guitar whammy bar

Can You Add A Whammy Bar To Any Guitar?

Do you have a guitar that you are considering adding a tremolo or whammy bar to?  Wondering if your guitar will work with a whammy bar?

Can you add a whammy bar to any guitar?

Yes, most electric guitars are compatible with a whammy bar.  But there are some things that you may need to change in order for it to work.  The main thing you will need is a tremolo bridge which could require routing out the body to accommodate it.  But more on this later because different types of tremolo systems require different things.

Types Of Guitar Tremolo Systems For Vibrato

Synchronized Tremolo Strat Style

If you have ever played a Strat or a Strat copy electric guitar, you probably have seen this option.  The bridge connects to some springs inside a routed area of the guitar body.  The springs allow the player to move the whammy bar up and down to get the effect.

These tremolo systems can be set up in two different ways.  One way is to keep it flush with the body which will allow you to only push down on the bar.  Or you can float the bridge to all both up and down motion of the whammy bar.

The whammy bar just screws into the bridge.

The problem with these is that if you break a string, you will have tuning issues due to the tension decrease on the tremolo bridge.

Bigsby

A Bigsby is a classic vibrato tailpiece design and makes for some great retro style electric guitar vibes. It is designed to sit on top of the body and clamp down with screws to hold it in place.  Nothing needs to be routed out of the body to install it.

You usually see these types of tremolo systems on Gretsch, Gibsons and other guitars that typically don’t have a vibrato system.

Bigsy has a beautiful and subtle sound but they are known to have tuning stability issues.  They also don’t have as much of a range as other tremolo systems.

Floating Jazzmaster Style

The floating Jazzmaster trem is quite unique.  The strings do not go through the body like a Strat electric guitar – they are strung through the bottom of the bridge.

It also has a locking feature to allow you to lock the trem or keep it floating – depending on how you want to use it.

These are fairly popular in the surf guitar world because you kind of get a combination of the subtle aspects of a Bigsby but with a bit more range.

Maestro Vibrola

If you have ever seen a whammy bar on a Gibson SG, chances are you saw a Maestro Vibrola tremolo system.  These types of vibrato systems are installed similar to a Bigsby.

The tone is also similar to a Bigsby

Floyd Rose

A Floyd Rose has the biggest range and is known best in metal players.  The whammy has a ton of range compared to other options.  It was invested by Floyd D. Rose and guitarists like Eddie Van Halen are known to use these.

To install one of these, your guitar body needs to be routed out to fit it in properly.  The strings lock into the bridge but also have fine tuners at the bridge to help with minor tuning adjustments.

The disadvantage is that these are very difficult to set up.

How To Attach A Whammy Bar To A Guitar

Attaching a whammy bar or tremolo arm to a guitar is going to depend on the type of bridge you have.  The most common tremolo bridge design is what is referred to as a synchronized tremolo. With these types of bridges, the strings go through the body and are stabilized at both ends by saddles that are sitting on springs.

When you use your whammy bar, that pushes down on the bridge which causes the springs to push down farther than they were designed to do which throws off your tuning.

My recommendation would be to check the type of you have and decide from there on how to add the whammy bar.  Some just pop into the bridge and others will screw in.

Tremolo Bar Vs Whammy Bar

They are basically both the same thing.  Sometimes you will see one referred to as a trem bar and the other referred to as a whammy bar.

But whether you call it a whammy bar or trem bar, they are exactly the same thing.

Is A Whammy Bar Worth It?

If you are just starting out with guitars, you probably don’t have much use for a whammy bar.  Whammy bars are more commonly used by experts or experienced guitar players.

So, if you are just getting into playing guitar or just starting out as a hobbyist, then it may not be worth the time and effort to install one of these on your guitar.

Can You Whammy Without A Whammy Bar?

There are a couple ways to do this:

  • Slightly bending or shaking the guitar neck while playing – Bending the guitar neck slightly while playing will cause the string to tighten up or loosen up string tension.  This will change your sound so you can go back and forth between each note to create a vibrato effect.
  • Using a whammy pedal – a whammy pedal is a pedal that attaches to the guitar and allows you to bend the notes by rocking back and forth on it similar to how a wah works.  This is a great option if you have a guitar with no whammy bar because it won’t require any installation or modification.  My favorite whammy pedal is the DigiTech Whammy DT Drop Tuning Guitar Pitch Shift Effect Pedal.

Can A Whammy Bar Break Strings?

A whammy bar can actually help in some instances when it comes to broken strings.  Broken strings are always frustrating in the middle of a live performance or in the middle of a song. They are inconvenient and can cause you to miss notes if you are not careful.

So, if you have broken a string, there is no time for you to stop and fix it.  When things break on stage, there is simply no time for that because you are on the clock so to speak.

Why Does My Guitar Go Out Of Tune When Using A Whammy Bar?

When you use a whammy bar, it changes the tension on a string and alters its tuning slightly. If this is happening, then it could be a couple issues:

  • the bridge is not going back to it’s exact initial position after releasing the whammy bar.  This could be an issue with how it is set up or it could be that the springs need to be replaced.
  • the nut cold be pinching the strings and causing them to go out of tune.  You may just need to lubricate your guitar nut to resolve this issue.

Conclusion

This is a really cool topic.  We know there are so many ways to go about installing a whammy bar onto our guitars and we hope that you can use this post as a valuable resource and help guide you in the right direction.

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