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.
A 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. Fulcrum and cam whammy bars are common in the market.
Fulcrum versus cam bars on bass guitar
While the fulcrum whammy dominates the guitar market, bass players seem to lean toward cam-based vibratos like the Kahler. Each design has its pros and cons. Generally, fulcrum trems use fewer parts, which makes them cheaper than all-in-one cam-based models with more parts.
Which design you choose can also depend on your playing technique. A flatpick player accustomed to palm-muting the strings can easily push a fulcrum trem out of tune. Most other differences between the fulcrum and cam devices concern the setup process, which is way more complex with a trem than a standard fixed bridge.
Different devices may have unique features, whether it’s the fine-tuners on the Bach vibrato or the Kahler’s locking mechanism. The latter adds even more functionality to the trem: Lock it and you have a standard bridge that works with any tuning or a headstock D-tuner. You can even lock the bridge to compensate for the missing tension of a broken string. Another cool thing is how you can adjust the trem springs from the top of the bridge. Lock the unit, tune, then unlock and readjust the spring tension to match the previous tuning and the spring setup is done.
By comparison, the setup process for fulcrum models seems to be an endless cycle of adjustment until you get an adequate equilibrium in tension between springs and strings. This might not bother you if your luthier or tech is doing the job, but keep in mind that the adjustment starts all over again when you switch string gauges or tunings.
Despite that, an untold number of guitarists use the fulcrum system instead of the cam one, and many claim there are sonic advantages, especially in the area of sustain. Whether that’s truth or fiction can’t be judged from a theoretical view. Nor do we know whether these alleged sonic discrepancies would actually affect the bass. After all, the general sonic goals of guitarists and bassists differ as much as their instruments.
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.
The Benefits of a Whammy Bar on Your Bass Guitar
A bass guitar can have a whammy bar that 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.
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.
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.
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. It comes with a durable alloy construction, is easy to install, and makes playing bass guitars exciting.
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.
Is it bad to use a whammy bar on Bass Guitar?
Whammy bars are perfectly fine. There is no harm whatsoever a whammy bar can do to your bass guitar. Of course, you can notice some tuning stability issues when you use it, but it’s probably not because of a whammy bar itself.
Tremolo system use on the bass is one of those weird, wacky things you can do to a bass when you want something different.
The #1 enemy from using a tremolo system on the electric bass is wobbling when using the bar, which can become very annoying very quickly. Fortunately, we carry several tremolo systems from Hipshot that do not wobble. A bass guitar can have a whammy bar only if you install a tremolo system.