Wah pedals - or as they're formally known: "Wah-wah pedals" - are one of the most popular guitar effects for electric guitarists, and even the occasional acoustic player. Nothing is more distinctive that the tell-tale "wah" sound created by rocking your foot back and forth while firing up a searing lead line or a funky rhythm pattern.
When shopping for a wah pedal, you've got a couple of things to keep in mind:
- The sound, or "tone" that the pedal produces; and
- The toughness of the pedal - how much abuse can it withstand?
As a performing musician, I've found that it's important to keep both of these criteria in check. But if you mostly play by yourself, or rarely move your gear around, the toughness factor might not be as important to you. That said, I'm a firm believer in quality, and I don't like the idea of a $100 to $200 effect pedal falling apart if I step on it too hard.
Here are my personal recommendations. I've used both of these pedals and can attest that they both sound great (although they do sound different from one another) and can handle all the abuse you can throw at them.
Dunlop Cry Baby
The Cry Baby is the bread-and-butter wah pedal for many great guitar players, ranging from jazz pickers to all-out metal shredders. Slash's early Guns 'n Roses sounds were created from the Cry Baby, as was plenty of Eric Clapton's songs.
The Cry Baby has a very mellow tone, and never gets too shrilly, even when your toe is all the way down. And because it has an AC adapter jack, you can plug it into an adapter and save yourself the cost of all those 9-volt batteries.
The only downside I can think of as it relates to the Cry Baby is that sometimes the mellowness gets a tad too mellow, and your sound will get lost in the mix, particularly in the heel-down positions. But that's easily countered by using the pedal expressively, rather than simply rocking on it back and forth.
Depending on the model of Cry Baby, you should be able to find them in the $75 to $150 range. And to be honest, the cheaper models sound just as good as the more expensive ones.
My very first wah pedal was the Vox Wah, and I still use one to this day. While probably not as popular as the Cry Baby in terms of total sales, it's got a very die hard fan base.
The Vox has more high end than the cry baby, which makes it better suited for playing styles and tones that need to cut through a crowded mix. It's become extremely popular with the hard rock and metal crowds for that reason, although it's been a mainstay of funk guitarists for decades (because they can roll the volume back and let the pedal cut through, keeping their sound perfectly blended with the rest of the band).
Unfortunately, my Vox pedal did not come with an AC adapter jack, meaning I'm constantly changing batteries. However, the pedal doesn't go through batteries nearly as fast as some of my other ones, and as long as you unplug the patch cord from the pedal's input jack, you should get plenty of playing time out of a single battery. Keep in mind, though, that I haven't played the newest generation of Vox Wah pedals, so it's possible that the company has added this as a feature.
Like the Cry Baby, the Vox is built like a tank. I can't even begin to recall all the abuse this pedal has suffered while I've been on tour. It's fallen off stage, dropped from the back of a truck and at one point some drunk guy in the front row spilled beer all over it - a couple of my other pedals were ruined, but the Vox came through with flying colors (speaking of colors, I think the drunk received plenty of black and blue marks at the hands of the bouncers, who weren't jazzed about the incident).
The Vox line of wah pedals starts a little bit higher than the Dunlop Cry Baby line, at a little more than $100. So if money is a big factor in your decision, keep this in mind.
Regardless of what Wah Pedal you go with, one thing is for sure: Once you start sprinkling that classic wah sound throughout your playing style, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it.