“They’ve been going in and out of style, but they’re guaranteed to raise a smile”. Although this lyrical snippet is from Sgt Pepper and the Beatles only ever used one on one track, Across the Universe, the phrase neatly sums up the history of the wah-wah pedal. Since its invention in the mid-sixties, it has enjoyed long spells of mega popularity and suffered at other times where it was completely ignored and deemed out of fashion. However, during its heyday in the early years, it was embraced by all the greats. Hendrix used one as a significant part of his sound – listen to Voodoo Chile and the solo in All Along the Watchtower – and so did Clapton, notably on Cream’s Tales of Brave Ulysses and White Room. The funk/blues guitarist ‘Wah Wah’ Watson created a nick-name for himself after one and the wah became the signature effect on the funk records of the 70’s – the theme from the movie Shaft being the best example . It has since been featured by Johnny Marr, Slash, Kirk Hammett and countless other players. Zakk Wylde and Eddie Van Halen currently lend their names to signature models.
The story goes that Vox played a significant part in the development of the wah pedal, which was apparently born out of an accident during a re-design of the Vox Super Beatle transistor amp. At first the company were going to market it – a simple circuit housed in a volume pedal – as a wind instrument effect, but Del Casher – one of the Vox engineers – plugged in a guitar and the wah-wah as we know it was born. It was marketed by Vox as the Clyde McCoy Wah Wah Pedal – inspired by jazz trumpeter McCoy’s signature ‘wah-wah’ sound with a mute – and released to the public in 1967. Wah -wah pedals are now marketed by several manufacturers most notably Jim Dunlop, along with Morley, Behringer, Boss, Budda, MXR and of course the Vox wahs are still with us after 45 years.
We’ve picked out six at random for a quick review.
The V845 Wah-Wah outer case is coated with tough, all-black finish but with no battery compartment – you have to remove the bottom panel to install a new battery – or you can use an AC power adaptor. It’s a fairly lightweight pedal compared to the other Vox wah and the Dunlop range but offers classic wah tones with no unpleasant woofiness or harshness at the extremes of travel. The V845 works well with clean tones for authentic funk and through the overdrive channel for some classic wah workouts. It’s also very affordable. Verdict: Great wah tones for not much money.
The new V847 Wah-Wah pedal is an enhanced version of the original Vox pedal, featuring AC power capability and a buffered input jack for preserving the unprocessed guitar tone when the pedal is not engaged. The pedal’s inductor has undergone a redesign to be closer in specification to the original Vox wah inductors, for improved dynamics and tone. Sound-wise, the V847 is similar to the V845 providing instant and recognisable traditional wah tones. It has the advantage of having a metal-clad pedal and a heavy duty casing and comes complete with a vinyl carry bag. Verdict: Classic wah pedal that should last a lifetime.
The GCB95 is the original Cry Baby. The pedal is weighty and has a wide sweep and it’s very easy to get a decent wah effect without too much practice. It has an extended treble response so you have to be careful if you’re going to use it as a treble booster as when the pedal is fully depressed the tone becomes very harsh. Verdict: Very affordable wah pedal for general use. Verdict: Indestructable wah pedal with classic tones.
The WH10V2 is an update of the WH10 and now features a die-cast metal construction which replaces the original plastic case but still contains the same multiple feedback opamp circuit as the original. It also has a depth knob to control to level of the wah effect and a dry out for mixing a dry signal with the wah sound. In the up position, there’s a slight muffled bass tone when using a clean signal but there’s a big sweep available which means a big wah sound. The best setting is with the sweep control about two o’clock. The WH10V2 is probably best set in one position and then used expressively to emphasise certain notes in a phrase. Verdict: a good if slightly noisy wah pedal.
The Jimi Hendrix Signature Wah features a black Italian crinkle finish aluminum body with the Hendrix signature printed on the inset name panel. Kicking it in produces a wide sweep of tones, from a muted, haunting ethereal sound at the top of the travel of the pedal, through a throaty roar to a surprisingly sweet top-end. There’s no ear-splitting treble when fully pressed down and there’s enough sweep to be able to use just parts of the available travel, where you sweep from the muted to mid position and back or from the middle to the treble. Verdict: As about as close to the Hendrix sound as it’s possible to be.
The 535Q provides control over the frequency center of the effect with a six-way control on the side of the pedal. You can dial in the frequency range to be swept by the pedal and then further adjust the intensity with the ‘Q’ control. The pedal also features a switchable boost which is activated by a small red button on the side which is adjustable with a mini-rotary control. The 535Q is a very flexible pedal, with lots of options for tone and sweep. It will emulate all the classic wah tones form rock to funk and although quite pricey, covers all the bases. Verdict: The do-it-all Dunlop wah-wah.
Look out for further reviews of wah pedals including the CryBaby Classic with the Fasel inductors and the EVH and Slash models.