Also known as a vibrato bar, the whammy bar is a lever attached to the bridge used to add tension to the strings. This tension increases the vibrato in the sound and alters the pitch, and you’ve likely heard it in the form of a dive bomb in many rock and metal songs. But can you put it on a bass guitar?
Bass guitars can have whammy bars as long as they have tremolo systems. However, it’s not too common because bass guitars have thicker strings with more tension, making it difficult to get a whammy bar to work properly. If the guitar has no tremolo systems, it can’t hold a whammy bar.
Read on for more information about installing whammy bars on bass guitars, the benefits of using whammy bars, and tips for how to use them properly.
Bass Guitars Need Tremolo Systems for Whammy Bars
As mentioned above, you can only install whammy bars on bass guitars with a tremolo system. You’ll see it called a tremolo arm in many cases, but vibrato is the correct term.
A tremolo system comprises the guitar’s bridge and springs that let you increase and decrease the tension on your strings by moving a lever back and forth.
For example, Fender’s line of Jazz Basses feature two types of bridges with four individual saddles for each string; one with fine tuners and another that uses locking tuners instead.
If an instrument has that type of bridge, you can add or replace existing vibrato arms because removing them won’t cause damage to your hardware.
In a nutshell, a tremolo system allows you to do the following on your bass guitar:
- Change the tension on your strings by pulling up or down on the whammy bar.
- Adjust your tuning without having to use an electronic tuner, making quick changes while playing live.
- Adjust the pitch to match other instruments playing in your band.
- Play high notes without using any fingers on your fretting hand.
How To Install a Whammy Bar on Your Bass Guitar
To install a whammy bar correctly on your bass guitar, follow these easy steps:
- Choose the correct size whammy bar for your instrument, so it fits in the tremolo arm socket. You may need to remove a stock whammy bar or add force to get one that’s too loose to fit into the socket.
- Install the whammy bar and check that it moves smoothly back and forth with no resistance. If there is resistance while moving it up or down, it’s not advancing to its correct, neutral position. To fix that, re-install or replace it. Do the same if you need to move it side to side to put your strings in tune because there should be no sideways movement while tuning.
- Tune your bass guitar after installation, and ensure it doesn’t go out of tune when using the whammy bar. You can adjust this by changing the spring tension or tightening/loosening screws on your bridge until everything feels right.
Here’s a video that may come in handy when installing your whammy bar:
The Benefits of a Whammy Bar on Your Bass Guitar
A whammy bar lets you add expression and style to any bass guitar, so it’s important for every bassist to consider installing one on their instrument. Whether you play rock, metal, R&B, soul, pop, or a different genre altogether, a whammy bar can add a lot of oomph to your sound.
Here are some of the benefits that come from adding this useful device:
Lets You Create Expressive Sounds
It lets you create dramatic slides and other expressive sounds that will give your playing more character.
For example, you could emulate the sound of an airplane taking off by sliding down the low E string using your whammy bar.
Similarly, make your play sound like a siren on an emergency vehicle by quickly gliding up and down chromatically with the whammy bar while continuously hitting muted notes on two strings simultaneously.
Or, as mentioned in the beginning, it’s very often used for dive bombs in rock and metal music.
Here’s a video to demonstrate this technique:
Makes You a More Versatile Player
Using a whammy bar takes your playing to another level by building speed, muscle, finesse, and accuracy. That’s because you’ll be able to execute fast runs more easily with the whammy bar since it provides an extra set of hands. That way, you can keep up with faster tempos.
A whammy bar also helps you play smoother bass lines on your instrument, so you don’t hit wrong notes even if you’re playing at higher speeds.
Helps You Keep Up With Other Instrument Parts
Whether you’re playing the guitar or keyboards in your band, adding a whammy bar lets you emulate what they play with your bass guitar.
For instance, build excitement during your solo by following up on riffs played by guitarists in your band. You can also play melodies, harmonies, and bass lines that are more complex.
Makes Your Bass Guitar Sound Louder
By making this one simple upgrade, you’ll be able to cut through the mix with ease, so there’s no need for you to turn up your amp so much before gigs, which can make your tone muddy.
Also, you don’t have to worry about clashing with other instruments in your band since you can always get your bass guitar to blend well while using the whammy bar.
Creates a More Exciting Performance
Adding the whammy bar transforms your bass guitar into an instrument that players of other genres will enjoy because it gives them something special they don’t get from any other type of instrument.
So even if you’re playing cover songs at local bars with your friends, let them enjoy the music by adding a whammy bar on your bass guitar.
If you’re in the market for a quality whammy bar, I recommend getting this Musiclily 6mm Tremolo Arm Whammy Bar from Amazon.com. It comes with a durable alloy construction, is easy to install, and makes playing bass guitars exciting.
Can You Whammy Without a Whammy Bar?
You can do whammy tricks without using a whammy bar by using your fingers instead. For instance, you can use string bending and vibrato methods to whammy without a tremolos system.
Here’s a rundown of these methods:
To string bend on your bass, pluck a string, then use either your first or second finger on your fretting hand to hold that note as you use the same finger to bend the string up or down. You can do this with all six strings at once for an impressive solo.
Look at this video to see how it’s done:
If you want to go lower than one semitone, keep pressing down and use your other fingers to bend more.
If you want to go a bit higher than one semitone, bend up while releasing the pressure on the string so it can return back to normal.
It’s possible to do standard vibrato on single notes by rapidly pressing and releasing your finger to cause the pitch to lower and raise.
To do this with multiple strings at once, quickly press all six strings (if you don’t use your first or second fingers for plucking), then release them. This will give you a more dramatic vibrato effect than if you did it to one string at a time.
The following video demonstrates how to perform the vibrato on a bass:
Tips for Using the Whammy Bar Correctly
Using or installing a whammy bar incorrectly can cause damage to your instrument and make it difficult for you to tune the strings with a standard tuning machine.
Here is how you can add this cool accessory to your bass guitar correctly:
Choose a Unique Shape and Size for Your Whammy Bar
You don’t have to get one that looks exactly like a regular guitar whammy bar because there are different kinds depending on what kind of bass player you are.
So whether you’re a rocker, metalhead, R&B fan, or pop star, find a unique version that suits your own personality and style of music.
Install a Whammy Bar That Fits Your Guitar
You need to install a whammy bar that fits your bass guitar because otherwise, you’ll end up with one that doesn’t work properly or has loose parts that will come off if you’re not careful.
That means it’s best to choose a whammy bar designed specifically for your instrument instead of using one with universal dimensions and size, even though most clip-on units can adapt to fit different guitars safely and securely.
If you’re unsure of what to buy, head to your local music store and ask the technicians there for advice.
Tune Up Your Bass Guitar
As soon as you get your whammy bar, check the overall balance and string height so you can fix them if they’re not right.
Ensure everything is in tune and that the bridge is in line, so you won’t have to worry about doing it all over again after attaching the accessory to your instrument.
The Bottom Line
Adding a whammy bar to your bass guitar lets you play fast riffs and also makes it easier for new players to learn some advanced techniques.
So whether it’s building speed, playing different music styles, or simply having fun with your buddies in a band, a whammy bar has many benefits for players of all levels.
Now that you can do all this and more, it’s time to go out and get the specific whammy bar that fits your bass guitar!