The whammy bar (also called a tremolo arm or simply “whammy”) is an essential component of the electric guitar. It allows you to lower or raise the guitar’s pitch at will for various effects. Unfortunately, even the best guitars equipped with top-of-the-line tremolos can sometimes experience issues that stop the whammy bar from working.
A whammy bar not working may occur when the bridge isn’t adjusted correctly or if the bar itself has too much tension, is corroded, or is of cheap quality. Solutions to these problems include adjusting the bridge correctly, loosening the spring, or replacing the whammy bar altogether.
This article will describe the main problems that may cause your whammy bar to fail. Read on to learn the solutions to these problems.
1. The Bridge Is Not Properly Adjusted
Though the bridge is relatively stable, it requires occasional tune-ups to keep your guitar playing in tune. In addition, every part of the guitar that touches another part must be kept in good shape and adjusted when necessary.
One such piece that needs regular adjustment is the bridge saddle, within which each string rests on a small screw called a “saddle.” This allows you to lower or raise each string so they can all play at equal height from the fretboard.
Sometimes, if one or more of these screws are not tightened properly, your whammy bar might refuse to move because excess tension pulls it back toward where it came from.
If this isn’t repaired immediately, it may cause severe damage to your instrument due to pulling forces applied to the neck of your guitar.
How To Fix
Tighten the screws on the bridge saddle. Ensure no strings are touching each other or any part of your guitar; if they do touch, either raise the height of one (or more) of them by turning its corresponding saddle. It’s possible you may need to try using a different saddle height tool or press the strings down so that they don’t touch.
2. Too Much Tension on the Whammy Bar
The whammy bar works by pulling on a string, making it tauter (higher in pitch). If there’s too much tension on this string (or all of them), then your whammy bar will not work.
Usually, this is caused by a string pushed down too hard and has become stuck between the nut and the first fret of your guitar (typically on acoustic guitars).
How To Fix
To solve this problem, use a proper tool to lift the string(s) above or below where they’re stuck. If you use your fingers to do this, you may make the string stick even more firmly in place.
Also, make sure to thoroughly check the string(s) for corrosion, nicks, etc. before trying to play it again.
3. Your Whammy Bar Is Wobbly
The whammy bar itself requires occasional adjustment.
Suppose any of the screws are loose or missing. In that case, your whammy bar might wobble slightly when pushed down; this will affect the balance of the string and cause your whammy bar to fail.
How To Fix
If this is the case, fix it yourself by tightening any loose screws on the back end of your whammy bar or replacing them with new ones.
You can also put a drop of thread glue onto each screw to keep it in place if you don’t have access to spare parts.
Also, check that there are no dents or scratched areas on the body of your whammy bar; if any are present, they may cause it to wobble during use.
Here’s a video that might come in handy when fixing a loose tremolo arm:
4. Your Whammy Bar Is Dirty or Corroded
Your whammy bar might fail because it’s dirty or corroded.
A dirty whammy bar cannot transmit the tension of your strings to the bridge saddles, while a rusty or corroded one might not be able to do so efficiently.
Besides, if it’s dirty or corroded, your hands will lack traction, and you’ll find it hard to play.
How To Fix
Your first step should be removing the grime from your whammy bar with a piece of cloth.
If this does not work, try dipping it in high-purity rubbing alcohol for about 10 minutes before drying it. Once cleaned thoroughly, apply some lubricant to keep it moving freely.
5. Failure To Lubricate the Bridge and Saddles
Your whammy bar requires regular lubrication, or else it won’t move as freely as you would like.
Without lubrication, your whammy bar won’t be able to pull the strings taut when you want it to. This may make the guitar play out of tune and sound awful.
How To Fix
You should regularly use a lubricant designed to keep the bridge and saddles clean and well-oiled to solve this problem.
Lubricate them by applying the appropriate lubricant with a cotton swab or cloth onto any accessible parts that appear dry or corroded.
6. The Whammy Bar Is Too Short
You might not get the results you want if your whammy bar is too short for the instrument it’s fitted to, such as an electric guitar attached to a steel-string acoustic one.
The tension of the strings will be too far from the bridge saddles for the whammy bar to affect them.
How To Fix
To solve this problem, you should buy a new whammy bar that matches the design of your bridge properly.
Ideally, you should never try to fit a whammy bar designed for one type of bridge onto another without considering whether it might not be too short or long for it.
7. You Don’t Know How To Use the Whammy Bar Properly
If you don’t know how to use your whammy bar properly, you may not yet know what its full potential has to offer.
Typically, the whammy bar is attached to a spring and made of either metal or graphite. When you want to use it, simply push down on the part you want to affect (such as a low E string) and then gently move the whammy bar up or down to get the desired results.
How To Fix
You might also be able to solve this problem by researching how it works; don’t hesitate to ask other guitarists for advice if you feel like there’s something you’re missing out on.
It would also help to observe others using similar devices to get a feel for how they work.
8. The Strings Are Worn or Damaged
If your strings are old, worn out, or damaged in any way, they might fail to respond appropriately when you apply pressure on them with the whammy bar.
This could prevent the guitar from staying in tune properly.
In addition, worn or damaged strings are more likely to produce a dull sound when played, which will definitely stand out against the rest of the band.
How To Fix
Your best bet is to replace your strings with new ones if they’re old, worn out, or damaged in any way.
Before installing the new strings, clean them thoroughly with clean water and dry them off with a towel. After that, apply some lubricant to avoid unnecessary friction between each string.
9. Using Cheap Quality Whammy Bar
If you use a cheap quality whammy bar because it was cheap, it may fail to work as intended after extended use.
This could happen because the low price might indicate poor quality; for example, it might break easily or not move freely enough on the strings. Additionally, it might not release properly and cause your guitar to go out of tune.
How To Fix
The best solution for this problem would be to get a whammy bar that is better quality than the one you currently own.
Before making the purchase, you should visit your local music store or do some additional research on what products are available in terms of whammy bars. This will provide plenty of options for you to choose from.
However, if you’re pressed for time, I recommend getting this GETMusic Electric Guitar Tremolo Arm from Amazon.com. It’s made of iron, which gives it a solid weight that makes it feel sturdy.
It comes with an extra-long arm that means you don’t have to change your playing habits too much when adjusting the bar, and it has a 6mm diameter, meaning that it fits perfectly into most bridges.
There are several reasons why your whammy bar might not be working correctly, ranging from the bridge being poorly adjusted to the strings being worn or damaged.
If you’re struggling with this problem, there are several options for how to fix it. This includes adjusting the bridge properly, applying proper lubricant, changing out the whammy bar, learning how to use it properly, checking if it’s too short or long for your guitar’s design, and using quality whammy bars.
Finally, ensure you change the worn-out or old strings regularly to get maximum performance from your tremolo.