The whammy bar, also known as a vibrato bar or tremolo arm, is a versatile tool that can add a whole new dimension to your guitar playing. When used correctly, it can create a range of expressive effects, from subtle vibrato to wild dive-bombs. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how to use a whammy bar, including tips for getting the most out of your playing and avoiding common mistakes.
Understanding the Basics of Whammy Bar Technique
The first step in using a whammy bar is understanding the basic technique. Essentially, you’ll be using your picking hand to push and pull the bar, which will cause the strings to bend up or down. This is what creates the vibrato or pitch-shifting effect.
The key to good whammy bar technique is to use a light touch. Pushing or pulling the bar too hard will cause the strings to go out of tune, and can also damage the guitar. Instead, focus on making small, precise movements with your hand.
Another important aspect of whammy bar technique is to make sure that you’re using the right part of your hand. The best place to grip the bar is with the side of your hand, just below the pinky finger. This will give you the most control over the movement of the bar.
Adding Whammy Bar Effects to Your Playing
Once you’ve mastered the basic technique, you can start experimenting with different ways to use the whammy bar in your playing. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Vibrato: This is the most basic use of the whammy bar, and is often used to add expression to a single note or chord. To create a vibrato effect, simply push and pull the bar back and forth, while keeping your hand in contact with the strings.
Dive-bombs: This is a more extreme use of the whammy bar, and involves pushing the bar all the way forward, which will cause the pitch of the notes to drop rapidly. This can create a dramatic, almost screaming effect.
Pitch-shifting: By pulling the bar back, you can raise the pitch of the notes, which can be used to create a variety of interesting effects. This is often used in combination with other techniques, such as palm-muting or harmonics.
Harmonics: Whammy bar can also be used to create artificial harmonics. This technique involves lightly touching the string at specific points, known as nodal points, while using the whammy bar to change the pitch of the notes.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
While using a whammy bar can add a lot of excitement to your playing, it’s important to avoid some common mistakes:
Not using a locking nut: If your guitar doesn’t have a locking nut, the strings can slip out of tune when you use the whammy bar. To prevent this, consider installing a locking nut or using a locking tremolo system.
Pushing or pulling too hard: As mentioned earlier, it’s important to use a light touch when using the whammy bar. Pushing or pulling too hard can cause the strings to go out of tune, and can also damage the guitar.
Not using the right part of your hand: Make sure to grip the bar with the side of your hand, just below the pinky finger, this will give you the most control over the movement of the bar.
Not practicing: As with any technique, practice is key to mastering the whammy bar. Take the time to experiment with different ways of using the bar, and to develop your own unique style.
Tips for Improving Whammy Bar Control
Using a whammy bar effectively takes practice and control. Here are a few tips to help you improve your control over the bar and make the most out of your playing:
Practice with a metronome: One of the best ways to improve your control over the whammy bar is to practice with a metronome. This will help you develop a sense of timing and control, which is essential for creating expressive effects.
Use a tremolo system that allows for fine tuning: Some tremolo systems allow for fine tuning of the tension on the whammy bar. This can help you get the perfect amount of tension for your playing style.
Experiment with different types of whammy bars: Not all whammy bars are created equal. Some are longer, some are shorter, and some are made of different materials. Experiment with different types of whammy bars to find the one that works best for you.
Use the whammy bar in conjunction with other techniques: The whammy bar is most effective when used in conjunction with other techniques, such as palm-muting, harmonics, and finger tapping. Experiment with different combinations to find new and exciting sounds.
Consider using a whammy pedal: For those who want more control and precision over their whammy effects, a whammy pedal can be a great option. It allows you to make precise adjustments and get the exact sound you’re looking for.
What is a whammy bar?
A whammy bar, also known as a tremolo arm or vibrato arm, is a lever attached to the bridge of a guitar that can be used to create vibrato or pitch-bending effects.
How do I use a whammy bar?
To use a whammy bar, simply press down on the lever while playing a note. The more you press down, the more pronounced the effect will be. To return the pitch to normal, release the lever.
Can I use a whammy bar on any type of guitar?
Not all guitars are equipped with a whammy bar. Electric guitars with a floating bridge or tremolo system are most commonly used with a whammy bar. Acoustic and classical guitars generally do not have a tremolo system and thus, not compatible with a whammy bar.
How do I know if my guitar has a whammy bar?
If your guitar has a floating bridge or tremolo system, it likely has a whammy bar. You can also check the specifications of your guitar or consult the manufacturer to confirm if it is equipped with a whammy bar.
How do I adjust the tension on my whammy bar?
The tension on a whammy bar can typically be adjusted by loosening or tightening the screws on the tremolo system. Consult your guitar’s manual or a professional guitar technician for specific instructions on adjusting the tension on your specific guitar.
Can I damage my guitar by using the whammy bar?
While the whammy bar is a powerful tool, it can be damaging if used excessively or with too much force. To avoid damaging your guitar, use the whammy bar in moderation and take care to properly adjust and maintain the tension on the tremolo system.
What are some popular songs that feature the whammy bar?
Some popular songs that feature the whammy bar include “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, and “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd, among many others.
Can I use a whammy bar on an electric bass guitar?
Yes, some electric bass guitars are equipped with a whammy bar and can be used to create pitch-bending effects similar to those on an electric guitar. However, it’s less common to find them on bass guitars.
How can I improve my control over the whammy bar?
Practicing with a metronome, experimenting with different types of whammy bars, and using the whammy bar in conjunction with other techniques can all help improve control over the whammy bar. Additionally, some players find that using a whammy pedal can give them more precision and control.
Are there different types of whammy bars?
Yes, different types of whammy bars vary in length, material, and the way they are attached to the guitar. Some popular types include the Floyd Rose, Gotoh, and Schaller tremolo systems.
Can I use a whammy bar on an acoustic guitar?
Acoustic guitars generally do not have a tremolo system and thus, not compatible with a whammy bar. However, some manufacturers offer a special type of bridge that can be retrofitted to an acoustic guitar to allow for the use of a whammy bar.
How do I maintain my whammy bar?
Maintaining your whammy bar involves regularly checking and adjusting the tension on the tremolo system, as well as keeping it clean and lubricated to ensure smooth operation. It’s also important to keep an eye out for any signs of damage or wear and to have it serviced by a professional if needed.