Whammy Bar Application
By Michael Korte
The whammy bar is a nice feature on many guitars, but it is also overlooked a lot of times, because it can cause a lot of trouble, too.
For example, if you are using a regular tremolo system, it can get your guitar out of tune easily, simply by tilting it a little bit too hard. Let us explore together some ways to get proper use of this loved and hated guitar feature.
Vibrato with a regular tremolo system
In general, this technique should be approached like hand vibrato: with practice for precision. Because just like usual hand vibrato, you cannot take for granted, that it will sound good immediately. If you want to sound good, you want to find out, what is the best way to use this tool.
With a regular tremolo system (meaning: nothing Floyd Rose alike or related), you need to be a little bit careful, because tilting the tremolo bar too much, can cause bringing your strings out of tune and you are screwed for the rest of the song you are playing.
Instead, go easy and learn to let the whammy bar swing softly up and down and with a lot of feeling. You want to aim for a narrow and slow vibrato, that is fitting to the rhythm of the background.
This vibrato system is working in the opposite way as the hand vibrato. In hand vibrato, you are pulling the pitch upwards from the starting note, because you cannot go down with a bend.
With the regular whammy bar, you are going down from the original pitch, because usually, whammy bar systems (=tremolo bar systems, though not accurate) are locked by the guitar body and you cannot pull the bar upwards.
Carefully see how far you can go, without hearing a little cracking, which means that your guitar just got out of tune. Although the guitar can get out of tune without giving you that cracking sound.
Vibrato with a Floyd Rose system
If you got your hands on a guitar with a Floyd Rose system or something related, you can go a little bit wilder with the whammy bar, because the strings are locked at the headstock. That makes it almost impossible, to get the guitar out of tune…almost. It takes a lot more effort and patience though, to get it in the right tuning in the first place.
Huge advantage of Floyd Rose systems: You can let your vibrato go both ways, up and down from the original pitch, which can make it sound more natural and better in tune. Use your ear to listen to how far exactly you need to move the bar up and down, so that you get an even vibrato on both ends. You really want to train this, because it gives your playing a much more controlled sounding character.
Another advantage is, that you can get more expressive in your articulation of vibrato, because you do not need to shy away from wider vibrato ranges. The only limit here is the boundaries given by the guitar body, which is not the same as explained in the section before. It is much wider.
I did not mention this close to the section of the regular whammy bar system, because string bends, from my point of view, are intended to be made at least a half note wide (sometimes quarter notes work, too, but for the purpose of this subject, I leave them out) and with a regular whammy bar system, this is rarely possible, because of the detuning effect on the guitar.
With a Floyd Rose bar, this works perfectly fine though. So, instead of using your fretting hand to pull up the string, you can use the whammy bar, to play a half note or full note bend or even more, in BOTH directions, up AND down from the original pitch. Try to accurately hit target pitches, you will find out, it is not as easy as you might think at first. That leads me to the next point.
If you really want to get close to overusing the Floyd Rose whammy bar, pick any random melody and see how much you can play without changing the fret, that you are putting your finger on and by pulling the lever of the the whammy bar up and down. This brings a smooth effect into your playing, but it is challenging to control.
This is possibly the one thing, that most guitarists want to do, when they want to get a guitar with a Floyd Rose system, because it is a pretty cool thing to do.
Play a very high note, preferably by doing a pinch harmonic or a flageolet somewhere and then press down the whammy bar slowly. It will sound like some big object, like a plane or something, falling from the sky. :)
Have fun with these techniques!
About the author:
Michael Korte is teaching guitar in Finland. In his guitar school, he teaches his students new approaches and concepts for their rhythm and solo playing and also shows them how to improve their practicing, so that they get better results faster. If you want to reach the next level in your playing and you are looking for <a href="http://www.kitaristitampere.fi">kitaratunnit in Tampere</a> make sure to get in touch with him.