Fun With Your Whammy Bar

(written in 1984)

Most of you out there with vibrato bars have probably been through all the basic maneuvers (you know, the “dive bombs” when you hit the low E string and bottom it out). Then there’s the basic wide vibrato on any given note; and, of course, the one where you hit a harmonic and the bar down or go “whee whee whee”. Here I will discuss a few tricks you may not have been through yet.

First, I will talk briefly about vibrato bar systems. There are many different ones out on the market. If you’re serious about your bar work, you’re looking for one that won’t put you out of tune or go sharp when you rest your wrist on it. And you don’t want it to alter the string tension if you break a string or stretch a note. But you do want it to go sharp (up to a 4th) when you pull on it. Good luck! There are modifications you can make to the standard systems to help solve some of these problems. I use Floyd Rose tremolo systems. I have mine set up so that I can pull up on the bar and the strings will go sharp as much as a 4th.

In this area of vibrato bar exploration, we will look at using the bar to play melodies. This is like learning how to play a fretless guitar. It takes great intonation and a lot of patience.

Pick a key and hit a note. With the bar, bend the note down to the next note in the key. Then, bend it down again to the next lower note. Go in between these three notes to create a melody. Here’s an example: In the key of F# minor, play an F# on the 11th fret of the G string. With the bar, bend that note down to an E; then depress it down to a D or a C#. Release it backto F#, then pull the bar so the note sounds G#. Be sure your intonation is happening. Now use these notes to construct melodies.

In this fashion, practice playing a melody you already know. Record a melody using four or five notes. Learn it back using the bar.

Another bar trick involves bringing it around 180 degrees from where you would normally use it and tapping on it. This causes the note to go sharp. If you chop at the bar in this position, every time you hit a note it will sound like little grace notes from India.

Bend the bar down and slide up the neck on the G string. As you slide your finger up the neck, raise the bar slowly. Boy, what fun!

Now, do the opposite. As you slide up the string, bend the bar down so your finger is sliding, but the pitch is the same. It can sound like a purring cat. Growwlll!