Whammy bar

Whammy bar

A whammy bar, tremolo arm/bar, or vibrato arm/bar is a component of a guitar, used to add vibrato to the sound by changing the tension of the strings, typically at the bridge or tailpiece. The whammy bar enables the player to quickly vary the tension and sometimes the length of the strings temporarily, changing the pitch to create a vibrato, portamento or pitch bend effect.

Instruments without this device are called hard-tail. The term vibrola is also used by some guitar makers to describe their particular whammy bar designs. The whammy bar began as a mechanical device for more easily producing the vibrato effects that blues and jazz guitarists had long produced on arch top guitars by manipulating the tailpiece with their picking hand. However, it has also made many sounds possible that could not be produced by the old technique, such as the 1980s-era shred guitar "dive bombing" effect.

Since the regular appearance of mechanical whammy bars in the 1950s, they have been used by many guitarists, ranging from the gentle inflections of Chet Atkins to the exaggerated twang effects of early rocker Duane Eddy to the buoyant effects of surf music aficionados like The Ventures, The Shadows and Dick Dale to art rock innovator Frank Zappa. In the 1960s and '70s, vibrato arms were used for more pronounced effects by the psychedelic guitarist Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.[1] In the 1980s, shred guitar virtuosos such as Edward Van Halen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and metal guitarists ranging from Ritchie Blackmore to thrashers like Kirk Hammett used the "whammy bar" in a range of metal-influenced styles. The pitch-bending effects, whether subtle inflections or exaggerated effects, have become an important part of many styles of electric guitar.

Despite the common name tremolo arm, these devices cannot produce tremolo in the normal sense of the word, but can be used to produce vibrato, while the vibrato units used by electric guitarists generally produce a tremolo effect, rather than vibrato. See "Vibrato or Tremolo".



Origin of name

Traditionally, electric guitarists have reversed the normal meanings of the terms vibrato and tremolo when referring to hardware devices and the effects they produce. While the tremolo arm can produce variations of pitch including what is normally termed vibrato, it can never produce the effect normally known as tremolo (modulation of volume). Tremolo, on the other hand, is exactly the effect produced by the vibrato units built in to many classic guitar amplifiers. Other widely used names for the device include vibrato bar and whammy bar, the latter named in reference to guitarist Lonnie Mack's aggressive, rapid manipulation of the pitch-bending device in his 1963 song "Wham!". [2]

This reversal of terminology is generally attributed to Leo Fender and the naming of the Fender 'Vibroverb' amplifier, which actually used tremolo (rapid volume changes) in an attempt to create a vibrato-like (rapid changes in pitch) sound. See vibrato unit for details of the history of these terms in relation to electric guitar, and related issues. Ironically, Fender had previously introduced the 'Tremolux' amplifier in 1953, which used the correct terminology. In this article, the words are used interchangeably.


Most tremolo arms are based on one of four basic designs:

  • The Bigsby Vibrato Tailpiece, introduced in the 1940s and used in close to original form on many guitars.
  • The Fender Synchronized Tremolo or strat trem, introduced on the Fender Stratocaster (1954), and from which many designs developed including:
    • The Floyd Rose locking tremolo (developed late 1970s).
    • The Fender two-point synchronised tremolo (1986).
  • The Fender Floating Bridge, which has two main variants:
    • The Fender Floating Tremolo or jag trem, introduced on the Fender Jazzmaster (1958).
    • The Fender Dynamic Vibrato or 'stang trem, introduced on the Fender Mustang (1964).
  • Cam-driven designs based on pedal steel guitar concepts, including:

Many other designs exist in smaller numbers, notably several original designs marketed by Gibson under the Vibrola name, which was also used for some licensed Bigsby units.

Kaufmann Vib-Rola rear - note spring mechanism.
Kaufmann Vib-Rola on Rickenbacker Electro Spanish

Vibrato tailpiece

One of the first mechanical tremolo/vibrato units was the Vib-rola, invented by Doc Kauffman and patented in 1935. His Vib-rola was first offered to the general public by the Epiphone guitar company as an option on some archtop guitars from 1935 to 1937. Epiphone sold the vib-rola as an aftermarket option as well. (Kohman, Peter, "Epi-Phonic Echoes, Part Five: Masterbilt Oddities", in Vintage Guitar Magazine, pp.66-70, October, 2011) This Vib-rola was also used on some Rickenbacker lap steel guitars at around the same time and was introduced on their six string electric guitars beginning about 1937.

Some early vib-rolas on Rickenbacker guitars were not operated by hand, but rather moved with an electrical mechanism developed by Doc Kauffman to simulate the pitch manipulation available with steel guitars. The Vib-Rola distributed as an option with Rickenbacker Electro Spanish guitars was hand operated like the earliest Epiphone vib-rolas. [3] A later unit was created and used on Rickenbacker's Capri line of guitars in the '50's, such as John Lennon's '58 325. It was a side-to-side action vibrato unit (rather than the up-down action of later units) that was notorious for throwing the guitar out of tune, hence John's replacing it with a Bigsby B5. It was later replaced by the Ac'cent Vibrola, which used no coiled springs to change tension, giving it less chance to throw the guitar out of tune.


Bigsby on Epiphone Casino VT
Bigsby on Rickenbacker 330

The first commercially successful tremolo arm was the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece, most often just called a Bigsby, and invented by Paul Bigsby. The exact date of its first availability is uncertain, as Bigsby kept few records, but it was on Bigsby-built guitars photographed in 1952, in what became its standard form. In several interviews, the late Merle Travis, for whom Bigsby designed his first vibrato, recalled the prototype as being built for him in the "late '40's". The design uses a spring-loaded arm that rotates a cylindrical bar in the tailpiece, varying the string tension to create vibrato and other pitch variations. The string tension is balanced against a single, short helical compression spring, positioned under the arm pivot. Pioneering blues-rock guitarist Lonnie Mack was known for using a Bigsby on his famous 1958 Gibson Flying V. The term "whammy bar" is believed to derive from Mack's 1963 instrumental hit, "Wham!", in which Mack made liberal use of the Bigsby.

To this day, the Bigsby enjoys some popularity, especially on hollow body guitars, and is available as a factory-fitted option on top-line models both hollow and solid bodied from many makers, and as an aftermarket addition (requiring some skill to fit however). It remains the only widely used design whose mechanism is entirely above the belly of the guitar body, making it the only design particularly suitable for acoustic and semi-acoustic guitars.

Fender synchronized tremolo

Sketch of Fender synchronized tremolo from 1954 patent application

After the Bigsby, the next major development was Leo Fender's synchronized tremolo, the device that introduced the term tremolo arm. First released in 1954 on Fender's first legendary Stratocaster, the simple but effective design offers a greater range of pitch change than the Bigsby, and a better capability for up-bends.

The basis of the synchronized tremolo is a rigid assembly that incorporates both the bridge and tailpiece, which pivots on the guitar belly. In the original design, this was based on the principle of the 'knife edge' balance. A bevel on the front underside of a steel top plate formed a wide, sharp edge that rested on the top of the guitar body. A small imbalance in tension between the pull of the strings and the counterbalancing pull of the tremolo springs held the pivot edge firmly in place against the body.

Six hardened steel wood screws passing through slightly oversize holes just in front of the pivot point, stopped the bridge from being pulled towards the neck end of the guitar. The upper portion of the screws is smooth, not threaded. These six screws are often mistakenly assumed to be the pivot point rather than the hidden knife edge. This design works, in spite of the friction caused by the edges of the six holes sliding up and down the screw shafts when vibrato is applied.

bridge of Synchronized Tremolo

The bridge is formed by six bridge saddles held against this plate by string tension, and individually adjustable both for height and intonation. The tailpiece consists of a solid block of metal, mounted behind the tremolo plate and secured to it by three machine screws, and passing right through the guitar body. In a chamber routed into the back of the guitar are up to five (normally three) long coil springs, which connect to the back of the tailpiece block, and whose tension balances that of the strings.

The tremolo arm also passes through the tremolo plate and tailpiece block, providing direct and rigid connection. Ignoring the bridge adjustments, this mechanism has only two moving parts, one of them the arm itself, the same as the Bigsby. But unlike the Bigsby, the synchronized tremolo moves the bridge as well as the tailpiece, varying both the length and tension of the strings.

Rear view of Synchronized Tremolo. Note that there is provision for up to five springs. Only three are fitted here to allow for use of light strings, there being no other adjustment.

The strings pass through the body of the guitar, in similar fashion to the Fender Telecaster. When changing strings the new string is threaded through the body from the back. However, in the Telecaster the ferrule end is held by a collar firmly anchored to the guitar body; In the Stratocaster, it is held by the moving metal block through which the strings pass.

The Stratocaster tremolo, often just called the Strat trem, or also called the whammy bar, is the most copied tremolo unit. Similar pattern units appear on many solid-body guitars by various makers. Its design has been the basis of the premium Fender tremolo known as the two-point synchronised tremolo, and also of the Floyd Rose locking tremolo, see below. Both the original Stratocaster tremolo, sometimes called the synchronous tremolo and sometimes the vintage synchronized tremolo, and derived designs such as the two-point and Floyd Rose appear on current models as of 2007.

This preeminence of the synchronised tremolo was finally established by the use of Stratocaster guitars by Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend and others towards the end of the 1960s. Throughout the 1960s, the premium Fender guitars were the Jaguar range, equipped with the floating tremolo. By the early 1970s, it was obvious that most guitarists preferred the cheaper Stratocaster, regardless of price and supposed quality and prestige, and particularly liked its tremolo arm design. The Jaguar and indeed all other Fender guitars using any tremolo design other than the synchronised tremolo were for a time withdrawn, to return to the catalog as classic or retro models in the 1990s.

Fender two-point synchronized tremolo

The synchronized tremolo has been further developed by Fender to produce the two-point synchronized tremolo. This is not a locking tremolo, but is often confused with the similarly named Floyd Rose two-point locking tremolo. The two systems are both developments of the original Stratocaster tremolo mechanism, but use the words two point to describe entirely different concepts.

The Fender two-point system uses two pivot points, one at each end of the pivot, rather than a row of six as in the original Strat trem. Conceptually, such a mechanism can be achieved by removing four of the six pivot screws from a traditional Strat trem, leaving only the two at the ends of the row, and there have been magazine articles suggesting this but it is risky. In practice, both for strength and for satisfactory performance, the pivots need to be carefully engineered. In some designs the pivots are also moved further apart than the 2.2" spacing of the outermost two screws in the original, in others they are just strengthened and more carefully shaped.

Currently, the Fender two-point system is their standard and most popular design, but they also offer models with the original classic design, as well as a few models with factory-fitted licensed Bigsby units, others with licensed locking tremolo and still others with floating bridge designs.

Featuring stainless steel block saddles since its introduction in 1986, the Fender two-point system has been redesigned with new vintage-style bent steel saddles as of 2008. The Fender two-point system is available with 2 types of tremolo bars: traditional "screw-in" type with a plastic tip at the end and deluxe "pop-in" type without the plastic tip. In the case of the deluxe 2-point bridge, the block saddles are made from polished steel. Custom Classic and Custom Pro Series Stratocasters feature a deluxe 2-point tremolo with block saddles made from milled stainless steel.

Fender floating bridge

The floating bridge featured on two Fender tremolo arm designs, both developed by Leo Fender subsequently to the original synchronised tremolo but overshadowed by it. Despite its not being the most popular bridge, there are side benefits unique to guitars with this type of bridge. See 3rd bridge guitars.

Floating tremolo

Fender Floating Tremolo tailpiece and Floating bridge on a Jazzmaster

The floating tremolo was designed by Fender for the Fender Jazzmaster, and first appeared with the release of the Jazzmaster in 1958. A larger, heavier and more complex mechanism than the synchronised tremolo, and promoted over it by Fender as their premium tremolo arm mechanism, it never achieved the same popularity, though if properly set up according to Fender's recommendations, it held tune as well as or better than the synchronized vibrato unit.

The main difference is that, while much of the mechanism of the synchronised tremolo including the springs is accessed by removing a rectangular plate in the back of the guitar body, and is mounted on the guitar body in a routed bay extending behind the pickups, the entire mechanism of the floating tremolo is mounted on a roughly triangular chromed plate in the front of the guitar body, on the opposite side of the bridge to the pickups. The string tension is balanced against a single short helical spring, in compression rather than tension, mounted on the back of the tremolo mounting plate. The spring is adjustable by turning a screw located towards the center of this plate.

The ferrule ends of the strings are held on the top of the guitar in a tailpiece plate called the knife plate, which emerges from the mechanism, rather than the strings vanishing into the mechanism as with the synchronized tremolo. It is the knife plate that is moved when the tremolo arm is operated. Unlike the synchronized tremolo, the bridge is not moved directly by the mechanism, but only by the movement of the strings, and is allowed to tilt to accommodate this movement. This is called a floating bridge.

The Fender floating tremolo also features a knob that enables the player to lock and thus disable the tremolo mechanism, allowing quick recovery of tuning in the event of breaking one string, and providing tuning stability with the mechanism locked that was intended to be similar to that of a fixed bridge guitar. In practice, this stability was not generally achieved, leading some players to replace the mechanism with a fixed bridge and tailpiece to produce a high quality "hard-tail" solid body guitar not otherwise available at the time. The floating tremolo was greatly favored by some surf music bands, particularly for its ability to produce a pronounced and distinctive vibrato on a sustained chord without disturbing the tuning of the guitar. To fully achieve this benefit however, correct setup, as per Fender's recommendations, was essential.

An issue with the unit was the bridge itself, which Leo Fender over-engineered. The six individual bridge saddles were multi-grooved "barrels". The individual barrels were not grooved deeply enough for secure holding of the strings in heavy pick attack, and each barrel had a tiny adjustment screw at each end. Adding the intonation adjustment screws, and the screws at each end of the bridge saddle to raise or lower the bridge as a whole, gave the bridge twenty separate adjustment possibilities. The great majority of players found this much too "fiddly", and, adding the tendency of the strings to jump out of their individual saddles in aggressive playing, the overall reception was rather lukewarm for what was essentially an excellent - but over-engineered - design. Later, many players of the Jazzmaster and Jaguar found that the bridge on these instruments could be replaced with no retrofitting by the standard bridge from the Fender Mustang (below), which eliminated several of the worst problems with the original bridge.

In addition to the Jazzmaster, the floating tremolo was used on the then top of the line Fender Jaguar guitars, released in 1962, and also on the Fender Bass VI, released in 1961. Jaguar and Jazzmasters share the same bridge plate and string saddles, though Jaguar bridges (and the earliest Jazzmaster bridges) have taller "legs." The two are functionally interchangeable and replacement parts for each are one and the same. The Bass VI bridge has a wider plate and longer intonation screws to allow the bass strings to be correctly intonated, and the saddles have threads cut for larger diameter strings. There have also been a small number of not very notable imitations by other makers, generally without the locking knob. Fender discontinued all floating tremolo models by 1980, but reintroduced both the Jazzmaster and Jaguar first as Japanese models in the mid 1980's, then as American made reissues in the 1990s. The tremolo-equipped Bass VI was reintroduced as a US Custom Shop model in 2006.

One of the big advantages as well as disadvantages, depending on what you like to hear is the string resonance appearing at several fret positions if they have a simple length relation with the string length behind the bridge (for instance 48:12 = 4:1). At those positions a high overtone rises in volume. This becomes more clear when the guitar sound is driven. However the overtone might sound odd, it still has a perfect harmonic relation, so is not out of tune related to the open string. For staccato playing it can be an annoying effect. Muting the string field behind the bridge with for instance a piece of felt solves this issue.

Dynamic Vibrato

Fender Dynamic Vibrato on Mustang

The Fender Dynamic Vibrato, also known as the Mustang tremolo or Mustang trem, was introduced in 1964 on the Fender Mustang, intended as a student model. It was also notably used on the Jagstang, a custom design by Kurt Cobain combining features of the Jaguar and the Mustang. Some late 1960s Mustangs were fitted instead with the floating tremolo, which was promoted by Fender as their premium unit, but later Mustangs returned to the Dynamic Vibrato.

The Dynamic Vibrato is still preferred by some lead guitarists above all other designs. It features a floating bridge similar to that of the floating tremolo, but the bridge is integral with the tremolo unit, unlike that of the floating tremolo, which is mounted separately. The strings are controlled by a tailpiece bar to which the tremolo arm is visibly connected, similar to the Bigsby, and the mechanism is installed from the top of the instrument, similar to the floating tremolo. It combines some features of all three basic designs.

The Dynamic Vibrato is often confused with the Fender floating tremolo, which it resembles. The original production runs of the two overlap by more than a decade, but the mechanisms are quite different. The existence of a few 1960s Mustangs factory fitted with the floating tremolo has probably added to the confusion. The concealed mechanism is in a chamber of a completely different shape and position, requiring an impractical amount of woodwork to convert from one to the other, and the mounting plate is of a different shape with different mounting holes.

The string tension is balanced against two medium length helical springs under tension, mounted on the underside of the tremolo mounting plate, one attached to each of the two feet of the tailpiece bar. Dynamic Vibrato units may be recognised by the integrated floating bridge and the stamps "Fender" and "DYNAMIC VIBRATO". Many but not all units also have the words "PAT PEND" or "PAT. NO. 3,241,418" stamped under the word "Fender".The Dynamic Vibrato was the last of the floating bridge designs to be discontinued by Fender, with the Mustang in 1982, and the first to be reintroduced, again with the Mustang, in 1990.

Other Fender designs

Still another design was used on the student model Fender Bronco, released mid 1967. This was simply known as the Fender vibrato tailpiece, or sometimes the Fender steel vibrato. It was again designed by Leo Fender although he had sold the company by the time it appeared. Basically a synchronized tremolo simplified to reduce cost, it had little popularity, and as of 2005 was the only Leo Fender tremolo arm design not available on any current Fender model.

Gibson Vibrola

Maestro Vibrola long tailpiece fitted to a Gibson SG.

Gibson have marketed a number of tremolo arm designs under the name Vibrola.

Vibrola tailpieces include a licensed version of the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece and several in-house Gibson designs. The Gibson designs did not have the impact of the Bigsby and Fender designs, and have inspired few if any copies, but they competed reasonably successfully and continue to sell.

Gibson designs tend to have the mechanism above the belly of the guitar, similar to the Bigsby, and are therefore equally suitable for use on acoustic guitars and especially archtops. This reflects the Gibson company's history as the developer of the archtop and their continued strength and focus in this market, but carries over even to designs used only on solid body guitars, such as the Short Lyre Vibrola used on some Flying V and SG models. While these do require some woodwork to install them, some more so than others, there is nothing like the extensive body routing required for all of the Fender trems.

The earliest of the Gibson-designed tremolo arms was a distinctive long tailpiece released as the Gibson Vibrato in 1962 on some SG models. This mechanism later became known as the side vibrato because of the position of the lever, which emerged from the side of the long tailpiece. This lever had only restricted movement up and down in a plane close to that of the strings, so its action was unlike that of the Bigsby and Fender units, and remains unique. It was also described as the Gibson Vibrola Tailpiece in Gibson documents, but this name can be applied to any of the Gibson tremolo mechanisms. It was not a success and is of interest mainly to historians and collectors.

The Deluxe Gibson Vibrato, released in 1963, was another long tailpiece mechanism, and replaced the Gibson Vibrato. Its tremolo arm and all subsequent designs used the action adopted by Bigsby and Fender. As the Deluxe Gibson Vibrola a short version of it was fitted as standard to the 1967 reissue Gibson Flying V. Two other long tailpiece designs, superficially similar to the Deluxe Gibson Vibrato, are the Lyre Vibrola, which was fitted to Gibson ES-335s as an option by 1964 and is engraved with a lyre motif, and the Maestro Vibrola, which was an option on the ES-335 by 1967.

Most Vibrola tailpieces, including the Bigsby, Lyre and Maestro, exist in both long and short versions. The long version replaces a trapeze-style tailpiece, such as found on most archtop guitars, and transmits the string tension to the guitar side. The short version replaces a string stop style tailpiece, such as found on the original Gibson Les Paul, and transmits the string tension to the guitar belly, so short versions are generally used only on solid body guitars. Long tailpieces can be used on almost any guitar (an exception being the Gibson Flying V where there is no room for one), and both long and short versions have been used on various models of Gibson SG and Gibson Les Paul guitars.

The Gibson designs were less suitable for the sounds that the Stratocaster tremolo and its derivatives made possible. They have almost always been offered as extra cost options on guitars that sold better in non-tremolo versions. As a result, some versions are rare and command high prices from restorers and collectors. Gibson encourages this trend by refusing to sell reissue units as parts, offering them only on complete guitars (a policy similar to most guitar manufacturers). As of 2006 Gibson was continuing to offer Vibrola units as options on many models, but also offered a few Fender-inspired tremolo arms such as the Floyd Rose on some Gibson branded guitars (Nighthawk, M3), and a wider variety through their Kramer and Epiphone brands. Kramer have always fitted Floyd Rose trems as standard and this association continues. See also rivalry between Fender and Gibson.

Mosrite Vibrato on Joe Maphis model
Kahler Tremolo System on Gibson Les Paul
Stetsbar on Gibson Les Paul DC

Other Designs

Other notable tremolo designs include the Kahler, Washburn Wonderbar, Hagstrom Tremar, The Semie Moseley-designed Mosrite "Vibramute", The Super-Vee BladeRunner, the Stetsbar, the crossed-roller bearing linear tremolo and the early Rockinger from Germany. This last company was contracted by Kramer to develop a new fine-tuning tremolo with Edward Van Halen. The Rockinger designs proved problematic and Van Halen ultimately came to favor the Floyd Rose tremolo.

The Mosrite Vibrato

Semie Moseley developed the vibrato unit used on his Mosrite guitars from the basic concept of the Bigsby vibrato, but with many engineering improvements. The entire vibrato unit is top mounted. The strings feed through six holes in the upright plate at the rear of the unit (somewhat similar to the Fender "Floating Trem") and the bridge is also rigidly mounted. But the string saddles are vertically mounted grooved "wheels" that roll with the string during vibrato usage, and also make palm muting very easy to achieve. Moseley advertised the unit as the "feather touch" vibrato, and the touch is exceptionally light with all but heavy gauge strings. Pitch stability is excellent. Moseley made several designs of the unit, The first being sand cast, With early versions having an attached string mute beneath the bridge (much like the Fender Jaguar) and a rather short handle. This he called the "Vibramute". Two years later, he slightly simplified the design, going to a die cast design, eliminating the mute (which more players complained about than favored) and lengthening the vibrato arm slightly. This incarnation, called the "Moseley", was used on all Mosrite guitars from that point on. The actual feel and response of the two different models is virtually identical, however. Moseley also designed a companion 12-string vibrato for the 12-string version of the instrument, and this may have been one of the only - if not the only - vibratos designed for use on a 12-string guitar.

The Super-Vee BladeRunner

In 2007 Super-Vee introduced a double locking tremolo system using a patented "Blade" technology design. The Blade is a flexible, industrial grade spring steel that allows the bridge to float without any frictional impediments and without causing wear to a pivot point. This technology gave way to the Super-Vee BladeRunner, which carries the same Blade system in a non-locking form, similar in look to the traditional Fender Stratocaster tremolo. The BladeRunner bridge is screwed down tight to the body, but through the flexible connection of the Blade, is still allowed to float for up and down pitch movement with no frictional wear. This design allows for greater tuning stability as well as a stronger string to body connection for sustain and tonal advantages.

The Kamel Chenaouy Gas Vibrato

In May 2005, the famous French luthier Kamel Chenaouy invented a new type of vibrato using compressed gas in a jack instead of the classical springs. He patented the invention the same year.

Locking tremolo

Floyd Rose

Floyd Rose concept, using a blade edge pivot but otherwise based on the strat trem. I is in pitch, II is a downbend, III an upbend.

Around 1979, the locking tremolo was invented by Floyd D. Rose. The locking trem became highly popular among 1980s heavy metal guitarists due to its extremely wide range of variation and tuning stability. The original Floyd Rose system was similar to the Fender synchronized tremolo, but with a number of extra mechanisms. The first to be added and most obvious is a locking plate on the head nut, tightened with a hex key to fix the strings at this point after tuning. This provides extra tuning stability, particularly during use of the tremolo arm, but as an unwanted side effect it also prevents further adjustment of the pitch using the machine heads.

Floyd Rose Pro kit, double locking with fine tuners. See the image description for the numbered parts.

Fine tuners have been provided as part of the bridge mechanism on all but the earliest units to allow minor retuning without unlocking the nut. Some guitarists claim that the fine tuners add an instability to tuning, and that the original non-fine-tuning Floyd Rose bridges are far superior in this respect. It is rumored, but has never been confirmed that Eddie Van Halen had a part in the inclusion of the fine tuning unit. In a 1982 Guitar World interview for Van Halen's "Diver Down" album, Eddie claims that he co-invented the fine tuners.

Nonetheless, a gift of a unit to Van Halen by Floyd Rose himself gave the unit instant overnight success and credibility. Still more stability was provided by the addition of a second lock on the bridge nut, making a double locking tremolo system that was more complex to set up. The double locking design is sometimes called a two-point locking tremolo, inviting confusion with the Fender two-point synchronized tremolo, which is a different concept and not a locking tremolo at all.

Most locking tremolo systems currently in production are "floating" bridges, a concept first popularized by Steve Vai. Vai, wanting the ability to both lower and raise the pitch (by pulling on the bar) had a carved "lion's claw" cavity behind the bridge to allow the bridge to be raised further than normal. Guitar manufacturers prefer this type of configuration because mounting the bridge in this way is both easier for builders (because the neck does not need to be mounted on an angle when mounted within the body of the guitar) and because it increases functionality.

See Floyd Rose for details. Floyd Rose or Floyd Rose licensed locking tremolo units are available factory fitted on many high and low end guitars, as well as complete aftermarket retrofit kits in many different designs. Fitting the correct kit to a guitar already fitted with a compatible tremolo may be quite straightforward; On others a high level of woodworking skill may be required, or it may not be possible at all.

The Fender Deluxe Locking Tremolo (better known as Fender/Floyd Rose) is essentially a modified American 2-point tremolo bridge with locking saddles and pop-in arm. Designed by Fender and Floyd Rose himself, this type of tremolo bridge has been introduced in the early '90s on the Deluxe Plus and Ultra series guitars. The concept is primarily intended for guitarists searching for the features of a locking tremolo system without the need to perform major surgery on their instrument. Nowadays, the Fender Deluxe tremolo is available on American Deluxe, Plus, Ultra Series and many Custom Shop guitars. The whole assembly also includes a set of locking machine heads and an LSR roller nut for optimal tuning stability. Usually available in chrome, the Fender Deluxe Locking vibrato is also featured in gold and black.

Floyd Rose also produces complete guitars featuring their tremolo systems, most notably using the Speedloader system in which the head-end tuners are eliminated entirely, and all tuning is done from the bridge end of the strings. This is accomplished without sacrificing stability by employing strings that are produced to extremely fine length tolerances, essentially having two ferrule ends and no tail. As of 2006 the Speedloader system is the latest Floyd Rose design, but has yet to catch on to the degree Floyd Rose's original tremolo did.

Locking synchronized

One of the most simplified ways to have a double locking tremolo system without making any major alteration to a solid-body electric guitar can be done by using a modified American Series 2-point synchronized bridge with locking saddles, a set of locking machine heads and a low-friction LSR Roller Nut. Fender's version of this system is also known as Fender/Floyd Rose (Fender Deluxe Locking Tremolo Assembly), as it was developed in conjunction with Floyd Rose.

Other locking trems

Several other "locking" type tremolo systems have been developed, but none of these have gained the popularity that the Floyd Rose or vintage Fender tremolo systems. The most notable of these is the cam-operated Kahler Double locking tremolo, which is similar in practical use, but not in design, to the Floyd Rose. Another system that emerged in the 1980s was the Steinberger TransTrem system (standing for Transposing Tremolo).

In 2007, the Super-Vee company developed a double locking tremolo system that requires no modifications to the body or neck of the guitar. This system, also known as a "drop-in" system, received a patent for its "Blade" technology and created what is known as frictionless action. This type of action removes the contact pivot point that all other tremolo systems rely on and eliminates any wear irregularities that cause tuning instability. The Super-Vee design also has the shortest length of non-voicing string length, creating minimal string movement, stabilizing the string set even further. In addition, Super-Vee received a patent for their side locking nut system, creating a stronger, more reliable hold without instrument modifications.

Ibanez have their own range of double locking tremolo systems on their range of guitars. In their 2009 catalogue their guitars feature different units: Edge III tremolo on the low-mid range guitars, this is a very similar bridge to a Floyd Rose. It features a pop in/out arm and lower profile tuners. This unit is featured on the RG series and on the GRG250DX. Edge Zero has a specially designed arm pocket for minimal unwanted movement. It also features the Zero Point System, which allows the guitars floating state to be partially locked off for tuning purposes, in this state the guitar won't lose tuning if one string snaps. Edge Pro tremolo has a very low profile. Possibly its most notable feature is that it is designed to take strings without the removal of the ball end (of stringing backwards with the ball ends at the headstock). The RG1820X features a version of this bridge called the Double Edge Pro. This version of the bridge contains Piezos for acoustic sounds, these are isolated from the bridge to prevent noise from the players hand and are regulated by a 2 band EQ for tone control.

The transtrem, like the Floyd Rose Speedloader, requires special strings that can only be used on the TransTrem unit. However, the TransTrem had the novel design that the bar could be pushed in to "transpose" the tuning of the entire unit to various other keys. The system saw limited use (mainly due to its exorbitant price and limited string availability), although Edward Van Halen has continued to experiment with the system. Notable Van Halen songs where the TransTrem can be heard include "Get Up" and "Summer Nights", from the album 5150.


Notable tracks

The electric guitar is an instrument of unique sounds. The ability to completely detune the instrument and pull it back on the fly is possible with the 'tremolo bar'. Many notable guitar players have used this effect over the years. Early in electric guitar history, Chet Atkins favoured the Bigsby unit, and it can be heard - occasionally - being tastefully used by him in a number of his recordings. Generally, Atkins used the Bigsby just to "dip" chords. His recording of "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" with Les Paul (another Bigsby user) is a typical example of how Atkins used the device.

Surf and early rock instrumental guitar is synonymous with vibrato use. Duane Eddy established the "twangy guitar" sound with a Bigsby vibrato on his Gretsch guitar. Classic examples of this are his recordings of "Rebel Rouser" and "Peter Gunn". Both "Perfidia" and "Walk Don't Run" by the Ventures are also typical examples. Prior to Jimi Hendrix, many guitarists used the Fender or Bigsby vibrato to approximate the pedal steel or slide guitar tones found in Hawaiian or Country music.

This early vibrato was actuated after striking chords or individual notes; lowering or modulating the pitch as the notes decayed. Hendrix completely rewrote the book on vibrato; using it while picking, hammering on, pulling off and with harmonics and feedback tones. His intense use led to problems staying in tune, which he compensated for (to some degree) by exerting tremendous right hand strength and bending individual strings within a chord back in tune. To emphasize the tonal range of the guitar, Hendrix would push down on the Wah pedal (a customised VOX wah) and play stinging high notes and then pull back on the Wah pedal and depress the vibrato to create a freight train like rumble. When fully depressing the bar to create these low notes the slack strings would often fall off the nut and have to be quickly snapped back in position.

Hendrix's studio works "Third Stone from the Sun", "Axis: Bold as Love" and "Voodoo Child" (among others) introduced the world to this new use of the Stratocaster vibrato. Live tracks such as "The Star Spangled Banner" "I Don't Live Today" and "Machine Gun" featured the vibrato being used to mimic rockets, bombs and other sound effects, all within the context of blues-based psychedelic rock. To some degree, Hendrix used stage theatrics less and less as his career progressed, but feedback and vibrato remained a tremendous emotional outlet within his music. Many rock bands of all types have used the tremolo for all sorts of effects, especially as a vibrato over chords. One guitarist especially known for his use of the bar is David Gilmour of the rock band Pink Floyd. This can be heard on countless songs.

A more powerful and heavy use of the tremolo bar, is the effect created by grabbing and shaking the bar violently. This style of playing is often used in the lead guitar breaks of heavy metal. Slayer would be the best example of this.

The band Slayer makes heavy use of vibrato bars. A Slayer song titled "Raining Blood" fully illustrates this style. This is often combined with natural and artificial harmonics, to make a 'screaming' or 'squealing' sound. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman have used these harmonic squeals since 1981.

Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis has based his entire playing style around the use of the floating tremolo, more specifically the first generation Floyd Rose unit. He is widely considered a true innovator in "whammy bar" tricks and techniques. Some prime examples of this are present on the tracks Don't Tell Me You Love Me and You Can Still Rock in America by Night Ranger.

Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell is often said to have been one of the most influential users of the tremolo bar. His use of the tremolo bar contributed to the signature sounds and high pitched squeals that defined his playing. He extensively used the bar in all of his studio albums including Cowboys from Hell, Vulgar Display of Power, and New Found Power. Kevin Shields, the guitarist with alt rock/shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine created a new style of guitar playing known as 'glide guitar'. This is primarily characterised by extensive use of note bending, achieved via continuous manipulation of the tremolo arm on his Fender Jazzmaster. The best example of Shields' guitar playing is the band's album Loveless.

On live versions of the song "In The Evening" by the band Led Zeppelin, guitarist Jimmy Page used a Fender Strat with a trem to create an effect where he made the pitch change with every chord, producing a wah wah sort of sound.

Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave Guitarist Tom Morello has been known to use an Ibanez Locking Trem to create his sound on many of his solos. On the track "Sleep Now in the Fire" from The Battle of Los Angeles, he uses the tremolo bar in unison with kill-switching to raise and lower the sound of the feedback from his Amplifier to create a very rhythmic solo. On the Audioslave track Original Fire from Revelations, he depresses the bar to slack and then taps the strings against the pickups and then releases the bar to raise the pitch of the sound. This emulates the sound of monkeys laughing (solo at 2:28).[4]

Adrian Belew has incorporated frequent use of the tremolo arm on his Stratocaster guitars as part of his unique and easily identifiable style. The tremolo arm is often integral to his use of the guitar to produce "sound effects" such as animal voices. On the track "Twang Bar King", from the album of the same title, he deliberately overuses the "twang bar" to create a camp parody of the technique.

Neil Young makes extensive use of a Bigsby vibrato in most of his electric-guitar work, producing an almost constant shifting of pitch in some solos, and simple chord-vibrato in rhythm work. This effect is accomplished by keeping a grip on the arm of the unit while moving the pick. This technique is prominent on more his more hard-rock songs such as "Like a Hurricane", "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)" and "Rockin' in the Free World".

Joe Satriani uses the trem arm on his Ibanez Edge Trem System extremely often; most of the time to make his signature "Satriani Scream", where he plays a harmonic near the bridge on the G-string and raises the bar. It can be heard on many of songs, including "Surfing With The Alien", "The Extremist", and "Flying In A Blue Dream". This technique is also used by many similar guitarists of the genre including Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, Head and Munky of Korn and John Petrucci of Dream Theater. Jeff Beck is an acknowledged master of the whammy bar. Arguably the best known example of his work, and something of a signature tune, is the track Where Were You from the 1989 album Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop. Guitarist Kirk Hammett from the band Metallica uses the whammy bar in some of his songs, such as the solos for the songs "Master of Puppets","Enter Sandman","The Thing that Should Not Be",and his live solo from Seattle, which can be heard on Live Shit: Binge & Purge.

Les Claypool, the bassist and lead vocalist of Primus, installed a Kahler bass tremolo on his main bass, a Carl Thompson fretted 4 string bass guitar (this is highly unusual for bass). He uses the tremolo to create the wobbling bass tone heard on Frizzle Fry, Nature Boy, Too Many Puppies and John the Fisherman, alongside many other Primus songs and in solo work.

Highly influential Australian guitarist Rowland S. Howard's near continuous use of his Fender Jaguar's Floating Tremolo system coupled with volume and overdrive/fuzz effects to create sustained shrieks, expressive bursts of noise, extreme sound effects, and washes of warped pitch bending, feedback and distortion in bands including the Birthday Party, Crime and the City Solution, and These Immortal Souls proved to influence bands as far reaching from Sonic Youth to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Herman Li of Power Metal band Dragonforce is another famous user of the tremolo-arm. He uses it in almost all of his guitar solos, including several unique sound effects made using a whammy bar. Some examples are "The Elephant", where he turns the volume down, plays a note, raises the pitch with the arm and turns the volume up at the same time, creating a sound similar to an elephant's trumpeting. He also removes the arm and strums it across the strings, creating the "pac-man" noise, or runs it up and down the string, creating a "Ghost noise" (Both sounding similar to their namesakes' sound effects in gameplay). In one song, he combines these, playing 4 pac-man noises, followed immediately by an Elephant noise (which would be impossible live, since he would have to remove the arm, strum the strings with it, put it back in and use it, all in a matter of seconds).

Rock isn't the only form of music to make good use of the tremolo bar. Bob Dylan extolls what he calls "the dreamy underwater sound" of Gospel artist Pops Staples (The Staple Singers) in their cover of Willie Nelson's "Uncloudy Day." Dylan said, of the tremolo bar, "it's very hard to control, but when you use it the right way it can be a very beautiful effect."[5]

Sound files


  1. ^ http://www.gibson.com/en-us/Lifestyle/Features/jimmy-page-1216/
  2. ^ McDevitt, "Unsung Guitar Hero Lonnie Mack", Gibson Lifestyle, 2007.
  3. ^ http://www.gruhn.com/articles/rickelectro.html
  4. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjmsIfkrBxY&feature=related#t=0m41s
  5. ^ Theme Time Radio Hour, Season 1, Episode 1, "Weather" (May 3, 2006), talk-up for the song, "Uncloudy Day"

External links


Synchronized tremolo

Floating tremolo

Dynamic Vibrato

Vibrola and other Gibson trems

Locking tremolo

Kahler tremolo


Linear Tremolo

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