This is a primer for techniques that will allow one to play whammy licks on a hardtail guitar. Hardtail bridges transfer resonance between the strings and body much better than do vibrato bridges. The nooks and crannies of all the moving parts act as dampers for various frequencies, causing you to lose harmonic nuance and sustain. We have designed our guitars to highlight each player’s unique touch.
These techniques will further delineate and separate one’s playing from the mainstream, reproducing familiar vibrato sounds and opening new musical possibilities while retaining the full tone and tuning stability that only a hardtail bridge can provide.
Bending behind the nut
1. Play an open note or harmonic. Second or third string work best.
2. While the note is ringing out, use your right hand index finger to press down on the string behind the nut. It is possible to play melodies or parts of melodies using this technique.
1. It is possible to bend behind the nut with your right hand while fretting chords with your left hand to accomplish “b-bender” and banjo sounds.
2. It is also possible to use a variation of this technique to bend the length of string between the nut and your fretting hand. Rather than pressing down, one must pull the string across the neck like an ordinary bend.
Bending the neck
1. As with many peculiar techniques, it is often easiest to begin with a natural harmonic or open note
2. Grasp either the upper horn or lower strap button with your right hand, and the end of the headstock with your left hand while the note is ringing
3. Gently pull or push to tighten or slacken the strings. Think of this as a surf-style whammy bend. Remember you are bending the neck. Wood has a lot of resilience and flexibility. A half step (1 fret) or so of bend won’t damage your guitar, but it will scare the audience. More bend than that can risk permanent damage
1. Bend the neck while fretting a chord low on the neck. The change in tension will change the pitches at different rates, causing dissonance.
2. It is also possible to get interesting theatrical small warble bends by holding the guitar up with both hands on the body and shaking vigorously. The inertia of the neck causes it to bend. This is a good technique to use during feedback. Make sure you have enough room that you won’t hit anything. Control the pitch with a Wah or Whammy pedal, if you haven’t already established a coherent feedback pitch via harmonics etc. The Good Blade Humbucker will feedback at a wide variety of frequencies.
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best.
1. If you were going to do anything interesting with the whammy bar anyway, it was probably part of a melody.
2. If this is the case, learn where the notes are on the fingerboard, and slide between them.
3. Slide in an opposite direction first to simulate whammy wildness.
4. Slide from instantaneous random notes toward melodic notes to get into a melody
5. Slide from the melody toward random notes to get out
6. Repeat this process on each note of a melody to simulate using the whammy bar as a pick
8. Play an entire melody plucking once and then sliding along the string to sound several notes in succession
7. Slide octaves up and down together for more volume.
1. Play a note on the 5th fret of the high E string, fretted with your index finger
2. Rapidly slide your hand between the 4th and 6th frets
3. Stop your slide to sustain on the 5th fret again
This technique can almost perfectly mimic the basic whammy bar yank, especially when it’s smoothed out with a little reverb. Try moving the note up or down along the fretboard while maintaining this vibrato. Hold your picking hand up in the air while you do it, you showboat.
1. Place your finger over the natural harmonic at the 7th fret on the 4th string.
2. As you pick the harmonic, quickly slide your finger down to fret the 5th fret
3. Don’t actually fret any notes except the 5th fret.
4. You should hear a note that sounds like a harmonic, but is in the pitch of the fretted note.
There are many natural harmonics on the fretboard that can be moved in this way to nearby frets. The easiest ones begin with the harmonics on the 5th and 7th frets. Wound strings generally work best for this technique. The 12th fret sounds too much like an ordinary note to be very useful for this technique.
1/4-tone Fretting-hand Dips
1. Fret a note on a wound string (4th fret, 4th string works well)
2. Use the friction of the string to push with your fretting finger toward the bridge. Try to fret lightly to avoid bending the string.
3. Using this technique, you can get a slight dip in pitch as you slacken the string. This one is for good ears only. The momentary detuning is similar to a released whammy bar’s slight lag returning to pitch. The effect is not necessarily dramatic, but virtuosos use everything available to them.
1. Fret a note on a plain string extremely hard
2. On a guitar with tall frets, you can get nearly a quarter bend just by pressing harder.
3. Try this on chords to get a toy guitar or carnival pipe effect. Used with quarter tone dips, you can get very useful microtones for eastern melodies and ragas. Once you notice and learn this technique, it becomes instinctive, quick, and less intrusive than whammy bends.
4. There is also tightening effect from extremely hard picking. Sustained tremolo picking sections can gain from emotive warbling in an out of tune. Pick normally and then extremely heavily. Combining this with heavy fretting can result in bends of a halftone or more. Even if you never use this technique, noticing and avoiding this phenomenon can make you a better player.
If you are exceptionally good at hammer-ons and pull-offs, or are willing to practice to become so, use the chromatic scale to go between various target notes. Simply play every note in between, very quickly, without sliding. Pick or otherwise allow the important notes to ring out. This very deliberate effect can duplicate whammy bar licks in a much more impressive way, proclaiming “this is music – I have chosen and labored for it.” Notice that this is not just playing a scale – remember you are playing a melody, connected by many passing tones. You need not go directly between target notes, but may proceed trippingly up and down until you arrive at the melody.
It can be useful to remember that these techniques are somewhat peculiar. Few people would assert that using a whammy bar on every note is a wonderful idea. Any wild jumps in melody should be used sparingly. Interchange these techniques with one another and combine them with the skills you have previously mastered to create a statement that reflects not only your hard work, but your unique view of the world. No technique is music unto itself.