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The groovy guitar licks during the bridge of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman,” the throbbing bass throughout Muse’s “Madness,” and the Bootsy Collins’ grooves on pretty much every Parliament song would be less exciting without wahs and other types of filter effects.

Filter-based effects create interesting sounds by manipulating specific parts of the sonic spectrum. This could be controlled by an envelope that kicks in at a certain level or a time-based waveform. Along with envelope filter guitar pedals, synth and ring modulation pedals are cousins of filter effects. Check out the Meris Ottobit, Jr. for an excellent, modern example.

Wahs are special kinds of filters that are usually controlled by a tilting foot pedal, allowing the player to manually shift and move the affected spectrum as fast or slow as they desire. Wah pedals, sometimes called wah wahs, have been around since the mid-'60s, when the Bradley J. Plunkett modded a Vox volume pedal, a design that would lead to many variations of the Vox Wah. The Dunlop Cry Baby series are also popular examples of wah pedals.

How do you use a wah pedal?

Most wah pedals have to be activated before the effect does anything. Often, this means pressing down the toe end of the pedal to depress a footswitch similar to the ones seen on many other types of guitar pedals.

Once on, moving the foot pedal back and forth will create a variable filter. Moving the pedal slowly creates a more sweeping, epic effect. Moving it faster results in shorter waves, which can sound percussive or vocal.

Auto-wah pedals, such as the Mu-Tron III and Boss AW-2, activate a wah effect without the need for an expression pedal. Normally, the filter is triggered by the input level. Auto-wahs first found common usage among disco musicians.

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