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What is a Tremolo Bar and do I need one?

What is a tremolo bar

What is a tremolo bar and do you need one on your guitar?

What is a tremolo bar and do you need one on your guitar?

First off what is tremolo?

The first thing to say is that the use of the word tremolo to describe the tremolo bar on a guitar is incorrect. In fact the tremolo bar on the guitar does not create a tremolo effect it is actually a vibrato effect.  But what is the difference between vibrato and tremolo?  Both vibrato and tremolo are modulation effects, that is the sound produced modulates from one key or tone to another.  With tremolo the modulation is created by varying the amplitude or volume of the sound.  However, vibrato is achieved by varying the pitch of the sound.  With a tremolo bar you are in fact modulating the pitch rather than the amplitude of the sound so the tremolo arm is in fact a vibrato bar.  Perhaps, for ease, we should just call it the whammy bar from now on!

Do you need a tremolo, sorry, whammy bar on your guitar?




This is a question that many guitar players have asked themselves during their playing lives. To answer it fully it is perhaps worth citing from personal experience as it was something I did not consider too seriously when I first bought a guitar.  Back in the late 80s, when I purchased my first instrument, Eddie Van Halen was my guitar hero.  His playing style was the only thing I wanted to emulate.   His wild whammy bar action meant that for me to be able to copy him I needed a guitar with a tremolo arm.  The best I could afford at the time was a Squier Stratocaster with a Fender vintage style tremolo bridge.  Although Eddie Van Halen created the original Frankenstrat using the Fender bridge from his 1958 Fender Stratocaster he quickly changed it to a Floyd Rose and for good reason.  Now at this point I have to say that my first Squier Strat was a brilliant guitar but the tremolo bridge was not.  If I wanted to try and re-create the pitch dives of my guitar hero without constantly having to re-tune the guitar what I had was just not going to cut it.  I therefore traded the guitar in for a super-strat armed with a Floyd Rose.  This was a lot better than the vintage strat style tremolo but it was awfully fiddly and I found out, after much frustration over the guitar de-tuning, that it had not been set-up correctly.  Once it was set-up correctly it was fine but because of my over exuberance I was replacing a lot of strings.  But I was happy, which is always the most important thing.

This little story demonstrates well the choice we guitarists must make when we are choosing our guitars.  Firstly does the music we want to play require a whammy bar?  If not then I would steer clear of guitars with whammy bars.  If the music you like does require a whammy bar then what sort of tremolo should you get?

To answer that question we need to consider what tremolo bar options are available?

NEXT – Tremolo Bar – What are the options?

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