THE WHAMMY BAR 20 top tech­niques

Richard Bar­rett takes a look at one of the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary in­ven­tions for the elec­tric gui­tar, with 20 style-based ex­am­ples, an awe­some, fully-tran­scribed demo piece - plus two back­ing tracks!

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Wob­bles, dives, gar­gles and more the whammy adds new di­men­sions to your play­ing. Richard Bar­rett takes you on a roller­coaster ride!

The whammy (vi­brato) bar is surely one of the most sig­nif­i­cant in­ven­tions in elec­tric gui­tar, along with the elec­tro­mag­netic pickup and the fuzz pedal. The se­lec­tion of var­i­ous Bigsby, Vi­brola and Fender units avail­able in the early days were orig­i­nally in­tended to give chords a sub­tle shim­mer and add vo­cal-like vi­brato to sin­gle-note lines. Not sur­pris­ingly, gui­tarists em­braced this new in­ven­tion whole­heart­edly - look no fur­ther than Hank Marvin’s evoca­tive note em­bel­lish­ment, or Duane Eddy’s ‘do­ing-diddy-do­ing-diddy’ low-string dips. And of course the love af­fair con­tin­ues to this day. How­ever, as Jimmy Page once as­tutely noted, we gui­tarists also like to ex­per­i­ment with the things our equip­ment is

not de­signed to do, such as ‘gar­gling’ notes by flick­ing the tip of the bar (works best on more mod­ern two-point sys­tems); pulling the arm up for steel-like bends, cre­at­ing faux ‘slide’ licks, and of course the in­fa­mous dive-bomb.

So... along with over­driv­ing valve amps, bend­ing strings and en­cour­ag­ing feed­back, it was per­haps in­evitable that some­one would push the whammy bar to (and be­yond) its limit at some point too. One such ex­am­ple would be Jimi Hen­drix’s ver­sion of the Star Span­gled Ban­ner at Wood­stock. As you might ex­pect, it was a bit much to ask of a vin­tage Fender style sys­tem to stay in tune, though Jimi ob­vi­ously felt the mind-blow­ing other-worldly ef­fects he ob­tained were worth the trou­ble! And what’s a quar­ter-tone be­tween friends any­way?

Al­lan Holdsworth cre­ated a new flam­boy­ant style, scoop­ing in and out of phrases like a sax­o­phon­ist, as far back as the early 70s. Later in that decade, Ed­die Van Halen also used a vin­tage style unit to great ef­fect on his band’s ground­break­ing first al­bum, keep­ing tun­ing prob­lems mostly at bay with a lu­bri­cated brass nut and a bit of care (and in­vent­ing the ‘Su­per­strat’ with hum­buck­ing pickup in the process).

From this point - and for the decade af­ter­wards - the bat­tle to create more and more out­landish ef­fects while min­imis­ing irk­some tun­ing is­sues re­sulted in the cre­ation of lock­ing units, such as the Kahler and Floyd Rose. Even Gib­son got in on the act, mak­ing a num­ber of mod­els -in­clud­ing sev­eral Les Pauls - with lock­ing units.

For a while, you were no­body un­less your so­los (and many rhythm parts) were lib­er­ally pep­pered with whammy bar abuse - even David Gil­mour fit­ted his famed Black Strat with a Kahler, as did Alex Life­son of Rush with his ubiq­ui­tous Gib­son 355 and later Les Paul model. Even though some of these gui­tars have now been re­turned to a more fac­tory-like spec, the fact re­mains that the whammy bar, hav­ing come scream­ing to the fore dur­ing the 80s, has sub­se­quently set­tled into a slightly more ‘niche’, but nev­er­the­less sig­nif­i­cant role in gui­tar-play­ing cul­ture.

In cel­e­bra­tion of that, these ex­am­ples take the ma­jor­ity of their in­spi­ra­tion from later rock-style play­ers, like Van Halen, Steve Vai and Joe Sa­tri­ani, though Jeff Beck’s de­light­ful whammy ma­nip­u­la­tion fea­tures too, along with more tra­di­tional ideas in the style of Hank Marvin and Brian Set­zer. Whether you call it a whammy, vi­brato - even tremolo arm (largely con­sid­ered in­cor­rect these days) there should be some­thing here to ‘float’ (ged­dit?) your par­tic­u­lar mu­si­cal boat.


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