The whammy bar brings a vast array of tonal possibilities to a guitar that can be both exciting and confusing for new guitar players. Before diving into the exploration of this amazing invention, one has to first deal with its installation.
To install a whammy bar on guitars with vibrato systems, insert the bar into the hole provided for it and screw it clockwise until you begin to feel some resistance. This applies to threaded whammy bars. For systems using non-threaded bars, simply push the bar into place, and you’re done.
In this article, I’ll be taking you through everything you need to know about installing a whammy bar on your electric guitar, no matter its type. So, make sure to keep reading until the end to learn more.
How To Install a Whammy Bar on Different Electric Guitars
The answer given above is by no means an exhaustive one. This is because the whammy, which was first synonymous with the Stratocaster guitar, has long ceased to be that restricted. Given this development, we shall take some time to look at how one can enjoy the whammy effect on different types of guitars.
In discussing this topic, it is essential to understand that you can only use the whammy bar on a guitar equipped to receive it. These are usually guitars with vibrato or tremolo bridges, as they are more popularly called.
Just a point to note; the tremolo bridge was named by Fender. Tremolo, in music, refers to a rapid modulation in the volume of a sound. However, since the actual action that occurs with the use of a whammy bar is the modulation of the pitch of a sound, calling it a tremolo system is technically wrong. The accurate description, which many people now use, is a vibrato system.
That said, since the system is still widely known as tremolo, I’ll use both terms interchangeably in this article to mean the same thing. It’s just important that you understand why you may see two different names for the same thing.
Without further ado, let’s get into the process of installing a whammy bar on different electric guitars.
Installing a Whammy Bar on a Stratocaster
This is probably the easiest guitar to install a whammy bar on. As mentioned above, whammy bars were traditionally a Stratocaster thing, and many Stratocasters still come preinstalled with the type of bridge required for using the whammy bar.
To install a whammy bar on a Stratocaster, simply insert the included whammy bar or a suitable one you got into the hole in the bridge designed for it. The bar will most likely be threaded, so turn it in a clockwise motion until you feel the beginning of some resistance.
You can watch this video for a visual guide:
How tight or loose it should be is often an issue of personal preference. Many guitar players, however, advise against screwing the bar too tight into the hole.
If you happen to own a guitar that requires an unthreaded bar, all you need to do is push the right bar. There will be no need to screw it into place.
Installing a Whammy Bar on Other Types of Guitars
There’s a wide range of types of electric guitars. Some of these include the Telecaster (also a Fender design), Gibson’s SG, Les Paul, and hollow and semi-hollow guitars. Traditionally, these guitars do not come equipped with the ability to utilize a whammy bar.
Today, many of these guitars have models equipped with a bridge suitable for whammy bar use. Even those not so equipped can now be modified to accept whammy bars.
For better clarity, we’ll look at how whammy bars can be used on Telecasters, Les Pauls, SGs, and other guitars. To help us understand the process better, we’ll start by looking at some of these guitars and the types of tremolo bridges that either come with them or are used to modify them.
Installing a Whammy Bar on a Telecaster
Though the vibrato system for guitars had been invented decades before the creation of the Telecaster, none of the designs available were considered stable and really viable until the Bigsby was invented in 1952. Since Fender’s Telecaster, which was then known as the Broadcaster, was invented in 1950, it did not come with an onboard vibrato (Tremolo) system.
Being a well-loved guitar, the Telecaster retained this original design. Fender, however, went on to satisfy the needs of guitarists who wanted the vibrato system by creating the Stratocaster, which came with a vibrato system from the get-go.
That said, some players still want to enjoy the sound and tone of the Telecaster, plus the ability to add some of the tremolo effect of the whammy bar. While it’s possible to have some manufacturers create a Telecaster-like guitar with a vibrato (tremolo) system installed, the most common solution that guitarists use is modifying the Telecaster to install a vibrato system.
One tremolo (vibrato) system that many regard as the best option for the Telecaster is the Super-Vee Maverick Telecaster Tremolo System. Super-Vee started with a design that was regarded by many as an improvement on the standard Stratocaster bridge. This new, improved bridge was known as the Super-Vee Bladerunner and was specifically designed for the Stratocaster.
The Maverick Telecaster, on the other hand, as you may have guessed from the name, is a design specially made for the Telecaster. It’s designed in such a way that it does not alter the outer appearance of your Telecaster. That said, it is not a project that should be entered into without some knowledge of woodworking and guitar construction.
You may also require some tools that aren’t usually found in most households. Most guitar players will be better off having professionals install it for them.
The reason for this is the somewhat complex routing process required. You can watch this video to better understand what I mean:
For a real-life example of the reaction to the work required for installing the Super-Vee Maverick Telecaster Tremolo System on a Telecaster, I’ll share with you what a senior member on a Guitar Forum had to say about it.
A user had asked this question: “Anyone try the Super-Vee Maverick trem for Tele?“
To this question, the senior member answered: “It scares me.” His reason was mainly the routing process which he described as scary. He also noted the uncertainties surrounding the modification’s possible future effects on the guitar.
That said, other guitar players have done it and had varying success levels to report.
Here’s a video showing the Super-Vee Maverick Telecaster Tremolo System in actual use:
If you decide to try it out, understand that you may be making irreversible changes to your axe.
Indeed, there are other tremolo (vibrato) systems that can be used with the Telecaster. Some of these include the Floyd Rose and the Bigsby. Since the Bigsby is relatively easy to install and does not require you to make any irreversible changes on your guitar, we will discuss how to install one on a Telecaster.
To install a Bigsby bridge on your Telecaster, you first need to understand that the exact process will depend on your Telecaster model. Knowing this, you will be able to choose the right accessories with which to install the Bigsby bridge. There’s also the issue of selecting the Bigsby model that will work best with your Telecaster.
For this guide, we’ll look at installing a Bigsby B5 “F” Logo on a vintage-style Telecaster. You’ll be using the following items:
- Bigsby B5 “F”Logo Bridge.
- Bigsby Mounting Bracket.
- Vibramate Ash Tray (Adaptor).
- Vibramate Spoilers.
- Vibramate Saddles.
- String Winder (Optional).
To install the Bigsby B5 Bridge on a vintage-style Telecaster, take the following steps:
- Remove the strings.
- Remove the saddles. Lay a soft cloth over your guitar body to avoid scratches from the screw.
- Unscrew the ashtray but do not remove it. Save the screws for your new installation.
- Unscrew the pickup still attached to the ashtray. You should also save the screws and washers for your new installation.
- With the pickup unscrewed, you can now remove the ashtray.
- Get the Vibramate ashtray and fit it over the pickup.
- Screw the pickup into the new ashtray using the screws and washer you saved from earlier.
- Position the ashtray (with the pickup now installed) and screw it back into place using the screws you saved from the old ashtray.
- Install the new saddles. Your old saddles will work, but they won’t offer the dual access option that the Vibratemate saddles offer.
- Unscrew the bottom strap nut and keep it aside because you will reuse it.
- Position the horseshoe guide for the Bigsby. The two ends of the U shape should fit into the base of the installed ashtray, while the bottom of the U should align with the hole for the strap nut.
- Replace the strap nut and screw it in to hold in the horseshoe guide.
- Unscrew the nuts and rubber washers from the top of the horseshoe guide so you can install the Bigsby.
- Remove the small protective pads placed under the Bigsby.
- Place the Bigsby on the horseshoe guide, ensuring that it sits securely.
- Insert the rubber washers over the protruding screws.
- While screwing the nuts over the washers, ensure that you use the different nut for the hole where the spring arm will rest.
- Tighten the nuts, and be sure not to tighten them too hard.
- With the nuts, all tightened, get the included spring and washer.
- Place the spring in the hole with the different nut (where the arm will rest).
- Insert the washer over the protruding end attached to the Bigsby arm. This end should go into the spring when the arm is lowered.
- String the guitar in the traditional way or using the Vibramate string spoiler.
- Once done, intonate and tune your guitar.
Following all the steps above, your guitar should be ready for jamming. Note that you may have issues fitting the modified guitar into your case. To ensure it fits in, rotate the arm to the back of the guitar, and it should fit.
Another important thing I’ll point out is that this is an excellent time to give your guitar a thorough cleaning. With the strings and bridge out of the way, you have access to every corner of the guitar and should therefore take the opportunity to give it a good cleaning.
Installing a Whammy Bar on a Les Paul
As with the Telecaster, Gibson’s Les Paul is not naturally equipped with a vibrato system. Many professional guitarists actually frown at the thought of modifying a Les Paul to include a vibrato system.
Despite the frowns of these purists, some guitarists still want to have the ability to enjoy the whammy bar on their Les Paul. Where there is demand, there eventually will be supply.
First, Gibson introduced some Les Paul models with options to have Floyd Rose bridges on them. The Floyd Rose bridge is one of the vibrato bridges available for installation on different guitars that do not come with vibrato bridges.
One popular vibrato system used for the Les Paul is the Bigsby bridge. Many prefer it over other options, like the Floyd Rose, because you do not have to bore holes into the guitar to install it. All you need is a Vibramate adaptor and the Bigsby bridge.
To install the Bigsby bridge on a Les Paul guitar, take the following steps:
- Remove the guitar strings.
- Unscrew and remove the stock bridge.
- Clean the guitar thoroughly before continuing.
- Attach the Vibramate adaptor, screwing it into the holes from which the stock bridge was removed.
- Remove the strap button from the guitar’s bottom.
- Attach the Bigsby bridge to the space prepared for it on the Vibramate.
- Screw the tapered end of the Bigsby to the screw hole from which you removed the strap button.
- Lift the tremolo arm attached to the Bigsby.
- Place the included washer over the screw-like extended part of the tremolo arm close to where it is attached to the main bridge.
- Place the included spring on the receptacle into which the screw-like extended part of the arm rests on.
- Replace the tremolo arm.
If you followed the steps correctly, you should be ready to enjoy some whammy tricks on your Les Paul. Note that there’s no need to install a whammy bar in this case as Bigsby’s tremolo arm is attached to the bridge.
You can watch this process in this video:
Installing a Whammy Bar on an SG
The SG, or Solid Guitar, is another guitar from Gibson, but a later model. It was designed in 1961, much later than the Les Paul. Unlike the Les Paul, some models of the SG came with tremolo bridges but were reported to be horrible.
Thanks to the technological advancements that have been made over the years, we now have new and more reliable tremolo (vibrato) bridges. A Bigsby bridge can be installed on the SG. The same process described for installing the Bigsby on a Les Paul still applies here. Just ensure you choose the Vibramate and Bigsby bridge models that suit your SG design.
You can watch this video for more clarity on choosing the correct Vibramate for your SG model:
Aside from the Bigsby, another type of bridge that can be installed on the SG is the Floyd Rose bridge.
Aside from the Bigsby and Floyd Rose tremolo bridges, there are some other options that guitar players can explore. There’s hardly any guitar that cannot now be equipped with a tremolo (vibrator) system.
Here are a few other options that you may want to consider:
- Stetsbar – This is an after-market tremolo system designed for use on a variety of guitars without modifying the instrument.
- Duesenberg Les Trem II – Manufactured by Duesenberg Guitars and designed for guitars featuring a tune-o-Matic bridge with its stop-tailpiece.
- Kahler – The Kahler tremolo bridge achieves the vibrato effect with a cam system, not the more common fulcrum. It will, however, not work with guitars that have rounded tops.
- Strandberg – EGS Tremolo – Designed by renowned guitar builder Ola Strandberg, it uses needle bearings instead of the more common fulcrum or cam to deliver a smooth operating tremolo system. This bridge is also made with aircraft-grade aluminum to ensure impressive durability.
- Trem King – This bridge is designed to act both as a hardtail and also a tremolo bridge. This means that it can operate as a regular bridge when used without the whammy bar and as a tremolo bar when the bar is inserted.
- Virtual Jeff Pro – This is an interesting piece of innovation. Regarded as a digital whammy, it provides the fun effects of the whammy bar without the negatives associated with it.
Can You Install a Whammy Bar on Any Electric Guitar?
You can install a tremolo system on any electric guitar. Different types of tremolo systems are now available for different types of guitars. Examples include Stetsbar, Virtual Jeff Pro, Bigsby, and Floyd Rose.
In the beginning of this article, we started out by looking at how to install a whammy bar on guitars like the Stratocaster.
Later on, we moved on to looking at how other guitars can enjoy the benefits of the whammy system. Having read this article, you should now have a better understanding of the whammy bar, how it works, and what is required to have one such system installed on your guitar.