How to find the best wah pedal for you
The best wah pedal for you might not be what other people claim as the best wah pedal. Every guitarist is different and has different needs from a wah pedal. Instead of me writing a top 10 best wah pedals list like you probably have seen on other website, I’ll give you options based on different things you may want from a wah pedal.
If you’ve never played with a wah pedal before or you don’t own one, this guide will give you all the information you need to choose the best wah pedal for you.
If after reading this guide you want to learn more on wah pedals, check out the Guitar Effects Course here. It digs deeper into how wahs work as well as every other common type of guitar effect.
Best Wah Pedals Shortlist
Here are the top picks for those who don’t need to read the advice in this guide:
- Classic tone: Dunlop Original Crybaby or Vox V847A
- Budget: Behringer Hellbabe
- Modern: Morley VAI-2 Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2 Contour Wah
- Wah & Volume pedal: Hotone Soul Press 3 in 1
- Flexibility: Ibanez WD7 Weeping Demon Wah
What do you want in a wah pedal?
Before you look at different wah pedals, it’s helpful to consider what you want from a wah pedal. There are so many available today that it can feel overwhelming trying to make a decision between 10 different wah pedals. Do you want a simple classic wah tone or do you want flexibility to come up with your own unique tone? Do you plan on using the wah a lot or will you only use it on a couple of songs? Do you want something you can tweak or just a plug and play wah?
Have a think about what’s important to you in a wah pedal. Here are some points to think about:
- Value: how much do you want to spend on a wah? Are you looking for a low priced wah to get you started or do you want to buy a good quality one now?
- Simplicity: do you want a no-frills wah that just gives a good tone or do you want more features?
- Flexibility: do you want to be able to tweak your tone and adjust different settings?
I’ll discuss the above points with each wah pedal I cover below.
Best Wah Pedal for a Classic Tone
The chances are you want to get that classic wah tone you’ve heard from many of the great guitarists. For many guitarists getting a classic wah tone that allows you to rock out with some classic Hendrix or Clapton is all that’s needed. Fortunately, there are two very good and popular options available.
Dunlop Original Crybaby
For many guitarists, this is the wah pedal to go for. It’s the classic wah sound that you’ve heard so many times. The Dunlop Original Crybaby will give you that classic wah tone. It’s a very simple pedal to use and doesn’t have any of the features you will see in other pedals. It’s a simple wah and doesn’t try to be anything more than that.
For a lot of guitarists, the tone is fantastic. For other guitarists, it’s lacking. It does have an overwhelmingly positive following, but it’s important to note that this pedal is not for everybody. While it does give that classic tone, it doesn’t offer any flexibility in tone or features. Yes, you could mod it, but that’s another topic for another time.
I’ve reviewed the Dunlop Original Crybaby here if you want to read more on it.
The other classic option is the VOX V847A which is a reissue of the classic 60s V847. Some guitarists prefer the Crybaby and some prefer the VOX to get a classic wah tone. Just like the Crybaby, this pedal is incredibly simple without any flexibility or features you will see in the pedals later on.
It’s hard to pin down which one is better because every guitarist has different preferences. If you’re set on getting a classic wah tone, then you probably already know which you will choose from the two above. If not, check out what wah guitarists you listen to use as it will help you figure out which direction to go.
Best Budget Wah Pedal
While the above Crybaby and VOX wahs are pretty reasonably priced, if you don’t really plan on using a wah much you probably want something a bit cheaper. As you can imagine, as you start to get lower in price, the quality drops down as well. Fortunately there’s a pretty good sounding wah at half the price of the VOX. The Behringer Hellbabe HB01 has quite a bit of features packed in for a great price.
In some ways it’s actually better than the Original Crybaby because it does have controls built in to customize your tone. So while it may not be the classic choice, you may end up with a tone you prefer. At almost half the price, it’s pretty hard to pass up if you’re after a budget wah pedal.
Best Modern Wah Pedal
A wah pedal is typically seen as a ‘classic’ guitar pedal in the sense that most people think of rock guitarists like Hendrix and Clapton when they think of wah. But just because the first few versions of the wah pedal are so popular, doesn’t mean manufacturers can make improvements. There are quite a few modern wah pedals that have features that just make so much sense compared to the classic wah pedal.
For example with a classic wah pedal, to activate it you need to press down hard on the pedal so the toe end activates a footswitch. That’s the standard way wah pedals operate and it’s what guitarists expect. But when you see some alternative options it does feel a bit dumb. For example what if you want to come up with a riff that alternates between having the wah on and off? What if you want to apply the wah for a few notes and quickly turn it off again? With the typical operation, it’s just not possible. But it is possible with some modern wah pedals.
The Bad Horsie 2 Contour Wah is a wah pedal with some nice modern features and tone. Its switchless design means that you don’t need to engage a footswitch just to turn it on. Instead, as you place your foot on the pedal and start using it, it turns on. When you take your foot off, it turns off. The first time I tried this wah pedal, it immediately turned me off the classic wah requiring a hard press on the toe. It just feels so natural and works so well.
This switchless design makes it an excellent wah pedal for live performance. It’s quick and easy.
From a tone point of view, this is basically two wahs in one. The footswitch next to the pedal allows you to switch between the ‘Bad Horsie’ mode and the ‘Contour wah’ mode. This means you can use different wah tones for different songs and you can customize your tone as you see fit.
Best Wah & Volume Pedal
If you don’t plan on using a wah pedal often, consider getting a hybrid pedal that allows you to use it for other functions. Being able to use the same pedal for volume control or as an expression pedal for other effects not only saves space on your pedalboard, but is pretty handy.
The Hotone Soul Press 3 in 1 is a tiny pedal that allows you to use the same pedal for wah, volume control or as an expression pedal. So for songs where you need a wah, you can set it to wah mode. For songs where you don’t need a wah, set it to volume control. Or if you have another pedal that can be used with an external expression pedal, you can set it to expression mode.
If pedalboard space is limited, you want to keep things basic or you don’t plan on using a wah pedal often, this is a good option to consider.
Best Wah Pedal for Flexibility
While some of the wah pedals above offer a good amount of flexibility, the Ibanez WD7 Weeping Demon takes it to the next level. It’s an odd looking pedal as it completely sidesteps the classic wah look. It’s a very versatile pedal that gives you full control over how you use it.
Here are the features that set it apart from the typical wah pedal:
- Adjust the tension of the footboard
- Auto switch mode or footswitch mode
- Controls for Level, Q, Lo frequency, range fine tuning, and a range switch to customize your tone
You can set the wah to activate automatically (like the Morley earlier) or using the footswitch. It’s a great option that I wish more wah pedals would offer. If you want a wah pedal but want something with more versatility than the typical wah, the Weeping Demon is a great option.
Another option to consider if you’re looking for a lot of versatility is the Xotic Effects XW-1 Wah. The only reason I didn’t pick the Xotic as the top pick for flexibility is that it’s double the price of the Ibanez. It’s a high-quality pedal with quite a lot of flexibility.
Signature Wah Pedals
There are so many signature wah pedals available today. It seems like every famous guitarist who has ever stepped on a Cry Baby seems to have their own signature model. Some of these are fantastic and others are very overpriced variations of the standard Cry Baby. My recommendation is that if you’re considering a signature model, listen to comparisons or test it out side-by-side with another pedal to see if it’s really worth the extra money.
If you’re a fan of a specific guitarist, you might want to check out their signature model. While a signature model won’t give you their tone, it might help point you in the right direction. Also, some of the signature pedals look awesome so that doesn’t hurt either.
Here are some popular guitarists who have their own signature Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedals: Jimi Hendrix, Joe Bonamassa, Buddy Guy, Slash, Jerry Cantrell, Dimebag, Zakk Wylde, Kirk Hammett, John Petrucci.
I’m sure there will be plenty more signature wah pedals in the future based on how things are going. Unless you’re a massive fan of a specific guitarist and really want the signature model, I recommend sticking to the other pedals covered in this guide.
Getting Started With a Wah Pedal
Once you find a wah pedal that suits your needs, check out my beginner’s lesson on using a wah pedal. It covers a few simple exercises to build up your coordination and use the wah in an expressive way.
If you want to learn more about wah pedals as well as all other types of common guitar effects, check out Guitar Gear Finder’s Guitar Effects Course here. The course digs deep into all common types of guitar effects and how to use them. If you already have a wah pedal, the course would be a great way to learn where to position it in your pedalboard and how to get the most out of it.