So, can a bass guitar have a whammy bar? How to put a whammy bar on a bass guitar? Is it safe for my bass guitar to put a whammy bar on it? Are there any alternatives you can use to produce a whammy sound by placing a whammy bar on your guitar?
The questions above are just some of the things that are frequently asked when it comes to whammy bars on bass guitars. Of course, it is a little bit unfamiliar for others as you rarely see whammy bars on bass guitars. As a musician, I am curious to know how a whammy bar works on bass guitars.
So, what is a whammy bar, and when was it invented? A whammy bar is a metal arm that is usually attached to a guitar’s bridge, and it can be pressed and pulled, depending on how you use it. It is an excellent invention that serves as a pitch variation feature for a guitar. As you bend the whammy bar, it also bends the tension of all the strings at the same time, which results in a unique guitar sound.
The Whammy bar, also known by others as vibrato bar or tremolo bar, was first invented by Doc Kauffman in 1928 as he was the first to submit a patent application for a device similar to the whammy bar called Vibrola. In the 1930s, the vibrato system was widely used in Epiphone Archtop guitars, and more and more guitar companies followed suit.
As Vibrola can be a headache for guitar owners, as guitars usually go out of tune when using it, Merle Travis asks his friend Paul Bigsby to fix the problem. Fortunately, Paul went overboard in fixing the Vibrola, and he discovered the first true vibrato system, which is called Bigsby by many.
Why Whammy Bars are Rare On Bass Guitars
As it is very rare for bass guitars to have a whammy bar and vibrato system on them, there are reasons that we are going to discuss now for that.
The first thing is that there is a negative effect on the bass guitars if you attach a whammy bar. As the string tension on bass guitars is higher than on electric guitars, there is a more significant effect on it, as using whammy bars on electric guitars can also have some adverse effects on electric guitars, how much more for bass guitars.
Even though it won’t happen immediately, using a whammy bar will still slowly take away the string tension on your bass guitar, which will result in the strings quickly getting out of tune. This can be a huge headache if you are a professional bassist.
Another negative effect on your bass guitar is there is a possibility that the bass neck would bend if you regularly used a whammy bar when playing. When you pull or push the whammy bar, which will tighten and loosen the strings, this will also be the start that the bass strings will start to pull the bass guitar’s neck.
The second reason why whammy bars are rare to be seen attached to a bass guitar is that it does not make sense to use them on bass guitars. There is not much difference in sound when you use a whammy bar, and installing them on your bass guitar can be costly. With the risk and its price, many bassists do not see the need to use a whammy bar on their bass guitars.
Four Ways To Install A Whammy Bar On Your Bass Guitar
There are four ways you can put a whammy bar on your bass guitar, and the first is to add a Bigsby in it. A Bigsby vibrato system is installed on the bass guitar’s top that includes a rocking bridge. It also has a stop tailpiece that has a rotating axis, and the bass strings are wrapped around it.
The second is the linear vibrato system. It is another type of vibrato system that you can put in your bass guitar. When you look at its design, you can see the entire bridge-and-stop tailpiece array shifting forward and backward along the axis of the bass strings.
The third vibrato system is the fulcrum-style tremolo. If you have already seen a Floyd Rose and those on Fender guitars, then yes, that is a fulcrum-style tremolo. This type of vibrato system is mounted on two studs, with some knife edges that can pivot the whole bridge assembly of your bass guitar.
The last is the top-mounted cam vibrato system. This type of vibrato system leaves the bass guitar’s bridge fixed and can move to the point where the bass string-ball ends are anchored. More and more bassists favor this type of vibrato system as there can be added functions to the vibrato system when you use it in a bass guitar. It gives you a choice to lock the bridge if you want to compensate for the missing tensions of a broken bass guitar string.
Famous Bassists That Use Whammy Bar On Their Bass Guitar
Les Claypool is an American musician that is widely known for being the bassist, lead singer, and founder of the funk metal band Primus. He is considered by many as one of the best bass guitarists of all time; he became popular for his unique playstyle, which is whammy bar bends, slapping, tapping, and flamenco-like strumming.
If you want to listen to any songs that the band Primus has played while Les is using a whammy bar on his bass guitar, you can check Sgt. Baker and My Name Is Mud.
Another great bassist considered by many to be the best of all time, Victor Wooten, is an American bassist, record producer, and songwriter that has already received five Grammy Awards in his career, and he has also been awarded three times as the Bass Player of the Year from the renowned Bass Player magazine.
If you want to check any tracks where you can hear Wooten using the whammy bar on his bass guitar, you should definitely listen to the famous Law & Order Theme Song.
Alternative To Whammy Bar On Bass Guitars
A great alternative for whammy bars if you do not want to install them on your bass guitar is to use a whammy pedal. Although there is still better control on manual whammy bars, you can still achieve the sound you are looking for if you use a whammy pedal in your setup.
Example Of A Bass Guitar With A Whammy Bar
The best example of bass guitars with a whammy bar is one of Les Claypool’s own Carl Thompson’s 1980 Walnut 4-string bass guitar. The bass guitar is made of walnut and mahogany. It has an EMG-35DC for its pickup and a BTS control amp. Its Kahler tremolo was installed in the 1980s by Les.
When Les first saw the bass guitar, he said that it was the ugliest he had ever seen, but after trying it out, he immediately concluded that it was the most comfortable bass guitar he had ever played, and he bought it the next day.
So, can a bass guitar have a whammy bar? Yes, you can install a whammy bar on your bass guitar; however, it could have some adverse effects, making it not worth doing it.