Left of Center, Wangling your Whammy
It's a guilty pleasure that's oh-so-hard to resist. You know you shouldn't touch it, that it'll lead you down a sordid path of excess and indulgence--but you just can't help it. There it is, after all, sticking out just begging you to grab it and?divebomb! Well, okay. If you must, you must. But let's face it: The whammy-bar divebomb has been done to death. There are much more satisfying things you can do with that bouncy bit of metal.
Sitar on it
For one, you can use it to make your guitar sound something like a sitar. To do this, twirl your whammy bar around so that the long end is facing away from the neck of the guitar instead of toward it, as it normally does. With the tips of the index and middle fingers of your right hand press lightly on the last inch or so of the whammy bar (I know, this is starting to sound perverted again!). Sounds cool already--but wait 'til you add this: Use your right thumb to strike one of your strings, then, while you play hammer-ons on that string, whip your right fingers back to the tip of the whammy bar and gently bounce it while you hammer-on up and down the neck. You'll create an eerie sitar-like effect. Bellydance, anyone?
Another wonderful whammy bar move is to use it to craft solos from feedback. Let's say you're rocking out with some heavy band in the key of E. When it's time to solo, hit an E somewhere on the neck-3rd string, 9th fret, for example-and turn toward your amp and let the feedback build. It'll be in key-if you're careful to dampen the other strings when you hit that E. Now, use your whammy bar to change the pitch of the feedback. If your tone is loud and distorted, you shouldn't have much trouble getting nice rich feedback. If your volume (or distortion) is a bit low for generating feedback, crank the reverb-that'll do it.
Applying the whammy bar just slightly will enable you to keep your feedback tone from edging into the painfully piercing range. And with a little practice you'll be able to use the whammy bar to completely control the pitch of the feedback. You'll begin to develop a feel for how much pressure you'll need to place on the whammy bar to move up or down a half step or a whole step. As the rest of the band changes chords under the solo, you can stick with the feedback you've got going or you can carefully finger the chords, too, and get new feedback going in different pitches. This works especially well when you barre the chords in 2nd position. "Surfing the Strat" is wonderfully freeing-it feels like you're pulling music out of the air. It's also a great way to improve your ear, as you'll have to rely on it, not fret markings, to gauge pitches. Listen carefully to keep your intonation true.
For a real Left Of Center technique, let's get wacky. While soloing, rest the whammy bar loosely in the ring finger and pinkie of your right hand. This leaves your right thumb and forefinger free to hold the pick. As you pick your solo, you can use the ring finger and pinkie to pull on the whammy bar. You can give certain notes a touch of tremolo by pulling gently on the bar or you can yank on it like crazy and make the whole solo sound like it's on the verge of going over the edge.
You are now armed with three divebomb-free techniques for tickling your trem bar. Just keep it clean, will ya?
Debra Devi is the lead singer/guitarist for the rock band Devi. www.devi-rock.com