Over the past couple of decades, the wah pedal has given us some of the most expressive sounds imaginable on guitar. Whether it's used in a “quacking” funky song, or a full sweep while ringing out one note or chord, it allows the guitar to sound extremely vocal. From Dunlop to Vox, Morley and Clyde McCoy, many a wah have been under the feet of some of the most amazing players.
The funny thing is the wah is basically an EQ circuit tied to a foot pedal. But when used effectively, it can turn a boring guitar part into something incredible. Lists are always a difficult endeavor because you can’t include everyone, but at least they always strike up a conversation about who did and didn’t make the list, and can give you some great music to check out.
Here are 25 of the best wah players out there. Whether they've used a wah for one song or many, these players have made a big difference for this important effect pedal.
Midway down this list I've also made a 25 video YouTube playlist featuring every guitarist on this list!
To start off the list I had to choose Hendrix, who was one of the first players to make the wah sound popular, and as you'll see below, inspired countless other players with his playing style and tone. Whether it be on Voodoo Child, All Along the Watchtower, Burning of the Midnight Lamp or many other songs, Hendrix was a big part of putting the wah and other effects in front of guitar players for the very first time. And how many other players on this list can say they’ve taken an iconic picture at Woodstock, featuring a wah, fuzz and more?
Kirk Hammett has used a wah so often, that it's almost become surprising when he doesn’t use it on a solo. Hammett has used the wah extensively in everything from Enter Sandman to For Whom The Bell Tolls, and much more. He was one of the first people to get a signature wah from Dunlop, and must have sold thousands through Metallica’s long career. While many out there have mixed feelings about Hammett, something has to be said for the tens of millions of albums Metallica has sold over the years. Without Metallica, many of today's metal bands wouldn't exist. Hammett was also one of the first to have multiple wireless wahs all over Metallica's massive stages so he could use the pedal whenever he wanted, no matter where he was on stage.
Zakk Wylde is known for a number of things. Filling the enormous shoes of players who’ve come before him, his signature squealing pinch harmonics, an amazing vibrato, and of course his use of the wah. Zakk has used a wah with his time with Ozzy Osbourne, and with his solo project Black Label Society as well. Start with the Ozzy song Gets Me Through, and then check out Zakk's take on his own signature wah. And if you want to learn how to do pinch harmonics like Zakk, I wrote an article for that, which you can check out here.
Alice In Chains were one of the biggest bands of the 90s, and a lot of that had to do with Jerry Cantrell. Jerry’s written some massive riffs, and employed wah on hits like Man In the Box, Rooster, Grind and many more. Cantrell has used the wah to make his single note lines and chords super expressive, but he’s also a fan of leaving the wah in one place, and using it as a filtered sound. Even after AIC's original singer Layne Staley passed, Cantrell has continued the band with a new singer and has kept the band's massive sound alive.
Dimebag and Zakk Wylde spent a ton of time together, and you could see that in their playing styles, including Dime's use of a wah. From Cowboys From Hell all the way up to Reinventing the Steel where he made use of the Digitech Whammy, Dime has always used the wah to make his solos sing. He went on to use a wah in songs for DamagePlan as well, right up until his untimely death in 2004. If you want a great place to start with Dime, check out his wah solo on A New Level from the A Vulgar Display of Power album. And if you're looking for a killer, camo covered wah, check out Dime's Crybaby From Hell.
Satch’s cheery Summer Song is one of the most recognizable wah riffs ever. The wah has been such an important element of Joe’s sound, and he’s used it all sorts of different ways. Take his wah work on Love Thing off of Crystal Planet. Not only does he use it in the background for little chord swells, it’s also front and center as part of the main lead line. There’s a wealth of Satriani songs to find great wah playing on. I recently saw Joe on the G3 tour, and his playing is as good as ever. He's energetic, and really brought everyone together for the G3 jam at the end of the show. Joe has inspired so many guitarists on this list (teaching students like Vai, Hammett and more), which leads to our next person on the list.
Some folks would say you don’t have Steve Vai without Joe Satriani. The one time student of Satriani has redefined guitar music over and over again. Plus his song Bad Horsie coined the name for a super popular wah pedal from Morley that turns on by simply putting your foot on it. In addition to Bad Horsie's manic notes, you should also check out the Grammy winning Tender Surrender, and the Van Halen-esque The Audience Is Listening.
Vai's early work sounded very similar to Zappa, and he was tasked as being the "stunt guitarist" in Zappa's band. That being said, Zappa was an awesome player himself. Zappa’s wah work shows up on the classic Inca Roads, and more. Like a lot of his music, he occasionally used the wah for comedic effect, as he always injected humor into all of his music. Whether it be immitating someone's voice, or similar to Cantrell, leaving it stuck in one position as sort of an EQ, or for blazing solos like on Dirty Love. Zappa's output of music is staggering, and he's without a doubt, one of the most underrated guitarists on this list. Thankfully his son Dweezil has been keeping his dad's music alive with his numerous Zappa plays Zappa tours.
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Wah Wah Watson
I mean, the guy has Wah Wah right in his name. That, and on his album Elementary, he’s dressed up like Sherlock Holmes and is smoking a pipe like a true bad ass. Wah Wah Watson, otherwise known as Melvin Ragin is a classic guitarist in the style of R&B, funk and reggae. In addition to his album Elementary where he uses wah, talk box effects and more, you should also check out his extensive work as a sideman for bands like the Jackson 5, Herbie Hancock, and other legends.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
One of the best blues guitar players of our time, SRV never ceases to amaze. Whether it’s watching him at Austin City Limits or playing with Albert King, it seems he pulled incredible riffs straight out of the air and into his fingers. The Telephone Song is one of his all time great wah songs that he performed with his brother Jimmie Vaughan, while Say What! also features some incredible wah work. Check out this interview with Stevie's tech Rene Martinez. In it he talks about how he mainly employed four pedals live, including a "CryBaby wah-wah, an Ibanez Tube Screamer, an Octavia and a Dallas Arbitar Fuzz Face". Check out his live session at Austin City Limits, for some playing that is truly mind blowing.
Growing up, when you thought of reggae, you thought of Bob Marley. Marley's name was synonymous with the genre. It seemed that everyone had a copy of Legend in their CD collection, which turned out to be the best selling reggae album of all time. There’s lots of wah throughout the album, but if you want a great example of how he used it, check out Stir It Up as a starter. After that, you've gotta check out the classic album Exodus, which has a great 40th anniversary release with remasters, remixes, and live versions of the songs.
I’ve always appreciated how Tom Morello has coaxed weird and interesting sounds from his guitar and only a handful of effects pedals. Rage Against the Machine went so far to include "All sounds made by guitar, bass, drums and vocals" in their liner notes. In 1996 everyone heard the wah sounds of Morello on Bulls On Parade. And while he’s more known for making the Digitech Whammy pedal famous, any of his work in Rage or Audioslave is a great listen in creating new and interesting sounds from your guitar.
Joe Walsh has had so many catchy hits in his life on his own, but early on in his career he was part of the James Gang. His wah work on the song Walk Away is a lot of fun to listen to. In addition to being a killer guitar player, his tone on tracks like Rocky Mountain Way and Life’s Been Good are just beautiful. Check out his Real McCoy signature wah, but be warned, their webpage looks pretty ancient. To get a better idea of what makes his signature pedal awesome (which he's been using since 2007), check out this Guitar Player post where they break down that wah and 4 other signature wahs as well.
Vernon Reid, best known for his work in Living Colour, is such an exciting player. Just listen to him on the song Cult of Personality, or really any of the songs on the Vivid album. That album still holds up, and even though Reid’s sound is so "of the time", it still sounds killer. I’ll never forget meeting Vernon at a clinic in Paramus, NJ. He shredded everyone’s faces off with his playing, but behind the scenes he was such a genuinely nice guy. In addition to Vivid, check out Living Colour's latest album Shade, where Reid is still playing amazingly, but now on his signature PRS Vela guitar. Check out that cool pick guard!
I had a hard time not including Dave Navarro on this list, but to be honest, John Frusciante really is the guitar player you think of when thinking of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Frusciante is one of many guiarists who’s heavily influenced by Hendrix, and his use of Strats and other gear related to Hendrix really shines through in his sound. Frusciante is such a monster player, and you can find his amazing playing and wah work all over Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and nearly every album up until his departure from the band in 2009. And if you want to hear some great wah work from Navarro, check out the album One Hot Minute or his work in Jane’s Addiction.
Jeff Beck has reinvented himself so many times over the past couple of decades, but some things have always stayed consistent. He has unique production, he employs the use of his whammy bar to great effect, he makes magic happen without a guitar pick and he tastefully uses effects throughout his songs. His wah playing is all over his earlier albums like Truth, all the way up to his latest, Loud Hailer, where he has a super Hendrixian sounding song with Right Now.
Mike McCready has literally made stages shake at Madison Square Garden, and has impressed loads of guitarists when it “wasn’t cool” to solo back in the grunge era. The lead guitarist for Pearl Jam has used wah a ton throughout his career, but his most famous wah song with PJ has to be Even Flow. Check out that song and the rest of the iconic early 90’s album Ten. Then check out this Gibson post where they put together the top 10 Mike McCready solos of all time.
If anyone’s playing has ever been talked about as slithery and smooth, it has to be Slash. His work with Guns 'n Roses, Velvet Revolver and Slash's Snakepit has always been amazing, and it’s great to see him back out on the road, and still kicking ass. He’s made some of the most memorable riffs out of the 5 pentatonic boxes, and he’s also been a master at using the wah. How iconic is the solo to Sweet Child O’ Mine? If you get a chance, try and catch some early Appetite for Destruction tour videos that show Slash absolutely killing it live. Here's a great collection of GnR videos new and old to get you started.
Mr. Slowhand himself is another guitarist who’s stood the test of time. Whether that be on his own, his time in the Yardbirds, Derek and the Dominos, or with the band Cream, he’s always made memorable riffs. One of the most memorable has to be White Room from Cream, a classic wah song. If you’re looking for even more legendary playing, check out his time with B.B. King, and their duo album called Riding With the King.
John Petrucci is one of those players that’s just scary good. Whether it be his playing, or even his warm up exercises, he always seems like he's on another level. I remember painstakingly trying to learn from some of his early lesson videos on VHS! Petrucci has been a force to be reckoned with while in Dream Theater. Not many other guitarists can say they’ve gotten the notoriety for prog rock as John and DT have. He’s one of the handful of guitarists on this list that uses wah so much that Dunlop has created a signature pedal for him. While Petrucci has used wah all over Dream Theater’s albums, I’m going to recommend one of their lesser known songs, Peruvian Skies from Falling Into Infinity, which has easily one of the best wah solos of all time.
It seems that every time I’m flipping through Guitar Player magazine, Joe Bonamassa has released a new album. Whether it’s his fun bluesy rock playing, or his staggering collection of vintage guitars, Joe has made a real name for himself in the guitar world. Listen to his beautiful tone, including a ton of wah work on his earliest album, A New Day Yesterday, all the way through Dust Bowl (check out the bluesy You Better Watch Yourself) and all of his other solo and collab albums.
Although lesser known than some of the players on this list, Michael Schenker has been an inspiration to folks like Kirk Hammett, Dave Mustaine, Dimebag and countless others. Schenker's solo group is a lot of fun, but he’s best known for his time in UFO. His use of the wah pedal, and his awesome Flying V guitars are classic Schenker. Give UFO’s Best Of a listen, and try and pick up how many riffs have inspired other players down the road. You're likely to hear some of your favorite guitarist's riffs in Schenker's playing.
Robin Trower is yet another Jimi Hendrix inspired player, but he’s made his own unique sound over the past couple of decades. His wah playing is incredible (with many citing him as being one of the best players to use a wah), but his use of modulation might be even more interesting to check out. Start with his excellent album Bridge of Sighs, and then check out Time and Emotion (his latest) to see how his sound has progressed over the last 40 or so years.
One of the last living, original blues men, Buddy Guy is truly a legend. The tones Buddy gets in the studio and live are epic and unique. He’s taken on a black and white polka dot look for everything from his Strat to his signature wah. He’s inspired everyone from Clapton to Hendrix himself, and his sound has evolved but somehow also kept some of its early magic over the years. Even now, so many years later, you can still hear some of that early style in his playing and in his voice. If anything, he’s gotten more ferocious over the years.
Eddie Van Halen
We started this list with a legend, and we’ll end it with another in Eddie Van Halen. I’ll never forget watching the video to Poundcake. If the drill against his guitar wasn’t cool enough, you also had massive, wide open and delayed chords, and then you have the solo, with some tasty wah work. While EVH is known for tapping and whammy bar tricks more than wah, I figured I should include him, since he's made such an impact on so many players, and this wah song in particular is a lot of fun.
Wah is one of the best guitar effects ever
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