The Whammy Bar
by Scott Morris
The whammy bar (vibrato bar) is the most powerful sound altering tool of the guitar. Simply said, there are sounds you can create "only" with a whammy bar. Not even the whammy pedal can reproduce the sounds and feel that are created by an inventive guitarist who may choose to use this powerful tool. From the grooving sounds of surf guitar (using minor chords) to gashtly hallows of Heavy Metal. Early inventions included the Bigsby which could be found on the Epiphone ES-295 which was introduced in 1952 by the legendary Scotty Moore who was Elvis Presleys guitarist. The Bigsby is a large spring operated system which is mounted on top of the guitar body. In the 70's, Floyd Rose introduced the "locking" whammy system, where the springs were mounted underneath, inside the body of the guitar.
Comparison In Performance
The 2 most common types of vibrato bar are the non floating (standard) vs. the floating system. Difference being, the standard you can only use to bend downward on the strings, allowing you to lower the sounds of the strings. These standard systems often go out of tune at the first touch or use of the whammy system. Many beginner guitars may be purchased with this type of system. Most music store salesman will tell you "it's great for a beginner". Incorrect. One of the most important things for a beginner guitarist is staying tune.
Over the course of time, guitarist have tried many different remedies in attempt to keep these standard systems from going out of tune. One of the best remedies which became commonly known was 3 in 1 oil with No.2 graphite lead. Many players made the attempt of crushing the lead from a No.2 pencil, and mixing it with a drop of 3 in 1 oil, creating a solution that could be applied under the strings by the bridge, and under the strings by the nut of the guitar, which eased the tension of the strings creating less stress while using the vibrato bar, in thus, allowing the guitar to stay in "somewhat" better tune. Problem being, it was also a very messy solution.Not recommended for your best guitar.
The Floating System
The floating system differed by allowing a guitarist to not only bend downward to lower the pitch of sound, but also to pull upward to raise...the pitch of sound. These floating systems became popular and used by Van Halen, Judas Priest,Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and still exist as a very important tool for players of the new era such as Dimebag Darrell and many others. These systems were designed with "locking nuts", which allowed players to "lock" the strings in tune without having to resort to messy 3 in 1 / graphite solutions. A picture is worth a million words. To see just how well a guitar with a floating whammy system and locking nuts will stay in tune, as well to see just "how far" you can actually bend the strings to complete slack, I recommend you watch the movie "Crossroads" featuring "Steve Vai", which you can find at most video stores. This incredible performance shows Steve actually shaking the whammy bar with one hand, creating the most incredible sounds. If you go shopping for a locking whammy system there is a difference in puchasing a quality name brand. Some of the cheaper systems dont stay in tune well. On some you'll find the parts are stiff and hard to turn, and others the parts are loose and not constructed well resulting in loss of control when attempting to remain in tune. A quality name you can look for to make sure you're getting the best for your money would be the Floyd Rose System.
Comparison In Price
Standard vibrato bars cost around $8.00 to $10.00 for the vibrato bar (Click to purchase ), which can only be added to a guitar which is built in design for this type of system.
The American Standard Strat Tremolo can be added to nearly
any guitar, yet will require "routing" the guitar body. This
should be done by a professional builder or repairman.
The price for the system alone may cost anywhere from $75.00
to $90.00. Professional installation prices may vary anywhere
from $50.00 to $100.00 or more. Click to purchase.
|Locking Systems can range anywhere from $175.00 to $200.00. Rest assured, if you are serious about getting the sounds you want, and staying in tune, the old saying "you get what you pay for" applies to this item. Highly recommended. This type of system can be installed in most any guitar that has an existing whammy bar (some routing may be required) or can also be installed professionally as stated above. Click to purchase.|
Guitarist In Whammy Bar History
Jimi Hendrix was well known for using the whammy bar to create "out of this world" sounds. Jimmy would stand facing his amps, creating feedback and sustain while creating whammy dives and ghostly sounds. Choice cuts are: "Are You Experienced" (side A-B) and the Woodstock Recordings. A prime video choice is "Rainbow Bridge".
Ritchie Blackmore was one of the early pioneers of whammy bar sounds. During a previous interview, Ritchie had accussed Eddie Van Halen of stealing his fingertapping and whammy bar technique. His playing style was extreme as a brilliantlly trained classical guitarist, and there were no boundaries set for his performance. In the 70's , rock promoter Don Kirshner hosted a concert called "California Jam" , where Ritchies performance with Deep Purple caused several thousands of dollars in damage to stage gear and television equipment as he pushed beyond the limit in the creation of his sound. Choice cuts for listening to this whammy bar king are: "Highway Star", "Burn", and "Smoke On The Water"
Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton were among the top performers of whammy technique, which you can hear throughout their various recordings. Choice Cut: The song "Sinner" Live.
Randy Rhoads* Choice cut: "Suicide Solution" Live, Over The Mountain, Little Dolls.
Others among the whammy bar kings would include : Joe Satriani*Steve Vai*Dimebag Darrell*Nancy Wilson* Yngwie Malmsteen* George Lynch*Eddie Van Halen*Steve Stevens*David Gilmour*
Whammy Bar Technique
If you're interested in learning how to use the whammy bar, guitar terminology you may want to become familiar with would include: trills, dive bombs, open string pull-offs, ghost bending(pre-bend), exageratted vibrato, pulling sharp.
Here are some beginning fundamental exercises for you to explore that you may be familiar with in sound.
Exercise #1 Lead Guitar Trill Key Of E
This technique is among the most common for a guitarist who plays with a whammy bar. This technique ("trill") is performed by picking the first note, then hammering-on, and pulling-off in continous motion. This technique sounds good using a downward whammy bend, or pulling sharp.
Example #1 is showing the actual technique, as example #2 clearly demonstrates the scale that was used to perform this guitar trick.
More on scales....
Exercise #2: "Motorcycle Shifting Gears Sound"
This special effect sound is created by ghost bending (pre-bending) the whammy bar downward. Step 2 is to use the index finger of your frethand to "pull-off" to produce the sound of the open string while (step 3) you slowly release the whammy bar back to it's normal position. By performing this technique on the open G, D, and A string you can produce the sound similar to a motorcycle shifting gears. You can hear this technique played by Randy Rhoads on the "Ozzy/Randy Live Tribute" near the ending peice of "Randy's Guitar Solo".
If you should have questions on these techniques, I'd be glad to help guide you during a live chat. Simply contact me and let me know which time(s) work best for you. e-mail
Until Next Time