1968: The Birth of the WAH-WAH.

By Will Swanson

Don’t cry over it….
But maybe it would sound better if you did

“Make your guitar sound like a crying baby….”“What?”
Maybe it didn’t start quite that way but that was the gist of it. The idea to make a guitar cry stemmed from a Thomas Organ pedal and VOX super beatle amp being mixed, almost as absurd as having a guitar sound like a baby. 

VOX had enlisted the Thomas Organ company to build the Super Beatle amps (named after the Beatles) for the US market and therein lies a genius named Plunkett. He was enlisted to find ways to build the amps cheaper while maintaining the sound qualities and there he found a switch to allow the mids to be boosted. He played with it, replaced it with a potentiometer that was about a tenth the price and then checked to see it worked as hoped. 

A guitar was plugged into the pot directly and strummed while he twisted it, the crazy thing was it made this new sound when it was used alone, it went WAH-WAH-WAH. They hooked it up to a pedal so it could be used by the guitarist and that was the birth of something so very new and so very fresh.

“That’s crazy man!” and so VOX started working on this in conjunction with Plunkett and the Thomas company and that was the WAH pedal, named solely for its unique sound pattern.

The WAH has existed ever since and been such an important part of some players sound that they can’t be imitated without it, even by themselves. Eric Clapton in Cream was one of the first, Jimi Hendrix was the first famous for it, Stevie Ray Vaughn is known for it and Slash has his own signature model.

Voodoo Chile by Jimi is what did it for me, the tone was in his fingers, the music in what he played but trying to get anywhere near that sound without a WAH just isn’t going to happen.

The WAH pedal isn’t for a beginner though, it’s hard to get that right vibe with it if you’re still trying to learn. Strum this, fret this, and then work your foot to warp the sound is an advanced technique and for some players (even experienced ones) they don’t want to mess with it so along came the auto-wah. 

The auto-wah reacts to your strum, hit it hard or sharp and it’ll wah like crazy, strum softly or smoother and its mostly transparent but used right you still might feel like there is an unhappy child somewhere near you and that’s what it was all about – right?

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