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GUIDE: Playing a Bass With Whammy Bar (Installation, Precautions, Etc.)

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No matter how conservative and minimal your approach towards guitar and bass is, the truth is, the whammy bar effect will always be super-cool—when properly used. The vibrato, pitch bend and portamento effect of the whammy bar gives extra life and feel to guitar and bass lines. 

It can be agreed that the motive for most musical innovation is the enhancement of self-expression on the part of the musician. Over the years, the guitar has remained one very expressive musical instrument that can hardly be rivalled by any. 

There is so much a guitar player can do with just a note. Rather unfortunate that many other musical instruments do not have this luxury. This explains why the guitar remains a lead instrument in certain genres like Jazz, blues, rock, metal, etc. 

There are so many things guitarists can do with their hands. For instance, a guitarist could make the guitar cry, wail, or even scream like a human voice. When considering how limited some instruments (like the piano) are, it just makes sense why they get envious of the guitar.

Bass guitarists, on the other hand, have gradually tried to follow the guitar lane in the aspect of expression. This explains why some bass players have tried and are trying to incorporate some techniques and technologies that were only typical of guitar and guitar players. 

One of these technologies is the whammy bar. Bassists like Victor Wooten and Les Claypool have all at a point used a bass guitar with a whammy bar. For some bass players, this may seem a bit too grand, liberal, or avant-garde for the traditional bass guitar world. 

But just like we said earlier, it can sound super-cool in the right hands. For some players, they are not exactly sure how to do it properly or if they should go this route at all. Regardless of which school of thought you belong to concerning this, this article is for you. 

Yes, you can use a whammy bar with your bass guitar as long as your bass has been fitted with a tremolo bridge, also known as a “vibrato mechanism.” Indeed, a majority of bass guitars do not have this vibrato mechanism. 

However, brands like Kahler produce tremolo bridges and whammy bars for almost every type of bass guitar. What this means is that anyone can use a whammy bar with a bass guitar.

In this article, we will guide you on how to use a whammy bar with any bass guitar. 

First of all, What is a Whammy Bar?

If you are a fan of guitarists who used the Fender Stratocaster, or if you are a fan of the Stratocaster in general, you have most likely heard the whammy bar in action. 

Back in the 1950s, popular guitarists such as Duane Eddy and Buddy Holly started experimenting with bridge-mounted bars that could alter the pitch of the strings. In 1954, Fender produced the first commercially available version of such a bar and named it the Whammy bar. 

This was, and still is, one of the most iconic features of the Fender Stratocaster. After its inception, the Whammy bar became extremely popular among guitarists and their audiences alike. 

Soon after, other manufacturers started introducing their own versions of the Whammy bar. However, the Whammy bar by Fender, specifically on their Stratocaster still remains the most popular option for those looking for this particular feature. 

The mechanism behind the Whammy bar is quite straightforward. The bar itself is connected to the bridge at the fulcrum point and it has the ability to be rotated 360 degrees and can also be lifted up and down against the face of the guitar. 

At the fulcrum point, the guitar is mounted to the bridge through a spring-loaded connection. Lifting or lowering the bar lifts and lowers the bridge of the guitar which increases or decreases the tension on the strings resulting in tonal changes as the string tension fluctuates. 

Several effects can be achieved by this manoeuvre with dive bombs, vibrato and tremolo being the most common/popular. Typically, the whammy bar is associated with and used on electric guitars but it can also be applied to electric bass guitars. 

Using the Whammy bar is based entirely on preference. Some players prefer to use it very subtly, bringing about minor changes to the tonal effect, which leads to a bit more expression and a more colourful sound overall. 

Typically this involves making changes of a quarter note or a half note to add this extra depth to the sound. Other guitarists like to go a bit further and use more prominent changes through the Whammy bar when they play. 

An excellent example of this is the dive bomb manoeuvre. This was made popular by Jimi Hendrix

It involves starting off the sound with the whammy bar pulled extremely tight so as to bring the tone of the string very high and then rapidly lowering the string to make the tone drop suddenly. The result is an effect very similar to the sound of a bomb dropping through the air.

Why are Whammy Bars Not Common on Bass Guitars?

There are a few technical reasons and practical reasons why Whammy bars aren’t common on bass guitars. The first and most prominent reason why whammy bars aren’t common on bass guitars is that bass guitars aren’t typically designed to accommodate whammy bars. 

Unless you are getting a bass guitar that comes as standard with a Whammy bar you may need to make multiple modifications to the guitar to be able to incorporate a bass guitar. Bass guitars typically have a fixed bridge while electric guitars have a floating bridge. 

Whammy bars are designed to be installed on floating bridge systems. As you read on, you’ll find out that making such modifications to an expensive bass guitar doesn’t justify the cost of the risk of these changes. 

Electric guitars have thin strings compared to the strings on bass guitars. Moreover, bass guitars are typically an octave lower than electric guitars. If you have an extended bass guitar, that would be even lower. 

The strings on a bass guitar are considerably thicker than the strings on an electric. Also, the length of the strings on the bass guitar is longer as compared to electric guitars. 

All these factors combined mean that bass guitar strings have a much higher tension making them far more difficult to bend through the Whammy bar as compared to an electric guitar. 

Moreover, since the strings are longer (longer scale on bass) it’s more challenging to bend those strings. You also have to keep in mind that when you are bending strings on a bass guitar you are placing a lot more stress on the guitar, particularly on the neck and the bridge. 

So there is a high risk that you could actually chip, break or otherwise damage the bass guitar. Since the bass guitar strings are tuned with more tension, they also go out of tune more easily than electric guitar strings which have more slack and are therefore more suitable for being bent. 

Whammy bars are also more challenging to use on a bass guitar because of the higher string tension. Pulling on the whammy bar like you would on an electric guitar will lead to no noticeable changes in tone. 

You need to pull quite hard to get any kind of tonal changes. These things make it less convenient for a lot of players to use a Whammy bar on their bass guitars. Also, the longer scale means that getting the same effect on a bass guitar is quite different. 

Again, it will take some practice for you to really understand how the bass guitar reacts to the Whammy bar. Overall the impact of the Whammy bar on a bass guitar is less noticeable than it is on an electric guitar. 

Usually, the role of a bass guitar in any musical performance does not require extensive use of the Whammy bar. However, for those players that do want to experiment with tonal changes, there are other options for the bass guitar that they can explore. 

But, Can You Use a Whammy Bar on Bass Guitar

Yes, you certainly can. Just make sure your bass guitar has the right mechanics for it if you plan on modifying and adding a Whammy bar to it. Otherwise, just get a bass guitar that comes with a Whammy bar as standard.

If you are looking to get those cool Whammy effects but you don’t want to go through the risk of modifying your guitar, or through the difficulty of using one, the Whammy pedal is a great alternative. 

Here is a quick rundown (in the form of steps) to help you get started with a Whammy pedal. 

  1. Connect – Connect your Whammy pedal to your guitar and your amplifier. If you are using multiple pedals, you want to connect the Whammy pedal at the very beginning of the chain so your modified signal can be processed further down the line as well. Simply connect your guitar to the input side and connect other pedals or the amplifier to the output side. 
  2. Mode – Typically a Whammy pedal will have different modes. This can include things like harmony, whammy and detune. You need to select whammy. 
  3. Adjust – Next, adjust the whammy mode itself. In most whammy pedals, you will have adjustment options such as octave, ½ octave, 2 octaves, dive bomb, and drop tune. These individual settings will give you the ability to do these things. For instance, the ½ octave setting will allow you to change the sound by ½ an octave. When you press the pedal forward, it will go up an octave and when you press the pedal backwards it will go down an octave from the tone you are playing. The same will apply to 1 octave and 2 octave. The dive bomb setting will trigger the dive bomb when you press the pedal forward on the note that you are playing at that moment. 
  4. Optimize – Each pedal will behave a little differently and each will have a different sensitivity. When you are just starting out, play slowly to get an understanding of how the pedal changes the sound and how you can use that certain effect in your performance. The more control and mastery you have over the pedal the easier it will be for you to incorporate the various effects. 

Some Great Whammy Pedals For You To Consider

How to Safely Install a Whammy Bar on Your Bass Guitar

If you are looking to add a whammy bar, there are a few different ways you can go about it depending on the hardware your guitar currently has. 

An ideal situation would be where your guitar already has a floating bridge. Such bridge systems have a hole making them ready to accept a tremolo arm (whammy bar) so you can start whamming right away. 

The only thing to check in such a guitar is whether it needs a screw-in tremolo arm or a pop-in version. You can easily find a suitable version for your guitar and just plug and play. 

The other situation, that is more common with bass guitar, is that you have a regular bass guitar (with a fixed bridge) and you want to add a whammy bar. In this case, you will need to replace the bridge assembly itself and adjust your guitar according to the new bridge. 

Let’s look at how you can replace the bridge and add a whammy bar to your bass guitar. 

Things You Will Need 

Before you get started, make sure you have these things with you. These are the necessary hardware you will need. It is far easier, safer and quicker to use proper tools rather than trying to get the job done with alternatives.

1. Disassembly

The first thing you need to do is to disassemble the guitar. Start off with first loosening the strings and removing these from both the bridge and the head of the guitar. 

If you plan on replacing the strings entirely, you can also loosen the strings and simply cut them with a set of pliers for easier removal. With the strings out of the way, you can focus on the bridge. 

In most cases, the bridge is held down onto the board with either 4 or six screws. You need to locate these screws and undo them. 

With the screws out, your bridge should come out quite easily. If not, use a plastic card to gently lift it out of its spot.

2. Installation

In this guide, we will be focussing on replacing a bridge with the same mounting pattern as the bridge that you have removed, ie, the same number of screws in the same exact places. 

If you cannot find a replacement bridge with the same mounting pattern, you will need to drill in new holes and this will most certainly require an expert technician. 

Trying to drill in the holes yourself can not only damage the guitar, and the electronics in the body of the guitar, but can also render the guitar unplayable. 

With the old bridge removed, you will notice a thin grounding wire coming out of the body of the guitar. This cable simply rests against the underside of the bridge and grounds the entire system. 

On some bridges, you may have the option to screw this cable into the bridge. If your new bridge allows for the grounding cable to be screwed in, then do so. Otherwise, simply place your new bridge into the socket and make sure the grounding cable is in contact with the metal. 

Next, place your new screws into the mounting holes and screw them down till you feel some resistance. The aim is not to screw them all the way in, or extremely tightly, as that could damage both the guitar and the bridge. 

You just need them to be nice and snug so they are securely holding the bridge in place. Next, put your whammy bar into the hole on the bridge and make sure it is properly fitted into the bridge. Also, rotate the whammy bar 360 degrees to ensure it is moving freely. 

With the new bridge and whammy bar in place, simply install your new strings. Weave them through the bridge and onto the head of the guitar as you normally would with a regular string replacement. Tighten the strings roughly so they are ready to tune. 

3. Tuning and Adjusting

The most important part of the bridge transplant is the recalibration of the guitar. This is particularly important on guitars that have had a fixed bridge in the past since the calibration for a fixed bridge is completely different from a floating bridge. 

The main things that you want to adjust at this stage are the string tension, saddle height, string height and truss rod tension. Using the string height rulers, you can check the action of the string across the fretboard and adjust it from the bridge accordingly. 

Also, you can check the truss rod and loosen or tighten it depending on how you like the action. Using the string radius gauge, you will also have to check that the strings are in line with the curvature of the neck at different points throughout the fretboard. 

Again, you can adjust the saddle and the bridge to make the necessary changes. Lastly, test out your whammy bar and see how it performs in changing the tone of the strings. 

You can also make further adjustments to the saddle and the intonation of the bridge to bring it closer to your liking. With the truss bar tightened, your saddle calibrated, and your action cleared out through the entire guitar, you can proceed to tune the strings. 

Keep in mind, fresh strings will adjust to the tension so you will need to tune them 2 or 3 times before they start to hold their tension. 

Important Things to Consider Before Fitting a Whammy Bar on Your Bass

Before you get started with changing the bridge and or adding a whammy bar here are a few things you will want to look into.

1. What kind of bridge do you need?

You have decided that you need a floating bridge but within that category of bridges there are two things that you need to consider; string count and mounting points. 

If you want a quick (and safe) solution that you can do on your own you need a bridge with the exact mounting points of your current bridge. 

There are some guitar manufacturers that sell replacement bridges for their bass guitars that have a floating bridge design and are meant to be used with a whammy bar. This is crucial as you will otherwise need an expert to drill the holes in the guitar. 

Also, make sure the bridge you are getting has the right number of strings on it. Bass guitars can come with anywhere from 4 to 8 strings and you need a bridge with the right number of strings for it to work properly. 

2. What kind of vibrato do you need?

You also need to consider the kind of whammy bar that you need. The most important consideration is whether it is a screw-in bar or a pop-in bar. 

Using the wrong kind of bar in your bridge can damage the bridge connection hole and make the entire bridge unsuitable for use with a whammy bar. Forcing the wrong kind of bar into the guitar could damage other components as well.

Also, you want a bar of the right size. Different players have different preferences so try some whammy bars out on a guitar and get one of a length that best suits your needs.

3. Can your bass guitar already accept a whammy bar?

There are some models of bass guitars that come with a floating bridge as standard even though they may not have come with a whammy bar. 

These are ideal bass guitars for a whammy bar conversion as you only need to get a whammy bar and install it into the existing bridge. 

If you are looking for a new bass guitar and you may be interested in getting a whammy bar upgrade down the road, these will be the perfect kind to get. 

4. How will it sound?

Adding a whammy bar to the bass guitar will do more than just allow you to bend the strings. Since you are installing a new bridge, a floating bridge for that matter (they are typically taller than a fixed bridge) and also making several adjustments throughout the guitar to make this change possible, you should also expect a change in the standard sound from the instrument. 

It’s hard to predict how a guitar will sound with all of these changes made but it’s something you want to keep in mind. You don’t want to end up in a position where you have achieved the whammy bar functionality but you no longer enjoy how the bass guitar sounds on its own. 

This is where it really helps to look at examples of people who have made this modification on the same model of bass guitar that you have to get an idea of. 

5. Does the cost justify the process?

Making the whammy bar upgrade isn’t a very cheap modification. You have to keep in mind the cost of the tools, the cost of the components that you will need and the amount of time that it will require. 

If you are getting this done through a professional guitar technician or repairing professional, that is an additional cost that you will need to consider. Just the floating bridge can cost anywhere from $300 to $1000. 

If you have a budget bass guitar, it may make more sense to simply buy a new bass guitar with a whammy bar built-in from the factory. 

If you have a bass guitar that you really like, or it is a rather high-quality bass guitar, it may be more reasonable to pay a little bit extra and have a professional do this for you rather than risk damaging the instrument. 

6. Will a pedal be easier?

Using a whammy bar on a bass guitar is quite different to using a whammy bar on an electric guitar. If you are just after the whammy effect, it may be easier, safer and more cost-effective to invest in a good quality pedal. 

You get a very similar sound output and you will still maintain the integrity of your bass guitar. Moreover, you can get a whammy pedal (tone shifter pedal) for as little as $50. 

You can also invest in a small whammy pedal just to see how you like the sound effect. If you think it is for you, you can always go ahead with a whammy bar upgrade later on. 

Famous Bassists Who Used Whammy Bars on Their Bass Guitars

If you are interested in seeing how a whammy bar sounds on a bass guitar here are some famous bassists in action. 


Adding a whammy bar to your bass guitar can be a fun project and it can be extremely rewarding if you enjoy the whammy effect. 

However, to do it right it’s necessary that you do your research and get the right kinds of components and tools to ensure a smooth and easy installation. 

If your bass guitar needs heavy modifications to make this possible, it would be a good idea to hire a professional for this task rather than damaging your guitar. 

Overall, it’s a simple process that anyone can do. Make sure you do your research for your particular bass guitar and the components you want to use to get the best possible results.