Whammy bars are a super useful feature on guitars that allow you to change the tension of strings, bending the pitch up and down and adding the possibility of vibrato.
This change in tension commonly causes the guitar to detune, especially if you are using a hammy bar that does not nut or bridge lock. But you may wonder: does that mean the whammy bar is damaging to your guitar? Can constantly changing the tension of your strings bow the neck? A whammy bar is a fantastic tool you can use to elevate and vary your guitar playing. And the last thing you want is for this equipment to hurt your guitar.
In this article, I will answer this commonly-asked question and provide my top tips for using whammy bars.
What is a whammy bar?
Whammy bars, also called tremolo or vibrato systems, are one of the coolest additions to an electric guitar. A whammy bar is a lever that is attached to the bridge of an electric guitar. This tool allows you to vary the tension on the strings of your guitar, creating pitch variations. This tension variation also makes it easier to produce certain effects, such as vibratos and dive bombs.
Can whammy bars damage your guitar?
No, whammy bars will not damage your guitar. In fact, they are perfectly safe to use. However, whammy bars will often cause your strings to go out of tune or, in some cases, break. Since whammy bars play with the tension on the strings, too much tension can eventually cause a string to break. However, with that said, whammy bars won’t cause any damage to the guitar itself or truss rod. And even strings breaking is not as common as you may think.
How to prevent detuning when using whammy bars
The most prominent issue guitarists will encounter when using whammy bars is the strings going out of tune. The whammy bar literally bends the strings, so it’s no surprise at all that it may cause the strings to go out of tune. Although this does not constitute as damage to your guitar, it can be annoying to have to re-tune the guitar more often than usual.
Thankfully, there are some ways to prevent detuning when using whammy bars on your electric guitar.
Use a locking nut and bridge
Floyd Rose bridges revolutionized tremolo systems with the locking nut and bridge. Unfortunately, if your guitar doesn’t come with a whammy bar pre-installed, you may not have a locking nut. A locking nut is essential to prevent your strings from detuning too much when using the tremolo system. The one downside of a Floyd Rose bridge is the complexity of changing the strings!
Use a locking tuner
You should also consider changing your traditional tuner to a locking tuner. Although it won’t entirely prevent your strings from going out of tune, it does lock the string into place, which drastically lessens the chances of your strings going haywire when using a whammy bar.
Don’t press down too hard
Don’t press too much on the whammy bar. The tension created when using this tool can put a lot of pressure on your strings, which will cause them to detune. Although easier said than done, try to press down only as much as necessary, and no more than that!
Stretch new strings
All guitar strings should be properly broken in by stretching to prevent detuning. Stretch them at least three times before you install them onto your guitar.
Another trick to reduce detuning is to lubricate the nuts and saddles where your strings pass through. Use a specialized guitar lubricant for this. Lubricating also minimizes the possibility of breaking the strings.
Don’t screw it in too tight
When installing the whammy bar, you should keep it loose enough so that you can easily grab it and move it from side to side. Otherwise, there will be too much pressure on the bridge, which can cause your strings to detune.
Tips for using whammy bars
Here are my tips for using whammy bars to ensure you get the most out of this awesome tool.
Less is more
A whammy bar can change the sound of your guitar. And although playing with one can be a lot of fun, keep in mind that less is more in most cases. You want to add flavor to your playing with a whammy bar instead of overdoing it with the tricks. Plus, using the whammy bar less will also make it easier for you to avoid the pesky detuning of the strings.
Learn different whammy bar techniques
Whammy bars can be used for more than bending the strings and vibrato. You should also try these techniques:
Flutter: To achieve this, rotate the bar away from the neck and play a note. Then, apply pressure at the base of the bar and slide, flicking at the very end. The flicking motion should cause the bar to pop up, creating a fun fluttering sound.
Shriek: Create a shrieking sound by playing an open or pinch harmonic, then pulling up on the bar.
Dive bomb: Play to your inner Jimi Hendrix by doing a dive bomb. To do this, play a note or chord and press on the bar to lower the pitch, like a bomb diving.
These are just a few of the most popular whammy bar techniques, but there are so many more out there that you can learn and experiment with once you are more comfortable.
How to install a whammy bar
Installing a whammy bar will look slightly different depending on the type of whammy bar you get. If you want to install a classic Bigsby tremolo system, you’ll want to measure the bridge first and mark where the screws will go. Then double-check all measurements before you pre-drill holes into the guitar. Finally, remove the original bridge and replace it with your Bigsby tremolo system. And voila! All you need to do now is restring the guitar.
When it comes to other tremolo systems, such as a Floyd Rose or a Fender whammy bar, instructions are slightly different. So, read all manufacturer’s instructions when installing your whammy bar. If you have any doubts, stop, and hand the job to a professional. The last thing you want is to make a mistake installing this system on your guitar.For a more in-depth look at this topic, check out my article on how to install a whammy bar. This article also covers how to install other popular types of whammy bars.