There’s something truly amazing about electric guitars and the different ways that you can express yourself with them. From hammer-ons and pull-offs, to note bends and slides, there are just so many different musical decorations available at the guitarist’s disposal. However, perhaps the most famous decorative technique in guitar playing is the use of the whammy bar, otherwise known as a tremolo arm. There’s something insanely inviting about these whammy bars, from the satisfaction of using them to the bendy tones that it produces.
However, what about us bass guitarists? We can do slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, and even slap bass which you can’t do with an electric. The question is though, can we use whammy bars? Are whammy bars exclusive to electric guitars, or do we bassists have the pleasure of enjoying them too?
This is an excellent question and an important one that I think needs answering. I’ve done a bit of research over the last week to get to the bottom of this for you, so read on to find my answer!
Bottom Line Up Front
You can use a whammy bar with a bass guitar as long as the instrument has been fitted with a tremolo bridge, otherwise known as a vibrato mechanism. Most bass guitars do not have such features, but brands such as Kahler produce tremolo bridges and whammy bars for many types of bass guitars, making it possible for anyone to use a whammy bar with a bass guitar.
What Is a Whammy Bar?
Before we get stuck into whether you can use a whammy bar on a bass guitar, let’s cover the definition of whammy bars, because some people may have never heard of them. Whammy bars, also known as tremolo arms, are small bendy rods that can be fitted onto a guitar in order to bend the notes that are being played downwards.
For example, if a guitarist played a chord and then puts pressure on the whammy bar, the chord that they struck will begin to bend downwards in pitch, descending and ascending once again depending on how the performer moves the whammy bar.
Many guitars such as Stratocasters come bundled with whammy bars due to their popularity. Many famous guitarists such as Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Buckethead use and abuse their whammy bars, using them in combination with other effects such as kill switches and delays to craft all manner of new sounds. With a whammy bar, you can truly achieve sounds that would not be possible otherwise, and I think every guitarist should own one.
The vast majority of guitars can be used with a whammy bar, but you may have to modify the guitar if it doesn’t already. In order to function, whammy bars must be screwed into a small hole that can be found on the bridge of the guitar.
In fact, it’s not technically the bridge, but the vibrato mechanism, a tremolo bridge designed to facilitate the use of a whammy bar. Whilst not every guitar is designed with a vibrato system installed, this can certainly be achieved through modification, but the vast majority of electric guitars will already function with them.
Can You Use a Whammy Bar with a Bass Guitar?
As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of electric guitars will be pre-fitted with a vibrato mechanism within the bridge and will usually come bundled with a whammy bar. For those guitars that do not have this, vibrato mechanisms can be manually added to a guitar in order to facilitate the use of a whammy bar. That means that whilst other instruments such as the bass guitar may not include a vibrato mechanism initially, you can absolutely install one!
Take a listen to bands such as KoRn, Rage Against the Machine, and the entire djent scene – you’ll hear whammy bar usage on the bass in many tracks. You absolutely can use a whammy bar on a bass guitar, and it sounds absolutely great when used in the right place. However, you should bear in mind that using a whammy bar is not going to be as simple as it is for an electric guitar.
Whilst whammy usage is very common on electric guitars, this is not so much the case for bass guitars. Furthermore, bass guitar strings are much thicker and heavier and thus provide way more tension to the bridge. As a result, many bass guitars do not have vibrato mechanisms installed, and using a whammy bar will lead to your strings completely detuning, and could even damage your bridge or neck through too much tension.
You absolutely can use a whammy bar on a bass guitar, but you’ll have to take precautions. Don’t just go modifying your expensive bass guitar and installing whammy bars on it – you could end up damaging your guitar in the process. There are a few things to consider when thinking about using a whammy bar on your bass – let’s take a look at them.
How to Safely Use a Whammy Bar on a Bass Guitar
As I mentioned earlier, you can use a whammy bar with just about any bass guitar, but it’s a lot more complicated than with electric guitars. Your bass might not have a slot for a whammy bar or it may not have a sufficient vibrato mechanism, and these limitations could cause serious problems if you try to use a whammy bar anyway.
For now, let’s assume that you have a bass guitar fitted with a vibrato mechanism and a whammy bar slot – just grab that whammy bar, screw it in, and you’re good to go. The vibrato mechanism protects the floating bridge against the fluctuations in tension caused by the whammy bar, and prevents the instrument from detuning or being damaged. You should still be sensible when using a whammy bar with a bass though – if you push that whammy bar too far, you could detune your strings regardless of the floating bridge and could even snap some strings. Less is more with the whammy bar – there’s no need to go crazy on it and push your bass guitar to its limits.
What about if your bass guitar doesn’t have a vibrato mechanism though? It would be crazy to attempt to install a whammy bar onto your bass in this case – the bridge would not be protected against the tension and your guitar would surely detune and potentially inflict damage. What you would need to do is install a vibrato mechanism onto your bass guitar – these can be bought online and whilst they’re pretty expensive, they will allow you to safely use a whammy bar without any repercussions.
If you’re into DIY, you could consider conducting this modification by yourself. The stakes are high so I would always recommend practicing on a budget guitar first, but with some guidance and some online resources, you could absolutely install your bass guitar with a vibrato mechanism. However, in most cases, I would recommend that you find a professional to help you. This could be a luthier, a guitar repairman, or even just a hobbyist with experience working with guitar bridges. They’ll be able to guide you along the process or perhaps even do it for you in exchange for some cash.
As long as you have a sufficiently strong vibrato mechanism installed onto your bass guitar, you can safely whammy away knowing that your strings aren’t going to detune or snap. It’s a great sonic tool to have, and there’s something that is just so satisfying about using that whammy bar.
What to Consider When You Want to Use a Whammy Bar on your Bass Guitar
So, you’re now confident that one way or another, you will be able to use a whammy bar on your bass guitar. Perhaps you’re keen to get started. Not so fast! There are questions that you should ask yourself throughout the process that will ensure you don’t end up wasting your time and money, or even ruining your beloved guitar. Let’s take a look.
Is your Bass Guitar Already Whammy-Ready?
The first thing to ask yourself is whether your bass guitar is already whammy-ready. If we went backward in time a decade or two, coming across bass guitars that had the necessary vibrato mechanisms for whammy bars was fairly rare. You mainly only saw it in bassists from experimental metal bands who had custom modifications to suit their genre.
However, bass whammy bars have been popularized in recent years, primarily due to genres of music such as djent. Djent is a heavy metal genre that uses a lot of time signature changes, staccato rhythms, and a whole lot of guitar and bass decoration. Songs are usually written in very low tunings, and they commonly use whammy bars to take those heavy tones even lower. Due to the popularity of this genre, demands for bass guitars that have vibrato mechanisms have grown dramatically, and therefore many retailers are beginning to sell such specialist bass guitars.
So, there’s a chance that if you spent a lot of cash on a metal-specialized bass guitar, it could already be ready for a whammy bar, especially if it’s already got the slot! If you’re ever unsure, I would recommend taking your bass to a shop such as Guitar Center and asking someone – they’ll be able to help you figure out whether your guitar is whammy-reay or not.
Is Installing a Vibrato Mechanism Worth the Risk?
Let’s now assume that your bass guitar is most certainly not whammy-ready. You may have considered purchasing a bass guitar with a pre-fitted vibrato mechanism, but these can be seriously expensive and it would be a lot cheaper to install your own. After all, you love your current bass guitar and don’t really need a second one – you just want to be able to use that whammy bar.
Installing a vibrato mechanism onto your bass guitar can be a highly rewarding project, but there’s no denying that it comes with risks. If you’re not clued in on what you’re doing, you could end up messing up the bridge of your guitar, leading it to require the expensive services of guitar repairmen. Even worse, you could permanently damage your guitar in the process, destroying a sentimental item just for the desire of whammy bar functionality.
Before making the decision to install a vibrato mechanism on your bass guitar, think hard about how necessary this is, if it is going to positively impact your playing, and whether it is worth the risk. If you see great value in installing a whammy bar then I’d say go for it – just run it by an expert and consider receiving their help for the completion of the project. It may cost you a little extra, but it will greatly reduce the chances of anything going wrong.
Will Every Vibrato Mechanism Fit your Guitar?
This last question is particularly important – will every vibrato mechanism fit your bass guitar? The answer to this question is a big fat NO! Do not go in blind when purchasing your vibrato mechanism – there are many different types made for different models of bass and for different string quantities, so it’s easy to accidentally buy the wrong one. Not only that, but vibrato mechanisms are darn expensive, so accidentally buying the wrong one could be a seriously expensive mistake!
Whilst vibrato mechanisms are standardized to a certain extent, it’s important that you do your research when browsing them online. Consider the dimensions and properties of the vibrato mechanism, compare it to yours, and feel free to ask experts questions online at websites such as Quora or Reddit. Ideally, you’d be able to look through these vibrato mechanisms with a guitar luthier or expert, and they will help you decide on the right one. You could also use the customer support services of retailers, receiving help on the phone, via e-mail, or live chat.
However you go about it, always do your research here because if you spend $300 on a fancy vibrato mechanism that doesn’t even fit on your bass, you are going to be throwing that whammy bar out the window!
My Top Product Recommendations for Bass Whammy Bar Enthusiasts
So, you’ve read all my precautions, and you understand the risks of bass guitar whammy bars, but you’re still determined that you shall whammy that guitar of yours. That’s understandable – it really is a fantastic guitar technique that is almost essential in certain popular genres of music these days, and as long as you do it safely, it’s relatively risk-free.
To finish things off, I’ve curated the following product recommendations that will come in handy along the way. Hopefully, they will fill any gaps in your whammy arsenal, or at least give you an idea of what you should be looking for.
1. Kahler Standard Bass Tremolo Arm
The first product recommendation that I have for you today is the cheapest, and the most simple – it’s the Kahler Standard Bass Tremolo Arm. As you’ll see later, Kahler specializes in producing products that allow bassists to use a whammy bar whilst playing, and whilst they primarily focus on selling vibrato mechanisms, they also sell the whammy bars to go along with them.
Something that I find particularly impressive about these Kahler whammy bars is the opportunity for customization, it’s insane. Firstly, you can choose your whammy bar to have a color finish of Bright Chrome, Black Krome, or Gold, and all three look fantastic.
Secondly, you can choose between four whammy bar lengths – 6″, 7″, 9″, and 12″. I have never used a 12″ whammy bar and I’m not sure I want to, but I respect Hahler for providing such customization opportunities. Last but not least, the whammy bar is available both in left-handed and right-handed formats.
I have no words, Kahler – you really know how to fill a gap in the market!
- Compatible with all Kahler tremolo bridges and most other vibrato mechanisms
- Cheap to purchase with even cheaper shipping costs due to its small size
- Available in gold, Bright Chrome or Black Krome
- Customizable for different lengths and hand orientations
- It’s of no use if your guitar doesn’t have a vibrato mechanism!
2. Kahler 2400 Series Professional Tremolo Bass Bridge System – 4 Strings
We’re stepping things up a notch in terms of the prices of products now because we’re no longer discussing whammy bars but the vibrato mechanisms required to facilitate them. As I mentioned earlier, Kahler specializes in all things bass and whammy-related, and this includes their range of tremolo bass bridge systems.
This 2400 series will work perfectly for most 4-string bass guitars, and much like the previously mentioned whammy bar provides a ton of room for customization. Whilst the bridge system is only provided for 4-string basses, you can choose between a forward or rearward saddle, and choose between four different colors – Black Krome, Bright Chrome, Gold, and Black Nickel.
Another great thing about this tremolo bass bridge system is that it comes with a matching 6” whammy bar, so you don’t need to add any additional items to your basket. You could simply order this product, get in touch with your local guitar luthier, and get some assistance in fitting it once it arrives. With the four different color options, I’m sure it’s going to look fantastic on your bass!
- Facilitates whammy bar usage on 4-string bass guitars
- Available in four different colors
- You can choose between forward or rearward saddles
- Comes with a matching whammy bar
- Installing this onto your bass will be complicated and risky without assistance
- The price is heft, ranging from around $400 to $600
3. Kahler 2400 Series Professional Tremolo Bass Bridge System – 5+ Strings
Finding niche products such as a whammy bar and vibrato system for a bass guitar is not easy. There’s not a huge market for such products, but thankfully there is always a company like Kahler that fills the gap in the market.
They’ve already achieved this through the last tremolo bridge I mentioned, but that was just for a standard bass guitar. Believe it or not, Kahler actually produces tremolo bridges for 5-string, 6-string, 7-string, and even 8-string bass guitars!
I know, that is absolutely crazy – but there absolutely is a market for this. Bassists around the world are turning to bass guitars with insane amounts of strings on them due to the range-demanding nature of genres such as djent.
Kahler is fully aware of this, and therefore provides its 2400 Series bridge systems for up to eight strings, with the same saddle and color customizations available in the 4-string bridges. It’s seriously cool that Kahler does this, I give them major props.
- Available in every string quantity from 4 to 8 strings
- Excellent for niche bassists in bands that require a great bass range
- Customizable by color and saddle
- Will prevent any bass guitar from going out of tune or getting damaged from whammy bar usage
- The more strings you need, the more expensive these bridges are going to get, with prices reaching up to $600. You could buy a high-quality brand new bass guitar for that!
- Some of the bridges for over 5 strings with specific customizations become limited in stock
Well, I don’t think we could have had a more comprehensive overview of using a whammy bar with bass guitars if we tried! We covered everything from the significance of whammy bars on bass guitars, how to make it happen, and the potential risks of doing so.
Let’s summarize all of this information with a quick FAQ – I don’t want you to leave with any burning questions on your mind!
Question: Can Whammy Bars be Used on Bass Guitars?
Answer: Yes – whilst most bass guitars are not designed for whammy bar usage, some are, and those that are not can be modified with a tremolo bridge, otherwise known as a vibrato mechanism.
Question: Can Whammy Bars Damage Bass Guitars?
Answer: As long as your bass guitar has a high-quality tremolo bridge fitted, whammy bars should not damage your bass guitar, as long as you use a bit of common sense and don’t overdo it.
Question: Where Can you Buy Bass Tremolo Bridges and Whammy Bars?
Answer: Whilst tremolo bridges and whammy bars are fairly scarce on the market, you can find tremolo bridges and whammy bars for bass guitars in the online stores of brands such as Kahler.
Question: Is it Easy to Install a Tremolo Bridge to a Bass Guitar?
Answer: No – installing a tremolo bridge to a bass guitar will involve the disassembling and reassembling of core components of your guitar, and if you are not confident with your DIY and guitar modification skills, you should seek help from a bass luthier or repairman.
Who knew that there was so much information out there about using a whammy bar on a bass guitar? We’ve covered a lot today, and I really hope that my advice has helped you take a step towards whammying away on your bass guitar.
In the likely event that your bass guitar does not have a tremolo bridge fitted, I would recommend you head to Kahler’s online store and check out their tremolo bridges and whammy bars. Just bear in mind that they fetch a dear price!
I wish you luck on your journey as a bass guitarist, and I hope to hear you using that whammy bar on a djent track in the future. Thanks for reading!