THE WAH WAH STORY

Today we are here to talk about the history of the wah pedal

The wah pedal, or wah wah, uses a shifting band-pass filter with a highly resonant peak to create a distinctive sound similar to the human voice saying the onomatopoeic name “wah-wah,” though it is often shortened to just “wah”. The effect can be used in a variety of ways, but most common are when rock guitarists are soloing or by funk guitarists to create the “wacka-wacka” rhythm guitar sound.

The creation of the modern wah pedal was an accident – discovered during the design of the VOX Super Beatle amplifier in 1966. This was a transistor-ized version of the AC50 with a few effects – MRB (mid resonant boost) and reverb – made only for the US market.

 

 

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It was during the redesign that the team noticed the mid resonant boost, could be controlled with the VOX Continental’s volume pedal to sweep the boosted frequency. To them, this sounded like using a mute on a trumpet.

And voila (wah-la) the wah pedal was born and released in 1967 with an image of Clyde McCoy on the bottom of the pedal.

Side note: at the time VOX was into Big Band music, which was why Clyde McCoy, a famous jazz trumpeter, was used for the marketing of the new pedal.

Vox Cambridge50 guitar modeling amp sitting on the floor in front of a man playing an electric guitar

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Soon enough, the most famous rock musicians of the time were all adopting the wah pedal – Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Tommy James and the Shondells, Chicago, Jethro Tull, Jimmy Page, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, the Charlatans, …. etcThen in 1971 this story comes full circle, with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis using the wah pedal on his album Live Evil after being inspired by seeing Jimi Hendrix play. The pedal designed to make a guitar sound like a muted trumpet was now being used by a trumpeter to make himself sound more like a guitar player!

In pop culture, the wah pedal is often associated with 1970s TV variety shows – “wacka-wacka” – and adult films – bow chicka wow wow

 

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VOX Mini SuperBeetle in front of records and books on shelves

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Today the wah is alive and well, with new variations as well as true-to-vintage models available. Artists are still finding inspiration from it, reaching new levels of expression and original sounds.

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