Whether it’s to meticulously raise and lower notes, to do whammy bar tricks or just for simple vibrato, the whammy bar is one of the coolest multi-purpose tools we have as guitarists.
I know so many guitarists who never play with a whammy bar, or even purchase a guitar with the capability…today’s list is not for those people! Today I’m going to talk about 10 of my favorite players who use the whammy bar in all different ways. Let’s get into it!
This list would just be flat out wrong if it didn’t include Jeff Beck, which is why we have to talk about him first. Not only has his music been unique, especially his solo work, but his use of the whammy bar is unlike anyone else out there. Jeff Beck’s been around for decades, reinventing himself, but two things that stick out for us as guitarists is that his trem bar work is unparalleled and that he uses that along with playing with just fingers to make some incredible melodies.
Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop is one of my favorite guitar albums of all time, which features a lot of his amazing whammy bar playing, but you should also take a listen to songs like Blackbird on You Had It Coming. Listen to that album, and the one that came before it, Who Else! and after it , Jeff. It’s a mixture of great guitar playing, and electronic beats that actually works.
If you want more of that old school Jeff Beck sound, listen to Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers off of Blow By Blow, Beck’s Bolero off of Truth, or his work in the Yardbirds.
What can be said about Steve Vai that hasn’t been said already? The guy is a musical genius and a monster player. Focusing in on his whammy bar playing, you should start with tracks like Bad Horsie from Alien Love Secrets or The Audience Is Listening off of Passion And Warfare, where he uses the bar and other techniques to emulate voice. Also check out the song Frank off of The Ultra Zone, where towards the end of the song Vai uses the bar to make the guitar sound like it’s falling down a cave (seriously).
I’ve been lucky enough to see Vai live a couple of times, and he abuses that trem bar like no one else. I’ve seen him hold the guitar entirely by the whammy bar, take it off and use it for tapping on the strings, or turn it around backwards for guitar flutters. Coming up around the same time as EVH, you could see Vai pick up right where Eddie left off.
Dime was a legend in Pantera. The way he used his whammy bar throughout solos - whether it be a huge dive bomb or to produce his signature squeals (later picked up by his friend Zakk Wylde), was epic. So what songs should you check out? Start with Cemetary Gates off of Cowboys From Hell, where he combines the squeal sound with some massive whammy bar use, and then check out The Art of Shredding on the same album.
Next you should check out both I’m Broken and Becoming from Far Beyond Driven, and then leave the entire album on, because it’s so good! Many of Dime’s solos on albums and at shows used the whammy bar. If you want to read more about his pinch harmonics, check this out, and if you want to learn even more about his “harmonic squeals”, check out this Guitar World post.
Eddie Van Halen
Similar to other players on this list, Eddie Van Halen simply had to be on here, if only for Eruption alone. Eruption blew the minds of so many guitarists back in the day. If it wasn’t the whammy bar usage, it was the tapping, with Eddie inspiring countless players to this day.
From the same self titled as Eruption, you have to check out Ice Cream Man, which starts off as a simple blues, but then at about 1 minute in, kicks in to a classic VH shuffle, with a solo from Eddie that is killer and makes use of the bar. You also have to check out Mean Street from Fair Warning which has Eddie doing tapping, harmonics, whammy bar and so much more.
Without a doubt we wouldn’t be doing half the cool technique stuff if it weren’t for EVH. It’s hard to write about just a handful of songs, so start with their greatest hits, and branch out from there.
We could talk about David Gilmour for a number of reasons - being in one of the biggest rock bands of all time, using interesting recording techniques, the elaborate stage shows, use of Strats and delays and so much more. But today, when talking about his bar work, you have to start with Time from The Dark Side of the Moon. If you haven’t heard this album in its entirety already, you’re probably not reading this post. Similar to Jeff Beck, Gilmour’s use of the whammy bar is very controlled.
You should also check out Comfortably Numb from The Wall, which in tandem with some verb makes Gilmour’s lines sound huge. If you want to stretch out a bit, you should also check out the final song on A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Sorrow. You can read more about that song, and Gimour’s techniques and gear here.
Without a doubt, Tom Morello is the king of making the guitar sound like other instruments - whether that be turntables, a sampler, or something altogether different. Tom’s most known for using the Whammy pedal by Digitech, but while in Rage Against the Machine and in Audioslave, he also use the whammy bar itself to get some weird tones.
The song Bullet In The Head off RATM’s self titled album combines the whammy pedal and bar to emulate some funky sounds including a siren. You also have got to check out the song Out of Exile off Audioslave’s album of the same name, which features lots of whammy flutters and cool bar sounds. Tom’s tone, along with whatever bass player he’s playing with, is usually huge sounding. He’s a huge fan of fun riffs and weird sounds, which leads us to our next player…
Mattias IA Eklundh
Mattias Eklundh is one of my favorite oddball players out there. He’s known for his harmonics that sound like he’s using a whammy pedal, but he’s not! He just has a really great idea of where all the harmonics are hidden throughout the neck - and he uses the whammy bar to attain a lot of these harmonics. Mattias, similar to Tom Morello always has a few ear bending tricks up his sleeve.
There are too many songs to mention where Mattias uses the whammy bar, but what I think is really helpful, is this video where Mattias explains how he makes these wild harmonic sounds. So many of these techniques use the bar. Whether it’s small flutters, harmonics, using dissonant notes and more….this is fun and weird sounding stuff. If you really want to talk about weird, listen to his song Musth, where he uses a comb…yes really, for the rhythm sound. Or Insert Coin, where he does multiple takes of his guitar so it sounds like aliens. Wacky, and wonderful stuff.
Speaking of weird in the best way, how could we not mention Adrian Belew? Belew has worked with King Crimson, Bowie, Zappa, the Talking Heads and so many others, not to mention a great solo career. Speaking about his whammy bar work, you have to start with the song Twang Bar King, from his album Desire of the Rhino King, which is a minute and a half of punk rock and wild whammy bar playing.
With his time in King Crimson he switched over to a Parker Fly guitar so he could abuse the whammy without the guitar going out of tune. He talks about the switch, and lots of other great tips for musicians in Music Radar’s interview here. Belew is so underrated, and without a doubt one of the most creative players you should check out if you haven’t already.
Coming up at a similar time with Vai, Satriani was and still is a huge user of the whammy bar. I was lucky enough to see Satch on the G3 tour, and his tone was still enormous - with not much more than his signature Ibanez’s into a Marshall. For his whammy bar playing, you should start with the iconic Surfing with the Alien (and then listen to the rest of this must have album for any guitarist).
After that, switch over to his 1989 album Flying In a Blue Dream, and check out the title track, which has controlled feedback, and subtle use of the bar. Two of my favorite lessons on Joe are this one which talks about 10 things you gotta do to play like Satch (including all his whammy tricks), and this video from Joe himself talking about weird alien guitar sounds.
How many guitar lists include Hendrix? I’m sure there’s a few. As easy as it was to put EVH on here because of Eruption, I had to put Hendrix on here at LEAST for the Star Spangled Banner. Hendrix’s version had it all, use of the whammy bar, modulation effects, fuzzy distortion, and so much more. Almost everyone on the planet knows Hendrix played this song at Woodstock.
If you want to hear even more of Jimi’s playing while using the bar, check out this awesome live version of Foxey Lady, and this version of Little Wing by Stevie Ray Vaughan (who could’ve also probably been on this list!)
Who’s your favorite whammy bar player?
I’m sure I missed at least a handful of players, but these are my personal favorites. Who’s your favorite player who’s changed guitar and has a solid grip on whammy bar playing? Let me know by reaching out on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.