Ok, so here are my top ten favourite whammy bar techniques, in no particular order…
The Dive Bomb
This one is the classic whammy bar technique, and probably the first one that anyone learns. Literally just play a note (usually the open, thick E string), and then push the bar towards the body of the guitar. You should get that familiar “diving” low note sound, popularised by guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen in the peice “Erupton” (from the Band’s first album).
This technique is also used a lot by other guitarists- especially think of 80’s cheesy metal, or more modern heavy metal. It’s a great way to end a guitar solo, or section of a song.
The Reverse Dive Bomb
This one is pretty much the same, but the other way around. It sounds a bit like a motorbike riding off into the distance and can technically be performed on any guitar with a bar (some whammy bar’s go up and down, some only down).
To perform this on a strat style bridge, which only goes down and then back to standard, push the bar down before striking the note and then gradually release the bar. With distortion especially, this sounds a little bit like a motorbike engine (you can also simular gear changes by moving the pitch up and down, if you like…).
On a floating, floyd-rose style bridge (which can go both up and down), you can either do this as I described above, or you can play the note first and then lift the bar away from the body. This produces a very different sound (and watch out that you don’t go too far and snap your strings!).
The Scoop and Doop
OK, maybe this is another crazy name for a guitar technique, but I promise I haven’t just made these words up!
The “scoop” is when you play a note- any note- with the bar depressed, and then release the bar. Very similar to the reverse divebomb, above…but you don’t take it as far up or down.
The “doop” is the opposite of the scoop, where you play the note first, and then cause it to dip down in pitch a little bit by depressing the bar.
Both of these techniques require a level of skill in accuracy and timing in order to perfect and get just right.
The Elephant noise
Here’s one that is slightly more advanced, but only because it requires you to do more things at once.
The idea is that you turn the guitar volume (not the volume on the amp!) all the way down, and play two harmonics on different strings. With the volume still all the way down, depress the bar towards the body.
That was the set-up (you’re still yet to make a sound). Next, you’ll need to slowly roll the volume up and release the bar. This is the tricky part, and it may require you to use your fretting hand on either the whammy bar or the volume control. This should result in a kind of elephanty trumpet-sounding noise.
The Dime Squeel
This next one is fairly difficult to pull off correctly, but when you do, it’s well worth the effort! This is the technique used by Pantera’s guitarist, Dimebag Darrel and in it’s original form, it’s where you pull off an open string with your fretting hand, then depress the whammy bar, then hit a natural harmonic somewhere around the 2nd or 3rd frets (again, with your fretting hand). Finally, release the bar and pull it all the way as high as it can go.
The main difficulties here are:
- A) You have to pick the string with your fretting hand
- B) The most difficult places to get natural harmonics is at the 2nd or 3rd frets
- C) If you miss the harmonic, it sounds rubbish
- D) Watch you don’t break a string!
…yeah, essentially, all of it!
More information on this technique can be found here, where Dime himself explains it.
Lizard Down the Throat
Now, let’s move on to something easier, shall we?
This next technique I call the “Lizard Down the Throat” or the “Purring” technique (not because I named it, these are just what I call it). Essentially, the idea is that you depress the whammy bar and at the same time, you slide a note upwards in pitch with your fretting hand.
The note should- if done correctly- stay at the same pitch the whole time, and the noise of you going over the frets kinda creates a “purring” noise.
The most difficult part is keeping the note at the same pitch, which requires good timing an co-ordination from both hands!
Another semi-difficult trick, here (although it can sound amazing, when practised). The idea is to create melodies on only a few frets, by using the bar to slide up and down to new notes.
As I demonstrate in the video, this is not something I am well practised at, myself. However, it is also good if you select a target note, play it with the bar depressed, and then release the bar so that the note returns to pitch.
This effect can create some very vocal and melodic sounding lines, when you get good at it!
Talking of using the whammy bar like a slide, you can produce a very authentic sounding Hawaian sounding chords by taking the bar down, playing the chord, and then slowly releasing the bar.
This gives the impression that you’re using a slide and sliding up to the chord. The advantages being that you:
- A) Don’t need a slide
- B) Can use many different chord shapes (as a slide is only straight across the neck)
- C) Can do this on a guitar with a low action (slide guitar generally needs higher action)
Indian Grace Notes
This last technique, I can’t remember where I picked it up from, but it sounds kinda eastern, to me (Indian, or Japanese).
What you do is: you hammer onto a note, from nowehere (literally, just hammer a fretting finger onto a note), and at the same time hit the bar with your other hand. This works best when you turn the bar the opposite way around to where it usually is (so, pointing towards the base of the guitar) and have a bridge that can go up in pitch (i.e. is floating).
The most difficult part is getting the note to sound at all, if you’re not used to it (or if you need practise with your hammer-ons!).
I hope this post has been useful and given you some ideas of where to take your playing next!
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