get that sound I mentioned earlier.
If you’re looking to get your face melted off, check off Surfing With The Alien by Joe Satriani. The whole song shows excellent control of a wah pedel (along with some of rad shit to be honest).
While the entire piece is completely saturated in use of the wah pedal (you’ll see on the video Satriani’s foot doesn’t leave the pedal), in a way it’s a lot more subtle than Hendrix’s use. Hendrix, at least in Voodoo Child (Slight Return) moves through the tones a lot for effect while Satriani finds a tone and sticks to it before moving again.
What Are Some Good Wah Wah Pedals?
When it comes to wah wah pedals, you really shouldn’t look any further than a Vox Wah Wah pedal or a Dunlop Cry Baby. Both of these pedals are considered the top pedals for this effect.
There are plenty more out there, of course, but these are the gold standard.
And That’s Wah
There, now you know what wah is, what it does, and how it works.
Sure, it lends itself more to big guitar music but, used sparingly, can work well in a lot of different genres as well.
Unlike a lot of other pedals where you just find your desired tone and turn the thing on, the wah wah pedal takes practice of its own. Even if you’re already a great guitarist, you’ll need to learn a few new skills. But it will be worth it!