Iconic pedal takes centre stage
As far as guitar effects go, there are few as well known and widely used as the famous wah pedal. Since its creation in the mid 1960s, wah wah has featured on countless records by bands and artists from pretty much every genre of music. If you want a bit more background information on this classic effect, then check out our previous article on the subject.
We all know what it sounds like, so let’s have a look at a few of our picks for the best wah pedal songs of all time. Sure, it’s subjective and you’ve probably got your own favourites, but the songs listed below are great examples of wah used in interesting ways and will hopefully inspire you to get the most out of your pedal.
Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
While many of the songs famous for their use of wah show off what the pedal can do when swept across its entire range, this particular tune by Newcastle’s finest shows off the beauty of the wah when used subtly. There’s no vigorous showy back-and-forth on the pedal here. Instead, for the song’s main riff, Mark Knopfler simply half-cocked the pedal to achieve that amazing strangled sound. In terms of the gear used, Mark’s wah sound actually came from a rack unit – brand unknown – which ensured the exact same frequency spot could be used every show with no discrepancy.
Guns N Roses – Civil War
Doubtless many people would choose Sweet Child O’ Mine as their pick of best use of wah on a GnR song, but for us it’s Civil War, off Use Your Illusion II, which really nails it. The pedal, believed to be a pretty standard Jim Dunlop Cry Baby, is used pretty liberally throughout the tune, most notably in the crushing post-verse melody (2 minutes 25 seconds in on the video). Here, long sweeps of the pedal add to the epic nature of the track, which edges it above the band’s better known wah tracks in our eyes.
Black Sabbath – Electric Funeral
There are a few Sabbath tracks which could have made the list, but we’ve gone for Electric Funeral, off the Paranoid album, on account of the way it makes a startlingly simple riff into something genuinely quite sinister. Gear-wise, it is unclear exactly which pedal Tony Iommi used to achieve this sound. He’s a known user of a rare old brand called Tychobrahe, but has also been seen using Colorsound and Dunlop pedals in his rig.
Metallica – Fight Fire With Fire
We couldn’t have a list of best wah songs and not include something from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. As with GnR, there are tonnes of choices here but we’ve opted for Fight Fire With Fire, off the Ride The Lightning album. The song is fast, heavy and ultra technical, and the introduction of the wah into the solo (2:34 on the video) gives it a real depth of tone, which complements the tight rhythm playing perfectly.
Kirk is a Dunlop man through and through, and even has his own signature model featuring a rather natty skeleton imprint on the rocker pedal. Alternatively, you might consider checking out the new shrunken down Jim Dunlop Cry Baby Mini pedal, which boasts all the classic Hammett wah tones but in a package small enough not to dominate your pedal board.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Exodus
Wah pedals aren’t the sole preserve of rockers and metallers though. These pedals have done plenty of interesting things on funk, pop and jazz records over the years, but it’s this sublime reggae number from Bob Marley which we’ve chosen here. As with the Dire Straits track above, Exodus sees the Wailers’ guitarist Junior Marvin using a half-cocked wah to trim the top and bottom frequencies from the sound, in order to let it cut through the booming bass frequencies.
Marvin also commented how the pedal acted as a kind of compressor, cutting off the sound once it reached a certain volume. You can achieve the same cocked wah effect brilliantly using the new Electro Harmonix Cock Fight pedal, which not only sounds great but also takes the worry out of finding the exact spot you need each time.
Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
And finally, we had to include something from Hendrix, right? Voodoo Child (Slight Return) has perhaps one of the most iconic intros to any rock song and its hard to imagine that this song would be possible at all without the swampy beauty of a wah pedal.
At the time Jimi used a King Vox wah pedal, and these now run to hundreds of pounds on the second hand market. A more realistic option might be the splendid Jim Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Signature Wah, which has been tweaked to give a slightly thicker, fatter sound than a standard Cry Baby.
If this article has piqued your interest in wah pedals, you can check out our full range here. Enjoy!
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.