Some of the best auto wah pedals bring a perfect balance of sound, quality, and price. Read more to find out what else you should be looking for in your next gear!
Overview (Best Auto Wah Pedal)
The world of effects pedals, both stompboxes and multi-effects units, is ever so evolving.
A lot of genius minds have come up with ways to take your guitar tone and turn it up a notch. Thanks to these brands and companies that offer a plethora of methods to inspire you to play even more and help you become even more creative.
Now, most of you may already be aware of the bare essentials of a pedalboard build – you have your tuners, your overdrives, your distortion, your reverbs, and your delays. A lot of big names have already made it through the scene using only some of these, and it’s more than enough to produce a good tone for both live and recording sessions.
But sometimes, songwriters, musicians, and touring artists, in general, view their craft as something that can always be improved.
For the average guitarist, a guitar, an amp, and a cable are all they need and they’re good to go. They rely on their axe and amp to produce everything that their song and their sound needs, and just tweak and toggle some of the settings that are available at their disposal.
For some, on the other hand, creativity and the uniqueness of sound are always important.
This is why some guitarists invest in different types of effects pedals. Some sound the same, and some, completely distinctive – like the auto-wah guitar pedal.
Now, before you go “What exactly is an auto-wah?”, we’d like to first explain that this one is fairly different from the usual elongated pedal that you step on and pivot with your foot (yep, the wah pedal), and go and make your guitar faces while you’re at it.
In this feature, we’re going to discuss what exactly is an auto-wah, what are some of the buying guides, and why you’d potentially want one! To top it all off, we’re also going to be looking at the best auto wah pedal available on the market today.
Let’s get right into it!
What is an Auto-Wah?
An auto wah pedal is known to be called by many names. It can be known as a T-wah, a Q-Wah, an envelope follower, an envelope filter, and even an envelope following filter.
Quite a mouthful, right?
According to Wikipedia, instead of the effect being controlled by a pedal, as on a standard wah-wah, the effect alters in response to the volume of the input signal. Pretty much similar to a wah, it works by adjusting a peaking filter, which amplifies a specific frequency and cuts off other selected frequencies. Since the electronic circuits in the effect can respond much faster than a human musician can physically move a pedal, certain effects that a standard wah cannot achieve are only possible with auto-wah.
The response of the effect is highly interactive with the dynamics of the input signal – this makes it possible to vary the response at will via slight adjustments to playing technique. Therefore it may take some practice before the response of the auto-wah can be wilfully controlled in order to achieve a consistent sound.
If you’re wondering what genre an auto-wah (or an envelope filter) would fit into, the answer can be totally subjective. It’s mostly used for funk, but of course, we’ve all become familiar with John Mayer and his intro tone to “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)”.
What this means is that it can be an alternative to the usual wah pedal, which can be challenging and complicated for first-time users aiming for that specific tone-sweeping effect.
After all, the normal wah can sometimes be difficult to operate, especially if you’re not really comfortable moving your foot in between certain parts of your songs.
With an auto-wah, you have all that covered for you in the stomp of a footswitch!
Auto Wah Pedal Buying Guide
Just like any audio gear or pedal you’re trying out for the first time, it’s always useful to consider your budget. If you’re only just getting into auto-wah pedals, then initially, you’re going to have to do a little bit of research yourself in order to have a general overview of what it’ll sound like. You can always switch to much more expensive ones once you get the most of your existing version. Size is also another thing you can consider. There are some auto wahs that take up bigger space, but you can always resort to their mini version (if one exists). You’ll also want to have a look at the controls the auto-wah or an envelope filter has. If you’re looking for more controls, however, it may come with a much heftier price tag. So budget up! Quality is another thing to consider.
For me, it’s important to have a fair balance of price and quality. Especially if you’re only trying out the auto wah pedal effect for the first time. It helps to read reviews and check how good sounding the pedal is before you make your purchase of wahs.
Another thing you may want to consider is pedal board space. Luckily for us, gear nerds, a variety of auto wah pedal offerings today come in small packages. This allows you to maximize your pedal board real estate, and even lets you put more tools of the trade on your rig!
Where do auto wah pedals go on a signal chain?
An auto wah pedal or an envelope filter is something that can affect your clean tone drastically.
And yes, while there are no general rules in terms of pedalboard placement, guitarists usually put this in front of their chain. This can be due to the fact that it’s less affected and colored that way, and can be heard clearly when you play your riffs!
With all of this out of the way, let’s get into some of the best available auto-wahs and envelope filters out there today.
Spearheading our roundup is from a very respectable brand that has been around multiple professional pedalboards for years.
The AW-3 Dynamic Wah from BOSS is a wah and envelope filter pedal for guitar or bass! It offers Tempo Control, Expression Pedal Input, and a “Humanizer” effect, making it possible to produce vocal-style sounds!
It also houses separate dedicated inputs for your guitar or bass. It can also be controlled via an external expression pedal, and it offers tap-tempo mode for those wanting to get a little more out of their unit.
The BOSS AW-3 can be powered by a 9V DC power supply that is sold separately.
Some notable users of the AW-3 are Marty Friedman, John 5, and Kevin Shields.
EHX delivers some of the most recognizable wah sound resonance in pedal form in the Micro Q-Tron.
Featuring an all-analog circuit, a true-bypass feature, the Micro Q-Tron comes with low pass, band pass, and high pass. This means that you have the option to toggle through controls and frequencies as you deem fit. It also comes with a Q knob and Drive features, allowing you to tweak tones that suit your playing style.
To top it off, like all Electro-Harmonix pedals, the Micro Q-Tron is housed in a solid quality enclosure, allowing you to have the option to stomp on it during live gigs, all while being at an affordable price.
Some notable users are Graham Coxon and Chris Wolstenholme.
Probably one of the most popular offerings in our quality roundup, the Mad Professor Snow White Auto Wah offers options for guitar and bass, too!
It boasts four basic controls to help you control whatever sounds you wish to incorporate into your tone – Sensitivity, Bias, Resonance, and Decay.
Depending on your playing style and the guitar pickups on your instrument, you can easily dial in the sweet spot of the Snow White by playing around with the Sensitivity knob.
For a more conventional wah effect, mess around with the decay knob and tweak the volume controls!
Oh, and Nile Rodgers is known to use this unit. Have fun dialing your own unique tones with this auto wah pedal!
For a more budget-friendly and compact approach to auto-wah pedals, here we have the Mooer Funky Monkey!
This appeals to most of the musicians who are looking for a pedalboard-friendly unit to cover their auto-wah needs. It also offers a solid enclosure, allowing it to be gig-worthy while being as versatile in a recording studio!
What makes this shine is that it covers low and mid ranges pretty well. However, multiple users wish it made more presence and whooshing sounds at high frequencies. Get your funk on.
Completing our roundup is the AF-9 from Maxon!
This is an interesting-looking pedal that is enclosed in a yellow finish, with a housing similar to their other units. It boasts a filter, drive, and range toggle that is completed with an option to work around sensitivity and peak sliders. This makes it one of the most versatile sweep offerings in our roundup.
If you’re into old-school circuits and you want a more than capable type of auto filter, then the Maxon AF-9 is for you!
And there we have it!
These are just some of the best options on the market but there are still some great brands and names that can definitely work for you, your music, and the wah sound you are looking for. At the end of the day, what you’re looking for is something that continuously inspires you to play and create, regardless of size, price, features, and brand.
Experiment and explore some of these units and features (and read the manual and a few other articles!) and hopefully, you find one that’ll be a staple on your rig!