One of the few things that often intrigues guitarists and bass players alike is whether you can use a guitar wah pedal for bass or not. This is a common scenario that sparks the curiosity of musicians and at the same time, it is also an issue that often lacks sufficient explanation from the experts.
Also known as the “wah-wah” in its earlier days, the wah pedal was created by Bradley J. Plunkett at Warwick Electronics Inc./Thomas Organ Company in 1966 and has since become a vital part of contemporary music, particularly in rock, reggae, funk and soul music.
The concept of the wah extends way back to the late 1800s with the invention of the Harmon mute, a device mainly used on trumpets and trombones. Commonly heard in jazz music, the Harmon mute was also known by names such as the “wa-wa,” “wow-wow,” or “wah-wah mute” which are onomatopoeic names based on one of the distinct sounds that the device created.
In the 1950s, country guitar genius Chet Atkins used a self-designed version of the wah pedal on a couple of his popular hits. Meanwhile, guitarist Peter Van Wood utilized the modified expression pedal on his Hammond organ. Consequently, English musician Big Jim Sullivan used a DeArmond Tone and Volume pedal in the early 1960s until a more standardized version of the guitar wah pedal was introduced later on in the market.
Traditionally, the wah pedal was intended exclusively for guitars, although bass players such as Miles Davis’ bassist Michael Henderson, as well as Chris Squire of Yes, experimented on the wah-wah in the early 70s. Even though these experimentations yielded interesting results and pushed the boundaries of creativity, guitar pedals didn’t become a norm for bass players due to their detrimental effect on bass tone.
In 1999, Dunlop released the Cry Baby 105Q Bass Wah, which was designed specifically for bass players. Influenced largely by the envelope filter that was popular in the 70s, the Bass Wah only affected the mid and the treble, leaving the low-end as solid as it should be.
Today, the Bass Wah is widely accepted by bass players and even embraced by some of the most famous guitarists in the world. On the other side of the spectrum, the guitar wah pedal went on to appear in tons of hit songs, eventually becoming one of the most recognizable elements in popular music.
Should you use a guitar wah pedal for bass?
You can definitely use a guitar wah pedal for bass without causing any damage on your gadget, as well as your bass and amplifier. However, there is a downside that has prevented most bassists from incorporating the Bass Wah into their arsenal and it has something to do with tone.
Bass guitar beginners and experts through the decades have experimented a lot on guitar wah pedals and what they can offer. All trials have ended up in disappointment as it is clear that the wah-wah is not designed to accommodate much lower frequencies. Because the voicings are not compatible, your bass will sound a lot thinner if you plug it into a wah pedal made for guitar.
Moreover, the Bass Wah has a mechanism that allows the pedal to spring back to its original tone as soon as you take your foot off it. On the other hand, guitar wah-wah pedals don’t have this kind of springing mechanism so it would be difficult to return to your main tonal position, which is crucial if you are a bass player.
If you already have a guitar wah pedal and still wish to use it for bass, you will have to compensate for the lack of low-end by mixing it differently in your amp or by integrating an equalizer pedal into your rig. Although this solution may not be the most practical, it is another way to put your guitar wah pedal to good use, especially if you aren’t interested in selling or trading them.
Obtaining a Bass Wah for your bass guitar is still your best bet, but for the meantime, you can also use your guitar wah pedal for your bass solos and other experimental, higher frequency stuff. You can even maximize the lack of bass in your tone by adding delay and fuzz to your wah pedal to emulate the sound of a guitar.
Guitar wah pedals today have an on/off switch which you can use to revert back to your fat, bass-driven tone after a blazing solo.
Can you use a bass wah pedal for guitar?
While using a guitar wah pedal on bass is frowned upon by a lot of bass players, the Bass Wah is prefered by some guitarists for its unique aggressive sound. In fact, axemen such as Munky of Korn and Linde Lindström of HIM, love the growl that the Cry Baby Bass Wah can produce.
Whether you wish to use your guitar wah pedal for bass or vice-versa, always keep in mind that what matters the most is that you are enjoying every moment of playing quality music.