Few guitar effects are as iconic or have made a lasting impact on rock music the way the wah has. The wah is one of the first pedals beginner’s reach for as they begin to develop their signature sound, and it’s a staple on the pedalboards of today’s hottest guitarists as well.

From the iconic sounds of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile to Jimmy Paige’s solo on Whole Lotta Love to the groundbreaking tones of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, the wah has cemented its legacy as a go-to pedal for some of rock ‘n roll’s most innovative superstars.

But, with so many different pedals on the market, it’s harder than ever to decide what the best wah pedal for your sound is going to be. Today we’re going to take a deep dive into all you need to know about the wah pedal and take a closer look at some of the best options to add to your pedalboard.

What is the Best Wah Pedal?

What exactly is a wah pedal and what does it do?

Long before the wah pedal was ever created, brass players were creating wah-like tones with their instruments with the help of mutes. This new sound was expressive and almost human in nature. It sounds a bit like a person crying, hence the wah-wah moniker.

To pinpoint what a wah pedal is, we first need to examine how it works. A wah pedal is essentially a filter. Filters allow musicians to filter out certain frequencies from their dry sound for effect. There are high pass filters, which filter out high frequencies, low pass filters, which filter out low frequencies, and then there’s the wah pedal, which is essentially a bandpass filter.

Wah pedals are capable of filtering out high or low frequencies from the dry sound, depending on how the player controls the foot pedal. The foot pedal is hooked up to a potentiometer, similar to your guitar’s volume or tone controls, and that potentiometer gets turned up or down depending on the position of the player’s foot on the pedal.

In it’s up position, the wah pedal filters out high frequencies. In its down position, the wah filters out low frequencies. All of the positions in between are where that wah magic truly happens.

Thanks to players like Hendrix, Paige, and Eric Clapton, the wah pedal has become synonymous with rock lead guitar; while that’s one of the best ways to apply a wah pedal, it’s also practically required equipment for rhythm players looking to capture the funky sounds of the ‘70s as well.

What makes a great wah pedal?

With so many different options available, knowing how to separate a great wah pedal from a mediocre one is especially important. When you’re checking out wah pedals in the store to find the best fit for you, you’ll want to evaluate them based on these factors:

  1. High-quality potentiometer
  2. Rugged build quality
  3. Easy to repair or modify
  4. Ease of use

High-Quality Potentiometer

Hands down, the most important thing to evaluate when searching for the wah is the quality of its potentiometer. Since the pot is located inside of the pedal, it’s not something you can take a look at when you’re evaluating a pedal. But, it’s certainly something that you can hear.

When you engage the wah, play a note and see how wide the sweep is. Start with the wah in the up position, and slowly move the pedal to its down position. Notice how smooth the transition is between the bass and treble, and also how wide the difference is between the bass and treble tones.

If the pedal is made using a quality potentiometer, you’ll be able to hear a wide sweep in tone and a smooth transition between the bass and treble tones. The wider that difference is, the more expressive the pedal will be, which is hands down the most important factor in determining whether you’re playing with a great wah or a mediocre one.

On your search, you’re sure to notice modern style wah pedals that do away with the potentiometer altogether in favor of optical circuitry. The draw of these pedals is that they don’t include any mechanical parts to break down. However, most players find that these newer wahs don’t retain the warm, vintage character of the classic wahs we know and love.

Rugged Build Quality

The next factor to consider is the build quality of the pedal. Unlike typical stomp boxes which you simply turn on or off, a wah is an expression pedal, and you’ll play the wah just like you play your instrument. This means that your wah will have to stand up to much more use and abuse than a standard stompbox would.

All that wah playing is sure to take a toll on the pedal itself, and this is one area that separates the proven performers from the pretenders. Cheaper or lower quality wahs will eventually fail because they aren’t built to stand up to the demands of playing over time.

Look for a wah that shows the hallmarks of a quality build on the outside. The casing should be made from die-cast metal, the foot pedal should feature a rugged exterior, and the feet of the pedal should provide a skid-proof grip.

If possible, do some research online and see if you can find some photos or videos of the internal circuitry of the pedal. Look for neat wiring, solid soldering on all of the contacts, and heavy-duty pots and components.

A wah pedal that passes all of these tests should stand up to anything you can dish out for many years to come.

Easy to Repair or Modify

Even the most rugged and road-ready of wah pedals are sure to run into some issues after years of use. Since the circuitry of a wah pedal is actually quite simple, it’s usually easy to make repairs, or modifications yourself.

For example, the iconic Dunlop Crybaby wah is an incredibly simple device, and if anything ever goes wrong, it’s easy to repair the broken component. If you bring the pedal to a repair shop, they should be able to bring your pedal back to life at an affordable price. Or, if you’re inclined with a soldering iron, you can probably make any required repairs yourself.

Even if repair isn’t necessary, a lot of players choose to modify their wah pedals by changing out the pots and other components to provide a different sound. A pedal that’s easy to repair will also be easy to modify, and this is something to consider if you’re the type who likes to tweak your gear until you’ve arrived at your signature sound.

Some of the more modern high-end wah pedals available make the need for these modifications obsolete, by providing controls on the pedal that allow you to tweak the sweep or EQ of the pedal without ever needing to break out the soldering iron.

Ease of Use

Finally, you’ll want to look for a wah pedal that allows you just to plug it in and play. Some of the more modern offerings on the market these days feel like they require a college degree to operate, which can really suck the fun out of exploring your new pedal.

A wah is a simple device, and it should be simple to operate. If you can’t step on the pedal to turn it on and control its tone with the action of your foot, that’s usually a sign the pedal you’re looking at isn’t the best option for you.

Wah Pedal Reviews – Our Top 5 Recommendations

Xotic Effects XW-1 Wah

Best Overall

What Makes It Special?

Quickly becoming the new standard on the pedalboards of the world’s most discerning guitarists, the XW-1 wah from Xotic Effects offers seemingly endless tone shaping ability thanks to it’s dedicated wah Q, bias, treble, and bass controls. No other wah is as customizable or provides more tonal options while still maintaining the vintage sensibilities of classic wah pedals.

  • Modeled off the iconic Vox Clyde McCoy wahs of the late ‘60s
  • True bypass construction
  • Adjustable pedal tension
  • Independent controls for wah Q, bias, treble, and bass

The XW-1 delivers the vintage tone wah purists are after thanks to its vintage-style circuitry. The addition of the four controls on the side of the pedal allows the player to completely tailor the sound of their wah, from the faithful vintage sound of the original Vox Clyde McCoy wahs through the more aggressive sounds of today’s modern guitar giants.

This pedal also boasts a clean look, true bypass circuitry, and adjustable rocker tension, which allows players to dial in exactly how they want their pedal to feel beneath their foot. This pedal can run with batteries or AC power, and it’s 20% smaller than other wahs, making it perfect for compact pedal boards.

What Customers Like

  • Adjustable controls allow you to capture virtually any classic or modern wah sound
  • Smaller footprint is pedalboard friendly
  • Unbeatable build quality

What Customers Dislike

  • Expensive
  • Wah Q control is a bit scratchy when you adjust it while the wah is on

VOX V845 Classic Wah

Best For the Price

What Makes It Special?

It’s tough to beat an original, especially when it’s priced more competitively than virtually every other quality wah on the market. The VOX V845 accurately captures the classic tone of ‘60s VOX wahs, and at well under $100, any guitarist can add one to their pedalboard without breaking the bank.

  • Based on the specs of the original ‘60s VOX wah that started it all
  • Solid all aluminum construction
  • Battery or AC power
  • Provides around 100 hours of life per battery

The V845 is one of the most classic wahs available today, and it’s also one of the most affordable, which makes it perfect for players who are on a budget but aren’t willing to sacrifice that classic wah sound.

This no-frills wah features durable die-cast aluminum construction and a heavy black powder coating for added durability. The V845 runs off of AC power or batteries, and it provides an impressive battery life of up to 100 hours when used with a 9v.

As for the wah itself, this is the genuine article, and it’s classic construction and quality potentiometer ensure that you’ll be able to achieve all the classic wah tones of the ‘60s and ‘70s along with the more modern sounds of heavy rock.

What Customers Like

  • Priced right
  • Built to last
  • Impressive battery life

What Customers Dislike

  • Doesn’t offer as wide a sweep as the classic Dunlop wah
  • Not true bypass

Dunlop GCB95 Crybaby Wah

What Makes It Special?

When it comes to wah pedals, it’s hard to argue against popular opinion. The GCB95 Crybaby is by far the most popular wah pedal available, and it’s been the industry standard for decades. There may be a few wahs that have surpassed the classic Crybaby, but none are more popular than this bad boy.

  • 100k Ohm Hot Potz potentiometer
  • Battery or AC power
  • Rugged die-cast build quality
  • Legendary Fasel Red inductor for classic sound

The Original Crybaby wah is just that, true to the original in every way. This pedal makes use of a 100k Ohm Hot Potz potentiometer for long life and a broad sweep in different tones. The Fasel inductor is what’s separated the Crybaby wah from the pack for years, and it remains in this classic iteration of the first Crybaby wah. The result is the truest, most expressive wah sound around.

Other features, like it’s built-to-last diecast construction, easy to access battery door, and sturdy rubber feet make this pedal easy to play, and even easier to fall in love with.

What Customers Like

  • Original Crybaby looks and sound
  • Industry-leading durability
  • Easy-access battery door

What Customers Dislike

  • Heavy as a brick
  • Not true bypass

Donner Vowel 2-in-1 Volume & Wah Pedal

Best for Beginners & Students

What Makes It Special?

The Donner Vowel is a multi-functional pedal that offers both wah and volume settings, so it’s perfect for beginners looking to get the most out of all their pedals. Its compact design makes it ideal for traveling or adding to a crowded pedal board, and its bold red case helps set it apart from the pack.

  • Wah function modeled on the Original Crybaby
  • Can be used as a volume pedal
  • Compact size is perfect for tight pedal boards
  • Battery or AC power

This compact wah provides classic tones thanks to its circuitry, which closely mirrors the sound of the Dunlop Original Crybaby. Beyond its wah function, this wah also can be used as a dedicated volume pedal, and its active circuitry ensures that it works well with all instruments, including bass and keyboard.

It’s also easy to adjust the tension of the pedal to provide a custom feel under your foot. LED lights indicate which mode the pedal is in (red for wah, green for volume) and the pedal is small enough to fit on even the tightest pedal boards.

While this wah doesn’t deliver quite as much of the vintage mojo of a real Crybaby, it comes damn close, and for the money, it’s a useful and versatile pedal that would make a great first wah for any player.

What Customers Like

  • Affordable
  • Classic wah sound
  • Also works as a volume pedal

What Customers Dislike

  • Casing is made of plastic
  • Not as responsive as other wahs

Behringer Hellbabe Wah

Best on a Budget

What Makes It Special?

The Behringer Hellbabe is loaded with features that you usually only find on wahs that are three or four times as expensive, and it’s ideal for players who need to be able to customize their wah sound to their heart’s content without breaking the bank.

  • Q, boost, and range controls
  • Optical design completely eliminates mechanical components

The Behringer Hellbabe is one of the most modern wah pedals available, and it’s packed with new features including adjustable boost control, Q control, and range control, which allows you to tailor your sound for either guitar or bass.

Unlike most wahs which use a potentiometer, the Hellbabe uses optical technology, which eliminates the mechanical components of the wah for added durability. An innovative adjustable pedal mechanism allows you to set the pedal tension to your liking, and LED lights indicate when the wah and boost function is engaged.

What Customers Like

  • Incredibly customizable
  • Volume boost is great for solos

What Customers Dislike

  • Plastic housing is less durable than metal
  • Falls short when it comes to a vintage wah sound

6 More Really Good Wah Pedals

Fulltone Clyde Deluxe

Fulltone has developed a reputation for building the highest quality pedals around, and that reputation extends to their new Clyde Deluxe wah pedal.

This pedal delivers all the vintage mojo you could want thanks to its hand-wound Fulltone inductor and Fulltone-1 wah potentiometer. The result is a wah that provides every bit of the vintage sensibility of an Original Crybaby or VOX wah.

Where the Clyde Deluxe really spreads its wings is with the additional features that are unavailable on other wahs. Three distinct voicing modes allow you to switch between a classic ‘60s wah sound, a more ‘70s style sound, or a balls-to-the-wall sound made popular by modern rock’s lead guitarists.

The wah features controls for mode selection, input level, buffer level, and an on/off switch for the buffered bypass. When the buffered bypass is turned off, this pedal delivers true bypass operation.

While this wah carries an ultra-premium price tag, it does deliver classic and modern tones and a level of functionality and adjustability that very few wahs come close to matching.

Morley Bad Horsie 2 Steve Vai Signature Wah

Custom-made for one of modern rock’s most iconic guitar players, the Morley Bad Horsie 2 delivers a hot and modern wah sound that’s perfectly suited to today’s heavy rock and metal.

One of the cool aspects about this wah is it allows you to tap into the legendary wah sound of Steve Vai, while also you allowing to customize your own wah sounds in contour mode.

When set to contour mode, the pedal engages two controls for controlling the contour of the wah and the effect level. That way, you can either roll with Steve Vai’s signature sound or get to work on creating your own.

Optical construction eliminates the need for mechanical parts, and a switchless treadle allows you to activate the wah just by stepping on the pedal. An all steel housing is built to stand up to the rigors of the road, and its true bypass circuitry ensures your dry tone is unaffected when your wah isn’t engaged.

Don’t expect this wah to capture the sound of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but if it’s a modern tone you’re after, you’ll definitely want to give the Bad Horsie 2 a closer look.

Dunlop Dime Crybaby From Hell

The Crybaby From Hell is the signature wah for Pantera’s legendary guitarist Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott.

While Dime relied on a classic Crybaby for many of his iconic solos, his signature pedal bridges the gap between classic and modern thanks to several intuitive new features.

The Crybaby From Hell takes the classic Crybaby sweep and extends it in each direction to provide more highs and lows, and that sweep can be further refined with the help of the fine tuning knob on the side of the pedal. There’s also a Q control to adjust the frequency range of the pedal, and level control to adjust the overall effect level.

On the other side of the pedal, a 6-selector knob allows you to select different frequency presets so you can quickly dial in different signature tones. To top it off, a switchable boost is positioned next to the heel of the pedal, so you can kick your sound into high gear when it’s time for a solo.

Outside of these new features, this pedal features the same robust build quality made famous by the Original Crybaby. This wah is an ideal choice for anyone who appreciates the classic wah sound but wants the ability to push into new territory.

It’s also worth noting that this pedal is part of a more extensive line of signature wahs from Dunlop, and they also have signature models for Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, Slash of Guns N Roses, Jimi Hendrix, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, and more.

Ibanez WD7 Weeping Demon Wah

For players who are more interested in creating their own signatures tones than they are with recreating the classic, the Weeping Demon from Ibanez may be the best pedal for you.

No wah pedal offers the amount of customization that the Weeping Demon offers. To the right of the pedal, there are controls for level, Q, and low-frequency range. There’s also a frequency response switch that allows you to tailor the pedal for use with either guitar or bass.

The three controls to the right of the pedal are all Tone-Lok knobs; a patented feature Ibanez introduced in the ‘90s which locks your settings in so you can’t accidentally knock them out of sync with your foot.

Underneath the pedal, there’s also a fine-tuning knob for crafting a custom frequency range, and a delay knob that allows you to toggle how quickly the effect shuts itself off when it’s used in auto mode. If you’d prefer to engage the wah with a footswitch, you can switch to that mode, as well.

The WD7 was discontinued a few years back, but you’ll still find plenty of deadstock models as well as used ones as well. While this optical style wah isn’t for everyone, it’s worth a closer look for modern rock and metal players.

MXR CAE MC404 Dual-Inductor Wah

Arguably the most interesting wah on our list is the MXR CAE MC404 wah. This wah is also made by the Jim Dunlop company, so you can rest assured of its reliability and classic sound. This wah adds additional functionality to the classic Crybaby and updates it with a nod to boutique effects makers.

The first notable addition is this wah features switchable inductors, so you can select either a Fasel Red inductor or Fasel Yellow inductor as you strive to find your signature sound. There are controls for the gain level, as well as the frequency range, and there’s also a boost circuit to help send your solos into the stratosphere.

This updated classic is set off with wood-look graphics on its aluminum case. Any guitarist who wants to start with a classic sound and push it in new directions should take a closer look at this MXR wah.

Dunlop Crybaby Mini 535Q

For lots of guitar players, it’s challenging to keep a wah on their pedalboards because they can’t afford to give up all that real estate. Thankfully, Dunlop has answered their pleas and now produces their classic wahs in a smaller enclosure.

The Mini 535Q includes the same circuitry and features as the 535Q, except it’s half the size. It contains four different frequency range presets, a Q control and volume control allow you to further tailor your sound, and a boost circuit sends your leads to the forefront of the mix when it’s your time to shine.

The 535Q includes the same legendary Fasel Red inductor and Hot Potz potentiometer for capturing the signature sound of the classic Crybaby. Dunlop also makes miniature versions of their other popular wahs as well.

5 FAQ’s About Wah Pedals

How do you use a wah pedal?

One of the things that makes a wah pedal so magical is that they’re straightforward to use. Many guitarists psych themselves out by trying to make things more complicated for themselves, but the fact of the matter is using a wah is all about being expressive, and the best way to use one is to turn your brain off and let that creativity fly.

To achieve that standard wah-wah sound, rock the pedal back to front with each new note that you hit. This will apply that sweeping wah sound to each note you play. A great example of this style of playing is the main riff on Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile.

The wah can also bring color and character to your rhythm playing, and it’s a staple of how the electric guitar behaves in a funk band. Mastering this technique is very similar to the method we described above. However, instead of manipulating the foot pedal to affect each note, you’ll be using it to accentuate the rhythm of the band.

To practice this, start by placing your playing hand over the strings and raking your pick across all six strings in an eighth note pattern. Move between the wah’s open and closed positions with the rhythm of the band, making sure that you bring the pedal down to its fully open position whenever the drummer hits the snare.

You can also use your wah as a filter by engaging it and leaving it in one position while you play. This will allow you to capture new tones, and you can adjust them at any time by changing how open or closed the pedal is as you play.

The final technique you’ll want to master is the sweep. Begin by engaging the wah and moving it to its fully closed position. As you play your lead, slowly move the pedal to its down position, which will create a broad frequency sweep as you play. The solo in Godsmack’s Awake is an excellent example of this technique.

Where do you place a wah pedal (in the chain)?

If you use a lot of pedals, setting up your signal chain properly is of paramount importance. If your pedals aren’t in the proper order, you’re asking for trouble.

The reason why this is important is that just because you’re using multiple effects together; it doesn’t necessarily mean that you want your wet signal to be further affected by the next pedal in the line. If your effects aren’t ordered correctly in the chain, you’re going to end up with a muddy sound where it’s difficult to pick out individual notes, or the expression of the player.

The wah belongs in the filter category of effects, and you’ll always want to place them at the beginning of your chain. Dynamic effects, like a compressor, volume pedal, or graphic EQ are the only kind of pedals you’d want to place in your chain before the wah.

What are the top wah pedal brands?

When you’re shopping for a wah, you’ll notice that there are tons of different offerings from many different brands. While some of the lesser known pedals can be great, there’s something to be said about the staying power of the industry leaders.

Dunlop has been the top manufacturer of wah pedals since they first released their iconic Crybaby wah over fifty years ago in 1967. Founded by Jim Dunlop, the company has been a leading manufacturer of accessories and pedals for guitar players since 1965. Today, they still manufacture the iconic Crybaby wah in addition to several newer and signature models.

Vox holds the distinction of being the inventor of the iconic wah pedal, and they still manufacture the original V847 wah that started it all. Vox makes a full line of guitars and accessories, but their best known for their iconic amps, like the AC30. Purists have relied on their wahs for decades, and many believe they have the best sounding wah on the market.

Morley is another major player in the wah game, and they’ve been a constant innovator in the market. Morley was one of the first manufacturers to debut optical technology, eliminating the need for the potentiometer that classic style wahs rely on. Today, they make signature wahs for many of the world’s top guitar players. While they don’t capture the vintage ‘60s wah sound as well as Dunlop or Vox, many players love Morley’s modern designs and signature tone.

How much does a good wah pedal typically cost?

The benchmark for a quality wah will always be the Original Dunlop Crybaby, which will run you around $80. While cheaper models are also available, they rarely can capture the signature wah sound that you’re probably after.

Depending on the features the wah has, they can creep up towards $200 in price. You’ll have to decide whether or not those extra features are worth the beefed-up price tag, knowing that the industry standard is available for about $80.

Where can I learn more about wah pedals?

Thankfully, there are tons of different resources online where you can learn more about wah pedals and other effects.

Guitar World’s website is a great resource for information on all things guitar related, including wah pedals. The video in the link above provides a great history lesson on the invention and history of the wah pedal.

Guitar.com is another top resource for learning about wahs and other pedals, too. It’s also a top resource for all guitarists, and one you’ll want bookmarked on your computer.

Guitar Fella is a newer site that’s quickly becoming a go-to resource for all things pedal and effects related. You’ll find a ton of useful content about the wah pedal, and countless other subjects guitar players will want to stay in the know on.

Conclusion

Now that you’re armed with everything you’ll ever need to know about wah effects, it’s time to select the best one for your playing, get it hooked up, and start shredding! Guitar players who are in the market for a wah pedal typically check out other effects, too. Here’s three that are especially popular for pairing with your new wah:

  • Fuzz
  • Volume pedal
  • Chorus
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