Whammy bar, tremolo system, and vibrato system are different names for the same tool. The whammy bar is a fun addition to a guitar that can add a lot of flavor to your playing. With a whammy bar, you can bend the strings to create a vibrato or dive sound. Whammy bars add a lot of versatility to guitars, and you can get creative with how you use them.
In this article, I will walk you through how to install a whammy bar on your guitar. The process is super easy but differs depending on the type of guitar and bridge system you have.
What is a whammy bar used for?
Guitar whammy bars or tremolo systems may not be a necessity, but they sure are fun to use! They provide an added layer of creativity for guitar solos and, as Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix have shown us, can be used to create all sorts of sound effects such as dive bombs, shrieks, and more. A whammy bar is a metal bar attached to the bridge of a guitar that essentially bends all of the strings collectively. You can play a chord and then use the whammy bar in short quick bursts to create a vibrato effect or bend the whammy bar fully down to make the strings dive lower and lower in pitch.
How to install a whammy bar
Most guitars will not come with a whammy bar pre-installed. But don’t worry, if you want to add one to your guitar, they are usually super easy to fit. There are two basic types of tremolo systems, those that simply attach to the bridge and those that have an entire mounting mechanism that must be installed on the guitar and replace the bridge.
Below, you will find a breakdown for installing the most popular types of guitar whammy bars.
How to install a Fender Strat whammy bar
The Fender Strat pioneered a whammy bar that was reliable and consistent. Before the Fender Stratocaster’s whammy bar was invented, tremolo systems were much more finicky and would knock the guitar out of tune after use.
Installing a whammy bar on a Fender Stratocaster is easy. As long as your guitar has a Fender fixed bridge with a whammy bar port, you simply need to screw the whammy bar in by turning it around counterclockwise in the whammy bar port. There are no tools needed for this whammy bar.
Don’t screw it in too tight or you may strip the screw and even damage the bridge of your guitar!
Bigsby tremolo system
Bigsbys are a classic tremolo system that dates all of the way back to the 1950s. Two members of the Beatles, Paul Mccartney and George Harrison, used Bigsby tremolo systems. These systems, unfortunately, are much more challenging to install because, unlike Fender, they require you to replace the entire bridge.
Suppose you are not experienced with guitar maintenance and customization. In that case, I highly recommend contacting a guitar technician to help you with this project because you can irreversibly damage your guitar if done incorrectly.
Step one: measure the bridge
It is crucial to find the center point of the guitar’s bridge before jumping the gun and screwing your Bigsby. Measure the center point of the bridge and use a piece of painter’s tape to mark this point on the guitar.
Step two: mark on the guitar where the screws will go
Place the Bigsby on the center point of the guitar and use a pencil to mark where all the screws will go.
Step three: pre-drill the holes
Pre-drill the holes in the guitar. Make sure to double-check that you have the measurements exact before doing so.
Step three: remove the original bridge
Once you have pre-drilled the holes, remove the original bridge as the Bigsby will hold the strings once installed.
Step four: install the Bigsby
Screw in the Bigsby bridge and restring the guitar.
Floyd Rose Tremolo
Floyd Rose bridges are beloved by hard rock and metal guitarists. They lock in the tuning so well that you can rock out for hours without pushing the guitar out of tune. Floyd Rose bridges also have a unique whammy bar system. Guitar makers like Schecter and Jackson commonly come with a Floyd Rose bridge pre-installed, making installing the whammy bar super easy. But if you plan to install one on your guitar, you are in for a difficult task.
Installing a new Floyd Rose bridge involves routing out a section of your guitar and completely reformating the bridge system. Check out my article on the topic for an in-depth walkthrough.
Installing a whammy bar on your already installed Floyd Rose bridge is easy! To install the Floyd Rose whammy bar, you simply place the small bar at the end of the bar into the port in the bridge
screw the cap above the metal bar onto the port. The cap has a tread, so it tightens on the port and secures the whammy bar. When you change the strings on your Floyd Bridge you’ll need to unscrew the nut and bridge locks using a hex key.
Can you install a whammy bar on any guitar?
Technically speaking, every electric guitar can be fitted with a whammy bar. But some guitars, like Telecasters and Les Pauls, will be harder to fit as you will have to install an entire system. For example, a standard Les Paul bridge called a Tune O Matic does not support a whammy bar, so you will have to custom install a Floyd Rose Tremolo or a Bigsby Vibrato. Some Gibson SG guitars come with a Vibrolo Tailpiece, which is specifically designed for SGs.