It has alternately been called the tremolo bar, the tremolo arm, the vibrato bar, and the twang bar. Its most commonly-used name is the whammy bar. Many guitars include these on their basic models, while others offer it as an optional feature. What is it, and what can you do with it?
If you are unsure what a whammy bar looks like, it is an arm-shaped bar located on the bridge of many guitars. Its function is fairly simple: to produce a vibrato sound by varying the tension and/or the length of the string temporarily. Many famous guitarists, such as Jimi Hendrix, Dimebag Darryl and Eddie Van Halen, have used the whammy bar with great success. You can be successful with it too, but it takes some patience and practice to make it work in your favor.
Effective Use of the Whammy Bar
It is best to start by using it on one note. Hit one note, press the whammy bar towards the guitar (not too hard) and aim it towards the headstock. This will make the note’s sound deeper. Try this with several different notes for a while, and vary the speeds with which you use the whammy bar. You will soon master this and be ready to take the next step.
The opposite effect can be achieved by pushing in the whammy bar and aiming it towards the bottom of the guitar. As you might expect, this will make the note’s sound higher in pitch. Just as before, try multiple notes, and vary the speeds. Raising the pitch with the whammy bar is especially effective when playing higher notes on your guitar. Alternately, lower pitch on lower notes sounds great, too. Give it a try! This will add excitement to your solos.
After a while, you may decide to use it on chords. This can be done effectively, but may take a bit longer to master. Strum the chord and once again apply the whammy bar, gently pushing in the bar and aiming it toward the headstock. You will want to start by applying it more slowly than you would on an individual note. This will ensure a clean vibrato sound, as opposed to a sloppy, discordant sound. Once you have mastered this, you will add considerably to your tonal range. Be patient and keep working at it.
Want to try a few new things? Here are a couple of suggestions.
Instead of going just up or down with the whammy bar, hit a note and spin the whammy bar in a circle. You will get a great-sounding pitch variation.
If you use harmonics or pinch-harmonics in your playing, adding whammy-bar effects will take your playing to still-higher levels. This is particularly effective in genres where harmonics are heavily used such as metal.
The whammy bar can add to your sonic bag of tricks. If properly used, it can bring new and exciting sounds. Be patient with yourself and in time, you can be a whammy bar master!