Vibrato arm for guitar & why tremolo is technically incorrect

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 26, 2022

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A vibrato arm is a mechanical device used to create vibrato on a stringed instrument, such as a guitar.

The arm consists of a metal rod that is attached to the body of the instrument and has a handle at the end.

The player can hold the handle and move the rod up and down, which causes the strings to change in pitch. This produces a vibrato effect.

Whammy or tremolo bar on a guitar

The vibrato arm was invented by Leo Fender in the 1950s, and has been used on many different types of guitars since then.

It is a popular way to add expression to your playing and can be used for both solos and rhythm parts.

Many guitarists even use their vibrato arm to create a “shimmering” sound by moving the arm rapidly up and down.

Is it a vibrato arm or tremolo arm?

A tremolo arm, also called a whammy bar can be used to create vibrato or pitch-bending effects. The player presses down on the arm to bend the strings, which changes the pitch of the notes being played. This produces a vibrato effect. The correct term is therefore vibrato arm.

Why is a whammy called a tremolo?

A whammy is actually a misnomer, most likely caused by Fender. They introduced a “tremolo bar” which used a lever to create a vibrato effect that changes the pitch of the strings, and then later introduced the “vibrato unit” which is simply an electronic tremolo effect.

The name has stuck ever since, even though it’s technically incorrect.

Whammy is used to describe something that happens suddenly, like in this case a deep dive of the pitch of the strings. It most often refers to the Floyd Rose system, not so much the more subtle tremolo arms on Stratocasters.

Some refer to the use of a whammy bar as a sforzando in music.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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