7 Wah Pedals Battle in a “Wail Off”

April 1, 2009

0.gp0409_gearwah9290LIKE SO MANY REDISCOVERED GIZMOS FROM THE LATE ’60S, the wah-wah pedal has been elevated to an art form by a wide range of makers eager to reproduce, and even advance upon, the effect. A big part of the earlier rejuvenation of the wah was the precise reproduction of the early Clyde McCoy, Vox, and CryBaby pedals—a venture that included the use of an accurate replacement part for the original Fasel, “halo,” and “trash-can” inductors, and tuning the “Q” (bandwith of the resonant frequency) to accurately recreate classic Hendrix- or Clapton-style wah tones. With many makers feeling they’d nailed those details, the technology moved toward improving and modifying these blueprints by adding extra tone-shaping options, true-bypass switching, squeezing in extra features, or improving the mechanical operation of the rocker pedal and/or potentiometer.

The seven wahs battling it out here seek to give us their version of the optimum wah voicing, and, collectively, they pull it all together at a broad range of price points. I tested these pedals with a Fender Stratocaster and a Gibson Les Paul into a Matchless DC-30 amplifier, and each wah was also given its due driving into a Roger Mayer Spitfire Fuzz.



THIS PEDAL WAS SHIPPED IN A BOX THAT LOOKS LIKE A CARDBOARD RENDITION of a Chinese tea crate, and carried no model name other than “Wah” and an elegant Chinese character for a word that is pronounced “ben.” Designed by BBE’s Paul Gagon and Dayv Chavez, the Wah is based on the classic 1967 Vox circuit and contains a re-engineered Halo-style inductor, one of the main components credited with contributing to the original’s rich, vocalized tones. Housed in a casing that’s similar to the old Vox type, the Wah sports a black crinkle-finish base and a chrome rocker. Modifications in the BBE design include true-bypass switching, a status LED, and a rotary Harmony control on the side of the pedal for fine-tuning the Q.

With the Harmony control at its center detent position, the Wah instantly revealed itself as the most sweetly tuned of the group, with a chunky, vocal “ow” sound around half way up the sweep that provides a talking-wah effect, and a peak at the toe-down position that is cutting and bright without being harsh or spiky. The Wah is fairly vintage sounding, but perhaps clearer than many originals of the late ’60s and early ’70s that I have played. It excels at everything from funk rhythms to rock lead playing, and it holds up well with fuzz, too. The Harmony control is subtle, but it does let you dial in some potentially desirable tonal variations. An impressive and very likeable pedal, the BBE Wah is also one of the most affordable in this group.

Carl Martin 2Wah


ALONG WITH THE MORLEYS, THE 2WAH FROM DANISH MAKER CARL MARTIN is among the most feature-packed of this review. Two slide switches provide three voicing selections each for the Low and High modes, while a rotary knob beside them lets you adjust the Attack setting. An on/off switch in the toedown position offers true-bypass switching, while another in the heel-down position shifts between Low and High modes.

The 2Wah sports a heavy die-cast casing that roughly follows the Vox/ CryBaby template, with an extended fascia at the front to hold the extra controls. The treadle has a firm, medium-throw action, and the wah pot is rotated via a traditional gear-and-spindle mechanism. Input and output jacks and a center-negative adaptor socket are on the sides of the unit. Inside, the 2Wah’s printed circuit board carries an unbranded, can-shaped metal inductor.

Versatility is the name of the game here and there are a lot of wah tones to play with—some very close to vintage sounding. Carl Martin recommends using Low for lead and High for rhythm work, and there’s some sense in that, but I also found some eviscerating tones in the lower range of the High setting when driving a fuzz pedal. The Attack knob works well for fine-tuning the edge of each voice, though I found myself ultimately wanting just one outstanding voice that blended the best of the 2Wah’s Low settings (but without its overly muffled, full-heel-down sounds) with the best of its High settings. Also, the 2Wah exhibited the most RF interference of any pedal in the group. Overall though, the 2Wah is very flexible wah, and the hands-free switching between two voices for rhythm and lead is certainly a nifty concept.

Dunlop CryBaby BG-95 Buddy Guy Signature Wah


ALL THREE OF THE LEGENDARY WAH-WAH PEDALS OF THE LATE ’60S—THOMAS Organ’s original Clyde McCoy Wah-Wah Pedal, the Vox Wah-Wah, and Thomas Organ’s slightly later CryBaby—evolved out of the same circuit, but took slightly different paths as they were adapted by their manufacturers or distributors. The CryBaby, introduced in 1968, became a favorite of many players who favored its shorter rocker travel (which offered a quick sweep) and sweet, fluid tone. It has remained an iconic wah ever since. Having revived the defunct brand, the Jim Dunlop company broadened the CryBaby template into an entire range of wahs, and was one of the first contemporary makers to jump into the upgradedwah game with the CryBaby 535Q of 1998, which offered six selectable voices plus variable Boost and Q selection. Dunlop has also issued a range of Signature wahs, with models from Slash, Zakk Wylde, Jimi Hendrix, and, recently, Buddy Guy and Eddie Van Halen.

Built in a traditional CryBaby-shaped housing that’s decked in Guy’s signature polka-dot cosmetics, and featuring the original’s short-throw rocker, the BG-95’s most notable feature is its side-mounted, two-mode kick switch. Pop the button in for BG mode (what Dunlop calls a “warm and bell-like wah tone”), or pop it out for growlier sounding Deep mode. The wah effect is switched by the traditional toe-down bypass button, with true bypass in the off mode. The BG-95 carries a red Fasel inductor, a reproduction of the component used in original CryBabys of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

In BG mode, the pedal issues a cutting, edgy, distinctive sound that is a little dissonant in some rocker positions, and slightly strident at full throw, but which really slices through the mix to make sure you get heard. Deep mode is more rounded and vocal sounding—serving beautifully for mellow neck-pickup runs—and works well behind a fuzz when you don’t want to attack the auditory nerve so severely. Bottom line: The BG-95 is a good all-around wah, and its side-kick effects button certainly enhances its flexibility.

Dunlop CryBaby EVH-95 Eddie Van Halen Signature Wah Wah


THE FACT THAT THERE ARE CURRENTLY SO MANY VARIATIONS ON THE CRYBABY— I count 13 in the Dunlop catalog—speaks volumes for the sonic differences in the original production runs of this classic pedal. Given several “identical” units to choose from, many great artists select a wah that accentuates the frequencies that appeal to them, while others will modify their wah-wahs over the years, both intentionally and via the simple wearing and playing-in effects of constant use. The only added feature, as such, on the EVH Signature Wah Wah is its adjustable rocker torque, accessed beneath the front of the treadle with the included hex wrench. Otherwise, this wah is made special by its reproduction of the quirks and mods found on Eddie Van Halen’s very own prized CryBaby pedal.

The EVH-95 carries the requisite EVH “Frankenstein” graphics and logo tread, and features two blue status LEDs. Inside, a custom-wound EVH inductor replicates the High Q inductor that Van Halen installed in his own CryBaby in the early ’90s to give it a wider sweep and a more vocal-like tone. A customtapered potentiometer also mimics the unique curve that EVH’s long use of his own pedal had carved into the middle section of the pot’s range.

With its sharp, attention-grabbing voice, the EVH-95 is great for brightening up midrange-y crunch tones and slicing through the mud. Its spiky highs might be a little too much for mellower, bluesy wah-wah work, but it makes for an excoriating lead player’s wah—especially with a little fuzz to help smooth out the lacerating treble. There’s also a lovely growl in the lower frequencies as you rock backward toward the heel-down position. Overall, the EVH-95 is great rock wah that cops some serious attitude, although it’s perhaps not ideally suited to undistorted applications.

Ernie Ball Wah


THIS STRINGS AND ACCESSORIES MANUFACTURER, AND PARENT COMPANY OF MusicMan guitars, has made a name for itself with a line of robust, efficient, smoothly functional volume pedals. Ernie Ball now applies similar mechanical and structural technology to the Wah pedal, which uses the same wide, longthrow treadle and smooth belt-driven action that has enabled their volume pedals to become market leaders. The Wah is a tank-like pedal, cased in a thick aluminum alloy housing that feels like you could kick it across an arena stage without inflicting any damage (to the pedal anyway). The treadle itself offers plenty of surface for on-the-fly landings in a dark club, and its no-slip textured surface makes for sure-footed wah action.

The bonus features here are all structural and mechanical, and there are no switchable sounds or tweakable voices. But the familiar Ernie Ball pedal format offers a full 12 degrees of extremely fluid sweep, which provides more control over the wah’s frequency range than most pedals on the market. Bright green LEDs on either side of the pedal provide easy visual cues, and the on/off button beneath the toe of the treadle is adjustable so players can fine-tune switching sensitivity to their own taste. In and out jacks and a center-negative adaptor connection on the front face of the pedal might prove ergonomically useful to some players with crowded pedalboards.

The Wah’s voice is pitched just right for rock soloing and funky, syncopated rhythm work. The smooth travel and long sweep feel great under foot, and while the tonal range runs from just a little too woofy to a little too shrill for me, the pedal’s ability to produce more top end and lower lows might be an asset to some players. I needed to rein in my right-foot enthusiasm a bit to keep it in the zone for throaty, vocal sounding tones when soloing with a rock band. If you’re looking for a pedal with extended range, the Ernie Ball Wah answers the call while sounding clean, quiet, and well voiced for a variety of styles.

Morley George Lynch Dragon 2 Wah


NOT LONG AFTER THE ARRIVAL OF THE ORIGINAL VOX AND CRYBABYWAHS, MORLEY established an early template for building a better mousetrap. Its photoresistor activators did away with potentially noisy and relatively short-lived potentiometers, and its added features were the envy of every guitarist on the block, provided you could afford one—a Power Wah Boost listed for a lofty $99, which was a lot of dough back in the mid ’70s! The U.S.-made George Lynch Dragon 2 follows form entirely with its wide, flat base housing, inverted-wedge treadle, and trademark photo-resistor action. Added features include a useful “Wow” sound that’s toggled with a case-mounted stomp switch, and a Wah Lock mode engaged by a second switch that lets you use the Dragon 2 as a static tone filter. Set your frequency with the Notch control, and the wah remains activated at your desired tone setting. A switchless on/off control engages the wah effect automatically when you place your foot on the treadle, and disengages it when you lift it off (the treadle is spring-loaded to return to the heel-down position, as per Lynch’s preference, and the “off delay” is adjustable via an internal trim-pot from zero to 3.5 seconds).

A Loudness control gives you Wah and Wow levels from just below unity to slightly boosted, and while off is not true bypass, Morley makes a virtue of that fact by including its TrueTone buffer circuit here, which is said to maintain consistent tone and signal levels in the active and bypass modes. As with all Morley wahs, the Dragon 2 is built like a tank and ready for the road.

The George Lynch Dragon 2 delivers a sharp, clear, and precise tone that never lets you forget you’ve got a wah pedal engaged—some might call it “clinical,” but I prefer “contemporary.” It shines best with a little fuzz or amp overdrive, but it’s also round and musical enough to pull off satisfactory bluesy or warmly funky riffs straight into a clean amp. The Wow function is a great alternative, yielding some chewy, dissonant tones with my Spitfire fuzz, and Wah Lock works just as it should, although there’s a fraction of a second’s delay between lifting your foot from the treadle and the auto-off function’s disengaging of the effect.

Morley Kiko Loureiro Distortion Wah Volume


Wah Volume is a brand new offering from Morley. Its structure follows the current Morley format, and outwardly it’s identical to the George Lynch Dragon 2, other than its lizard-green color and the addition of a third knob. Bonus features here, however, are significantly different. One stomp switch kicks the wah effect in and out, while a second provides on/off for the built-in distortion effect that is available with or without wah. Drive, Tone, and Level controls govern the distortion, while the wah level is preset. With the wah off, the treadle becomes a handy volume pedal. And, like the George Lynch Dragon 2, the Kiko also uses Morley’s photo-resistor action, and employs its TrueTone buffering circuit.

Though it’s voiced similarly to the George Lynch Dragon 2, the Kiko is a little smoother sounding in the highs and a little less gritty in the lower mids. This is another clear, cutting wah with a great sound for contemporary rock. The distortion function produces a thudding, dissonant, asymmetrical breed of grind that’s a little jarring at first, but it works great when you dive in head first and go for it. Voiced to work in conjunction with the wah, the distortion component yields instant shred-metal mayhem, and proves a lot of fun in the process.


This has been a battle between a wide range of worthy but varied contenders, and each of these wahs has a place in the market, and will no doubt win its own fans. The Carl Martin 2Wah and Ernie Ball Wah are good all-around pedals, and the CryBaby Buddy Guy certainly addresses the blues-rock tones with aplomb. The other four stand out a little more tonally, though. For classic arena rock riffing, the EVH gets my nod, while for heavier contemporary metal and thrash, I’d lean more toward the Morley Kiko Loureiro (or the George Lynch Dragon 2 if you prefer its static wah function). Overall, though, I think the BBE Wah has the sweetest, most musical voice of the bunch. Its potential to be a first-pick wah for any kind of music earns it an Editors’ Pick Award.

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