Hugely popular in a broad spectrum of genres, the wah-wah pedal was a major hit from very shortly after its commercial release in 1966, but few pieces of classic gear have likely had as convoluted a journey to stardom as this simple tone filter. Created by an engineer working for a California organ company that had just acquired the rights to a British amplifier brand name, this pedal was designed to help rock guitarists mimic the sound of a famous jazz trumpeter’s mute technique… and would be manufactured in Italy. It reads like a location scout’s itinerary for the next James Bond film. When Bradley Plunkett concocted his first wah-wah circuit for Thomas Organ in 1965, though, and trumpeter Clyde McCoy put his stamp of approval on the results, you can bet they had little thought as to how Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix would soon make them sound in front of snarling fuzz pedals into cranked Marshall stacks.
Clyde’s guts—a “halo” inductor and “tropical fish” caps.
When you consider the few truly spacey sonic-melding effects available at the time, the iconic Vox “Clyde McCoy” Wah-Wah must have sounded pretty amazing in its day even through a clean amp. Give it some gain or fuzz it up, though, and these things make the electric guitar exponentially more expressive, hence their lasting appeal. For all its relative simplicity there are still few comparable means of making a guitar sound so vocal, malleable, emotive, and dynamic as this brick-sized rocker pedal. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that you play the wah-wah while playing the guitar—its electro-mechanical nature adding an extra dimension to your overall musical expressivity—and you have to work it to make it work. Whether sweeping broadly and rhythmically for funky rhythm playing (another of this pedal’s fortes) or finding the precise edge-of-shift spot where it grinds the note from a bent guitar string into a soulful vocal howl, a great wah-wah will do things a guitar just can’t do on its own, or through any other effect for that matter.
Stages in the early evolution of the Vox Wah-Wah from 1966 through the end of the decade came in rapid succession, and the story is too convoluted to tell in detail in the space allowed here. But all of the late-’60s renditions can sound superb. Having been devised by the Thomas Organ branch of the Vox empire (whose overuse of the Vox brand on inferior California-made tube and solid-state amps would soon help to put the original English JMI company out of business), wah-wah production was jobbed out to Jen Elettronica in Pescara, Italy, which was manufacturing other transistorized pedals for JMI at the time. After the original “Patent Pending” pedal of 1966, 1967 saw the “picture” model, designated by the reprint of Clyde McCoy’s portrait on the bottom plate, followed in 1968 by the “signature” model, which carried just his name in script. That year also saw the arrival of the Cry Baby Wah-Wah, which was often considered the pedal for US distribution, although it was also sold in the UK as the Vox Cry Baby Wah-Wah.
The most desirable early units used the distinctive “halo” inductor (so called for its circular metal housing) and a pair of distinctive, striped “tropical fish” capacitors. These were not true bypass pedals, so the circuit tended to suck tone even when disengaged—a fact that has inspired many modern owners to modify their originals with new DPDT switches. Plug in, rock it, and rock. For nearly 50 years there’s been no better way to get your groove on!
• Rocker treadle for wah-wah control
• Tropical fish signal capacitors
• Halo inductor
• Simple hand-wired circuit