A Wah pedal is a great addition to your guitar gear. It can easily improve your solos and riffs, but it can also make them cheesy and repetitive.
A Wah pedal is a double-edged sword, which is why it’s so important to choose the best Wah pedal and use it right.
What is a Wah Pedal?
Wah pedals have been a staple of guitar pedalboards since the early ‘60s. If you want to use them right, you need to understand first what they actually are and where did they come from
See, guitar effects have been around as long as guitars have. The ‘60s decade was particularly defined by musical experimentation and discovery. The early analog technologies and advancements in the digital world touched Western culture. The electronics field was moving the music industry at an incredible pace.
Many technologies overlapped to create guitar pedals and effects. The wah is one of the earliest effects around, and one that stood from the rest and has prevailed over time. It was even the favorite effect of legendary guitar players like Eric ClaptonJimm, Jimmy Hendrix, and Jimmy Page.
In summary, the Wah effect offers a crying, weeping tone that tries to imitate the human voice. It was first invented for trumpets in the ‘20s, as they used hats to over and uncover the bell of the instrument for the effect.
The guitar effect came by accident when Vox engineers were working on solid-state amps. When the Beatles asked the company for a custom amp, a junior engineer accidentally created a circuit with odd effects. The team then began experimenting with this circuit with various instruments: first the organ and eventually the guitar.
So Vox invented the Wah effect and patented with a foot-controlled switch. The name of the original patent was “foot-controlled continuously variable preference circuit for musical instruments.” Luckily, we know it only as “Wah.”
Wah pedals are a staple of rock and funk genres.
The wah effect
The Wah is a filter, and there’re various kinds of filters.
For example, a low-pass filter allows filters the frequencies above a certain point, while hi-pass filters do the opposite. The wah pedal is a bandpass filter that combines both these types. It lets the audio form from a set frequency while filtering out the frequencies above and below certain points.
The wah-wah sound comes when a sound peaks with the upper cut-off point because a mechanism inside the pedal sweeps the audio. The result is a form of closed “www” sounds all the way to open “ahhh” sounds.
How does the pedal works?
The foot pedal allows the guitarist to move the frequency of the resonant peak up and down to deliver the signature crying sound.
So, the wah pedal has all of its tone control on the foot pedal rather than knobs. It means you don’t have to adjust it.
- When the pedal is up, it serves as a low pass filter, so the low frequencies pass through while the higher frequencies can’t.
- When the pedal is down, it’s a high pass filter that enhances treble and depresses the bass.
- When you push the pedal back and forth, it creates a glide known as the “wah effect.”
If that sounds to complex, let’s put it more simply: when you push the pedal down, you engage the effect to the stronger, closed “www” sound; and when you disengage the effect, you go towards the “ahhh” sound.
Here’s a tutorial video on how to use a Wah pedal:
In conclusion, the wah pedal is a type of electric effect for guitar, bass, and pianos that alters the frequencies and tones of your instrument to create a distinctive sound that mimics the human voice, which is why it has the name “wah-wah.”
What can you do with a wah pedal?
A wah pedal is definitely something beautiful. It gives guitar players a new facer of expression that’s able to convey a lot of sentiment and intention.
Furthermore, unlike other effects that you switch on and forget about, the wah is more like an extension of your instrument. You need to keep pushing the pedal up and down to tweak the sound. If you’ve never played with a wah pedal before, you can’t imagine how much it can add to your performance.
We can find countless of wah pedals available in the market right now. Vox still remains at the top of the market, and the Jim Dunlop company follows closely.
How to use a wah pedal?
The most common way of using a wah pedal is “sweeping.” That means playing while gently pressing the pedal to create the “wah” sound. A prominent user of the technique is Jimmy Hendrix, and you can hear an example of “Voodoo Child:”
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In essence, there’re two sweeping techniques:
- You can sweep the pedal in sync with the song’s tempo
- You can sweep after particular notes, chords, and bends to add emotion, emphasis, and sustain.
You would use a combination of these techniques to create the best results. Another example I can list is Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused,” where you can hear Jimmy Page use the wah with rhythm and increase the power of some chords and notes.
Moreover, the fast-paced song plus the wah adds a sense of delay as the effect fades out:
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What’s an Auto-Wah?
Now, the sweeping effect is as fast or as slow as you can press the pedal. For quicker effects, you can use an Auto-Wah or a Touch-Wah.
These devices reach your picking intensity, attack, and speed. Your playing triggers the wah effect at the speed of the song. That way, it can sync down to every note, even on extremely fast-picking leaks.
The “Parking” technique
“Parking” pedals don’t have a footswitch. Instead, you pick the frequency range center with a rotary knob and leave it as is.
Players may choose to “park” their Wahs in a way that boosts the solos. It’s widespread use, and so many guitarists buy wah pedals for this use exclusively. It’s an easy, set-it-and-forget-it setup.
Wah pedals in the signal chain
The sound the wah creates can change depending on its position within your signal chain. That means you’ll develop your preferences, as there’s no right or wrong.
Still, I’m giving you an overview of what you could get:
- First in the chain: when the wah-wah opens up your pedalboard, it boosts the rest of your distortions without losing its quality or strength. There’s a ton of possibilities when you start adding modulation effects next to the pedal. So, overall, the wah first keeps the classic wah sound: it’s the safe option.
- End in line: a Wah at the end of the chain depends on the pedals before. The rest of your signal chain feeds the pedal, and so the wah sound can vary. That means you could get a wah with delay, a wah with fuzz, and similar.
I need to say Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine / Audioslave) prefers the end-in-line approach. Naturally, this is the experimental approach.
Why should you choose a Wah Pedal
A wah pedal represents an option to expand your sound and you tone with a dynamic, stylish and mostly budget effect. It’s a convenient, easy to use effect as you only need to push the pedal, mostly, and forget all about knobs.
Up next is my well-versed list that can fill your list if you’re on the hunt for your first wah for your pedalboard.
How much space do you have on your pedalboard? That can help you choose the right wah pedal for you.
Best Wah Pedals 2020
Let’s now dive right into the list. I won’t feature a section detailing what you should be looking for in these pedals because there’s no need as they are all so similar.
What distinguishes a wah pedal from another one is their build quality and electronics circuits, mostly. Other factors include:
- How much noise or interference they introduce into the amp or the mix;
- How durable is the pedal?
- Do they alter the tone of the guitar? They should not!
- The resulting tone (is it warm, is it punchy, is it funky);
- Do they alter the volume of the guitar? It’s best if they don’t alter it in the slightest;
- Does it have a “True Bypass” option?
True Bypass is a feature I must highlight. This is a switch or button that delivers three different things, in essence: it eliminates noises and interferences coming out of the pedal when is not engaged; it preserves the tone of the guitar when you’re using the pedal, and it eliminates noises and hum coming out of the pedal to the amp when you’re using it.
Let’s go right into our pick of the top 10 wah pedals for electric guitar.
Jim Dunlop GCB95 CryBaby Standard Wah Pedal
We’re kicking off with the famous Dunlop Cry, which is both budget and high quality. Not for nothing, this item is the Amazon’s Choice for wah pedals.
Jimmy Hendrix and David Gilmour plus other major ‘80s rockstars used the Dunlop GCb95. It was the first pedal to create the signature funky “wacka-wacka” sound.
This pedal came out in the late ‘80s and its a replica of the vintage Vox V847. See, whereas Vox created the wah pedals, they failed to patent the technology and the signature “wah-wah” name, so this name belongs to Jim Dunlop.
So Dunlop made great advancements on the pedal before they launched it, and this one is the first of its kind to produce the crispy and crunchy ‘80s funky rhythms without distorting the original guitar’s tone.
The Dunlop CryBay is a heavy-duty construction that weighs 3.7lbs. It can run its ECB-0003 AC adapter (with universal power jack) or 9V batteries. The case is very durable and resistant its design enables you to change the batteries very easily.
Lastly, it has a modern bypass switch that prevents the pedal from losing its tone or perverting the guitar’s original tone.
Overall, this is an ideal addition for guitar players wanting to both improve and enjoy their performances. It’s aimed for funk, rock, and alternative rock styles.
Its only downside is the backup LED lights it has to improve its visibility are very small and, ironically, not very visible. If you don’t mind that, go for this budget behemoth.
Jim Dunlop CBM95 CryBaby Mini
We might be cheating here, but simply but, Dunlop’s CryBaby is probably the best Wah pedal ever created.
This one is simply a smaller version of the pedal above. If you find the Standard Cry Baby takes too much room on your pedalboard, you can go for this friendlier, lighter and more portable model.
The Dunlop CBM96 is the smallest wah pedal available and offer the same amount of control without compromising anything. It means you get exactly the same results as its big brother.
Additionally, it has three adjustable voicings you can use to customize your sound.
So, for a couple of dollars more, you get a smaller pedal with more options to play around.
As its bigger brother will tend to take up quite a bit of room on your pedal board, the
Xotic Effects Wah XW-1
I’m continuing the list with a truly special pedal that’s praised by professionals musicians and guitar players. The Xotic Wah is an old school experience from a modern brand.
Its chassis is strong as a tank, and it has so much style you’d probably want to display it at home instead of playing it.
It has a few more options than the Cry Baby but it still remains with the simple foot-pedal layout.
Let’s talk a bit more about it. This is a high-end product packed with top-level circuits and high-quality construction material. I personally consider it as the holy grail of wah pedals.
This sleek and elegant design is crafted in California, USA. On your foot, it feels as smooth as it gets because it’s 20 percent smaller than standard wah pedals and features fine low-noise circuits. It means that, while pedals tend to suffer from noise levels, the Xotic Wah eliminates noises and interferences even with the bypass switch off.
The control knobs include Bias, Wah-Q, Treble and Bass, plus and adjustable pedal torsion. These controls give you plenty of control over your sound and the general feel of the mass effect. In fact, it gives you so much control you can use this pedal for guitars and basses alike.
In particular, the Wah-Q knob helps you control the bandpass filter it lowers the treble and bass while boosting the mids on one side, and works the opposite way on the other side.
I love this pedal because of how well it performs and how smooth it feels. Although it’s pricier than most pedals, it’s definitely a top-notch choice giving you plenty of control and possibilities
Lastly, it has a great feature: no matter how you set this up, it won’t alter the volume of your guitar, which is something many pedals unfortunately do.
And if you think this is too expensive, there’re pricier alternatives that can’t top this one.
Vox V846-HW Wah
The company that invented the effect is still making superb wah pedals.
The Vox V856-HW Wah is a hand-made version of their vintage V846. It’s also their current top-of-the-line alternative.
Vox constructed its circuits with carbon composite resistors plus polyester film capacitors. Furthermore, it has an advanced inductor within the chassis that handles the bandpass without hurting the frequencies.
They also added a modern true-bypass switch, which eliminates noises and other interferences coming out the pedal towards the amp. It also preserves the tone it creates with the pedal.
This ’s a solid pedal with a sturdy construction common on most Vox Wah’s. It gives a warm, vintage sound rich on mid frequencies.
Overall, this Vox wah pedal it’s a pure, straightforward wah experience with no unnecessary features. That’s why it’s considered as a beginner-friendly pedal, and it cements its popularity selling for an affordable price.
On the downside, it has no external AC adapter. It only runs on AAA batteries.
MXR MC404 Dual Inductor Wah
MXR Innovations is a USA company founded in New York in 1974. Currently, they are one of the most beloved guitar pedal manufacturers in the music industry. They also belong to Jim Dunlop, current leaders of the Wah market.
The MXR MC404 CAE Dual Inductor Wah guitar pedal is a highlight of the company. It’s a versatile option, as the name suggests, and it stands from its competitors with its Fasel inductors.
It has two Fasel inductors that are made to give you a breathtaking tone. The first one delivers a lush, deep and warm wah tone. The second one goes for a vintage, rich sound high on treble an excellent in response.
There’s a switch on the side of the pedal allowing you to select the inductor you want to use. There’s also a LED light panel indicating you the mode you’re using.
So, the Dual Inductor is like getting two pedals in a single case, which is very impressive.
Furthermore, the side of the pedal has a boost knob that goes up to 18 dB.
Its fine qualities are backed with a True Bypass knob, which eliminates interference when the pedal is turned off.
I must say the sound ad performance of this “wah wah” is remarkable. It gives you great versatility as you can tweak your tone with both the Fasel inductor and the strength you put into pressing the footswitch.
It means this is a pedal for any musical genre. It goes from classic rock to blues, jazz, pop, funk, and metal. YOu could go from classic “Cry Baby” sounds like those you hear from Guns N’ Roses-era-Slash all the way up to modern Bruno Mars funk.
Overall, this is a masterpiece with a highly adaptable sound. However, you’ll need to time to mix it and match it with the rest of your guitar gear.
Behringer Hellbabe HB01 Wah Pedal
The Behringer Hellblade Wah happily combines the words quality and affordable, as the company usually does with their effect pedals.
While Behringer normally cuts down on building materials and aesthetics to keep the prices low, the end result makes up for its unseen shortcomings.
There’re four control knobs on this pedal. One of them is very particular: the Range knob. It allows you to adjust the pedal’s frequency range between 440 and 250 Hz. It’s a wide range, so wide you can use it with bass guitars. And there’s a Q control that adjusts the boosts and the tone.
Lastly, the boost option gives you an extra 10 dB drive.
On the downside, it doesn’t have the same tone precision as the Dunlop CryBaby. However, it sells for half of its price.
Fulltone Clyde Standard
Here’s a selection that also uses the Vox wahs’ blueprints while adding hand-made components.
The Clyde Standard goes deep into the wah effects and rises with a vintage sound and a warm tone.
It’s based on the original Clyde McCoy’s pedal, well-known because it belonged in JImmy Hendrix’s pedalboard.
What I love about this pedal is that is has a wider range than most, so it brings a much welcome versatility to your footswitch. Furthermore, if you don’t like its volume and tone, you can tune both with a knob on the interior side.
The pedal is more than a regular wah, then. It’s also pretty sturdy and durable for the manufacturer pays a lot of attention to quality and detail.
Morley VAI-2 Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2 Contour Wah
I tend not to recommend signature models because they are commonly overpriced and sold for a niche user that loves the particular player and would buy anything with its name. But…but this Horsie 2, a Steve Vai signature, is really something else.
It has a unique design, a unique tone, a budget price, and it’s pretty easy to use. Overall, the VAI-2 has everything you could be looking for in a wah pedal, and modern rock players who love the traditional roots will love this particular gear.
A great feature of this particular wah is its Clear Tone buffer circuit on the inside. It secures a pure guitar tone while maintaining the signal’s level in both wah and bypass mode. As Steve Vai is obsessed with guitar clarity, he ordered a crystal clear tone on his signature model, which is why its high-end circuitry is no surprise.
As for control, it has two control knobs and a button switch. The switch allows you to choose between two tones (Vai and Bad Horsie). You can also switch the “Contour Wah mode,” which makes the two knobs alter the frequency of the overall effect.
Overall, it gives you an aggressive sound made for rocking and therefore packs some extra power. Additionally, it gives you some space to experiment.
So, if you want to sound like a Steve Vai or if you are into super-advanced guitar playing and modern rock genres, this is the wah pedal for you.
BOSS Dynamic Wah Pedal
The Boss Dynamic Wah is a different kind of wah pedal. It’s concept might be to complex for some players, but it represents the different, intricate choice some more advanced players might be looking for. Also, this is the choice if you’re experimenting with your sound.
A dynamic wah doesn’t have the standard footswitch. Instead, it has on and off modes. You must then tweak the knobs to alter the sound output, whereas the pedal handles the wah-wah effect automatically with the preset you adjust.
Even so, it offers an input to add an expression pedal if you want the classic pedal control for this wah, although that will cost you some extra bucks.
The controls seem challenging. See, there’re four knobs offering practically endless possibilities:
- Decay: it controls the speed of the pedal and how strong the effect latches on the audio signal and how fast it goes away.
- Manual + sense: it makes the sound more human and less robotic.
- Mode: it selects different modes available, which allows you to simulate different kids of wah pedals.
- The footswitch: for most pedals, this is both the on/off button and the expression pedal. It works differently with the Boss Dynamic Wah, though. It’s a tempo feature. It means you can set up the pedal’s speed by tapping the button as if it were a metronome.
You can read more about tap tempo in this section about what to look for in delay pedals.
So this is a very different and very cool pedal. Boss managed to add many wah pedal sounds in its case and sell it for an affordable price.
Furthermore, using the extra expression pedal will give you plenty of sonic freedom. For example, you could tweak the knobs and forget about it for the rest of the gig while using the expression pedal to play around the wah-wah.
And even when the sound quality is high – end, the most important thing is to keep an open mind and keep experimenting with this Boss pedal.
You may also use this pedal with your bass guitar.
I also love this pedal because it’s really sturdy and resistant. Plus, it ships with the standard Boss pedal case, which I find to be an equivalent of quality and experience.
The pedal doesn’t sell with its power adapter. However, you can also power it with a 9V battery.
I choose the T-Rex Shaffer because it’s a modern look at guitar wah pedals.
The idea with this alternative is giving you maximum adjustability for the Shaffer brings three different wah sounds and a slope nob to adjust the intensity of the effect.
It means it offers a wider frequency sweep, which results in quieter operation and greater durability.
It also has a boost knob that drives things harder to give you more growl and dirt for heavier songs. It goes to the extreme vowel-like “yo-yo” sound for metal and rock players.
Furthermore, this pedal claims it addresses all wah pedal’s weaknesses. Expect from this article no differences in volume or tone, no noise or interferences, and really smooth experience.
It’s a 21st Century wah with great versatility.
Best classic Wah: Vox V847A
The Vox V847A is a reissue of the classic V847, an iconic wah pedal from the ‘60s.
This model offers the classic Wah tone. And just like the Dunlop Cry Baby, the Vox V8471 is simple and has no extra features to talk about.
However, it offers the same legendary tone as its predecessor while adding AC power and a buffered input jack. Output.
Vox also overhauled the circuitry to reach the original specifications of the 60’s wah, with modern solutions. As a result, the tone is more dynamic and powerful. Thus it can quickly become the central part of your guitar’s sound.
Its overall sound comes out growly, vintage, and deep.
Lastly, the pedal ships with a vinyl carrying bag. However, it doesn’t include an AC adapter.
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Best modern Wah: Bad Horsie 2 Contour Wah
Suppose you think of Clapton and Hendrix as classic guitar players. In that case, you’d believe Stebe Vai, Kirk Hammet, or Tom Morello are modern players.
If there’re modern players that use wah pedals, there’re modern Wahs as well. So, whereas a classic wah operates with a footswitch, alternative options offer automatic operations. For example, a current pedal would allow you to flicker on and off while playing a solo or applying the effect for a couple of seconds before turning it off.
The Bad Horsie 2 offers these kinds of options, plus a couple of more things.
It doesn’t have any switches on its body. Instead, to engage the effect, you must turn it on by rotating a control. That said, the Bad Horsie 2 operates with an optical system.
There’s a footswitch, but it doesn’t control the Wah. You’d use it to swap between two modes: “Bad Horsie” and “Contour wah.” These offer different wah tones, which you can customize further.
Extra options allow you to adjust the frequency range and the tone.
Overall, the sound comes out with an excellent vocal sweep and plenty of midranges.
Lastly, the pedla comes with a buffered bypass.
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Best budget Wah: Electro-Harmonix Wailer Wah
The Wailer Wah by Electro-Harmonix follows the Dunlop Cry Baby while adding some modern tweaks. The modern tweaks include cheaper construction techniques to make the pedal more affordable.
So, chief among the changes in the price. Additionally, the contemporary solution cuts down the weight.
Another change pertains to the tone. EHX overhauled the circuitry to deliver a high-end sweep. Meanwhile, they replaced the lower-frequency sounds for a smooth and round transition between the treble and the wah.
The resulting sound comes out intense and synth-like. I bet you can imagine how it sounds because of its “Wailer” name: it’s funky, boosted, and powerful.
Other than that, the pedal has no additional features to adjust. Its price doesn’t allow extra features either way.
All of this comes with a traditional case, mechanism, and footswitch.
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DISCLOSURE: the price on Amazon at the time of writing the article doesn’t equate to its $70 real value. You can buy it on Sweetwater instead.
Most flexible: Ibanez WD7 Weeping Doom
The Ibanez WD7 Weeping Demon takes the Wah to the next level. It’s odd-looking, mean-sounding, and has an exciting list of features.
I’m listing the features this time:
- You can adjust the footboard’s tension
- The wah can work either automatically or with the footswitch.
- There’re controls for Level, Q, Lo frequency, range switch, and range fine-tuning.
In Particular, you can make the wah function automatically, like the Morley version. But you also have the option to use it with the footswitch for the extra feel. More pedals should work like this.
The Weeping Demon is an excellent choice for professional musicians. If you can’t manage yourself around complex equalization options, I’d advise you to skip it.
As for the sound, it’s fantastic. The Ibanez wah is aggressive, balanced, and boutique.
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Top-value: Boss PW-3 Wah Pedal
The Boss PW-3 Wah sells for a bit more than a Dunlop Cry Baby, but it offers tremendous value.
First, it’s aesthetically unique. It looks to signify a departure from most Wah pedals, as well as other Boss pedals. Also, its die-cast chassis is particularly tough and road-ready.
The tone is distinct, and you get the option of swapping between two kinds of sound. The first option is Vintage, which has a beefy low-end that imitates Hendrix/Clapton. The second option is Rich, which raises the overall output with a throaty tone signature.
Both sounds ask for high-output guitar gear. Moreover, the sound is so good that the Boss PW-3 is a top-value wah pedal.
Other features include a low-noise operation, a small design, and on/off LEDs to check the pedal status.
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Best wah/volume boost: Hotone Soul Press 3 in 1
If you don’t plan to use the wah as a primary pedal, you may consider getting a hybrid option. A hybrid pedal offers various effects in a single inclusion, like multi-effects pedals.
The Hotone is a tiny stompbox that offers a wah, volume control, and expression pedal. You swap between these options by moving a wheel on the sides.
So, for example, you can use its expression tool with the effects of an amplifier or with another pedal.
As for the wah, it’s a classic, standard sound. There’s not much to it and not any other options to talk about.
Either way, many musicians love to keep things tight and simple.
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Guitar wah pedals buyer’s advice
We’ve learned that Wah pedals are simple, so there’s not much decision-making regarding buying one of these.
Generally, wah pedals come with a specific voice, a frequency range, and a Q filter. Aside from that, they could have a couple of extra options to tweak the sound further. For example, many wah-wahs are also bandpass filters. That means it boasts a specific range or frequency “band.”
The “Q” is the most critical factor related to the ratio of the frequency center. The ratio could be narrow or wide, and the resulting effect varies. A wider Q is more influential overall, but a narrow Q is more focused.
For example, the classic Dunlop wah-wahs are bright and harsh, whereas Vox options offer a mid-range boost.
The best way to find the ones you’d like is your own taste and ears. I recommend you try out various pedals and check video demos.
Also, consider the brand, build quality, and overall features. Wah pedals could pack Q knobs, frequency center knobs, boost knobs, and other effects.
Another essential element is inductors, hand-wired circuitries found on vintage models. Professional guitar players swear inductor quality.
Similarly, classic pedals operate mechanically. This means you press the footswitch, the footswitch presses a button, and the button engages a mechanism. It’s a safe choice that delivers classic sounds but wears down with time.
Modern options use optical systems. It means a succession of light sources, mirrors, lenses, lasers, screens, prisms, and similar move the information across the enclosure to deliver a result. It’s the contemporary approach, common on pedals offering multiple sound tweaking options.
Lastly, go for pedals with true bypass. True bypass ensures no quality is lost going in and out of the pedal. A pedal without bypass can introduce noises and interferences to the rest of the signal chain while the pedal is on.
An alternative to bypass is buffered bypass or buffered inputs. It’s a circuitry that constantly protects your signal, even when the pedal is off. That further ensures the quality of the sound across the signal chain.
One last tip on how to choose a wah pedal for electric guitar
I gave you plenty of choices, but ultimately it depends on your taste. Make sure you watch all of the demo videos and see if you like these tones, features, and looks.
As my final tip on how to choose a wah pedal for guitars I recommend you consider how easy to use you want it to be. If you want a simple footswitch and nothing more, you can go for the CryBaby and enjoy and smooth experience: you’d set it up and play it without having to tweak it anymore.
Or, if you want something more versatile, go for the Xotic or the Dual Inductor options, but you would need to invest some time playing around these pedals. Or the Boss Dynamic Wah, which is definitely the most versatile and unique wah pedal of the list.