What Is A Whammy Bar? – Easy To Grasp Explanation.


Gretsch Vibrato Arm

Ahoy there friend! “What is A Whammy Bar?” That is a great question, and hopefully, this post will help you get a grip on the function of this cool item. You have probably seen A Whammy bar before but when you are done the reading you will be far more enlightened…..about whammy bars at least!

Whammy Bar – Pretty Weird Name Right?

A Whammy Bar is what the fun guitar people call a Vibrato Arm or Tremolo Bar (just kidding you’re all fun). Arm and bar seem to be interchangeable so Vibrato Bar is also correct. I will be using Whammy Bar and Vibrato arm interchangeably to keep you on your toes! The term I prefer is Vibrato Arm (but Whammy Bar is fun to say!).

This is because the effect that is generally produced is Vibrato. You a produce vibrato by fretting a note and then “planting” your finger down on the fret and moving your hand from left to right (or towards and away from the bridge) very rapidly. This effect is used a lot in many classical guitar songs.

Tell Me More – Vibrato Arm Dissection

Whammy Bar L Shape With Plastic Grip

To put it simply a Vibrato Arm is usually a piece of metal (round bar) generally with a plastic or rubber grip for your hand. This piece of metal is often bent into an “L” or “7” shape (depending on how you look at it). The long side of the “L” sits just about parallel to the guitar body, while the short side screws or is fixed into the body.




Threaded Hole for Whammy BarThe vibrato arm can be fixed or detachable. An example of a fixed (non-removable arm) is on Bigsby bridge or tailpiece. This Guitar has a cool bridge that I will explain below. A lot of guitars come with a removable Vibrato arm. There is a threaded hole in the guitar bridge for the Vibrato arm to screw into.

This allows you to remove the Vibrato arm if you don’t need it or swop it out with a different one of your choice.

Get To The Good Stuff! – What Does It Do?

Since you asked so nicely, I will get right to it. A Whammy Bar is used to change the Pitch of The Guitar Strings. Great, all done now we can go home! While that may seem very simple you may have even more questions like How does it change the pitch?

This is done by Altering the position of the Bridge or Tailpiece of the Guitar. The Vibrato Arm can be pulled away from the guitar body thus producing more string tension and causing an increase in pitch to be heard. In contrast, pushing the Vibrato Arm toward the guitar body reducing string tension and causing a lower pitch to be heard.

If I had to guess I would say that the most frequent use would be to create a vibrato note. This is done by quickly moving the Whammy Bar up and down (towards and away from the guitar body). This creates what can be described as a quick wobbly note (pitch fluctuation with the mean frequency being the note you are playing)

Crazy Effects – Courtesy Of the Vibrato Arm

No Whammy BarWhammy Bar

The Whammy bar on guitars with a floating bridge or Floyd Rose bridge is probably the most fun use for the Whammy bar (even though I couldn’t tune the thing without snapping the high E string EVERY time!). One of the most popular effects is dive bombing which is exactly what it sounds like.

The technique may be a bit advanced for beginners but essentially you pick a string (let’s use the B string) and then once the string is ringing you create a natural harmonic with your finger (a bit advanced but you basically just lightly touch the string to make it “squeal”). Yo then slowly move the Vibrato Arm to its maximum positions (furthest away and closest to guitar body)

It is quite a fun technique to do!

Bigsby – The Fixed One.

Vibrato Arm In Raised Position

If you are wondering why I am allocating an entire section to the Bigsby it is because this is territory I am very familiar with and therefore can expand on it a bit more. The Bigsby Bridge Or Bigsby Tailpiece is quite cool. On my guitar, the Vibrato Arm is fixed to the guitar (not removable) by a spring.

The cool part (to me at least) is that the design of the bridge is quite different from “normal” guitars. Most guitars feed the string through slots in the back of the guitar or straight through the string holes on the bridge. With my Bigsby, there are two round bars (let’s call them Back Round Bar and Neck Round Bar).

Folded Away Vibrato Arm

The Guitar Strings are threaded from the front of the Back round bar (opposite to most guitars). Once through, the string winds over the Back Round Bar and is then pulled forward (in the direction of the neck. The String has to go underneath the Neck Round Bar and then can finally be pulled straight to the Tuning Pegs.

The arm can also be rotated about 270 degrees (3π/2 radians if you were wondering:). This allows the Vibrato Arm to be folded away neatly when not in use or to be safely stored out of harm’s way when placing the guitar back in the case.


Get That Arm Movin’! – Vibrato Time

You are now up to date with the Whammy bar basics. That means you no longer need fear that weird thing sticking out of your guitar anymore. You are in control and will be able to add Vibrato to your heart’s content. You can do it if you try! Using the vibrato arm is easy, but knowing when to use it is a different story.

You will get a feel for the right time as you progress but in the early stages of your playing set a limit for yourself and don’t go past it ( like maximum 5 separate additions of vibrato into your song – courtesy of the whammy bar of course). This will help you to prevent overusing it and making it become boring!

Catch you later!





6 Replies to “What Is A Whammy Bar? – Easy To Grasp Explanation.”

  1. Never used vibrato before, as you can guess I’m a begginer and I use to play the guitar just for fun during my free time or when gathering with friends. This ‘vibrato’ thing looks like a very proffessional feature, but you mention that it can make the sound very funny and I would love to add some fun too.

    I will try to add the vibrato and let you know about the outcome.

    1. Thanks for commenting Irene. If you can you should definitely give it a try, if you can visit a music store and ask them to show you a guitar with a floating bridge and if they can show you a “Dive Bomb” its really fun. The Vibrato Arm is very versatile because it can be used to add a quick accent or expression but also crazy stuff like the dive Bomb. You can even use it to make the guitar imitate a motorbike engine on some guitars!

  2. I had no idea what was a Whammy bar before I read this article. But now after reading this article I feel like I know everything about a whammy bar.

    Really enjoyed reading this article. Now I feel like a genius. Thank you so much for sharing what is a Whammy bar is. If not here I wouldn’t have learned it anywhere else. Really appreciate your help.

  3. I don’t know much about guitar but I certainly have seen performers shaking that stick on their guitar. Nice to know it’s called Whammy bar. As promised, you explain it in layman’s terms and even I understand what it does. Now I want to get my hands on one and give it a try. What a smart idea. I wonder who came up with that.

    1. Thank for the Reply Wei! It is quite a popular theatrical tool for stage as well to produce the effects everyone has come to love. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *