You see that weird stick coming out of an electric guitar wondering what does it do? It’s a whammy bar! Whammy bar is a cool playing tool that bends the string, changing its pitch.
You can do all kinds of stuff with it. However, you may wonder, is it bad for a guitar? Can it hurt your guitar bridge, or strings in any way?
Whammy bar is perfectly safe for a guitar. Otherwise, they wouldn’t make these. You can notice your strings going out of tune whenever you use it, though. But if that’s the case, it’s probably not a whammy bar that causes your strings going off tune. It’s probably something else functioning improperly on your guitar.
Difference Between Whammy Bar, Floyd Rose And Tremolo
You may be confused as you hear these different terms like floyd rose, tremolo or a whammy bar. What’s the difference?
All of these terms stand for one thing – a vibrato system. Vibrato means a rapid change in pitch, so vibrato system is a system that ensures you can change the pitch of a string rapidly.
Whammy bar is just that stick you see on almost every electric guitar. Tremolo technically means volume, but the term is incorrectly used for a whammy bar, due to some historical reasons.
Floyd rose is a particular design of a vibrato system. That vibrato system (floyd rose) uses double locking and floating system which gives a guitar player a wider range of possibilities when using a whammy bar. Also, it makes your guitar tuning stability stronger.
Does Whammy Bar Detune Guitar?
You may notice that your strings slightly go out of tune when using a whammy bar. But in almost all cases, it’s not caused by a whammy bar itself. Although strings can indeed go out of tune after whammy bar usage, it’s mostly because something else is not functioning properly on your guitar.
Nut can often be a problem. Friction between strings and their nut slots, to be more precise. Also, action height may not be set properly.
If you notice significant tuning stability issues after you use a whammy bar, you probably need to check out these things first.
Check out the article from this page about locking tuners and locking nut systems you can put on your guitar, here.
What Does A Whammy Bar On A Guitar Do?
As it’s been already stated above, a whammy bar is just a part of a vibrato system your electric guitar have. When you use your whammy bar, it changes a pitch of strings you played rapidly.
You know whammy bar is used when you hear that rapid pitch change that can sound cool.
How Does A Guitar Tremolo Work?
Tremolo arm is an unfortunate term, since it means volume. Tremolo arm (or a whammy bar, to be correct) works in a way that it changes the tension of the strings.
Tension is controlled by using a controlling lever (whammy bar). It works simple. When you grab a whammy bar, you can pull it down. That pull down is heightening your guitar bridge. When a guitar bridge gets higher, the tension of strings lower.
You can hear the result of this physical movement. Rapid change in pitch.
What Is A Floating Tremolo?
Floating tremolo means you have a floating bridge. A floating bridge will allow you to not only lower pitch by pushing down, but also raise pitch by pulling back.
That means that the design and mechanics of floating tremolo system is different than a non-floating tremolo.
You can check out the Wikipedia page to see what exactly is different:
[…] the entire mechanism of the floating tremolo is mounted on a roughly triangular chromed plate in the front of the guitar body, on the opposite side of the bridge to the pickups. The string tension is balanced against a single short helical spring, in compression rather than tension, mounted on the back of the “tremolo mounting plate”. The spring is adjustable by turning a screw located towards the center of this plate.
The ferrule ends of the strings are held on the top of the guitar in a tailpiece plate called the knife plate, which emerges from the mechanism, rather than the strings vanishing into the mechanism as with the synchronized tremolo. It is the knife plate that is moved when the tremolo arm is operated. Unlike the synchronized tremolo, the bridge is not moved directly by the mechanism, but only by the movement of the strings, and is allowed to tilt to accommodate this movement. This is called a floating bridge.
What Is Synchronized Tremolo?
Synchronized tremolo stands for a vibrato system that moves both bridge and tailpiece of a guitar. That’s why it’s called synchronized. Because of that, not only it affects the tension of strings, it also changes their length.
Can You Put A Whammy Bar On Any Guitar?
You can’t put a whammy bar on an acoustic or a classical guitar. Most of electric guitars have their whammy bar installed, but some don’t have like Gibson Les Paul or a Telecaster.
Technically, you can put a whammy bar on any electric guitar, but it is a complicated process, due to preset mechanic system each guitar have.
You can’t setup any vibrato system on every guitar. It is best not to play with those installation. It’s much easier to buy a new guitar with its preset vibrato system. Otherwise, you’ll have to perform some kind of a “surgery” on your guitar.
If you really want to install a vibrato system on a guitar that don’t have it installed, the only way to do it is to take your guitar to a professional examination, where the installation will be setup properly.
What’s The Difference Between A Whammy -Bar And A Tremolo Bar?
There’s no difference whatsoever. However, as it’s already been said above, whammy bar is more correct term to use. Tremolo means volume, and saying “tremolo bar” technically is incorrect to say.
However, the term stayed in use until today, due to some historical reasons.
Can You Put Whammy Bar On A Bass Guitar?
You can, but it’s not that useful to do so. There is a reason bass guitars don’t come with a whammy bar. Bass guitar strings are much heavier than regular guitar strings. They exert more pressure on a guitar.
That means that a whammy bar won’t be that effective on those strings. There are some specially designed bass strings on a market, though.
It’s up to you. Who says you can’t experiment? Still, be cautious. If you plan to put a whammy bar on your bass guitar, take it to the professional to set it up properly and correctly.
Who Invented Whammy Bar?
First widely used whammy bars are invented by guitar luthier Paul Bigsby back in 1951.
First whammy bars couldn’t perform a dive bombs or anything similar today’s whammy bars do. You could only down pitch a note with this one. Also, it couldn’t bend the string down more than a semi-tone.
Why Is It Called A Whammy Bar?
There’s no straight answer to this question. My guess is that a whammy bar is called a whammy because that rapid change in pitch it does somehow makes that sound effect that sounds just like you say the word whammy.
Whammy indeed sounds funky-ish, like something that floats and it’s never in place. That makes sense, since a string that changes tension doesn’t have a frequency that stands still. Instead it floats up and down.
As you can see, whammy bars are perfectly fine. There is no any harm whatsoever a whammy bar can do to your guitar. Of course, you can notice some tuning stability issues when you use it, but it’s probably not because of a whammy bar itself.
If you like whammy bar, check out the article from this page about popular whammy bar songs and artists that use it a lot in their playing.
Also, take your time to read other interesting and insightful articles from this site.
Cheers, and rock on!