PG:Nikos Arvanitis’s very own demystifies the wah-wah cry with this simple guide to seven techniques from the venerable device.
Using JAM Pedals Whacko, Tele and Fender Deluxe, he begins by explaining the wah’s primary function as a filter; Simple enough to wah beginner. He then demonstrates how to use the pedal as a textural instrument while playing hammer and drag. (Hint: sweep the pedal slowly.) Next is the classic whacka-whacka that gives this JAM pedal its name. This requires a good sense of rhythm, so if you’re unsure, get out the metronome. Next comes the accentuation of individual notes and inflections. It’s a way to add a vowel-like quality to your playing. Jazz chord wah-wah? Of course, especially with the help of a lot of reverb. (Think of Skip Pitts’ brilliant work on “Theme from Shaft.”)
To use the wah’s EQ purely as a filter, find a setting where you dig into the tone, set it and wail. This is something bluesman Albert Collins did on his earlier records to get his cool tone. For big, distorted chords, move the wah slowly through its range while keeping your new sound appealing. And if you don’t have one handy, use the tone knob on your guitar to approximate the effect. Finally, remember not to overuse the wah. You want to keep the element of surprise for your listeners. Do you want to continue your training? Check out our Rig Rundown with Steve Vai and Tom Morello or our feature on bluesman Herman Hitson. Of course, you can also do your homework by listening to recordings. Start with Jimi Hendrix (‘Voodoo Chilli’) and go through Kirk Hammett (‘No Remorse’, ‘Enter Sandman’) and that’s just Hs.
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