The BEST Wah Pedal Songs EVER!
Published on 06 July 2021
The Wah pedal.
After a distortion pedal, this was the first pedal you bought, wasn’t it? The Wah pedal, guaranteed to add a spicy edge to your lead playing and evoke lots of ‘wakka-wakka’ noises at home, in rehearsal and on stage. It’s an addictive pedal, and each of us approaches it in our own slightly different way. There’s no denying how famous the sound is, and today we thought we’d check out some of the greatest Wah pedal practitioners ever, or just some of the coolest songs that utilise this most expressive of sounds!
We’ve tried to be wide-reaching here, so it won’t all just be British Invasion guys from the 60s, okay? They certainly feature, but we want to show off how diverse the use of a Wah pedal can be, and for that reason, these selections will also not be in strict chronological order. Search for your heroes, your favourite Wah songs but also click on the ones you haven’t heard: that’s what this is all about!
Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – Jimi Hendrix
We may as well start off with one of the most famous examples of wah-wah guitar ever! Voodoo Child (it’s not Voodoo Chile, that’s a different tune) is, for many, the defining example of Jimi’s ability to coax an entire vocabulary of expression from his Strat, wah, fuzz pedal and amp. As you’ll hear, his playing is obviously magnificent but it’s the attitude that makes this piece a real beacon of light in the guitar world. The intro alone is the stuff of which legends are made, but his spirited playing throughout just keeps raising the bar.
Shaft Theme – Isaac Hayes
Yes, the other most famous wah tune has to be this much-parodied theme tune to Blaxploitation cop flick Shaft. Both the song and the film itself are firmly rooted in their 70s time period (sample dialogue: ‘How you feelin’, Shaft?’ ‘I feel like a machine. That ain’t no way to feel’) but that only helps add charm to the tune. It’s kind of preposterous and badass at the same time, just like the titular character John Shaft. Isaac Hayes threw everything at this: strings, tone changes, backchat from the backing vocalists, and of course that inimitable wah guitar.
I Ain’t Superstitious – Jeff Beck
It’s a good day when you can grab hold of Rod Stewart to sing in your band, and also rope in ‘future Rolling Stone’ Ronnie Wood to slum it on bass. This is, of course, what happens when you happen to be Jeff Beck. This cut, from his solo debut album Truth, is an early (and relatively rare) example of the great man freaking out on a wah pedal. When’s it a bad time for a bit of Jeff? Never!
Bad Horsie – Steve Vai
We know, we know. This particular tune finds itself onto a fair few of our guitarguitar blogs, but the reason for that is pretty plain: it’s an absolute masterclass of guitar playing, in a number of areas. We were going to use Vai’s innovative ‘talking guitar’ intro on David Lee Roth’s Yankee Rose, but when it comes down to it, this is just a better showcase for one of the finest wah-practitioners on the planet. As always, Vai’s flair for technicality and expression make this wah extravaganza sound effortless. It’s not. It’s agony. Make it through this as a player and you can most definitely put yourself in the top 1% of guitarists out there!
White Room – Cream
Before Eric Clapton wore Armani suits with the cuffs pulled up, he was in a proper rock band. This famous example, from Cream’s Disraeli Gears album, demonstrates Clappo going for it with a wah, something he was an early adopter of. The man’s influence is inestimable, and it’s partly down to how accessible his playing is. Many of us will never be able to perform a faultless rendition of that previous Steve Vai tune, but we can all take a fair crack at delivering on something like this. Eric did it first, mind you.
Summer Song – Joe Satriani
Joe is a master of texture and tone as much as he is with inventive melodies and shred-tastic meltdowns. This example, from The Extremist, displays all of these talents in one place. The main melody is one of his most famous, and his tactile use of the wah pedal only enrichens the ‘voice’ of the song. There are endless examples of Satch laying it down with a wah pedal, of course, but this one is also a wonderful boost of fresh, positive energy.
Sheik – ZZ Top
Billy Gibbons, the best-dressed man in Rock (or mad old hobo, depending on your point of view), has always been able to coax great things from his beloved ‘Pearly Gates’ Les Paul. This little number, from the seminal Tres Hombres album, dishes up some supremo wah guitar playing that is basically peerless in terms of tone, feel and flat-out coolness.
Bulls on Parade – Rage Against the Machine
Given that this is effectively a one-note riff, there’s a huge statement being made here in terms of righteous energy, sound and attitude. Rage’s Tom Morello has long since earned his stripes as an inventor of (literally) barking mad guitar sounds, but this sledgehammer of a riff is where his talent really shines: it’s so simple and effective, it drops like a neutron bomb.
Here’s a tip when going for the tone here: Tom, against all advice, sticks his wah pedal (it’s a very normal Dunlop GCB95 Crybaby) into the FX-loop of his 50-watt Marshall head! Say what? We know, it’s daft. But just listen to that riff! Now who’s the genius?
Telephone Song – Stevie Ray Vaughan with Jimmie Vaughan
SRV never disappointed, did he? Even guitar fans who are less enamoured with the Blues can appreciate the greatness that routinely sprang out from Vaughan via his battered old Strats. This song, performed with his brother Jimmie, is the aural equivalent to eating a big slice of chocolate cake: it’s indulgent, tasty and very satisfying. Wah playing at it’s best? Who can really say, but there’s tons to take away here as a player.
Fool’s Gold – The Stone Roses
Is John Squire one of the most underrated guitarists ever? We think so. Beloved by Roses fans (the other Roses) but hardly a household name, Squire none the less has created some of the most inventive and tasteful guitar parts in modern years, from chiming twang to filthy dirt. He’s also a natural with the wah pedal, making great use of those all-important middle frequencies, never over-rocking his foot. He also (mostly) avoids the rookie error of rocking the pedal in time with the song, which is something you cannot say for nearly every other indie guitarist ever. If you catch yourself doing this, do stop it. Nice one.
We’re in This Together – Nine Inch Nails
For someone who doesn’t rate himself as a guitarist, NIN supremo Trent Reznor is responsible for one hell of a lot of great guitar parts. This brutal slice of hostile futurism is from the double-album opus The Fragile, and demonstrates what happens when machines, software and a fuzz-laden Les Paul meet in a dark room. The wah is used here during the apocalyptic solo as a dramatic kind of filter, which is appropriate for a player more at home on synths than six-strings. The notes are sonically squeezed so much they howl, making an impact that’s hard to beat.
Enter Sandman - Kirk Hammett
Metallica’s guitar hero has more than a passing love for his wah pedal. Well known for his wah-drenched shred/blues hybrid playing style, Hammett brings colour and excitement to Metallica’s inspired thrash riffing. Extra points go to his live set up: when they play ‘in the round’, Kirk has something like 6 or 7 wah pedals located around the stage, ready to be stepped on whenever his boot gets close! Top guy!
Again, there are lots of examples of Kirk’s superlative wah moments to choose from (special shout out to the slide/wah solo on The Outlaw Torn), but we went for the popular choice today and have selected Enter Sandman. Why on earth not? It’s magnificent, no matter how many times you’ve heard it.
After Dark – Tito & Tarantula
Here’s a bold statement for you: this is the greatest guitar sound EVER. Don’t believe us? Just listen to that gorgeous overdriven tremolo-and-wah, and tell us you don’t dream of equalling such a tone.
Originally appearing in From Dusk Till Dawn, this memorable song soundtracks an equally memorable moment between Salma Hayek and Quentin Tarantino. He wrote the script, which may explain a lot. Anyway, the guitarist here is Peter Atanasoff, and we honestly don’t know whether the cool pawn shop guitar he’s playing in the movie is the same used to record the tune on the studio, but we’d definitely like some clarity!
Wah-Wah-What Did We Miss?
Even though this list of great wah-wah moments seems to be quite definitive, there may have been a few we didn’t quite catch. Are you sad about Dimebag being left out? How about Robin Trower? And how could we have neglected Frank Zappa’s infamous Willie the Pimp wah-marathon?
Well, these things happen. But do interact! Get involved and remind us of other great wah moments in music! Thanks for reading and come back again!