Believe it or not, there actually was a time when there was no wah wah. It’s hard to imagine funk, blues, rock, and soul—and guitar music in general—without the vocal, squawky, yow-y sounds that the wah pedal can produce. But it’s true. There wasn’t always wah. Someone had to invent it. Someone did, and things have never been the same.  And much like all cola beverages came to be associated with one iconic brand name, the world knows wah wah by the name Cry Baby®. To find out how we got to this funky, expressive, Cry Baby place, however, we need to back up.
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For all of the genres and subgenres that rock ’n’ roll gave rise to, distortion is one element that links them all the way back to the beginning. Just listen to the fuzzy tones on Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” and Goree Carter’s “Rock Awhile,” which are widely recognized as the first rock songs ever recorded. Distortion introduced a whole new attitude to musical expression that attracted rebels and free spirits and free thinkers while disturbing the sensibilities of those who preferred an easy listening experience.

Like penicillin, distortion was discovered by accident. Players forced to use faulty, damaged, or cheap, poorly made amplifiers liked what happened when they plugged in and cranked up the volume. Before long, players were trying to get the sound on purpose by intentionally damaging their equipment—Link Wray is famous for having punched holes in his amp’s speaker with a pencil he found lying around the studio.

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There’s a ton of effects out there that do all manner of badass things to your guitar signal, generating everything from face-melting saturation to atmospheric soundscapes. It’s tempting to pack your pedalboard with these types of pedals, but there’s another class of gear—often overlooked—that you should seriously consider. We’re talking about utilitarian pedals. They’re tools more than they are effects—not fancy or flashy, but they can make your life much easier on stage.

Playing live is not the same as playing in the studio or in the practice space, where you have much more control over all the various factors that can effect the way you sound. When you play a gig, you’re at the mercy of the venue’s acoustics and sound tech.

Here’s a list of pedals that allow you to retain as much control over your sound as possible when playing live.

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