5 Best Wah Pedals
and Buyer's guide
The wah pedal is a classic effect that expressively complements rock, metal, blues and funk. It has been on the pedalboards of countless guitar legends since the 60s.
Jimi Hendrix famously unleashed the wah upon the world in his pioneering classic, Voodoo Child and it’s been going strong ever since.
Wah Pedal Buyer's guide
If you are looking to play like your favorite guitar player, or just looking to have some fun with a new effect, let me help you in choosing the wah that’s best for you.
What is a Wah Pedal?
The wah pedal, sometimes called a wah-wah pedal, is one of the earliest and most recognizable effects. Its signature timbre uniquely mimics the sound of a human voice saying “wah-wah.”
How does a wah work?
A wah is operated by rocking a footboard back and forth, almost like the motion of a bass drum pedal. The footboard operates a tone control knob.
Rocking your toe forward will turn the knob up producing more treble. Rocking onto your heel will cut the highs and give you more bass. The action of the footboard allows you to seamlessly move between highs and lows, or to stay somewhere in the middle.
This sliding action is at the core of a wah’s sound. The wah’s circuitry boosts a narrow range of frequencies. The foot pedal allows you to sweep these frequencies up and down the sonic spectrum. The boosted frequencies sliding up and down create the wah-wah sound.
Try this at home:
Start with an SH sound and move to an S sounds without stopping your breath. You should hear a lower frequency moving to a higher frequency.
Try moving back and forth, your tongue will move closer and father from your teeth. SH-S-SH
This is similar to what a wah is doing, only over a wider frequency range.
What is Q or Quack?
Q represents the width of the frequency band that is being swept up and down. The wider the band, the more quack a pedal has.
How to Choose the Best Wah Pedal
Here are some things to consider Before you choose a wah.
Do you want to immediately get a high-quality pedal? Or do you want to start with a low-end one? Wahs can cost between $10 and $2,000 but you can get a super solid one for about $100
Do you want a basic plug-and-play or one with more features? Remeber, features are fun, but sometimes they can be overwhelming, and even cause you to waste time trying to dial in the perfect tone. I like to stick to simple things and let my creativity do the heavy lifting.
What do you plan to use this pedal for? Although you can get a lot of mileage out of a wah, you don’t want to spend lots of money on a wah if you’ll only be using it on a few songs. (unless you have money to burn, then by all means)
Inexpensive vs. High-End Wah
Pricier wah pedals will typically be more durable, have more features, and produce a superior sound.
Less costly wahs may have a dull, artificial sound, or may boost unflattering frequencies.
Your choice of wah will also depend upon the type of music you play, your guitar, amplifier and the tone you seek. If you can try out pedals in person and comparison shop before buying one. Or order a few and send back the ones you don’t like.
There are two varieties of wahs available:
Simple wahs are for beginners who are just getting into the pedal, or for those on a tight budget. Guitarists who don’t know exactly what they want may want to start here, too many options can sometimes kill creativity.
Flexible wahs are equipped with many features such as equalizer settings, frequency control, and volume control. If you know the exact sound you are looking for this is the pedal for you. With a flexible wah you can dial in the sound just the way you want it.
There are also different types of mechanisms
- Mechanical Wah — Mechanical wahs contain moving parts that respond to the physical shift of the pedal up and down. There will be a real pot and linkage that can wear over time.
- Optical Wah — Optical wahs operate upon the same principle as mechanical wahs, except that they use lasers, which should last longer and be more precise
How Can I Use a Wah Pedal?
The wah pedal can create a variety of useable sounds.
- Use the wah by rocking it back and forth with a basic heel-toe motion. When you do this on every note you play, each note will produce a wah-wah. Think one rock per pick stroke.
- If you want a classic funky sound, open and close the wah on every beat (rather than every note).
- If Jimi Hendrix is more your style, you can replicate his “Voodoo Child” riff by matching your strumming with the wah-wah’s sound.
- You can add motion to sustained chords by rocking different rhythms. Try eighth notes or triplets.
- The pedal can also be set to one position and used as a filter to create tone in color.
If you would like to learn a ton more about how to use this great pedal check out this great TrueFire Guitar course:
Where does a wah wah pedal go in the signal chain?
For a basic set up the Wah pedal would come first in your signal chain, you could put it after a compressor or volume pedal, but you want it early in your chain.
You can also try putting it after your overdrive and distortion pedals for a harsher sound.
These are suggestions of what is typical but, there are no rules. Music is art, if you like the sound then its right.
Which guitar players use a wah pedal?
The wah is a weapon in countless guitarist’s arsenals. Here are some of the guitarists who have used it and the tracks it was used on:
Kirk Hammett — Kirk famously used a wah on “Enter Sandman.”
Slash — Slash punctuates Guns’ N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with athletic use of a wah-wah.
Charles “Skip” Pitts — Charles’ guitar stuttered out the signature “wacka-wacka” wah in the cult classic movie, “Shaft.”
Steve Vai – Guitar master Steve Vai makes great use of the wah pedal on the song “Bad Horsie”
Eric Clapton – While playing with cream Eric used a wah pedal heavily on the track White Room from the wheels of fire album.
George Harrison – On his album all things must pass George wrote a fitting tune entitled Wah Wah, which features both human and nonhuman wahs.
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Okay, so now you know what wahs are, how they work, how you can use them and who swears by them. But which one is the best one for you? I’ve tried to eliminate some of the guesswork with my wah reviews below.
Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah
The Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah Pedal is considered by some to be the gold standard of wahs. It’s kept good company with visionaries like Satriani, Clapton, Vai, Bowie, Brian May and Eddie Van Halen.
The GCB95 delivers a high-quality, vintage 1960s wah sound which works well with just about any style you play. It efficiently sweeps through the frequencies and sounds excellent through both clean and dirty channels.
It has no knobs or settings, so it’s an extremely easy pedal to use. You’ll likely be up and running in no time. This makes it a great newbie wah, as well as a workhorse for seasoned players.
Weighing in at 3.7 pounds the Cry Baby boasts heavy duty die-cast steel construction, and few plastic parts, to ensure durability and decades of use. Its only internal components are a simple circuit board and a pot, ideal for players who don’t want to futz around with a bunch of doohickies and thingamabobs.
The GCB95 is much less expensive than most other wahs, despite its iconic name and prestige. It’s a good bet for you if you want a simple, quality pedal but don’t want to spend a fortune.
Dunlop 535Q Cry Baby Multi-Wah
Dunlop advertises their 535Q Cry Baby Multi-Wah Pedal as the “Swiss Army Knife of Wah-Wahs.” It’s a high-octane descendant of the original Cry Baby model. The Multi-Wah has a quiver-inducing array of cool knobs, buttons and effects that can be merged in diverse combinations.
First, though, the 535Q is meant for professional musicians. It has customizable features that may challenge (or frustrate) a newbie.
One of those features is its Q control capability. Q shapes the wah’s response from emphasis on higher-end harmonics to emphasis on lower-end harmonics. You can also tune the pedal’s sweep with a six-position range dial to replicate everything from Hendrix to Hammett.
It has a gain boost, too, that blasts your amp into natural distortion. The 535Q can lock, so there’s no risk of it accidentally activating when it’s not supposed to. It even comes with instructions about setting the pedal to sound like specific guitarists (Hendrix, Page, etc.).
The 535Q is ruggedly built out of heavy metal (ha) and sturdy plastic. Changing batteries is simple: you can pop open the side compartment instead of rummaging around in the bottom. Its overhauled circuitry siphons less power and dispels unwanted distortion.
Ibanez WD7 Weeping Demon Pedal
Ibanez are definitely no slouches in the guitar manufacturing business, and they also make a wicked-good wah, the Ibanez WD7 Weeping Demon Pedal.
The Weeping Demon is packed with impressive features. It has three knobs that handle customized sounds. When you set one control near max, the built-in overdrive kicks in. The second knob governs the filter’s range, giving you either a subtle or battering ram sound. The third adds a low end boost, which is needed on some guitars and amps when using wahs.
The Demon sounds clear and modern, with a sharp bite suited for metal shredders. The pedal also works well with deep-saturation modern funk. It produces absolutely no static noise at any level. Crank the dials up and you’ll be rewarded with some crazy harmonics.
The WD7 is spring-loaded and more pressure-sensitive than laser wahs. A tension switch allows you to customize the Demon’s responsiveness for a looser or tighter feel. One of the best things about the WD7 Weeping Demon is its super-simple “stomp and it’s on” feature.
The instruction manual isn’t very detailed, but it has enough basic info to get you up and running.
Donner 2 in 1 Vowel Mini
The Donner 2 in 1 Vowel Mini is a compact stompbox that’s easy to use as both as a volume pedal and a vintage-sounding wah. This makes it compatible with just about any musical genre.
I found its small size to be a bit inconvenient compared with the control and comfort that larger foot plates give me. However, the 2-in-1 is sturdy and doesn’t look or feel cheap. And it does fit quite neatly into my pedal board.
The volume section is encased in an active circuit to avert accidental muting while you’re playing. The wah effect is influenced by the prototype Cry Baby pedal’s sound. It’s very dynamic and responsive. There is no tone suck and it has an exceptional tone sweep range.
Two LED lights indicate whether the pedal is in wah or volume mode. They’re difficult to see because they’re directly underneath, but you’ll usually be able to simply hear what mode you’re in. You can do some great volume swells with this mighty mite, and it remembers the function it was set to before disconnection from a power source.
Xotic Wah Pedal
The Xotic Wah is designed to mimic the vintage Holy Grail 1967/8 wah, with broader tone-shaping options. Even on the stock settings, it produces impressive sweeps (no bass is lost). It’s a midsized stompbox that’s sensitive to very subtle movements. The action on the treadle is nice and smooth thanks to a self-lubricating pivot.
The Xotic is small but intelligently designed and beautifully crafted. It also molds and tweaks a staggering number of frequencies. It can easily vault the spectrum, from rumbling lows to nuclear blast highs. No matter what style you play, the Xotic will respond like a race car.
Four pots on the right adjust Q, bias, treble and bass. Turning up the bias tightens the bass reaction and ramps up overall output. The wah’s Q broadens or narrows the filter peak inside the pedal’s sweep.
Xotic’s wah has a buffer circuit that, as the company puts it, is “fuzz friendly,” meaning it’s very compatible with vintage fuzz boxes. It also has an LED indicator, which is a boon onstage. Another plus is that it blinks when the battery is half-spent.
The Xotic is a high-end pedal and could be considered a boutique wah. It’s pricey, but for you it could be money well spent.
Despite the Xotic Wah’s steep price, none of the other wahs in this review are as impressively versatile and customizable. It’s the thoroughbred of stompers, allowing you to laser-focus your desired wah range, shape, color and gain in a limitless sound palette.
The Xotic’s ultra-responsiveness to subtle foot movements imparts tonal nuances to your footplay. You can hear the wah seamlessly affecting the sound from the very first movement away from the heel-down position.
Considering the Xotic Wah’s vast capabilities, it’s worth the price, and I recommend it for any musician looking for a pedal with jaw-dropping flexibility…..and maybe resolution of that elusive tone quest.
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