** As featured in issue 37 **
As you may or may not know, I do enjoy using the whammy bar to its full capacity. With control, restraint and finesse, it can give huge musical rewards that can really take your guitar playing up a few gears. When it's overused, without control and restraint, it can sound horrible, so it's one of those aspects of guitar playing that you need to get right. Obviously there is no right way or wrong way on many aspects of playing, but for as long as I can remember I have utilised to the full what the trem can do and therefore have worked out what works well and what is nonsense. There are plenty of online tutorials on this subject but I am afraid much of it is nonsense, lacks detail, and doesn't really give good advice.
With that in mind, I hope to add with this tutorial some additional approaches to my previous Pro Concepts covering trem use. There are a few there in past issues and I think we were overdue for another one, so here we are.
Without stating the obvious, it's really important to get the more everyday use of the bar under your belt. I would say the 'fundamentals' but really there is nothing fundamental about making trem usage sound musical, because it is a difficult and tricky thing to master. With that in mind, you should start by simply having a great finger vibrato and never become reliant on a trem system as your main source of vib. Develop that first before you even look at a tremolo. The next step would be to match closely the trem vibrato with your finger vibrato. You don't always have to use the trem like that but you do need a definite bench mark of trem use to start from, so that when you deviate from it, you are doing it on purpose and not just flailing away on the bar. Move on to shimmering chords with the bar. It's harder than you think and most people who first try it tend to put the chord out of tune rather than 'shimmer' it, so listen hard to where the chord is in pitch and how you can move above and below it equally to create movement and 'shimmer'.
For ultimate control, you need to be able hit semitone and tone intervals with the bar without sounding like you are fishing for the correct pitch. This involves really knowing the feel of your trem system and how much you need to push and pull it on each string, because it will be different from string to string. A good way to develop some control and unity with your particular guitar is to try sounding a major scale from one harmonic. You may not hit all seven intervals but you should certainly be able to get the first four on most trem systems. A couple of bars of accurate trem bends within an improvised solo can sound great and really make your playing stand out.
With some careful control you can actually move from one chord fragment to another making it sound like you are using a slide. Again, getting the feel for the interval is essential. Extended Jazz style chords are more difficult but not impossible. You would just need to use smaller parts of the chord to suggest the movement. In my example I use the chords Dm, C, Bb, Am11 back to a D major to shift tonality.
Manipulating harmonics via the bar is a great sound, obviously popularised by Jeff Beck, and I have covered this in previous Pro Concepts. But combining harmonics with a fretted note and then giving it the whammy bar shimmer is a whole new ball game touched on in this tutorial. You can get some great effects with how closely spaced tones react with each other, especially when the bar is involved.
You can also manipulate chord triads to create a slide feel. The key to this is to only use the bar on the middle note of whatever shape or inversion you are holding. I demo this on a side note in the tutorial.
It's a big subject and I do have a LickLibrary DVD out covering trem use in depth. My album puts all these trem approaches into practice (two plugs in one column!? - Ed). The only drawback to being really in tune with your whammy bar is that other guitar players feel the need to compare you to Jeff Beck, which is a very small price to play considering the sonic world you have at your disposal. JB is an obvious player to listen to on all levels, but equally as life changing for the whammy bar are players such as the late great Alan Murphy, Michael Lee Firkins, Scott Henderson, Steve Farris (Mr Mister) and the daddy of them all, Steve Lukather. Absorb everything these guys have out there and by default you will be a better guitar player than you are now. The by-product to giving these guys a listen will be that the whammy bar approach will become more focused and make much more sense.
On a final note, people complain that the trem system on their guitar simply puts the guitar out of tune when used. Nine times out of ten, there is reason for this and it is fixable. If you can't fix it, take it to someone who really knows what they are doing rather than someone who thinks they know what they are doing. Your guitar may just need a tweak, or it may need some easy to fit quality upgrades, but generally most things can be sorted. I can offer advice via my LickLibrary forum or my musician band Facebook page.
We will do some more of this in the future. Sorry for those of you who can't join the party and only play a Les Paul!