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While Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the first to incorporate the Wah-Wah Pedal into music, his unparalleled application transformed the landscape of rock, imprinting an indelible mark on its sonic canvas.

The Genesis of the Wah-Wah Pedal

Created by Bradley J. Plunkett in the late 1960s for the Thomas Organ Company, the wah-wah pedal initially aimed to mimic the sound of a muted trumpet for brass players. With its distinctive tonal sweep oscillating between bass and treble frequencies, the pedal sounded much like a human voice saying “wah.” The guitar community quickly embraced it, heralding the birth of the Vox Wah-Wah.

Jimi Hendrix Meets the Wah-Wah Pedal

1967 was a pivotal year for Jimi Hendrix. His trailblazing style and hunger for novelty made him an ideal candidate for the wah-wah. Legend has it that during The Jimi Hendrix Experience tour in England, Frank Zappa, another experimental musician, introduced him to this unique device. Some even argue that Zappa might’ve gifted Hendrix his first pedal, although this remains a point of contention among historians.

Regardless of the exact circumstances, Hendrix, with his innate musical curiosity, recognized the pedal’s potential. He quickly incorporated the wah-wah into his sound palette, a decision that would redefine rock guitar.

The Wah-Wah Pedal: From Accessory to Necessity

Jimi Hendrix and his Vox Wah-Wah Pedal.
Jimi Hendrix and his Vox Wah-Wah Pedal
Credit: CreativeAudioWorks

Listening to Hendrix’sVoodoo Child (Slight Return)” or “Up From the Skies” provides insight into his mastery over the wah-wah. Not merely using it as an effect, Hendrix made the wah-wah sing. It became both a rhythm accentuator and a dominant voice in his solos, transforming live performances into a transcendental experience. Tracks like “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” exemplify how the wah-wah, under Hendrix’s touch, transformed from an accessory into an essential component of rock sound.

His groundbreaking application caught the attention of contemporaries and fans alike. When audiences witnessed Hendrix’s legendary performance at Woodstock, they weren’t just watching a guitarist; they were part of a sonic odyssey, with the wah-wah pedal as the vehicle.

The Lasting Legacy of Hendrix and the Wah-Wah

Hendrix’s tragic death in 1970 didn’t diminish the pedal’s allure. His iconic sound inspired legions of guitarists, from Slash of Guns N’ Roses to Kirk Hammett of Metallica. As these musicians integrated the wah-wah into their sounds, they paid homage, knowingly or unknowingly, to Hendrix’s legacy.

In the ensuing decades, the wah-wah has echoed across various genres, from funk to metal, remaining a testament to Hendrix’s profound influence. The pedal, while used by many, evokes the raw emotion, sensitivity, and genius of Hendrix every time it cries out.

Jimi Hendrix’s relationship with the wah-wah pedal underscores the power of innovation in music. It wasn’t just about a new sound effect; it was about reimagining the expressive potential of the guitar. In the hands of a maestro like Hendrix, the wah-wah became a tool of unparalleled emotional depth.

Today, as we listen to the myriad solos echoing with the distinctive cry of the wah-wah, we’re reminded of the genius of Jimi Hendrix. He didn’t merely use the wah-wah pedal; he revolutionized it. The tale of Hendrix and the wah-wah is not just about an artist and an instrument. It’s a testament to the limitless possibilities of music and the icons who dare to explore them.


What famous songs feature the wah-wah pedal?

The wah-wah pedal is a popular guitar effects pedal that produces a distinctive “wah-wah” sound by altering the tone of the guitar signal. Here are some famous songs that feature the use of the wah-wah pedal:

  • “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix
  • “Shaft” by Isaac Hayes
  • “Cry Baby” by Janis Joplin
  • “White Room” by Cream
  • “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic
  • “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
  • “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” by James Brown
  • “Star-Spangled Banner” (Woodstock version) by Jimi Hendrix
  • “Barracuda” by Heart
  • “Black Magic Woman” by Santana

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