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The Whammy Bar (Basics & Weird Effects)


OK, letīs talk about the whammy bar / wang bar / trem system / vibrato. These days, it is not that popular anymore ( or should I say "hip" ). But the whammy bar is a great device and can even help you to express yourself better in your playing. And especially with a double-locking system ( FLoyd Rose and Floyd Rose-licensed systems ) you can create some really cool effects. Iīll talk about and desribe some of these today... many of you will heard them being used already.

A bit of history
When Leo Fender licensed his vibrato system ( used on the Fender Strat ), it was supposed to be a tool to add some slight vibrato to single notes and chords, as it was an effect often used back then.

Those early vibrato system were not really the most reliable ones regarding the stability of the tuning. But no one ( despite guys like Sonny Sharock ) really did wild, divebomb-style stuff back then.

That was started by players such as Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, who used the vibrato system to create pretty extreme sounds ( just listen to Jimiīs "Machine Gun", off the "Band Of Gypsies" album, or his version of the "Star Spangled Banner" )

Even though you can do some things to get your regular, vintage-style vibrato to stay in tune a bit better ( i.e. by stretching the strings a bit while putting them on, and by applying graphite to the slots at the nut ), it was a problem for most players that their guitar would be badly out of tune after they did some "divebombs" and other stuff.

Eddie Van Halen tried to solve that problem by sawing his vibrato system apart right in the middle, between the G- and D-String. That way, only the upper three strings would be "whammied" and thereby would slip out of tune, while the bass strings staid in tune... and Eddie could finish a song by playing chords on those lower strings.

But that still was not a satisfying solution. Then Floyd Rose came up with a double locking system. The strings were "locked" at two different places ( the bridge and the nut ), and thereby there was almost no friction anymore ( which really was the cause for the tuning-instability of regular vibrato-systems ).

And from then on, some guys went really wild with the bar. Just listen to things like "Summer Nights" ( from Van Halenīs "5150" album ), or Steve Vaiīs "Blue Powder" ( Passion & Warfare ). One of the most popular tunes ever to feature the whammy was certainly Joe Satrianiīs "Satch Boogie" ( "Surfing With The Alien" ) with its extreme harmonic-divebombs.

OK, lemme try to explain some of those weird effects to you. I am not gonna give away any TAB, because it is quite difficult usually to show that kinda stuff with TAB sometimes , it actually is easier to describe it. Also, I included a bunch of MP3s so you can hear what I am talking about...

So, turn the page and check it out...

Basics and some weird stuff

OK, the first example is adding a slight vibrato to a chord or single note... you can do that with both a regular whammy bar and a Floyd Rose.
The advantage of all vibrato bars is that you can add vibrato that goes both up AND down pitch-wise... surely a different effect than regular finger-vibrato.

Jeff Beck is a master of that, and he even combines finger- and bar-vibrato, thereby shaping the notes in amazing ways, sometimes even creating an almost human voice...

OK, in the soundfile, I am first playing an A5 ( A powerchord ), add some vibrato with the bar, then I am playing the A at the 2nd fret of the G-String ( as an example for a single note ), and finally I am playing a natural harmonic at the seventh fret of the G-String. I add vibrato to each note with the bar...

Example 1-Adding Vibrato

In the next example, I am playing something that has frequently been used by players like Jimi Hendrix and Steve Lukather.

I am playing some kind of a doublebend, like this: I fret the D at the 10th fret, high E-string. At the same time, I fret the A on the B-String, 10th fret, with another finger. I pick both notes at the same time. While the notes are ringing, I pull up the A ( and only the A ! ) up one whole tone, to the B.
A very typical sound, especially if I, as in the soundfile, add some vibrato with the bar...

Example 2- Adding Vibrato to a Doublestop

Be careful if your vibratosystem is adjusted to be moved easily. If it is, it will move forward once you bend up on one string. So the note on the other string will be slightly out of tune.

OK, from now on, you will need either a double locking-system or a really well adjusted vibrato-system, because these really will mess up your tuning if you ainīt got one of those... these are some rather extreme effects.

Here is a classic, the "divebomb" on the low E-String. Just hit the low E-String, then slowly bring down the bar until the strings start to get really loose, then let the system come up again fast and immediately mute the strings to avoid unwanted noise... Here is how that sounds:

Example 3- Low E-divebomb

Those divebombs sound even cooler and more weird if you do them with harmonics. In the next example, I hit the natural harmonic at the 5th fret of the G-string, and pushed down the bar...

Example 4- Harmonic-Divebomb

Steve Stevens ( just an example ) was someone who got some WILD sounds by pulling up on the bar. Be careful, you might break a string when doing so... but try it, itīs fun... sounds like this:

Example 5- Same harmonic, going up this time

With enough gain, itīs a bit easier to get those harmonics at ( example ) the third fret... those are very high-pitched and tough to do some times. But when you get them and do a divebomb, you can get some alien-effects, similar to the wild divebombs in "Satch Boogie"

Example 6- Harmonics at the 3rd fret and bar

Got enough yet ? No ? So you wanna get to the REALLY sick and weird sounds that guys like Vai, Van Halen, Lukather etc. use ? OK, turn the page, letīs leave this planet...

Horses, cats and windmills... weired sounds

OK, here is an Eddie Van Halen-trademark, often called "The Horse". The way to do this is: hit an harmonic at the fifth fret, press down the bar while shaking it forth and back, then let it move up again, pull up a bit more ( above standard pitch ) and down again...

Example 7- The Horse

The purring cat

This is an effect made popular by Steve Vai... used i.e. in "Blue Powder". But Steve Lukather is another player who uses it a lot, as i.e. in the Toto-Song "Daveīs Gone Skiing", from the "Tambu"-Album...

Itīs kinda difficult to describe. First of all, you need a properly setup FLOATING doublelocking system ( FLoating: Adjusted to go both down AND up, so you can both push it down / lower the pitch and pull up on it / raise the pitch ).

Set the bar ( youīll need to ) so it is parallel to the strings, pointing towards the headstock. Then, while playing notes with the left hand, slam down your right hand onto the bar. Let your hand slide along the bar and slide off of it... if you do it right ( I hope you get the idea from my description ), the whole bridge will shake / vibrate fast, and thereby create a shake-y sound, kinda like a purring cat. Here is how that sounds:

Example 8- The purring cat

Steve Lukather had another nice trick: While playing trills with the left hand, he slightly pushes down the bar and lets it come up again... that way, he creates some kind of a "whirly", "drunk" effect.
Steve Vai took that to another level with his "windmill" ( He used to do that a lot live and in videos with David Lee Roth ).

This is how the "windmill" works: While playing trills with the left hand, push down the bar a bit and then start to turn it around over and over... like a windmill. That way, the pitch will constantly go up and down, higher and lower. It looks kinda cool. Just be careful not to hit your switches or knobs and thereby hurt yourself. A really wacky effect, isnīt it ? Well, I warned you !

Example 9- The windmill

Here are "dips". That is something that guys like Jeff Beck and Joe Satriani use a lot. Before you play a certain note, press down on the bar a little bit. Then play the note and immediately let the bar come up. That way, you kinda dive up into the note, kinda slurring into the right pitch. Try it. I improvised a melody, used that technique ( check out Joeīs "New Blues" from "The Extremist" as an example ), and this is what came out:

Example 10- Wang Bar Dips

OK... if you ainīt got enough yet, here is one of the weirdest alien effects you can do. This actually is almost more of an visual effect, and it sounds extremely wacky. I saw both Vai and Richie Sambora use it.
I call it the "inferno".

Hereīs how to do it: With your right hand, pick pinch harmonics on the open G-string ( yes, those high-pitched, squealing harmonics a la Billy Gibbons... immediately after you pick the string, touch it slightly with the side of your thumb or the nail of your pinkie to turn the picked note into an harmonic... Iīll explain that technique into the detail in my article about harmonics, coming soon to iBreatheMusic... )

While doing so, move the right hand forth and back along the string, while picking it and creating those pinch harmonics. Due to the fact that youīre moving your hand along the string, the pitch of these harmonics will change constantly.

Now, with the left hand reach below the neck and put it onto the wang bar. ( Looks weird, doesnīt it ?!? ). And keep hitting the bar with your left hand while picking those pinch harmonics. Itīs an alien-effect... and sounds like this:

Example 11- Alien Inferno

Alrighty, thatīs about it. I recorded those soundfiles last year already at a friend's home studio.( sorry about the hum, guys ! ), and at the end of that session, I felt like combining a few of the techniques described above into an improvised a capella-solo. This will conclude this article.

Dont forget to experiment ( there are even more effects to create with the bar, but Iīll leave it at that for now ), and also use it in a musical way... if you apply vibrato, do it in the right rhythm. Try to enhance your melodies and licks with some wang bar effects, or try to imitate other instruments ( like the voice ) by using the bar... you can also use it for weird effects, imitating animals... the way Adrian Belew and Steve Vai do it.

But donīt forget about the music. The wang bar is a great tool, but itīs only one of many and shouldnīt be overused. Some of my examples might be hard to use in a real band-/ song-context, but others are great new colors for you to create cool stuff.

So donīt think itīs only for acapella-weirdo-stuff like my final soundfile... that one might not have a lot of musical content, but is meant to show you how some those effects sound in combination.

Alien Reproduction Ceremony:)

Alrighty... Iīll see ya at the iBreathe-Forums...
Whammy on...

This article can be read online at http://www.iBreatheMusic.com/article/37
Eric started playing the guitar at age 10. He attended GIT and studied with Scott Henderson, Brett Garsed, Dan Gilbert amo. Eric is involved in several bands and recording projects and his instrumental debut - Hidden Creek - plus his instructional book Talking Hands - A Guide To Contemporary Lead Guitar Techniques is available HERE
Visit his website at www.ericvandenberg.net

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