Have you ever wondered if you can add a whammy bar on any guitar?
Well, you’re in for an interesting journey!
In this article, we’ll explore how modern technology has made it possible to equip almost any guitar with this cool feature. Get ready to learn about the exciting world of vibrato effects and how they can take your guitar playing to the next level!
What is a Whammy Bar?
A whammy bar is a lever attached by the bridge or tailpiece of an electric guitar that allows you to raise and lower notes at will during a song, creating interesting sounds that are not typically achievable without using one. By extending, pushing down, or pulling up the whammy bar, you can achieve pitch-bending and vibrato effects that add expressive nuance to your playing.
An alternative to the whammy bar is a “tremolo/vibrato arm,” which essentially performs the same function but is attached differently to your guitar.
However, it’s important to note that not all guitars can have a whammy bar. Guitars with fixed bridges cannot benefit from using a whammy bar, and these are usually found in cheaper models or those of lower quality.
Why is it Called a Whammy?
The term “whammy” likely stems from the idea of a sudden impact or blow, akin to the phrase “whammy bar.” The whammy bar’s ability to create sudden pitch shifts and dramatic sound effects may have influenced this name.
Another theory suggests that “whammy” comes from the phrase “put the whammy on,” a slang term from the 1940s and 1950s meaning to hex or cast a spell on someone. This phrase might have been applied to the guitar’s vibrato arm to describe the transformative power of the technique.
Despite its origins, “whammy” has become synonymous with any type of dramatic and sudden shift in pitch or tone on an electric guitar.
What Is The Difference Between A Whammy Bar And A Tremolo?
A tremolo arm is actually a whammy bar – they refer to the same thing.
The key difference lies in the number of actions they offer.
A whammy bar typically has one action – pushing down for an up-and-down motion or pulling up for the same effect. On the other hand, a tremolo system allows for multiple actions, enabling a wider range of possibilities when playing your guitar.
This added versatility can be highly desirable for professional guitarists or those who play frequently, as it allows for more experimentation and creative exploration.
How Important is a Whammy Bar for Guitar?
The importance of a whammy bar depends on your playing style and musical preferences.
For some guitarists, the whammy bar is essential for creating specific sounds and effects. They use it to add expressive vibrato, subtle pitch shifts, or even dramatic dive bomb effects, especially in genres like rock, metal, and surf music.
However, not all players consider the whammy bar necessary for their playing. Some prefer a more traditional sound and find the whammy bar distracting or unnecessary.
Additionally, using a whammy bar can require adjustments to the guitar’s tuning and setup, which might outweigh its benefits for certain players.
Which Guitars Can Have a Whammy Bar?
Most electric guitars have a whammy bar, but some, like the Gibson Les Paul or Telecaster, don’t. Acoustic guitars and classical guitars can’t have a whammy bar.
The important thing to remember – not all guitars have a vibrato system, so don’t try messing with it yourself. The best way is to get help from a pro who can set it up correctly if you want to add a vibrato to your guitar.
How To Install a Whammy Bar on Different Electric Guitars
As we mentioned above – you can install a whammy bar only on guitars with a vibrato system. So let’s see which guitars can have one:
Installing a Whammy Bar on a Stratocaster
Installing a Whammy Bar on a Stratocaster is a straightforward process. Traditionally associated with Stratocasters, many of these guitars come equipped with the appropriate bridge for using a whammy bar right out of the box.
To begin the installation, take the provided whammy bar or a compatible one and insert it into the designated hole in the bridge. In most cases, the bar will be threaded, so gently rotate it in a clockwise direction until you encounter some resistance.
The level of tightness or looseness is often a matter of personal preference. However, it is generally advisable not to overtighten the bar into the hole, as some guitarists caution against this.
If your guitar requires an unthreaded bar, simply insert it correctly into place; there’s no need to screw it in.
Installing a Whammy Bar on a Telecaster
Adding a whammy bar to a Telecaster guitar is a bit tricky because it didn’t originally come with one. The Bigsby vibrato system is a good choice for it. Another option is the Super-Vee Maverick Telecaster Tremolo System, made specifically for Telecasters. But be careful, installing these may need special tools and skills, and it could permanently change your guitar.
If you decide to go with the Bigsby system, first check your Telecaster model to get the right accessories and the best Bigsby model for it. It’s okay to ask a professional for help, as it can be a bit challenging. Just remember, adding a whammy bar can give cool effects to your playing, but think about the changes you might make to your guitar.
Installing a Whammy Bar on a Les Paul
Gibson’s Les Paul guitar doesn’t come with a whammy bar, and many professional guitarists prefer not to modify it to add one.
However, some players still want the option to use a whammy bar on their Les Paul, so Gibson responded to this demand by introducing certain Les Paul models with the choice to include Floyd Rose bridges. The Floyd Rose bridge is a type of vibrato bridge that can be installed on guitars that don’t originally have vibrato systems.
Installing a Whammy Bar on an SG
To install a whammy bar on an SG guitar, which is a later model from Gibson, you have a few options. Some SG models originally came with tremolo bridges, but they were not very good.
However, thanks to technological advancements, we now have more reliable tremolo bridges available.
One option is the Bigsby bridge, which can be installed on the SG. The installation process is similar to that of the Les Paul. Just make sure to choose the appropriate Vibramate and Bigsby bridge models that match your SG’s design.
Another option is the Floyd Rose bridge, which can also be installed on the SG to give you that whammy bar capability. The choice between Bigsby and Floyd Rose depends on your preference and playing style.
With these improved tremolo bridges, you can now enjoy the whammy bar effect on your SG guitar, enhancing your playing experience.
Other Alternatives Good For Whammy Bar
There are several other options available for guitar players to explore. Nowadays, nearly any guitar can be equipped with a tremolo system. Here are some alternative options to consider:
- Stetsbar: An after-market tremolo system that can be used on various guitars without modifying the instrument.
- Kahler: This tremolo bridge achieves the vibrato effect with a unique cam system instead of the more common fulcrum, though it won’t work with guitars that have rounded tops.
- Trem King: This bridge can function as both a hardtail and a tremolo bridge. It operates as a regular bridge when used without the whammy bar and as a tremolo when the bar is inserted.
- Virtual Jeff Pro: An innovative digital whammy that offers the fun effects of a whammy bar without its associated drawbacks.
- Duesenberg Les Trem II: Made by Duesenberg Guitars, it’s designed for guitars with a tune-o-Matic bridge and stop-tailpiece.
- Strandberg EGS Tremolo: Created by renowned guitar builder Ola Strandberg, this system uses needle bearings for a smooth tremolo operation. The bridge is crafted from durable aircraft-grade aluminum.
Modern tremolo bridge systems have made it possible to add a whammy bar to almost any guitar. From popular options like Bigsby and Floyd Rose to lesser-known choices such as Stetsbar, Duesenberg Les Trem II, Kahler, Strandberg EGS Tremolo, Trem King, and Virtual Jeff Pro, there’s a solution for every guitar type. However, it’s essential to consider professional help for installation.
Adding a whammy bar expands a guitarist’s possibilities, enabling them to experiment with new sounds and enhance their musical journey.
If you already have an electric guitar with a tremolo, you can take a look at our article How to restring an electric guitar with a floating bridge.