For guitarists seeking to express themselves to the absolute full, there is no more iconic pedal than the wah pedal.
The best wah pedals create that talking sound that you’ve heard on recordings from nearly every electric guitar player, with perhaps the most famous examples being Isaac Hayes’ theme from Shaft and, of course, Jimi Hendrix’s intro to Voodoo Child.
Essentially, the overall tone of your guitar is changed using the wah’s rocker pedal: bassier sounds are found at the heel-down setting, while treble-y tones are at the toe-down, and it’s this transition between the extremes that produces the vocal ‘wow’ that we know and love. Many players also enjoy a spot of ‘cocked’ wah, where the rocker is kept in one position, most commonly around the mid-frequency, to help solos cut through the mix.
The best wah pedal: Dunlop Cry Baby Mini 535Q
When it comes to the king of wahs, the Cry Baby has become an industry standard. The compact Dunlop Cry Baby Mini 535Q incarnation is the best wah pedal out there, delivering everything you'd expect from its bigger brother, without taking up valuable room on your pedalboard. On-board you'll find a red fasel inductor for more vintage voicing, plus many extras to help you tailor your wah sound.
The pedal presents four frequency ranges, enabling you to go from bassier to trebly sweeps, while a Q knob can be used to tweak the intensity of the effect. If you're a keen soloist, the boost switch engages up to a 16dB lift to give your leads some extra oomph.
Everything you need to know about wah pedals
Given the relatively simple nature of the wah effect, there’s a dazzling array of options on the market. Yet although the mechanics of wahs have remained largely unchanged over the years, recent times have seen the bulky, weighty enclosure trimmed down to produce a number of mini formats.
In the classic wah design - epitomised by the Dunlop Cry Baby - the rocker itself is attached to a mechanical control pot, but these can wear out and require replacing over time, prompting some companies to employ an optical pot, which uses sensors for longer life. You’ll find this amongst Morley’s offerings.
Investing more cash in a wah opens up additional tonal options - so, while basic wahs such as Electro-Harmonix’s Wailer Wah don’t have any settings to adjust, more upmarket offerings from Xotic and CAE often feature adjustable frequency ranges and boosts to help tailor the tone to your liking - although it’s worth noting that these controls are sometimes found inside the pedal.
Wah purists will swear by pedals equipped with an inductor, which were commonly found in vintage models and come in three main variations: Halo, as found in the Hendrix and Clapton-used 1966 Vox Clyde McCoy wah; red fasel, which crops up in a number of Cry Baby variants; and yellow fasel, which you’ll find in other vintage-voiced designs. Dunlop’s CAE Wah even features both red and yellow fasels. You’ll need to fork out more cash for these models, but they produce a sweeter, mellower voice than the more aggressive sweep of many modern designs.
Guitarists keen on saving pedalboard space will also be keen to check out combined wah and volume pedals, which offer both effects in one pedal, Hotone’s Soul Press being a prime example.
Still undecided? Take a look at our round-up of the best wah pedals around.
The best wah pedals to buy right now
The best wah pedal for versatility and portability
Launch price: $170/£164 | Controls: Boost switch, range selector switch, volume knob, Q knob | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
The Cry Baby is an industry standard the world over, but this latest mini incarnation offers enough variation for all players while taking up minimal pedalboard real estate. There’s a red fasel inductor onboard for vintage-voiced wacka-wacka, as well as a host of extras to tailor the wah to your own personal preferences.
Key among these is the option of four frequency ranges to go from bassier to more trebly sweeps, while a Q knob adjusts how intense the effect gets. Soloists will be pleased to note the boost switch, too, which engages up to a 16dB lift to really make those leads soar.
The best wah pedal for guitarists on a budget
Launch price: $62/£56 | Controls: None | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
The Wailer Wah is essentially EHX’s take on the Cry Baby, but with a number of contemporary tweaks. Chief among these is obviously the price, but the company has also cut down on the weight, which makes for an easier-to-lift pedalboard.
Crucially, the tone has been given an overhaul, with the high-end-focused sweep of lower-priced wahs replaced by a smooth, round transition between bass and treble, and an intense, almost synth-like quality. It still utilises the ol’ rack-and-pinion mechanical approach, which you can certainly feel underfoot, but the bang-for-buck tonal ratio outweighs any minor misgivings regarding the feel.
This perennial and affordable favourite is still going strong
Launch price: $99/£64 | Controls: None | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: Buffered | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
There’s no mistaking the chrome trim of the Vox V847 - along with the Cry Baby, it’s a pedalboard staple the world over, and that’s primarily down to two things: its price and its simplicity.
True, there are no bonus features here, and the battery access isn’t ideal, but its satisfying weight keeps it rooted to the spot, while the mechanism is smoother than many of its competitors. Crucially, the tone is there, too, with a redesigned inductor that aims to ape the original, as used by Page and Hendrix, and a buffered input to keep your tone in check.
The best switchless wah pedal
Launch price: $145/£179 | Controls: Contour switch, level, contour | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: Buffered | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
Morley is renowned for its range of spring-loaded, switchless wahs - that means you don’t have to engage the pedal with a footswitch; you simply place your foot on the wah and get to work when you want to get funky. That does mean it’s buffered rather than true bypass, however, and cocked wah tones are out of the question for all but the most sure-footed of players.
Still, this Steve Vai signature model is a fine example, with an especially vocal sweep and plenty of midrange, while an added Contour mode gives you the option of adjusting the frequency and tone. Plus, with Morley’s electro-optical design, there’s no chance of you needing to replace the pot down the line.
The industry standard still strikes the right tone
Launch price: $79/£82 | Controls: None | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: Buffered | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
There have been many iterations of the Cry Baby over the years - and many versions of the lowest-priced wah in the Dunlop catalogue, the GCB95, to boot - but the latest is perhaps the best. It now comes fitted with the red fasel inductor found in various vintage wahs for a sweeter sweep, while a 100k ohm Hot Potz potentiometer makes for some of the smoothest wah-ing in the biz.
Sure, you’re not getting adjustable sweep, boosts or anything else, but the GCB95’s aggressive sweep makes it one of the best wahs for cutting through swathes of distortion.
6. Fulltone USA Clyde Standard
The best choice for authentic Hendrix and Clapton tones
Launch price: $239/£225 | Controls: Resonance (internal) | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
Still widely regarded as the finest recreation of the original Vox Clyde McCoy wah - which was the very model employed by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton - Fulltone’s Clyde Standard employs a hand-made halo inductor, with an added internal resonance control to adjust bass and gain.
It’s an improvement on the original, too, with lower noise, more consistent construction and a long-life wah pot - the latest versions of the pedal also boast a switchable booster/buffer control for fuzz-friendly operation. When it comes to the real, well, McCoy, it doesn’t get better than this.
7. Dunlop CAE Wah
One of the most flexible wah pedals you can buy
Launch price: $169/£171 | Controls: Boost level, boost kickswitch, Fasel kickswitch; Q, gain (internal) | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
Dunlop’s Cry Baby design team partnered with Custom Audio Electronics’ rig design legend Bob Bradshaw for this all-encompassing wah. Not only does it include both red and yellow Fasel inductors to change the resonance of the sweep, but there’s also a built-in MXR MC401 Boost/LineDriver.
Both of these options can be switched on the fly via the pedal’s side-mounted kickswitches, while there are also internal pots for Q and gain tweaks. A long-life CTS pot, true bypass and LED indicators round out the impressive spec.
8. Hotone Soul Press
Wah, volume and expression all in one pedal
Launch price: $99/£79 | Controls: Mode switch, volume bottom value | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
Slightly larger than the Cry Baby Mini, the Hotone Soul Press is a rarity in the wah world in that it offers wah, volume and expression capabilities. Its tone recalls the Cry Baby, but it has a throatier, fuller-voiced sweep that strikes a sweet spot between high- and low-end resonance.
It should be noted that the sound is far from subtle, which makes it a great shout for distorted leads, but not so much for vintage wah aficionados. It also has a fair short travel, which isn’t ideal for the large of foot, but the perfectly functional volume and expression modes make it more than worth the asking price.
9. Xotic XW-1 Wah
The most versatile vintage-style wah
Launch price: $295/£261 | Controls: Bias, wah-Q, treble, bass; input gain, wah resonance frequency range (internal) | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: True bypass, buffered | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
For the glam-looking XW-1 Wah, US boutique co Xotic Effects sought to nail the sound of the much sought-after original Clyde McCoy, courtesy of a halo inductor. The versatility factor is considerably upped with the addition of bias, wah-Q, treble and bass controls, with the EQ knobs offering up to 15dB of boost or cut.
There are even internal controls for input gain, plus internal dip switches to adjust the wah resonance frequency range. You also get relay-based true bypass switching, a slightly downsized enclosure over standard wahs, a buffering circuit for use with fussy fuzzes, adjustable rocker tension and a self-lubricating nylon bushing pivot to reduce squeaks.
An all-analog wah-wah that stands out from the crowd
Launch price: $129/£98 | Controls: Vintage/Rich switch | Sockets: Input, output, power | Bypass: Buffered | Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
The all-analog PW-3 sits somewhere between traditional and mini Cry Babys in terms of size, and its die-cast chassis marks an aesthetic departure from the crowd. Its tone sets it apart, too, with a choice of two distinct wah sounds past and present.
Vintage dials in an approximation of the Hendrix/Clapton sounds of yore with a drop in low-end, but switching to Rich retains the bass frequencies and boosts the output for a throaty sound that begs to be matched with lashings of gain. There are better options for both individual sounds, but it’s the combination of the two that earns the PW-3 a slot here.