You are on page 1of 9

Building a Wah Pedal From Scratch

Last updated 6/14/05


By Paul Marossy

This project started out as a curiousity about how the Colorsound inductorless wah circuit might
sound. I built this twin-T wah circuit and decided that I liked it, but I didn't have an empty wah
shell lying around, so I thought it would be a challenge to make my own wah assembly out of
easy to obtain parts that you can get at your local hardware store. I have seen some people's
DIY wah/volume pedals, and a lot of them look rather primitive not to mention ugly! I chose to
try and find something that looked good, was strong, reliable, and could be be made using the
most rudimentary tools. Obviously, there are some real challenges presented in attempting
something like this, but I like a challenge in these sorts of areas.

Outlined below are the steps involved in building this wah project. It was built using nothing
more than a vise, hand drill, Dremel Tool, hacksaw and a couple of different kinds of files.

This started out the way most of my


other original projects did - an idea. I
woke up the day after I built the circuitry,
and had this concept of how to make the
wah shell. I made a quick sketch of my
idea before I did anything else.

The key to the whole thing are these


brackets - everything is pretty much built
around them. They are constructed of
3/4"x1/8" aluminum. I cut them to the
lengths needed and I bent them to my
requirements using a vise and muscle
power. The bottom pieces are 3/4"x1/2"
L-shaped extruded aluminum. About 45
minutes worth of effort.
I made the foot paddle from a
10"x10"x1/8" aluminum plate that was
given to me. I cut it down to get a 4"x10"
piece. Next, I had to sand off the black
paint that was on it. It took about 20
minutes to completely remove the paint.

Here I have sanded the foot paddle


down to bare metal and have also cut
the bottom piece, which is composed of
a piece of 1/4" plywood painted flat
black. All those holes on the foot paddle
will be covered up, so I am not worrying
about that at this point. Now it's starting
to take shape. So far, I am about 2
hours into the project.

These are the basic parts. The main


brackets are now fastened to the
plywood and the L-shaped pieces form
the edges of the base of the shell while
stiffening up the whole assembly. The
two short pieces will hold the foot paddle
spindle in place.
Here the foot paddle spindle is being
tested for fit. Overall size will be
4"x10"x2", roughly the same size as an
Ernie Ball volume pedal, but a little
lighter. When assembled, this is quite
strong due to the nature of the
construction. This part took about an
hour, mainly because I was trying to
optimize things as much as possible.

Here I am determining the best way to


attach the spindle to the foot paddle and
also what kind of clearances will be
required for proper operation. I spent
probably 1/2 an hour on this part.

Finally, the basic assembly is together.


The "test jacks" are in place and the
circuit is ready to be installed. But first, I
have to tackle the mounting of the pot
and bypass switch. As I am writing this,
ideas are coming to me on how to go
about those items. At this point, I am
about 4.5 hours into the project.
Here is a closer view of the spindle
assembly. I found that the end caps on
the spindle help to make the foot paddle
operation smoother and will also, in
theory, help keep the grease from the
spindle contact area from getting on
anything. So far, I have spent about 6.5
hours on the project.

Here is a better view of how the foot


paddle is attached to the spindle. There
is a spacer and a nut between the
spindle and the foot paddle to provide
adequate clearance from the brackets.
The nuts on the other side of the spindle
are equipped with nylon bushings to
prevent them from ever coming loose.
On the other side of the paddle, the
screws are countersunk to provide a
flush surface. So far, the operation of the
foot paddle is smooth and predictable,
with no binding. Now on to the hard part:
determining footpaddle/pot travel and
the mounting of the bypass switch...

Having the bulk of the difficult


mechanical stuff out of the way, I
decided to take a break from that and
concentrate on the electronics portion.
My self-designed PCB fits perfectly. A
happy coincidence since I didn't really
do any planning beforehand with regard
to the physical size of the board, I just
made it as small as possible. At this
point, I was still contemplating how to do
the pot arrangement - I had a few ideas,
but didn't really like any of them. This
step took about two hours.
Here is how the PCB looks when inside
the fully assembled wah, looking in from
the front of the pedal. It sits on some
spacers and is attached to the the
plywood base. I also installed some
aluminum shielding under the PCB. A
wire is connected from the PCB ground
to the 1"x1" angle piece where the
output jack is. Since the bulk of the
pedal is metallic, I think the the circuit
shouldn't have any problems with
extraneous noise.

I also installed a control knob next to the


input jack for a little mod that I instituted
- a pot on the emitter of the transistor to
adjust the Q softness/sharpness as
desired. I used a 10K pot to start with,
but later changed it to a 500 ohm pot
because a 10K pot was simply too large
a value. A 1K pot would also be a
suitable choice. For the rest of the
components, I used a 2N5089 transistor,
metal film resistors and mylar film caps.

I woke up from a nap and had another


brilliant idea about how to do the pot
arrangement. I was leaning torwards the
way it's done in the CryBaby wah, but I
thought it would be cool to do something
different. After about 1.5 hours of effort,
this is what I came up with - a piece of
1/8" thick aluminum cut at a specific
radius to follow the rotation of the pot's
gear.
The pot itself is attached to the bracket
with a 1"x1" L-shaped piece of
aluminum, cut and notched to receive
the pot gear in the same manner as the
CryBaby wah. I know, you might be
thinking "how the heck did he make that
work?!", but it's really not as hard as it
sounds. Believe it or not, it is actually
possible to make adjustments to the pot
travel without dismantling any part of the
pedal - only a little bit of muscle power is
required.

This is a side view of the gear


arrangement. To find the curve required,
all I had to do was measure the straight
line distance from the center point of the
foot paddle spindle to the valley between
two adjacent gear teeth on the pot shaft
gear as it would be installed in the fully
assembled wah. Then using that
measurement for a radius, I used a
compass to draw a short curve and cut
my piece of aluminum to that same
curve. Next, I eyeballed the teeth with an
extra fine point marker and proceeded to
cut the gear teeth with my trusty Dremel
Tool equipped with the ever so handy
cutting wheel. I had to do a little bit of
filing and fine tuning, but it pretty much
worked on the first try. The foot paddle
throw is just a little more than my
CryBaby, and almost as smooth to
operate. The actual pot rotation is about
the same as my CryBaby as well.

Now that I was finished drilling holes in


the foot paddle, it was time to cover it. I
chose to use some self-adhesive 1/16"
foam rubber on it which covers up the
holes and gives a non-slip surface on
the foot paddle.
Here is how it looks from the right rear
quarter. Now all that is left to do is
create the bracket that will hold the
bypass switch in place. The electronics
are basically exposed in this
arrangmement. Not so much a problem
where I live since it's so dry here in the
desert. I am really concerned more with
possible RFI/EMI problems, but being a
low gain inductorless circuit, I don't
anticipate that being a real problem
since the circuit ground is physically
connected to the wah's metal parts and
because of the shielding that I placed
underneath the PCB. I have a hunch
that it will be fine as it is mostly
surrounded by metallic parts.

Here I am using a paper template to


determine the bracket shape and switch
placement in a manner similar to what I
did in my Shaka Tube in a Hammond
1590BB enclosure. I have now spent
about 10 hours or so on the project,
maybe a little more counting all the
planning and stuff.

The footswitch is now in place. I had to


abandon my original idea for the bracket
shown in the previous frame because I
don't possess the proper tools to make it
per the template I made. So I found
another way to do it. I used a mini DPDT
switch that I had lying around for the
bypass switch. This last step took about
1.5 hours, only because the first two
attempts at making a bracket ended in
failure.
The foot paddle contacts the footswitch
actuator at just the right position. About
the same amount of effort is required to
switch it on/off as it takes for my
CryBaby. You can also see in this
picture that the pot bracket also serves
as a stop for the foot paddle and helps
to prevent the plastic gear from getting
mangled from aggressive use.

Here is a view of the footswitch and pot


bracket from the opposite side. Not
shown in the pictures above are the
graphics I made to mark the input/output
jacks and the "Q control". The final thing
left to do was to place some rubber feet
on the bottom corners. And with that, the
project is now complete! Well, almost.
The last thing that needs to be done is
the installation of a cross brace between
the brackets at the front half of the pedal
to make the whole assembly as rigid as
possible. That will be a minimal amount
of effort.

Here is one last view of the back


showing the relationship between the
switch bracket, the pot and the rack and
pinion assembly.
The cross brace has now been installed,
and it took right around twenty minutes
to make and install. This should prevent
any eventual problems if the plywood
bottom should warp at all, and prevent
any twisting of the brackets when the
foot paddle is operated. Well, I guess
this officially completes the project. I
already have some new construction
ideas to try out for my next DIY wah
project, which will be based around the
Maestro Boomerang circuit.

Some thoughts about this project. As has been said, building a wah is easy when it comes to
the circuit part - but the mechanics are the difficult thing. Obviously, this would not be the way to
mass produce a product, but it has given me some insights into the design of something like this
and the challenges it can present. Knowing what I know now, I would probably build a wah a
little differently from the methods I chose to use. That's really only talking about the foot paddle
spindle arrangement, which would probably look something very much like the way it is done on
the Ernie Ball volume pedals. Anyhow, I can see why the typical CryBaby/Vox wah shells are
made from a casting and why the foot paddle arrangement is how it is. There are also other
ways to rotate a pot shaft, as the Colorsound wah shows us. The method employed on the
Colorsound wah was clever - it used a slotted cam style actuator. A fixed lever is attached to the
foot paddle which goes up/down into the body. There is a black plastic slotted lever connected
to the pot that pivots and slides along a pin in the foot paddle lever, which then turns the
pot. Here is a side view of that assembly. The only disadvantage about the slotted cam style
actuator is that it can create a long foot paddle travel, but on the other hand, can give you full
rotation of the pot, unlike the CryBaby/Vox rack and pinion arrangement.

As for the sound of this Colorsound inductorless wah circuit, I think it sounds really nice. It is a
little mellower sounding wah compared to something like a CryBaby, but with a real nice feel.
I'm not real sure about the actual pot taper used in the original, but it has a good range between
high and low with my 100K Hot Potz. It seems to really come alive around the maximum treble
postion. The response of the pedal is different than my CryBaby or Italian Vox wah, the sweep
is really noticeable with a clean guitar sound, but less distinguishable with distortion. It also
seems to be more responsive when you are playing between the first position and the 12th fret
as opposed to above the 12th fret region. None of these traits are severe enough to bother me,
though. So far, extraneous noise hasn't been a problem.

This was really just a project I did more or less for fun, but I created this page in the hopes that
it might help someone, somewhere to build their own wah pedal.