Ah… Wah pedals. My absolute favorite type of pedal there is out there. Even if you claim to have never heard a guitarist use a wah pedal, you definitely have. One guitarist that comes to mind is Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix uses a wah pedal on many of his iconic songs. In this video, you can hear the wah effect that has become such an iconic sound. The wah effect has been used all across many genres of music.
From rock, to funk, to blues, the influence of guitar wah pedals stretch far and wide. In this article we will discuss what wah pedals do, how they work, and why you should get one for yourself.
Let’s get started.
What is a wah pedal?
First of all the wah pedal is probably one of the most popular and widely used pedals on the market. Everyone and their mother seems to be using one, and for good reason.
Back in the 60s when electric guitars were starting to be used in mainstream rock music, the field of electronics was also steadily developing. What came out of this era were guitar effects and effects pedals. The wah pedal was one of the first, and has withstood the test of time.
The reason a wah pedal is called a “wah” pedal is because it is characterized by sounding similar to the “crying sound” of a human voice. This is why we get certain brands called the “cry baby”, because it can literally sound like a baby crying at times.
So what exactly is a wah pedal? In essence, a wah pedal is just a filter. There are a few types of filters. There are low pass filters which basically allow low level frequencies to pass a certain “cut-off point”, but don’t allow high frequencies to pass through.
Then there are Hi-pass filters, which do the opposite; allowing high level frequencies past the cut-off point while not allowing low level frequencies to pass. Why the hell am I telling you this?
Because a wah pedal is a mix between the two, which is called a band filter. This means that the wah pedal allows a specific “band frequency” to pass through the filter, while filtering out high and low frequencies.
Since it has a set “band frequency” there is a low frequency cut off point and a high frequency cut off point. When the pedal is pressed down or not, you are essentially filtering the audio from its low frequency cut off to its higher frequency cut off, giving you the iconic “wah sound”.
Hooray! Science rules!
When to Use a Wah Pedal?
There are many times when a wah pedal is applicable. Hell, you can honestly use it whenever you want to and over any desired effect if it floats your boat.
The times that a wah pedal is best used would be for lead solos. The wah pedal gives you a very expressive effect that allows you to really emphasize certain notes more than usual.
There is also the case when you are playing funk and want that kind of “wacka-wacka-wacka” rhythm sound that you can use for your chords.
Another way to use a wah pedal is what we would call a “cocked-wah”. This is when you engage the wah pedal and leave it fully engaged, or down. This works well when using a distortion pedal at the same time, which will boost your gain and give your solos some extra punch.
The point of a wah pedal isn’t to press it up and down all the time over and over again like you are an old lady pumping her brakes going 20 miles an hour. You can do this, but it’s better to be selective of when you press the pedal down and when you release it.
The fantastic thing about wah pedals is that you control it when you are using it. There is usually no “set in stone” setting for a wah pedal. Most of them just come with the pedal and no extra settings.
This allows you to be extremely selective with how you want to use it, and when.
Check out this video to get a good idea of how to use your wah pedal, and see someone using it in action.
You Definitely Need a Wah Pedal
“Did he say Definitely?”, yes I did.
I believe that if there is any first pedal to get, it should be a wah pedal. Why? Because they are just awesome and super fun to use. You can really get some awesome melodies going and some really cool rhythms as well. Wah pedals are extremely fun to experiment with.
Two, so many great bands use them or have used them before. Led Zeppelin used them, Hendrix used them, Pink Floyd used them. They are so iconic that there are at least a few songs that you will want to learn how to play that need the wah effect to stay true to the song.
Third, wah pedals are great for cutting through a mix when playing a gig. Have you ever played a gig before, and you go to solo and you seem to get drowned out by all the other sounds and instruments around you? A wah pedal can help.
As mentioned above, when you engage your wah, you are going to get gain boosts to both your high level and low level frequencies. If you use this to your advantage, you can cut through the mix and stick out without having to do much of anything other than melt faces.
Wrapping it All Up
Like always, what I advocate most for when it comes to effects pedals is personal preference. I know plenty of guitarists that swear against using a wah pedal, and I know many more that wouldn’t gig without one.
To me, a wah pedal is a guitarist’s best friend because of how you control it in real time, and how expressive it will make your playing. It can really take you to new heights in terms of manipulating your guitar to get sounds that will really sound good.
The last thing I will advocate for is that it just makes playing funk music so much better. A lot of you might disagree with me, but you just can’t stop the funk.
Do you use a wah pedal? What brand do you use? Consider leaving a comment below and starting a discussion. We would love to hear from you! Keep on pickin’.