5 Wah Pedals You Need

Since man first figured out that he wanted his guitar to go “chicka-chicka,” the wah pedal has been there to quench the thirst of curious players. And for as many revisions of the other pedals that followed it—annals of fuzz, overdrive and modulation—the opposite is true for wah pedals. The Clyde McCoy and Cry Baby pedals have become the standard, and even today it’s uncommon to find boutique manufacturers that make wah pedals. However, on the way to 2014, several manufacturers tried their hands at the wah. Oftentimes, their attempts yielded great results, only to get buried by the aforementioned two circuits. Here are the five coolest.

Tychobrahe Parapedal/Chicago Iron Parachute/Wilson Freaker

If you’ve ever heard Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral,” you’ve heard the Tychobrahe Parapedal. And like some of the other wahs here, this one features an unconventional inductor. If you’ve ever cracked the case of a wah and took a peek, you may have noticed that they all have a large, round (sometimes square) epoxy-coated nub on the circuit board. This is an inductor, and for lack of space, they make wah pedals “wah.” Like many of the pedals on this list, the unconventionality of the Parapedal’s inductor is that it doesn’t have one at all. The Parapedal instead uses two op-amps and a special dual-gang potentiometer to generate its tone. And my, what a tone it is—the design yields a deep, throaty growl that’s unlike any other wah pedal. In fact, both Tony Iommi AND Geezer Butler used a Parapedal in tandem on “Electric Funeral,” as a testament to its versatility and low frequency processing. The original is rare as hen’s teeth, but luckily, two options are available if the Funeral is what you seek: Chicago Iron’s Parachute and Wilson’s Freaker. The former is a part-for-part recreation, with the same bent-steel enclosure that weighs a ton but would probably survive the apocalypse. The latter is housed in the familiar Cry Baby-type enclosure, but adds a Q switch and a Sweep control that really opens the pedal up.

Korg FK-2 Mr. Multi

Most guitar players think of Korg and usually think two things: Tuners and synthesizers. Recently, Korg has gotten back into the pedal game with the Nu-Vibe and SDD3000, and most players don’t realize that Korg released many pedals back in the ‘70s, some under the name Keio, which was Korg’s original name. In fact, Keio released one of the strangest “wah” pedals ever, the Synthesizer Traveler, but that’s for another article. In 1977, Korg released the FK-1 Mr. Multi—one of my favorite pedals ever—for the low, low price of ¥15,000, or $126 (today’s rates). Like the Parapedal, the Mr. Multi has no inductor, instead relying on one dual op-amp and one quad op-amp. Unlike any other pedal on this list, however, the Mr. Multi has two rotary switches. One of the rotaries changes the pedal from “Auto” to “Manual,” but this doesn’t create an “auto-wah” setting like one might think. Instead, this changes the pedal from being foot-operated to low frequency oscillator (LFO)-operated, and in Auto mode, the foot pedal controls the rate of the LFO. This creates a cool auto-sweeping wah sound not available in any other pedal. The second rotary is where things get really interesting—the player has a choice of Wah, Phase, and Double Wah. Yes, the Mr. Multi can be used as a foot-operated phaser, a “phase wah” if you will. Double Wah is even better: it’s phase AND wah at the same time! It’s an anomaly in the effects universe and totally unique even to this day.

Musitronics C200 Vol-Wah

Musitronics C200 Vol-Wah

Many people know the Musitronics (aka Mu-Tron) brand for its envelope filters (III, Micro V), and its phasers (Phasor I and II, Bi-Phase). Fewer players know Mu-Tron made an octave divider, and even fewer know Mu-Tron made a wah and a flanger. Unsurprisingly, all of these are of utmost quality, and the wah, named the Vol-Wah, is no exception. Several players throughout the years have embraced the liquid funk of the Vol-Wah, from throngs of funk musicians to Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. Like the other pedals so far, the Vol-Wah is inductorless, but you’d never know that by listening to it; its sweep is as rich and quacky as any vintage wah. Like the Parapedal, the Vol-Wah also uses two dual op-amps to achieve its tone, but unlike it, it’s optical, meaning that there is no actual potentiometer. Instead, the Vol-Wah utilizes an LED-and-photoresistor array for a smoother sweep with no moving parts. A unique feature of the Vol-Wah is, as the name suggests, its dual existence as a volume and wah pedal. While this isn’t totally unique—the Foxx wah pedal also offers this feature—only the Mu-Tron offers the ability to use both wah and volume simultaneously. As expected, this lets players coax some otherworldly sounds from the pedal with a combination of vocal filtering and volume swells. Take note, pedal makers; this is one box that is dying for a reboot.

Vox Grey Wah Wah/Castledine Grey Wah

Vox Grey Wah Wah

If you’ve made it this far into the article, you know that Vox wahs are something of old hat; the circuit has been done to death, and the primo reissues only get “more primo” by adding period-correct parts. What if I told you that there exists an oddball Vox circuit that hasn’t been beaten to death, one that doesn’t sound like a slight tweak on the standard circuit? Buckle up, readers, it is true; in fact, there are technically two—the grey Vox and its prototype, which was the same as the standard, except it was a positive-ground unit with PNP transistors. The difference here is that this pedal, like other Vox wahs, uses an inductor, but the inductor only measures at half the standard value (a wah inductor typically measures 500 millihenries, where the grey Vox inductor measures 250 mH). What does all this gobbledygook mean? It means that the wah sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard. The sweep and vocal qualities of the grey Vox are markedly different, especially in the upper registers, and it handles dirt pedals in a totally new way. Finding an original grey Vox may be akin to finding the Ark of the Covenant (it belongs in a museum!), so the Castledine Grey Wah is the only show in town if you want those sweet hyper-quacky wah tones.

Roland AD-50 Double Beat

In the ‘70s, Roland had a penchant for three things: pedals with funny names, modulation, and balls-to-the-wall face-melting fuzz boxes. Between these three categories, gearheads can construct a Venn diagram of all Roland’s ‘70s offerings (except the Sustainer), and the Double Beat falls within the union of all three. It’s a fuzz and a wah in one—and true to the aforementioned Venn diagram, the fuzz section is exquisitely immense. The wah section is actually very nice, it’s the same wah as the standalone AW-10 Wah Beat that Roland offered around the same time, but the fuzz section makes this one so much cooler. This fuzz circuit wasn’t offered by itself at any time, nor was it the same circuit as the Bee Baa, Bee Gee or Funny Cat (remember the ‘funny name’ circle?). It offers a three-position “Tone Selector” with pictures of sine, square and triangle waves. The actual schematic says they offer differing RC networks on each switch position and not clipping diodes, so whether or not these modes correspond to these waveforms is anyone’s guess. The square mode is the real winner here, and when paired with the wah, some pretty intense tones are possible. As far as “effect order” is concerned, the fuzz comes before the wah, so the gnarliness gets chewed up within the teeth of the filter for maximum psychedelia.

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