An effect originally inspired by this trumpet trick, the wah effect is, in essence, a resonant bypass filter whose boosted frequency is linked to a pedal treadle that can be swept up and down the frequency spectrum. This produces a nasal tone similar to the one human voice makes when slowly moving from a “w” to an “a” sound (or vice-versa) – hence the name “wah.”
This is a thorough guide to all the most popular wah pedals organized by type.
The Ultimate Guide to the Best Wah Pedals
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WAH PEDAL
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When Vox subsequently marketed the pedal in 1967, it was called the Clyde McCoy Wah-Wah. Odd as it seems, the American-born McCoy was not a guitarist but a then-64-year-old trumpeter who was famous for creating a distinctive vocal-like sound with his instrument by cupping his hand over a mute that he stuck in its bell. In the U.S., Thomas went a different route and named the pedal the Cry Baby, which is how the wah pedal was largely known among guitarists. (If you want to know more, read here).
Here’s how the original pedal from the late ’60s sounded – not the audible hiss when the filter is fully open.
Before we delve into the list of pedals, it’s important for you to understand what element in a wah circuit can change from a model to another.
VARIABLES AFFECTING THE TONE OF A WAH PEDAL
While the original Wah Wah pedals didn’t offer any room for fine-tuning, today several companies have developed their own take on the original model and there are a lot of options on offer, from single-voiced to fully tweakable. The tone of a wah pedal can vary substantially depending on how each one of these variables is set up:
Inductor: The inductor is the component of the wah that gives it its character. See this other article for a more in-depth look at what the inductor does and list of Wah pedals organized by inductor.
Central Frequency (aka Q): This is the frequency that’s boosted when the treadle is in center position.
Boost: This is the amount of gain applied to the resonant frequency
Q Curve: This defines how wide or narrow the boost’s bandwidth is (wider Qs produce a less nasal sound).
LIST OF CATEGORIES
We decided to organize our list of best wah pedals on the market according to the functionality offered by each unit, here’s our list, click on the category that interest you to jump directly to the relevant interactive gallery.
• BEST AFFORDABLE, SINGLE VOICED WAH PEDALS
• BEST HIGH-END, HAND-WIRED WAH WAHS
• BEST MULTI-VOICED WAH PEDALS
• BEST WAH PEDALS WITH ADVANCED CONTROLS
• BEST WAH PEDALS WITH A CREATIVE ANGLE
• BEST MINI WAH PEDALS (Separate Page)
• BEST FUZZ FRIENDLY WAH PEDALS (Separate Page)
BEST AFFORDABLE, SINGLE-VOICED WAH PEDAL
The pedals in this list stick to the classic Wah sound without offering any options for fine-tuning, and are not hand-wired, like the ones in the following category. This makes them affordable and very popular.
$89 | The Dunlop GCB95 is a modern interpretation of the classic pedal from the ’60 from one of the two original builders. Retains the expressive character of the legendary red Fasel inductor with a more focused high end and a more aggressive and accentuated wah sound
Other single-voiced wahs organized by popularity:
BEST HIGH-END, HAND-WIRED WAH
For those who value human craftsmanship, here’s a list of hand-wired pedals featuring top-notch components. The time-consuming effort of building them by hand and above-average quality of the parts make them decidedly more expensive than the average. They are all single voice pedals apart from the Jam Wahcko and the RMC3, and they are considered among the best wah pedals on the market.
$204 | The VOX V846HW is a hand-built recreation of the classic V846, the first, Italian-built wah pedal, which featured a Halo inductor. This is a true-bypass recreation with premium components and quality construction.
Other hand-built wah pedals organized by popularity:
BEST WAH PEDAL WITH TWO OR MORE VOICES
Some modern Wahs offer different voicings that are useful for different sonic situations – most commonly, a beefier tone for solos and a lighter one for rhythmic parts, like the ones played in funk music. Here’s a selection of the best wah pedals on the market with more than one voicing.
$133 | A two-mode wah with a classic “Vintage” mode and a “Rich” mode that retains low-end fullness, eliminating the thin tone of typical wah designs.
Other multi-voice wah pedals organized by popularity:
BEST WAH PEDALS WITH ADVANCED CONTROLS
The wah pedals in this list, rather than offering pre-defined settings like the ones in the previous list, let the user free to set their preferences through a series of controls affecting the various parameter like Q, Range, and Boost.
$169 | A more versatile take on the classic wah, letting you select the frequency center of the sweep (big silver knob) and its range. The small red switch close to the heel is a gain knob for an added punch to the boosted frequency. The two small black knobs on the left panel are a regular gain and a control that sets the range of the sweep.
BEST WAH PEDALS WITH A CREATIVE ANGLE
These wahs are recommended for the “out of the box” guitarist, since they offer, on top of classic functionality, also a series of unique effect features.
BEST MINI WAH PEDALS
We have a separate article about the Best mini Wah Pedals!
Here are a few popular videos on wah tips and tricks.
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