The “Middle Child” Wah Pedal is Actually the Sound of the ’70s

Everyone knows about the wah pedal, even if they don’t play the guitar (but we do play, don’t we?). But do they know how it all came to pass?

In the cartoon “Peanuts” (which I know you’ve seen), adults don’t speak. The adult voice is substituted with a trombone and wah-type mute, which is moved by hand over the bell. Well, that sound didn’t just inspire the creators at Peanuts. Certain execs at The Thomas Organ Co. and Vox thought the sound of a muted horned instrument (first attributed to trumpeter Clyde McCoy way back in the ’20s) packed in to an electronic device, might be of interest to brass and wind players.

Discussions (arguments) were had and the execs’ idea began to pan out. A couple phone calls later and infamous trumpeter and wah originator Clyde McCoy agreed to have his name and likeness on the Vox backed Thomas Organ wah. Oh course, the idea of attracting horn players to a ridiculously difficult-to-interface-with electronic device was not really practical and soon enough they came around to realize this pedal was for electric guitar players…

…And guitar players flocked to it. Clapton got his hands on one. Then Hendrix heard Clapton use it and all-of-a-sudden an industry was born. Turns out this electric device, is much better suited to an electric instrument. Clapton on “White Room” and Hendrix on “Red House” are great early examples of a wah in the hands (feet) of masters.

Okay, let’s get back to this particular wah – the 70’s Thomas Organ Co. Model 95 Cry Baby. Though a big deal in its own right, it is fairly basic when you break it down. Some transistors, caps, a rocking pedal enclosure, a potentiometer with a gear connected (for easy control by shoes, sandals, engineer boots, or God forbid, Birkenstocks). But one bit of “magic” completed the circuit of the Thomas Organ Co. Model 95 Cry Baby – the inductor.

The Thomas Organ Company of Sepulveda, USA, created a wah that sported the most universally hated inductor any wah has ever had. But you know what I say? Fiddlesticks. The TDK inductor is found in USA made wahs from as early as 1968 or ’69, and as far as I’m concerned, the TDK inductor IS the sound of the ’70s.

Be it built in Chicago or California, the TDK inductor is found most commonly amongst these old wahs. All wahs have more factors involved than just the inductor, but it is commonly believed that the “heal down,” “vomit” sound is from the TDK. The sweep is very familiar—unless you are accustomed to a boutique wah. True, that as an early “priceless” unit, it’s not as clean sounding in bass-ier settings. But this is an effect we have come to know, love, and rely on. We’ll take the ups with the downs.

When it comes to vintage wahs, the Thomas Organ Cry Baby and Vox King Wah are TDK equipped beauties, which are actually affordable (imagine that). Truth be told, my very favorite wah I have ever owned is my Chrome Topped Vox King, with a TDK. I bought it to replace my Thomas Organ Model 95 that was thrown across the room by an enraged groupie—uh, group member. I didn’t know the difference, because this was long before Al Gore invented the internet. It just had that sound – the sound of the 70s that I wanted from my wah. Years later, I discovered that the Vox King and Cry baby 95 are just about the same on the inside. My ears had not deceived me.

The reign of the infamous TDK inductor wah came to a close around 1983, with the demise of the Thomas Organ Company. Dunlop has picked up the ball and makes a catalog full of fine wahs, but none have quite this unique a tone. Good, great, or bad, is for you to decide. For me it’s TDK all the way. Ranging from $100 to $250 (more realistically), these wahs hold their value because they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. All-in-all, this Thomas Organ Cry Baby Model 95 is a hard item to pass up if you are in the market for a classic wah pedal.

You owe it to yourself to see what this wah is all about. Your ears already know the sound; now make it a part of your rig.

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Mike Rock
A fixture in the Rock and Roll guitar community since 1978, Mike Rock is the “Go-To” source for Sam Ash's most intricate questions involving Guitars and related gear. A collector whose true passion is playing, Mike has performed over 2,500 gigs around the world. Mike began his musical journey studying the trumpet. While buying sheet music for a recital, Mike first heard an electric guitar through a fuzz box. Forty years later, he still maintains that the fuzz WAS germanium based (he is a bit crazy). This encounter drove Mike to his first guitar and a tube amp. Soon his guitar was heavily modified and the amp was on its 3rd replacement speaker. Mike was hunting for tone and blowing guitar speakers before there was a “boutique” or “vintage” market. It wasn’t long before Mike was buying, and validating vintage guitars and gear for some of the biggest companies in the world, finally finding a home assisting mentor and friend Sammy Ash, at the place where he heard that first Fuzz Guitar, so many years ago. Mike still performs regularly and recognizes the history and beauty of vintage and modern gear. Mike is aware not everyone is a collector and most players need a set up that works for the sound they chase, regardless of its pedigree, or vintage or status.