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The Wah-Wah Pedal in Rehabilitative Settings

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: music, rock music, electric guitar, wah-wah pedal, Wax Poetics, Wayne Kramer, Billy Bragg, arts, Keith Goetzman,

Vox wah-wah pedalThe wah-wah pedal isn’t just an electric guitar effect, it’s a peacemaker, famous MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer tells Wax Poetics in an extended oral history of the device:

“I partnered with Billy Bragg this year in a nonprofit initiative called Jail Guitar Doors. What we do is provide instruments for those who work with prisoner rehabilitation to use music as a meditative process to learn the discipline of writing a song, to express yourself in a new and nonconfrontational way, a way to express deep feelings positively. I think it’s a very powerful tool in building self-worth. I’ve been to prison, and I know how it feels to be there. ...

“I see the wah-wah as a tool that the electric guitarist uses, and it evokes a certain familiarity. When you use it in a certain way, with traditional chords and rhythm structures, people identify with it. I’ll tell you, when I was in prison, I played in the prison band. You know I’m not a gangster, and I’m not a killer, but I got respect in prison because of the wah-wah. I remember one day, a couple of gangsters came by my house, and they looked in, and they said, ‘Oh yeah, you the white boy that plays the wah-wah. Yeah, you all right.’ (laughs) There’s an identification with the wah-wah; it’s a cultural touchstone.”

Well, for some it is. One other great quote in the story comes from wah-wah inventor Del Casher, who eagerly demonstrated his new creation for James Brown:

“I said, ‘James, this is the hottest thing. Man, you’re going to love this.’ I played it for him. And he looked at me, and he says, ‘But Del, why do you want the guitar to go wah?’ ”

Source: Wax Poetics (article not available online)

Image by eurok, licensed under Creative Commons.

eric solstein
9/6/2010 10:07:54 AM

While I found it comically ironic that Wayne of the "Kick out the Jams, MC5 waxing over the non-confrontational uses of music, I certainly can't argue. The blues is where it's at for healing ravaged souls, if only temporarily. The wah-wah itself is primarily for rock and blues lead, so it is no wonder James Brown was unconvinced, as his brand of funk gave more of such duties to voice and horns, with a strongly rhythmic guitar pumping along. To each their own sound.