PG’s own Nikos Arvanitis takes the crying out of wah-wah with this simple guide to seven techniques for the venerable device.
Using a JAM Pedals Whacko, a Tele, and a Fender Deluxe, he starts by explaining the wah's basic function as a filter: heel down accents low tones, heel up accentuates highs. Simple enough for the wah novice. Then, he demos how to use the pedal as a textural instrument, while playing hammer-ons and pull-offs. (Hint: sweep the pedal slowly!) Next up is the classic whacka-whacka that gives this JAM pedal its name. This one requires a good sense of rhythm, so pull out the metronome if you're uncertain. Emphasizing single notes and bends comes next. It's a way to lend your playing a vowel-like quality. Jazz chord wah-wah? Sure—especially with an ample helping of reverb. (Think Skip Pitts’ brilliant work on “Theme from Shaft.”)
To use the wah's EQ purely as a filter, find a setting where you dig the tone, set it, and wail. This is something bluesman Albert Collins did on some of his earlier recordings, to get his frosty tone. For big, distorted chords, move the wah slowly through its range while they sustain for an arresting new flavor in your sound. And if you don't have a wah handy, consider using your guitar’s tone knob to approximate the effect. Finally, remember not to overuse the wah. You want to preserve the element of surprises for your listeners. Want to continue your wah-ucation? Check out our Rig Rundown with Steve Vai and Tom Morello, or our feature on bluesman Herman Hitson. Of course, you can do your homework by listening to recordings, too. Start with Jimi Hendrix ("Voodoo Chile") and work your way up through Kirk Hammett ("No Remorse,” “Enter Sandman"), and that’s just the Hs.