How Does a Wah Pedal Work?

how do wah pedals work

Wah pedals are one of the most common devices used by guitarists today, no matter what genre of music they play. Many famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Metallica have relied on the wah pedal for its well-known and well-loved sound. Even amateur guitarists enjoy experimenting with the sound at home.

You’ve probably heard the wah pedal and maybe even have one at home, but you may not know how they work. After all, it isn’t exactly clear how pressing on the device can affect the sound of your electric guitar so much. Keep reading to understand how a wah pedal works.

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What is a Wah Pedal?

Wah wah pedals are tone filters that many musicians use to imitate a human voice. Although it’s fully synthetic, the wah pedal can shift across tonal frequencies much like a human voice, which is why it gets the name “wah-wah” pedal.

Wah pedals are often a staple on most guitarists’ stompboxes. They’re easy to use, and many brands make affordable wah wah pedals so musicians of all kinds can add them to their set-up.

How Does a Wah Pedal work?

Wah pedals can take the tone of your guitar from low to high or high to low, depending on the way you rock the pedal.

When you push the wah pedal down with your heel, the sounds of your guitar become lower. This is referred to as low-pass filtering, where only the low frequencies come through, and the high frequencies are restricted.

Pushing the wah pedal down with your toe does the opposite. Again, only high frequencies are allowed to pass through, while low frequencies are filtered out and restricted.

Since the direction you rock the wah pedal affects the sound, you can create a sort of wah-wah sound when rocking it back and forth. The sounds glide smoothly from one end to the other and create the easily recognizable wah sound that has become so beloved. 

If you’re interested in the technical side of things, here’s a quick overview of just how the mechanics work in wah pedals:

Using a bandpass filter, the wah pedal can move the resonant peak. So when you move your foot along the wah pedal, you’re moving the resonant peak accordingly and this is what creates the wah sound. Some wah pedals will use a potentiometer and a mechanical connection, though other wah pedals have moved past this. Both types of wah pedals have their advantages and disadvantages.

How Do You Use Wah Pedals?

Using a wah pedal is easy, though you may need to practice with it a few times before it becomes instinctual. 

To use a wah pedal the traditional way, start with it open and play a note, rocking the pedal down and back up as you do so. On every note, rock the wah pedal back and forth to create the classic wah wah effect.

Another common way to use the wah pedal is referred to as the funk rhythm. This method is much more challenging to master as you’ll rock the wah pedal on a beat, not based on a note change. In addition, you may play one note or several notes between shifts in the wah pedal, which means you’ll have to get used to moving your foot at a different time than on the rhythm of note changes.


Wah pedals are a staple in the music industry these days and they can add a unique variety of sounds to your performance. Professional and amateur guitarists alike use them, often without thinking about the mechanics of the wah wah pedal or how they work. While it isn’t necessary to know how wah pedals work in order to use them, it can be interesting to learn about and help you appreciate the technology behind the device even more.