A clean example of a Vox King wah with a TDK 5103 inductor. Photo courtesy of Guitar Center Vintage Collection

4. Curtis Mayfield and Craig Mullen's VOX King Wah

Even in the late ’60s, when the wah pedal was primarily a blues-rock staple, it was almost inevitable that it would become synonymous with soul music. A well-placed wah could transform even a mundane, two-note riff into a plaintive wail, and that was all it took to draw artists like Curtis Mayfield to its expressive power. Surprisingly though, he preferred the simplicity of an auto-wah, as Craig McMullen, Mayfield’s go-to guitarist and originator of the “Superfly” wah guitar sound, explains: “Curtis never was too much for fooling with the gadgetry, which is cool because he had his own unique sound in the way he played, anyway. So all the wah-wah variations that you hear on those early records, that was me on the Vox.”

What often gets lost in the towering shadow of 1972’s classic Superfly is that Mayfield and McMullen had already etched the wah-wah into the soul-funk firmament the previous year with the sizzling double LP Curtis/Live!. Incredibly, this was the 5-piece band’s first gig together and it remains one of the grittiest, funkiest live performances ever documented. “You figure we’re at least going to do a couple of gigs to get tight,” McMullen quips, “but we were going to go for the jugular vein right now. And I was, like, ‘Okay, well—you lead, and we’ll follow!’”

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