The most IMPORTANT Neo-Soul Pedal - The Wah!

the most important neo-soul pedal

Hello Everybody and Welcome!

In this article, we will examine the most important Neo-Soul pedal - the Wah pedal! It is very useful in groove-based music due to it's funky character and will be a wonderful edition to your pedalboard.

Its design hasn't changed since it came out in the 60s, and it is a popular choice for guitar players from all across the musical spectrum up until today.

Never heard of a Wah pedal???

A wah pedal is a guitar effect. It is a single frequency filter, controlled by the guitarist with a foot pedal. It is called a Wah pedal due to the closing and opening sound of the frequency filter that sounds like a “wah” sound. It was introduced to the world in 1966 by Bradley J.Plunkett and pioneered by Jimi Hendrix.

Let’s see how it works, it is a rather simple pedal...


As mentioned before, the Wah pedal is a frequency filter, meaning that it filters out a part of our signal. The Wah pedal's filter band has a mountain-shaped form and its character is filled with mid-range (the sound can even be harsh in certain frequency areas).

Here's is how white noise looks like without any effect.

white noise on EQ

Here's how it looks like when we activate the Wah pedal in closed position. 

white noise with wah pedal

And here's how it looks like when the Wah pedal is in a closed position.

white noise with wah pedal

A little Wah pedal history...

wah pedal history

The Wah pedal was introduced to the world in 1966 by Bradley J. Plunkett at Warwick Electronics Inc./Thomas Organ Company. It was built from an organ pedal connected to a potentiometer.

Even back then, this sound concept wasn’t new, for example, Chet Atkins used a similar home-built effect in his “Slinkey” recording back in the 50s.

✌️ Another cool example of a similar old pedal is George Gershwin’s “Summertime”, played by guitarist Peter Van Wood. The Crying sound of the guitar comes from a modified expression pedal, used for organs.

Why is the Wah pedal so important in Neo-Soul?

The electric guitar was almost non-existent in the blooming of Neo-Soul in the 90s and 2000. You almost can’t even hear a guitar in these albums except for specific songs.

The players who played these guitar parts were, in many cases, not session players but other random studio dwellers who knew a thing or two about guitars.

So where can we find the guitar in Neo-Soul? 🧐

We’ve found it! Live on stage! Apparently, when it comes to the real deal, no show (Neo-Soul or not) can survive without a guitar player. The studio versions we all love needed to be modified for live setups and a lot of songs that were recorded without a guitar were played on stage with a guitar player.

The most prominent guitar pedal you hear in these live shows is the Wah pedal. It’s funky, it’s very useful due to its percussive qualities, especially in groove-based music such as Neo-Soul, and it goes well with all of the “basic” guitar sounds like the overdrive, distortion, delay, or reverb.

For example, check out this live performance of "Brown Sugar" by D'Angelo, there's a Wah pedal in the background throughout the whole song, even though there's no guitar in the album version.


A few other cool examples for live Neo-Soul performances with a Wah pedal are Jill Scott's performance at the "Dave Chappelle Block Party" and Erykah Badu Live on VH1 Soul Stage.

Also, This CRAZY performance of Freakum Dress by Beyonce.

Neo-Soul Guitar in the Studio

Many of the guitar parts we hear on the legendary Neo-Soul albums from the late 90s-2000 were played by the main artists themselves!

Raphael Saadiq, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and many other artists have recorded some of the guitars in their albums even though they weren’t professional players. 

In other cases, other studio dwellers that know a thing or two about guitars recorded a lot of the guitars in these albums, the most prominent one might be Bob Power, a Grammy-award-winning producer, sound engineer, and performer.

Bob Power - (A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, Citizen Cope, D'Angelo, De La Soul, India Arie, Jungle Brothers, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ozomatli, The Roots)

  • Bob Power also played in the “Brown Sugar” album by D’Angelo (tracks 2,3,4,5,10)

I’m guessing that this is the reason why these albums feature such simplistic guitarist approaches with simple lines, little accents here and there, and an attitude that says a guitar is more of a musical ornament than the main character in Neo-Soul music.

The Wah pedal in the studio

wah wah

Hard-working session guitar players were sometimes invited to work with artists like Erykah Badu or Raphael Saadiq, and they had to find their own sound in this new genre. This new soundscape was funky but dreamy, smooth but had a kick to it and the Wah pedal provided this added dimension in a perfect way.

Here are a few examples of Neo-Soul songs with a guitar and a Wah pedal:

  • In the studio version of “Penitentiary Philosophy” by Erykah Badu, you can hear simple, accurate, and beautiful guitars played with a Wah pedal. This beautiful take was recorded by Jeff Lee Johnson, a Philadelphia jazz player, and a known lover of the Wah pedal.

  • In “Voodoo” album by D’Angelo, in the song “Playa Playa”, you can hear Mike Campbell’s guitars (I think there are a few guitar tracks in this song), recorded with a Wah pedal, among other things.

Here are a few more classic examples Wah pedal uses:

The disco vibe of the 70s:

 Carl Douglas Kung Fu Fighting
Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft” (1971)
“Enter the Dragon” theme
“Shaft in Africa” theme (1973)

Funk Guitar players also adored (and still do!) this pedal, for example:

James Brown “Funky President” (1974)

    An honorable mention:

    Melvin M. Ragin (The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Supremes and more) - also known as "Wah Wah Watson", was an American guitarist who was a member of The Funk Brothers, the studio band for Motown Records.

    If you just LOVE Wah pedal action, you should check out his work because he and the Wah pedal were inseparable.


    There are many ways to use a Wah pedal in Neo-Soul. So let’s start breaking it down.

    You can use the Wah pedal just like a percussive instrument, playing no notes, just adding some kind of rhythmic element to the music, and that means a lot in groove-based music like Neo-Soul.

    It can scream with it, combined with a distortion pedal, and it can be gentle with a clean setup. It is an intuitive and super-expressive pedal, especially because of the manual foot control.

    Check out this video for many interesting examples!

     Wah Pedals that are good for Neo-Soul/R&B!

    There are so many Wah manufacturers these days, some are great and some are a little less great... I obviously didn't try them all but from the many I did had a chance to checkout, these are my favourite ones.

    The Dunlop Cry Baby is definitely the most classic sounding Wah pedal. If you are looking for that 70s style Wah, that should be your first choice. There are many other Cry Baby models, don't be tempted to get these, from what I've tried, the signature models (Slash, EVA, etc) always function a lot better with distortions rather than a clean sounding guitar tone.

    The GCB95F is a little "fatter" than the GCB95, with a stronger low range this would be my first choice. Maybe with another guitar (I play mostly Stratocaster), I would have chosen the GCB95 which is a little "thinner" in the lower frequency areas.

    The Vox V847A has two advantages over the Cry Baby. First, it is a lot cheaper, second, its filter range is a little smaller, meaning that it's a little less harsh and won't be too violent in the high frequency areas like the Cry Baby.

    That is why this model was easier for me to manage in live shows and rehearsals, when conditions aren't optimal and you need to switch sounds quickly, that pedal made it easier to transition from one sound to another.

     Cry Baby (GCB95F)
    Cry Baby 
    Vox Wah Wah
    Dunlop Cry Baby pedal Amazon
    Dunlop Cry Baby pedal Amazon
    Vox Wah Wah pedal Amazon

    That's all for now fellas!


    You might be interested in reading these articles as well:

    Neo-Soul Gear:

    The Octaver
    The Envelope Filter
    Neo-Soul Amps
    Neo-Soul Guitars

     Neo-Soul Guitar Lessons:

    How to MASTER Neo-Soul chords
    How to play "Tyrone" by Erykah Badu

    If you just love Neo-Soul music be sure to check out the other Neo-Soul articles on our website!

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