Looking for a new wah pedal?
Perhaps you’re looking for some added percussion in your 70’s funk licks.
Or maybe you want to write a car chase style song.
If nothing else, you could be trying to make your solo’s sound more vocal.
A wah pedal can help you achieve all of this and much more.
So how do you pick out the best wah pedal for you?
Will any Wah pedal get the job done, or does it payoff to be selective?
It turns out there are all kinds of signature and unique Wah pedal designs out there and I’m here to help you pick out the one that works best for you.
Snapshot: Top 7 Wah Pedals
- Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby – Best Budget
- Xotic Effects XW-1 – Best High End
- Dunlop KH95 Kirk Hammett Cry Baby – Best for Metal
- Dunlop GCJ95 Gary Clark Jr. Cry Baby – Best for Blues
- Morley 20/20 Power Wah Volume – Best Combo
- Earthquaker Devices Spatial Delivery V2 – Best Auto
- JOYO Multimode Wah II – Best Mini and Best Overall
Going Beyond Traditional Wah
Describing what a guitar wah pedal does is one of the easiest things to do as a guitar player. Just say the name and you get the gist.
Or you could ask Fozzie Bear to laugh at his own joke.
Whichever tactic you choose, it doesn’t take much to figure out what a wah is capable of doing… or is there more to it?
Can this sweeping frequency range effect enhance your playing in ways you didn’t previously imagine?
With some thoughtful use and playing, the Wah can take your guitar parts to a whole new level of expression. The Wah gives your guitar a vocal feel to it, as if you’re adding your own vocalization to the guitar signal and it allows your solo to cut through the mix with its boost of high mid frequencies.
This makes it an incredibly humanizing effect.
The Wah is capable of so much.
Here are some ways to make the Wah sound killer:
- In synchronization with a song’s tempo. This is a great way to make your guitar sound funkier and more percussive.
- As a slow filter sweep
- Parked in one position as an EQ setting
- In conjunction with Fuzz or Distortion for creating feedback and sustain
- On specific notes for emphasis
And much more! Going beyond the traditional “waka waka” effect is a great way to challenge your playing and to redefine how a wah can sound. If you do this, I think your next solo or rhythm part will sound really awesome.
Some of my favorite wah pedal users include John Frusciante, Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana. Look to these guitarists for guidance.
When it comes to picking out your wah, consider your genre and how drastic you want the effect to be. You’ll also want to think about how big of a pedal you want under your feet, as this will affect your overall performance when using the pedal.
Without further ado, here are our top 7 wah pedals.
The 7 Best Wah Pedals In 2021
1. Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Review – Best Budget
- Heavy Die Cast Construction
- Powered by the Dunlop ECB-03 AC Adapter (not included) and/or 9 volt battery
- Dimensions: 10" x 4" x 2-1/2"
You can’t talk about Wah without talking about the original Dunlop Cry Baby. This classic circuit has inspired countless Wah pedal designs. While there are cheaper Wah pedals out there, I think few will give you the sound and build quality for under $100 that this one will.
The Cry Baby is a full sized, diecast construction wah pedal. It measures 10” x 4” x 2.5”, giving plenty of pedal under you even if you have large feet. My only real gripe about this pedal is the build quality overall. Though no wah is perfect in terms of stability, it isn’t the sturdiest pedal and will eventually require replacing after repeated gigs.
The pivot point is also open to the air, allowing for dust and hair to get into the pedal and affect its functionality. That being said, it is still better built than most cheap Wahs out there.
The original Cry Baby keeps things as simple as possible. There are no dials or added controls. Just the foot switch that activates the pedal in the forward position and the pedal itself. Push the toe forward to emphasize high end frequencies and roll back to the heel for low frequency emphasis.
The Cry Baby has survived over 40 years in its original form for one simple reason: it sounds great. This is the iconic and quintessential Wah sound. It sounds throaty and has a broad sweep that tapers evenly, making it a very musical and expressive effect. It can emphasize some of the hiss and growl of whatever overdrive you have, but that is typical for most Wah’s.
- Effect Type: Wah
- Signal: Analog:
- Power Source: AC adaptor or 9V Battery
- Dimensions: 10 x 4 x 2.5
- Features: True Bypass
Final Thoughts on the Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby
Even though it is an iconic sound, many re-creations of the famous Cry Baby have been developed by Dunlop to fit the specific tastes of artists. If you feel that this iteration of the Wah doesn’t suit your sound, there is surely one out there by Dunlop that will. In fact, I’m going to address some of those in this very article.
With that in mind, this is a great place to start if you are new to the Wah in terms of sound quality and bang for your buck.
2. Xotic Wah XW-1 Review – Best High End Wah Pedal
Wahs of old have inspired many boutique builders to shape their ideal wah pedal. Exotic leaves that tone shaping up to you with the XW-1. Loosely based off the 1967 Italian made Clyde McCoy wah (the holy grail of Wah), the XW-1 has controls for the Wah’s parameters, allowing you to shape your ideal effect at a price that is still worth paying.
As I mentioned with the Cry Baby, no Wah is perfect in its design, but the XW-1 comes about as close to perfect as I can imagine the pedal to be. The pedal is 20% smaller than traditional wah’s, giving it the perfect balance of portability and stability under your foot. It also has a red indicator light at the top, which I find to be a huge deal as Wah’s are some of the easiest pedals to leave on and not know.
It has a self-lubricated nylon bushing pivot that allows the pedal to operate smoothly and quietly. No squeaky gears here. The pedal has a buffered circuit that is designed to be Fuzz friendly and it has few holes in the design, so dust isn’t going to get into the pedal easily. It is built extremely well while remaining lightweight.
At first glance you might think that the XW-1 is a normal Wah, with the toe switch in its rightful place and a rocking pedal. However, along the side are four small dials that give you control over the Bias, Wah Q, Treble, and Bass. These controls are huge, as they allow you to tone match your Wah to your guitar or amp.
Bias: Controls Bias on the transistor. Lower Bias makes for a cleaner effect, higher bias almost creates a distorted effect.
Wah Q: Essentially the range of the EQ sweep. A smaller Q creates a more focused sounding effect and a larger Q effects more frequencies.
Treble: EQ for treble frequencies. Controls high end.
Bass: EQ for Bass frequencies. Controls low end.
Not only are you getting the Holy Grail of Wah circuitry for under $250, you are also getting the freedom to modify the effect. All too often a basic Wah gets placed in front of a guitar or amp and doesn’t quite play right with it. The amp, guitar, and player have a huge impact on the way a Wah sounds.
With this pedal you can contour the sound to be throaty and drastic, or nuanced and subtle. It’s by far the most versatile sounding wah you can get for the money.
- Effect Type: Wah
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 9.75 x 4.4 x 3.4”
- Features: True Bypass, Indicator Light, Dip Switches, EQ Dials, Smaller Footprint
Final Thoughts on the Xotic Wah XW-1
In the world of Wah pedals, I consider “High End” Wahs to be either hand crafted or costing over $200. This pedal happens to cost just over $200 and sounds like a Wah that could cost you five times that much. It checks every box off my list that I would look for in an ideal wah. If it weren’t for the price point (which I consider to be appropriate) I would give this an award for Best Overall.
3. Dunlop KH95 Kirk Hammet Cry Baby Review – Best Wah Pedal for Metal
- Based on kirk's EQ, volume, and tone settings
- Exceptionally even in response
- Thick top end and full dynamic range
Many memes have been created over the years in regard to Kirk Hammet’s relentless use of the Wah pedal, but for good reason. In his time as the lead guitarists of Metallica, Hammet has developed an ear for the frequencies that best work for high-gain guitar and has helped create the ideal Cry Baby for Metal.
The KH95 is a standard size wah pedal with a ghoulish green metallic finish. It also has a skeleton foot design placed on the rubber grip (that makes it more Metal, right?) The story goes that Kirk Hammet needed multiple wah pedals across Metallica’s entire arena size stage. These pedals would be wirelessly routed to Kirk’s Cry Baby rack system. This pedal recreates that custom sound exactly.
The KH95 harks back to the original Cry Baby in that there are no additional controls. It is a simple pedal that works like any other Cry Baby should, which is great for Metal players that require as few distractions as possible while playing demanding parts. See the section above on the GCB95 to read about how this pedal functions.
THe KH95 is known for having a fuller sound than the original Cry Baby Wah and it also has a smoother taper. The EQ is shaped to negate any harsh frequencies that would become overwhelming when combined with high gain tones. The pedal is less “quacky” than most wah pedals, which wouldn’t work well in a Metal setting.
With some distortion you can hear the pedals thick low end and low mid response, great for adding some character to chugging rhythm metal. This Wah allows for extreme tones to get even crazier without losing control.
- Effect Type: Wah
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 10.75 x 5 x 3.5”
- Features: HK Signature Voicing, True Bypass, Custom Paint job
Final Thoughts on the Dunlop KH95 Kirk Hammett Cry Baby
It turns out that Mr. Hammett knew what he was doing when it came to designing a Wah that’s tailored for heavy guitar. This Wah is stripped of any funky or cartoony sounds and is made to smooth out extreme frequencies that can sometimes come with metal guitar tones. Its a smooth, fat sounding Wah that will make your Metal guitar playing even heavier.
4. Dunlop GCJ95 Gary Clark Jr. Cry Baby Review – Best Wah Pedal for Blues
- Low frequency center provides smooth, warm sound
- Tight sweep range is perfect for percussive, syncopated rhythms
- Custom brushed Copper finish that will patina over time
Gary Clark Jr. is one of the best modern blues players around today, so it comes as no surprise that he would have an ear for a wah that’s fit for his genre. This pedal takes the best of the original Cry Baby and slightly tweaks it for gritty, expressive blues playing.
Gary Clark Jr. is a big fan of the original Cry Baby and has kept much of the charm of that pedal, however this was designed to have a lower “Q”, making it a less quacky effect. It is a standard sized wah and is finished with a brushed copper finish that makes this the most stylish looking wah pedal out there in my opinion.
Sometimes simple is best, and when it comes to playing the blues I think this approach is appropriate. The GCJ95 doesn’t have any additional controls added to it, just its unique voice. For more information on how the Cry Baby controls work, see above.
Because this pedal has a lower Q point, the pedal sounds less like a duck and more like a singing blues vocalist. Gary uses this effect to contribute to his sustain and the buildup of feedback overtones as he gracefully accentuates the high end from this pedal. It has more low end to it as well and will work well in conjunction with Fender Silverface amps that have lots of bell-like lows and sparkling highs.
The GCJ95 is a great sound for anyone that appreciates the original Cry Baby circuit but is looking for something that can be more better controlled.
- Effect Type: Wah
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 10 x 4 x 2.75”
- Features: True Bypass, GCJ Signature Voicing, Copper finish
Final Thoughts on the Dunlop GCJ95 Gary Clark Jr. Cry Baby
The Cry Baby has worked for the Blues ever since it was created and then expanded upon by the likes of Jimi Hendrix. This version is a slight variation that I think is well thought out and needed for the Cry Baby style Wah. It will make you want to play as if you’re singing rather than playing to the beat. And it looks amazing too. Whether it is worth the two-fold price increase is up to you.
5. Morley 20/20 Power Wah Volume Review – Best Combo Wah Pedal
- Wah/Volume Guitar Effect Pedal with Electro-optical Design
- Buffer Circuit
- +20dB Boost
As one starts to accumulate more and more pedals, space on your board becomes more and more valuable. A great way to save space on your board is to combine your volume and wah pedal into one pedal and the Morley Power Wah Volume does it best.
The build concept behind the 20/20 Power Wah Volume allows you to have two pedals in one. Morley achieves this by pairing their original Power Wah circuit from the 70’s with an optional Volume setting. The pedal has Morley’s 20/20 Buffer circuit that is fuzz friendly and keeps your signal from losing its high end over long cable runs. Most impressive to me is the fact that the Wah is switchless, and the effect is controlled by a spring.
This means no dust in your pedal and a longer lifespan for the unit. Finally, this pedal has a small footprint and has glow in the dark lettering so you can find it on even the darkest of stages.
The Power Wah Volume functions like just about any other Wah with a couple of exceptions. The button on the lower righthand side lets you choose between the Wah or Volume effect. There is also a dial for 20 db Wah clean Boost, which allows you to adjust your volume to sit in a mix when the Wah is engaged.
Through the use of Optical technology this pedal is able to get both great Volume and Wah style effects. The Wah has a very throaty voicing to it and tapers really smoothly. It sounds nothing like a Cry Baby or Vox wah and truly has its own style to it. The Volume works as it should: smooth and noiseless. My only complaint is that there isn’t a control for minimum volume, though most set that for zero anyway.
- Effect Type: Wah/Volume Combo
- Signal: Optical, Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 6.85 x 4.5 x 2.5”
- Features: 20db Boost, LED light, Glow in the Dark, Buffer
Final Thoughts on the Morley 20/20 Power Wah Volume
I am new to the Morley line of Wah pedals and I have to say I am really impressed. The Power Wah is a uniquely voiced wah and the fact that it has been combined with a volume pedal is great for the modern gigging musician that needs as many effects as possible on a small board. The design is clever and made to last long term. This is a fantastic pedal all around.
6. Earthquaker Devices Spatial Delivery V2 Review – Best Auto Wah Pedal
- A voltage controlled envelope filter that allows you to step outside the universe of funk while reinforcing your secret love affair with auto-wah
- With Range, Resonance and Filter controls you can get super emphasized filter sweeps in the Up and Down modes
- Reign in the controls a bit, add your favorite overdrive/fuzz after the Spatial Delivery and you’ve got a real nice resonant, cut-through-the-mix lead tone
Who wants to use their foot to control the Wah when the Wah can do all the work for you? Jerry Garcia sure didn’t want to do all that work. The Spatial Delivery V2 delivers (pun intended) a great envelope filter sound for the classic auto-wah effect, as well as some forward thinking filter sweeps unlike any other.
The Spatial Delivery is a voltage controlled envelope filter. What this means is that the pedal reacts to how much signal it receives based on your playing. The harder you play, the more of the effect you will hear. It is built in a standard stomp box enclosure (notice: no foot pedal here). The V2 of this effect has a new Flexi-Switch silent relay that allows you to do momentary operation in addition to traditional latching. Like all EQD pedals, the Spatial Delivery is made by hand in Ohio.
This autowah has three knobs for Range, Filter and Resonance, as well as a switch for Upsweep (Up), Downsweep (Dn), and Sample Hold (SH) modes. The Range controls the sensitivity of the sweep based on your playing. Resonance controls the overall body and fullness of the effect. Filter allows for you to control whether to have Hi-Pass, Bandpass, orLo-Pass as the knob is moved from Left to Right.
Much of how this effect will sound depends on which mode you select. The Upsweep will send the signal up in frequency as you play the note. Downsweep accomplishes the opposite effect. What truly makes this pedal sound different from other auto-wahs is the Sample Hold mode, which randomizes the voltage filter for a wild and unpredictable sequence effect that sounds cool no matter what you’re playing.
Though he didn’t use this pedal, John Frusciante used this type of effect on the song “Throw Away Your Television”, so if you’re looking to cover that song then this pedal will do the trick. While the pedal can do classic clucky, auto-wah funk, it is also capable of doing spacious, robotic, and psychedelic filter sounds that no traditional wah can possibly do.
- Effect Type: Envelope Filter (Auto-Wah)
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 4.75″ x 2.50″ x. 2.25″ with knobs
- Features: 3 Modes, True Bypass, Flexi-Switch
Final Thoughts on the Earthquaker Devices Spatial Delivery V2
This is the kind of pedal that you could waste an entire day or week on just playing with the knobs to see what kind of fun sounds you can get out of it. Its a good option if you are concerned that a traditional auto-wah will get played out (and it will), so you have some other textural options on deck.
7. JOYO Multimode Wah II Review – Best Mini AND Best Overall Wah Pedal
- ATTENTION: Power supply adaptor should meet the standard as below,otherwise, it doesn't work : DC 9V(center minus), over 200mA capacity, connection of positive (+) barrel and negative (-) center.
- ATTENTION: True bypass (for WAH-WAH mode only), with both WAH-WAH and VOLUME functions.
- WAH-WAH frequency range: 6 are available, its RM shielded inductance is specially designed for WAHWAH sound, which guarantees outstanding tone.
Portability, versatility, dependability, and cost-effective. The JOYO Multi-Mode Wah is a powerful mini wah and is my number 1 choice for anyone looking for a wah pedal.
The most obvious aspect of this pedal’s build is its compact size. The Multimode Wah II measures at 7.6 x 3.3 x 2.3”, making it one of the smallest pedals on this list. Yet, the pedal isn’t so small that it’ll get lost under giant feet. It is made of a solid metal housing that makes it sturdy, but lightweight. No only is it a mini Wah, it can also serve as a Volume pedal!
The JOYO Wah II has some added controls that help make it the most versatile small wah out there. The Range control has 6 preset frequency ranges for you to choose from and serves as the major voice shaping tool on the pedal. The Quality knob affects the midrange of whatever range setting you choose.
The pedal has a switch for Wah/Bypass, or Wah/Volume, making this an incredible space saver on your board if you need a Volume pedal. Then, if you choose to use the volume pedal, it has a control for minimum volume. All of these controls allow you to have a custom voiced wah and volume combo that is simply brilliant.
All those controls won’t mean much if the pedal doesn’t sound good, but thankfully it sounds as good as any other pedal on this list. I think the pedal can be characterized as confident and punchy. Depending on how you set up the range, it can get a huge sweep from lows to high or it can be set to be more conservative. This makes it an appropriate pedal for metal, funk, or anything in between.
- Effect Type: Mini Wah/Volume Combo
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 7.6 x 3.3 x 2.3”
- Features: Volume/Wah Combo, EQ, Voicing Options
Final Thoughts on the JOYO Multi-Mode Wah II
I knew that JOYO made some great portable amplifiers, but I was not expecting this. This wah is a complete homerun in terms of sound quality, user customization, footprint, and cost. The only pedal that is as awesome on this list is the Xotic XW1 with its tone shaping capability and LED indicator, but I have to give it up to the JOYO for combining a Volume pedal into it as well and keeping the price under $100.
This is an awesome option for gigging musicians and novices alike. I might just have to pick one up myself!
Wah’s Help Your Guitar Speak
I think what makes the Wah such an attractive effect is musicians and listeners alike is that it turns the guitar into a more human-like instrument. I like to think of it from a singer’s standpoint, in that you have your voice that is then shaped by your mouth. Your mouth can alter the way your voice sounds in terms of EQ, shape, and punctuation.
The Wah does all of this to your guitar and makes your guitar sound more like a person singing.
This is just the tip of the iceberg too. The Wah is capable of making your guitar sound nothing like a person as well when it is combined with other effects.
If you pick out the right Wah in terms of its sweep, voice, and other features like Volume, Boost, even Overdrive, then you’ll have an extremely personal and versatile effect at your feet.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.