Whammy bars are invaluable in rock and roll. Epic dives, screeching high harmonics, and bouncing notes; are only a few things that a whammy bar can do for your playing. The hard part is that whammy bars don’t come with instruction manuals.
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Today we are going to go over a few basic, yet fun and exciting whammy bar techniques to bend notes in crazy ways. Before we get into the fun stuff though, there are a few things you should check off your maintenance list.
If you have a locking Floyd Rose tremolo system with a locking whammy bar, make sure your bar is screwed in and secured. If you simply have a push-in whammy bar, make sure that the bar is fully in its groove. Checking before you play will help to avoid bridge related disasters that can send your intonation and stability to no man’s land.
Next, be sure the strings you are using are fairly fresh. That being said, don’t feel the need to change strings every single time you use a whammy bar technique, but if your strings are two years old and rusted to the core it is best you change them.
Whammy bars put stress on your strings, and if your strings are too old and rusted they may snap and slingshot out at your face. Speaking from personal experience I can honestly tell you that it is no fun at all to receive a string whip to the face.
Pushing your bar down will bring your bridge closer to the nut which in turn will cause the strings to lose tension, thus lowering the note. Pulling the bar upwards will pull the bridge even further from the nut, creating more tension and heightening the pitch of the note.
The worst possible thing you can do is pull in an extreme direction and release your whammy bar. I have seen some world-famous guitarists do this exact thing, and even though they have an endless supply of backup guitars, it still makes me cringe.
Not only will this possibly damage your bridge, throw your intonation out of whack and possibly snap your whammy bar in its post, but it will also possibly ruin your guitar. Unlike a rock star, you most likely don’t have an endless supply of backup guitars so treat yours with respect.
A great way to bend notes with your whammy bar is to learn the palm grip technique. This is when you grip the tip of your whammy bar between the unused fingers of your picking hand (middle finger, ring finger, and pinky) and press the whammy bar into your palm.
This makes bending notes on the guitar easy. By either dipping your hand slightly or lifting it gently, you can vary the pitch subtly and tastefully. Guitarists such as John Petrucci use this technique quite often when playing melodically.
As long as you treat your whammy bar well, it will repay in kind. Try using more extreme dips and pulls, but always be careful not to jam or yank too harshly, because odds are you don’t have a guitar technician waiting around to clean up your mess. Have fun!
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