Dunlop vs. Morley – Which Wah Pedals Are Better?

Guitarists use effects pedals to liven up their sound - allowing for greater musical expression. And there aren't many pedals out there that sound more dramatic than a wah! In this blog, we've pitted wah pedal specialists Dunlop and Morley against each other - to find out which brand makes the best products.

Elliot Stent

Elliot Stent

The venerable wah pedal is one of the most distinguished guitar effects around. With the earliest examples produced in the mid-’60s, wah pedals were initially popularised by players like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton – who made use of their intriguing vocal-like sounds to enhance their riffs and lead lines.

If you’re unfamiliar with how a wah pedal works, it basically acts as a filter that sweeps a pronounced peak in your guitar signal’s EQ. It’s operated via a moveable rocking plate that you can adjust with your foot, which affects the placement of the peak on the frequency spectrum. A heel-down position will deliver a nasally sound akin to a rolled-down tone control on an electric guitar. But when you push a wah pedal’s treadle forward, it will dramatically accentuate the treble frequencies.

Today, there are plenty of modern masters who use wah pedals – it certainly hasn’t gone out of style! That’s why we’ve put together an article comparing the wah pedals from two of the industry’s stalwarts – Jim Dunlop and Morley. We’ve not only described the tonal differences between their products, but have also explained their dissimilarities in terms of both their construction and how they are operated.

Dunlop Wah Pedals

Dunlop Wah Pedals

Jim Dunlop is one of the world’s biggest guitar effects manufacturers. Making its name with its ‘Cry Baby’ wah, their iconic design derived from the earliest wah pedal produced by Thomas Organ/Vox – which Dunlop later acquired and trademarked. Selling over a million Cry Baby units since 1966, it’s no surprise why Dunlop is still regarded as the industry standard when it comes to wah pedals!

Dunlop’s flagship wah is the original GCB95 Cry Baby, which remains its best-selling unit after more than 50 years in production. The basic shape of the original Cry Baby has remained largely unchanged, serving as the blueprint for many subsequent Dunlop wah pedals. Featuring a tapered treadle that follows the shape of your foot, the Cry Baby is easy to operate and its relatively slim profile makes it fairly simple to mount onto a pedalboard.

What does a Dunlop Wah Pedal sound like?

What Do Dunlop Wah Pedals Sound Like

The Dunlop Cry Baby lineup is made up of several models that are voiced slightly differently, meaning that it’s somewhat difficult to define how they all sound. With a number of signature wah pedals that are tuned to meet the tonal demands of selected artists too – this makes it even harder. Notable signature Dunlop wah pedal players include Slash, Jerry Cantrell, Joe Bonamassa, John Petrucci and Gary Clark Jr.

Jim Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedals can be best described as “pokey” when it comes to their character. With plenty of top-end cut that can really boost your guitar’s top-end frequencies, it is these sonic qualities that make Cry Baby pedals so apt for playing guitar solos with. Helping you carve through almost any busy rock or metal mix, Cry Baby wah pedals are very effective when you want to get heard – with their distinctive signature scream!

However, some Cry Baby wahs can also produce “throaty” tones – meaning that their low-to-high mid-range frequencies are emphasised when their rocking plates are moved in lower positions. This is particularly evident when using a Cry Baby with a clean amp sound. It is often Dunlop wahs that feature ‘Q’ position knobs that can achieve this sound, as these dials allow you to adjust the width of their filter and, in turn, focus on the middle frequencies.

How does a Dunlop Wah Pedal work?

How Does a Dunlop Wah Pedal Work

A Cry Baby wah’s circuitry is quite simple. Comprising a potentiometer, which is essentially an electrical resistor with a rotating contact, this component divides the pedal’s internal voltage level when adjusted. The potentiometer is connected directly to the wah pedal’s rocking plate, meaning that the movement of your foot changes the internal voltage and thus affects the sweep and tone of the wah.

Most Dunlop-designed wah pedals boast a single footswitch that turns the effect on/off. However, unlike typical guitar pedals that sport an exposed footswitch, Cry Baby wahs conceal a chassis-mounted switch beneath their rocking plates, of which feature two mounted rubber “feet” that pass either side of the switch. These feet essentially resist the pressure from your foot, meaning that you must use added force to engage the effect when pressing down on the treadle. This might seem counter-intuitive, but this design essentially prevents the wah from being switched on accidentally.

Shop Dunlop Wah Pedals

Morley Wah Pedals

Morley Wah Pedals

Morley has been one of Dunlop’s biggest competitors in the wah pedal market since the ’70s. Considered as a popular alternative, Morley wah pedals are distinctive for their large chassis’, which are constructed from cold-rolled steel. However, like Dunlop, Morley has started producing mini wah pedals that are better suited for modern players and their preferences for pint-sized pedalboards.

While some guitarists may be put off by the large dimensions of Morley’s full-sized wah and volume pedals, they are certainly engineered to survive the rigours of the road – with notoriously robust “tank-like” enclosures. That’s part of the reason why so many high-profile players rely on Morley’s effects, including the likes of Steve Vai, Mark Tremonti, Michael Amott, George Lynch and DJ Ashba – all of whom have their own signature Morley wah pedals.

What does a Morley Wah Pedal sound like?

What Do Morley Wah Pedals Sound Like

It’s understandable why many guitarists consider wah pedals as “one-dimensional” and lacking in tonal diversity. But if you really compare them, particularly those made by different brands, there are actually quite a lot of discernible differences between certain wahs. Their purpose is obviously the same, but Morley wah pedals definitely sound quite unique and possess an idiosyncratic voice.

There are multiple Morley wah pedals available, but their standalone models produce what can be best described as a “synthetic” and exaggerated wah effect that drastically accentuates a guitar/amp’s top-end frequencies. In many ways, they sound akin to envelope filter pedals – heavily processing a signal and altering its base “dry” tone. This is very noticeable when using a Morley wah into a clean guitar amplifier.

One of the coolest things about the Morley wah range is that it features several crossover pedals. Instead of boasting just re-voiced or re-liveried wahs like you’d find in the Dunlop ‘Cry Baby’ series, the Morley lineup comprises a number of pedals that merge their signature wah circuit with distortion, fuzz and boost effects! Some of these sound absolutely incredible, and sport controls that allow you to adjust their gain levels. There are some models that even feature footswitches that enable you to engage their secondary effects separately. The beauty of these crossover wahs is that they are very effective as lead pedals – just ask Mark Tremonti!

How does a Morley Wah Pedal work?

How Does a Dunlop Wah Pedal Work

Although Morley and Dunlop’s wah pedals ultimately produce similar sounds, the engineering and design philosophies behind their products are actually quite different. Operated in the same way via a rocking plate, Morley’s wah pedals are unique for their “switchless” design – a concept first introduced by the brand in 1994.

This essentially allows guitarists to turn on their wah pedals without pressing a dedicated footswitch. Instead, their wah effect is engaged as soon as the rocking plate is moved by the player’s foot – via a spring-loaded mechanism. This ergonomic switchless technology remains a huge part of Morley’s appeal. That’s because it enables users to quickly add wah to lead lines or riffs completely on-the-fly.

Morley wah pedals also differ to Dunlop’s when it comes to how their rocking plates affect their sounds. Relying on electro-optical circuity rather than the more conventional potentiometer design, a Morley wah pedal’s treadle controls an internal shutter that determines the amount of light that reaches a built-in photo-resistor. This level of light therefore influences the intensity and sweep of the wah effect. The main advantage of this unique system is longevity, as potentiometers eventually wear out and need replacing. However, some players also believe that this design causes a smoother, wider and more precise sweep.

Shop Morley Wah Pedals

Conclusion

Morley vs. Dunlop Wah Pedals Conclusion

As we established at the beginning of this article, the purpose of a wah pedal is to dramatically change the sound of your guitar – adding intrigue to certain musical passages and forming an extra layer of expression. But like with all stompboxes, there is sonic variety between certain products and brands. And we’ve made it clear in this article that Dunlop and Morley wah pedals are significantly different.

Dunlop wah pedals provide a traditional sound that almost all guitar players accept and find interesting. Morley wahs, on the other hand, have a more modern voice that can somewhat modulate a signal with further “zing”. Guitar tone is entirely subjective, so it would be unfair to say that one brand’s wah pedals sound better than the other. It’s all about what you like!

However, Morley’s switchless wah design is definitely something that should be considered. It’s unbeknownst to a lot of guitarists, and an under-appreciated feature that makes their wah pedals very practical. But some players perhaps prefer the more assertive method of engaging a Cry Baby wah. Whichever you choose – a wah pedal from either of these companies would be a solid purchase.

Want to Learn More?

Interested in finding out more about music gear and expanding your knowledge? Click here to view all of our Labs articles! For more information on the other topics mentioned in this guide, check out our related articles:

Elliot Stent
Elliot Stent
Elliot is a Senior Product Copywriter at Andertons, a guitarist and a YouTube gear demonstrator. Having studied Music and Music Technology, his interests lie equally in both performance and production. Favouring Fender instruments and Marshall amps, Elliot is also a pedal fanatic with a large collection of effects.

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