The wah pedal is one of the most expressive guitar effects you can use. Some of the most iconic guitar licks and solos were created thanks to the creativity and inspiration the wah pedal gives guitarists.
If you’ve bought a wah pedal and want to get the most out of it, work your way through as many of the below songs as you can. Each song showcases the wah pedal in very different ways.
While some of the songs are technically challenging, others are surprisingly simple yet very effective. Some of the songs use the wah pedal in a very traditional way while others show you how you can get creative.
After you learn these songs, try to come up with your own wah licks and riffs using similar techniques.
If you’re just getting started with a wah pedal, I highly recommend you first work through the exercises in this Wah Pedal Lesson. The lesson contains very basic exercises to get you used to the wah pedal and learn to control it. If you can play all of the exercises with ease, you can start working through the songs below.
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix
This is the most well-known wah pedal based song and for good reason – it rocks. When most non-guitarists see a wah pedal, they think of Hendrix. There are some great Hendrix songs using the wah but this song just wouldn’t be the same without one.
You’ll hear the wah pedal kick in right from the very start.
Check out Exercise 4 in the wah pedal lesson to practice the opening strumming.
Bulls on Parade – Rage Against The Machine
The guitar parts in this song are pretty easy to play so it’s a great starting point for guitarists just starting out with a wah pedal. Unlike most of the songs in this list, the wah is mainly used on rhythm guitar (as well as the solo). This is a great example of how a wah can give riffs more energy and power when used right.
The solo also uses a wah in combination with a killswitch installed on Tom Morello’s guitar. It’s a great example of a wah pedal used in a very unconventional way. While you probably don’t have a killswitch on your guitar, similar results can be achieved with a tremolo pedal. If you have a guitar with a three-way pickup selector and separate volume controls for your pickups, you can use it to mimic a killswitch.
Turn the volume on one pickup to zero and keep the other pickup at full. You’ll notice when you switch back and forth between pickups your signal will cut in and out. It’s not quite as good as an actual killswitch, but it’s a good way to give this solo a go.
In the below video Tom Morello explains how to play the riffs and solo in Bulls on Parade. It’s a good way to see how he plays the solo and how the wah pedal is used.
To learn more about Tom Morello’s effects and gear, check out this guide.
Bad Horsie – Steve Vai
Listen to when the lead kicks in and you’ll instantly hear why the wah pedal is so common on lead lines. The lead line is already very expressive, but the wah pedal add so much character to it. Play the melody with and without a wah pedal and you’ll feel how it changes.
There’s a lot we can learn from this song. The wah is used throughout the main melody as a way to emphasize certain notes and create a vocal-like sound. During the tapping section in the solo you can hear that the wah pedal is used to create a moving texture rather than wildly rocking back and forth.
If you’re able to play the fast solo sections, play it with the wah then without and compare the two. Adding the wah pedal and moving it around the midpoint creates a very throaty sound.
To get the best results make sure you tune your guitar to Drop C to match the tuning this song uses. Tuning down helps bring out the heaviness to this song.
Find out more about Steve Vai’s effects and gear in this guide.
Enter Sandman – Metallica
Kirk Hammett loves using a wah pedal – sometimes a bit too much. There are plenty of Metallica songs where Kirk uses a wah in the solo and you’ll hear plenty of good and bad uses of it. Enter Sandman is an example of a the wah pedal used very well.
The tone the wah produces helps the solo stand out and hit you in the face. Pay close attention to the use of bluesy bends and how the wah bring them to life.
If you listen closely you’ll also hear the wah used at the very start of the song on sustained chords. This is a good example of how a wah can add some texture to a song without overpowering it.
While this example may not be as creative as some of the other songs, it shows you how effective the wah pedal can be when used at the right time. The wah at the start of the song provides a subtle hint to the listener that the solo will use a wah later on. It helps tie the wah solo in nicely with the rest of the song.
If you write your own music, think about how you can use a wah pedal in subtle ways outside of the solo so when you do reach the solo it doesn’t feel out of place.
If you want to learn more songs by Metallica (many use the wah pedal), check out this lesson on How to Learn Metallica Songs on Guitar. The lesson covers the basic techniques and skills that show up again and again on Metallica songs.
Surfing with the Alien – Joe Satriani
The lead in this song has inspired generations of guitarists and part of the reason is thanks to the wah pedal. The wah allows Satriani to add more energy to his already energetic melodies and licks.
If you play the melody to this song without the wah, you’ll quickly notice how much character is missing without it. The wah adds so much that it feels wrong to play the song without it. There are other songs that use a wah that would sound perfectly fine without it.
Whenever you write a lick, riff, melody or solo, try playing it with and without a wah pedal to see if it improves the part or not. Sometimes the wah pedal will bring the part to life and other times it will feel distracting or out of place.
Find out more about the gear and effects Joe Satriani uses in my Ultimate Guide on Joe Satriani here.
Be Yourself – Audioslave
If you’ve listened to the above songs and are starting to freak out at how complicated some of them are, this song will give you some relief. This is the easiest song you could play with a wah pedal yet it’s an incredibly effective example of great use of a wah.
The solo (starts at 2:40) is a simple single note melody with the wah rocking back and forth on each note. This is a great example of coming up with expressive melodies and licks that don’t need to be complicated. While the melody sounds fine without the wah, the wah brings it to life. The second half of the solo adds some rhythmic variation, but the basic idea with how to use the wah pedal stays the same.
Try jamming with this solo and think about what you would do if you had to extend the solo. How can you keep going while keeping the same feel? After you learn the solo, try coming up with your own single note melody in the same style and use the wah to give it a bit more energy or character.
Remember this song as an example of why you don’t always have to write solos in a conventional way – a ‘standard’ solo wouldn’t work well in a song like this one.
Stir It Up – Bob Marley
Note: this song uses an envelope filter – but a wah pedal can be used to produce almost identical results.
This song is a great example of how a wah pedal (or envelope filter as this song uses) adds to the character you hear when you think of reggae or funk. Throughout most of the song the wah slowly sweeps back and forth over long sustained chords to add a warm texture to the song.
Notice that the rhythmic guitar doesn’t use the wah – this helps it stand out from the wah filled chords in the background. This also makes the solo stand out so much.
Learn the chords to this song and learn all the guitar parts. Then take those chords and try coming up with different reggae or funk style patterns. Start off without the wah pedal and once you feel confident with your rhythmic skills add the wah in. Experiment with clean, dirty and driven tones and think about how the wah changes the feel of what you’re playing when you change the type of tone you use.
The Souls of Distortion – Joe Satriani
The wah is used heavily throughout this song to make the melody sound like vocals. While the rhythm is played on a 7 string guitar, you can play the lead parts on a six string without any problems. Be careful not to dial in too much gain or you’ll lose clarity in your tone. If you use a gain pedal, experiment with playing the wah pedal before the gain and after it and think about which position you prefer.
You may find that switching the wah’s position from what you normally use creates a tone you enjoy more. The Guitar Effects Course covers pedal positions in detail and why it’s good to experiment with different orders.
You’ll notice that the wah is used throughout the entire song except for the solo. By not using the wah on the solo, it helps it stand out from the rest of the song. This is the complete opposite of how most guitarists would use a wah pedal. Most songs use the wah on the solo and leave it off for the rest of the song. By flipping this around you can instantly stand out as this song does.
Echoes – Pink Floyd
The guitar in this song is a great example of how to cultivate creativity. The whale/seagull sounds you hear in the midsection of this song were a result of an accident. One of David Gilmour’s roadies plugged his wah pedal in the wrong wah and it produced a screaming noise.
Most guitarists would have simply plugged it in properly and thought nothing more of it. But Gilmour experimented with the wah plugged in the wrong way and found he could come up with interesting wailing sounds when set up just the right way.
While there might not be much you can do with the wah set up this way, it’s a good example of how to be creative. Experimenting with anything that sounds strange or different can sometimes lead to inspiration. Simply plugging the wah in the wrong way and adding some delay, Gilmour was able to create eerie whale-like sounds.
Combining this with other effects such as modulation or pitch shifting could give you a new unique sound.
The below video demonstrates this effect and how adjusting the volume, tone and pickup selector changes the sound.
You can find out more about David Gilmour’s effects and gear in this guide.
Love Thing – Joe Satriani
Let’s look at one more Satriani song because it’s a great example of using a wah in a more mellow song to again give the lead a more vocal quality.
Playing slow and melodic licks with a wah over a slow backing track is a great way to learn to play expressively. Try turning the gain down lower so you almost have a clean tone and think about how the wah pedal keeps things interesting. Think about what type of licks work well with the wah (eg: double-stops and bends) and what licks don’t work well.
Also think about what areas of the fretboard react the best with the wah. Find what works best for your rig so you can focus on those areas.
More Wah Pedal Resources
Here are some useful resources to learn more about the best wah pedals available and how to get the most out of them:
How to Use a Wah Pedal Lesson – basic exercises to get you used to using the wah and work on your coordination skills.
Guitar Effects Course – a thorough online course covering all types of effects as well as how to combine the wah pedal with other effects. Also covers pedal placement and how it affects your tone.
Best Wah Pedals – if you don’t have a wah pedal, read through this guide to find out which wah pedal suits you best.