** As featured in issue 11 **
Hi all. We are going to be carrying from last guitar lesson, with our look at some whammy bar ideas that may be challenging at first, but the sound and vibe it gives is worth the effort! This guitar style definitely has Jeff Beck written all over it. Part of the respect we all give Jeff Beck is his ability to inject so much feeling, tone and passion into his playing and phrasing, often with only a few notes. A big part of that equation is the whammy bar, and what you can do with.
Last issue, I went easy on you, sticking to ideas where you simply push the bar down to give any chords, single notes or a groups of notes a nice vibrato or shimmer whenever you land a phrase or an idea. This issue we are looking at ideas where we pull the bar up, which is a much harder technique, but once you get the concept, the possibilities are endless. There are a couple of small obstacles you may have to navigate before anything else. Firstly, you need a trem system on your guitar!
If you own a hard-tail like a Les Paul or a Tele, you can still join the party if consider retro fitting a trem such as the 'Stetsbar', which is a great unit that requires NO modification to your precious guitar, and it works fantastically well. You can check out my review in iGuitar issue 6. If you ever want sell the guitar, you can put it all back to original with no harm done.
If, on the other hand, you do have a guitar that comes with a trem, then to get the sound that we are going for, you do need the trem to be floating, which is term used to describe the fact that the bar has upward movement to raise the pitch, as well as downward to obviously lower the pitch. The fact that a trem floats, opens a whole world of possibilities, and sometimes some tuning issues, which I bet is why a lot of you never bother even putting the arm on your trem! Well, if there is a tuning issue with your guitar then there will be a reason for it, and that makes it fixable. Problems can involve, rubbish string winding, worn tuning pegs, strings snagging in the nut, strings snagging in string guides, worn trem base plate knife edges, worn trem posts, strings not stretched properly, vintage bridges screwed down too tight and probably a couple problems more I can't think of right now! My point being, it's all fixable, but it does require your guitar, and all its components to be working at its very best.
I have many guitars with different styles and brands of tremolo on them, but I can pretty much do most of the whammy bar stuff on any of them and all the guitars will hold the tuning, because I have isolated any potential problems that need sorting and because I guess I know what to look for in a great guitar.
For this column I chose to use my graffiti yellow '87 Strat plus with its two post trem system, which is exactly what Jeff has been using since the '80s, but I could have chosen to use the Vintage style six screw Fender, or PRS trem, or the Floyd Rose, Wilkinson and Music Man trem systems on my other guitars and demonstrated the same techniques. I would draw the line at a Bigsby trem, which is OK for a polite waggle but not for what we are going for in this tutorial!
My yellow Strat originally had the original three over, three under Wilkinson roller nut, which works fantastically well for Jeff's main white Strat, and my purple and cream '91 Strats, but on this guitar it was hopeless tuning wise, so my guitar guy replaced it with the more modern LSR nut, which cured all tuning issues. If anyone has a three over, three under Wilky roller nut, get in touch, because I would like another good one and when they work they are awesome, and I would like one back on the yellow Strat, just like it left the factory!
I would always suggest an LSR nut and Sperzel locking machine heads for an instant upgrade on any modern Strat type guitar if you are serious about pushing your whammy bar to the limit. It cures most headaches tuning wise at the headstock end of things.
So you can treat the piece I play here as a series of exercises in bar control, which when placed together in any order makes a cool moody Beck-esque style tune. It definitely has something about it, and I may develop it for use on my album, but it is deceptively tricky, especially when the other component to compliment the sound we are going for here is using your fingers instead of a pick. The best tone you get is flesh on the string, so if this trem demonstration is beyond you at the moment, you might want to just check the finger action, to see if it's something you want to explore.
I have filmed some very popular LickLibrary DVDs involving Tremolo Techniques, Jeff Beck learn to play and Quick Licks, and these DVDs pretty much wring-out the whammy bar for all its worth, so you might want to check those out if you are into this approach to using that much forgotten tool which is the whammy bar.