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Wah Wah Pedals: 10 of the Best

Published: Tue February 03, 2009  News Feed
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A wah-wah pedal (or just wah pedal) is a type of guitar effects pedal that alters the tone of the signal to create a distinctive effect, intended to mimic the human voice. The pedal sweeps the peak response of a filter up and down in frequency to create the sound (spectral glide).

Brief History

The Wah-Wah pedal has a very specific and technical circuitry and housing structure. Therefore, all other previous effects circuits and devices, prior to 1966, that share similarities with the wah-wah pedal are not actually affecting the signal in the same manner and cannot be considered early versions of the wah-wah pedal. However, custom experiments from time to time made sounds that approached the formal product, including Chet Atkins’ 1961 recording of “Boo Boo Stick Beat”.

The first pedal ever created was by Warwick Electronics Inc. / Thomas Organ Company in November 1966; this pedal is the original prototype wah-wah pedal made from a transistorized MRB potentiometer bread-boarded circuit and the housing of a Vox Continental Organ volume pedal.

The creation of the Wah-Wah pedal was actually an accident which stemmed from the re-design of the Vox Super Beatle guitar amplifier in 1966. Warwick Electronics Inc. / Thomas Organ Company had bought the Vox name due to the brand name’s popularity and association with the Beatles. Warwick Electronics Inc. also owned Thomas Organ Company and had assigned Thomas Organ Company to create a new product line called the all-electric Vox Amplifonic Orchestra, the project was headed by musician and band-leader Bill Page. While creating the Vox Amplifonic Orchestra, the Thomas Organ Company needed to re-design the Vox amplifier into a transistorized solid state amplifier, rather than tube, which would be less expensive to manufacture. During the re-design of the USA Vox amplifier, Stan Cuttler, head engineer of Thomas Organ Company, assigned Brad J. Plunkett, a junior electronics engineer, to replace the expensive Jennings 3-position MRB (mid-range boost) circuit switch with a transistorized solid state MRB circuit.

Brad Plunkett had lifted and bread-boarded a transistorized tone-circuit from the Thomas Organ (an electric solid state transistorized organ) to duplicate the Jenning 3-position circuit. After adjusting and testing the amplifier with an electronic oscillator and oscilloscope, Plunkett connected the output to the speaker and tested the circuit audibly. At that point, several engineers and technical consultants, including Bill Page and Del Casher, noticed the sound effect caused by the circuit. Bill Page insisted on testing this bread-boarded circuit while he played his saxophone through an amplifier. John Glennon, an assistant junior electronics engineer with the Thomas Organ Company, was summoned to bring a volume control pedal which was used in the Vox Continental Organ so that the ‘transistorized MRB potentiometer bread-boarded circuit’ could be installed in the pedal’s housing. After the installation, Bill Page began playing his saxophone through the pedal and had asked Joe Banaron, CEO of Warwick Electronics Inc. / Thomas Organ Company to listen to the effect. At this point the first electric guitar was plugged into the prototype wah-wah pedal by guitarist Del Casher who suggested to Joe Banaron that this was a guitar effects pedal rather than a wind instrument effects pedal. Joe Banaron, being a fan of the big band style of music, was interested in marketing the wah-wah pedal for wind-instruments as suggested by Bill Page rather than the electric guitar suggested by Del Casher. After a remark by Del Casher to Joe Banaron regarding the Harmon mute style of trumpet playing in the famous recording of “Sugar Blues” from the 1930s, Joe Banaron decided to market the wah-wah pedal using Clyde McCoy’s name for endorsement.

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After the initial invention of the wah-wah pedal, the prototype pedal was then modified by Del Casher and Brad Plunkett to better accommodate the harmonic qualities of the electric guitar. However, since Vox had no intention of marketing the wah-wah pedal for electric guitar players, the prototype wah-wah pedal was given to Del Casher for performances at Vox press conferences and film scores for Universal Pictures. The un-modified version of the Vox Wah-Wah pedal was released to the public in February 1967 with an image of Clyde McCoy on the bottom of the pedal.
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Warwick Electronics Inc. assigned Lester L. Kushner, an engineer with the Thomas Organ Company, and Bradley J. Plunkett to create and submit the documentation for the Wah-Wah pedal patent. The patent was submitted on February 24, 1967 which included technical diagrams of the pedal being connected to a four-stringed “guitar” (as noted from the “Description of the Preferred Embodiment”). Warwick Electronics Inc. was granted US patent 3530224 (Foot controlled continuously variable preference circuit for musical instruments) on September 22, 1970.

Early versions of the Clyde McCoy featured an image of McCoy on the bottom panel, which soon gave way to only his signature before the name of the pedal was changed to Cry Baby. Thomas Organ’s failure to trademark the Cry Baby name soon led to the market being flooded with Cry Baby imitations from various parts of the world, including Italy, where the McCoys were originally made.

Here is our round up of 10 of the best and most interesting Wah’s available at the moment

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