The guitar industry is massive on account of the millions of players out there. And due to the demand, manufacturers have designed different styles of bridges, guitars, pedals, and accessories for guitarists to expand their creative scope and technical ability.
Whammy bars are one of these features, and they’ve been around since the invention of the Fender Stratocaster back in the early 1950s, even before if you count the original vibrato systems. Though, a lot of beginner guitar players often wonder if you’re more likely to break strings with a whammy bar.
Generally speaking, it’s certainly possible to break your guitar strings with a whammy bar, vibrato system, or floating-bridge tremolo. However, there are a few things you can do to avoid this, including the regular changing of strings, avoiding excessive use of the bar, and more.
But to be completely honest with you, while it is possible, I’ve never actually busted a string while using the whammy bar. I’ve definitely broken strings before, but usually through a bend that’s too strong or by a burr or some other steel artifact that wears down the string faster than usual; more on this below.
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How to Avoid Breaking Strings With Your Whammy Bar
But truth be told, I don’t actually use my whammy bars that often. While I do own the guitars above, I seldom use the vibrato systems on them, unless I’m strumming a chord and gently depressing the vibrato to create a wavy vibe.
Whether you break a string or not with your whammy bar comes down to a couple of different factors, and I think in most cases, it won’t be because of the whammy bar itself.
It’ll be due to old strings, an improperly finished bridge, pieces of string left behind in the saddles, an abused vibrato system (meaning you’re going too hard on it), or simply due to tarnished and rusted strings.
Let’s talk about the 4 primary ways of avoiding broken strings with a whammy bar. They’re all fairly intuitive.
1) Change Strings Often – You Should Also Break Them In
In my article on when guitar strings are dead, I stated that with regular playing, ie, 1-3 hours of guitar playing per day, your strings will noticeably decline at the 2 or 3-week mark.
And by the 4th month, if you’re playing every single day you’ll notice a huge difference between a fresh pair and an old pair of strings. The brightness and life of a fresh set are simply unmistakable.
Here are two videos where I compare old and new guitar strings. The first one is on the acoustic guitar and the other one is on the electric guitar.
On account of rust and/or tarnish (which I’ve also discussed before), strings can get quite vulnerable, and they will break eventually. This is especially the case if you do a lot of bends.
For me, the number one way that I determine guitar strings on an electric are ready to be changed is when you get a gross warbling sound on the high e-string from the 12th fret to the 22nd fret. The video above demonstrates this.
This is a sign the strings are getting old, and with a vibrato arm, you’re more likely to break them. Assuming you aren’t going crazy on your vibrato system though, you probably won’t break the strings on your own.
As the subtitle suggests, one thing you can do to make your strings more impervious to snapping is to break the strings in.
But what do I mean by this? I’ll show you how to do it now. This will help ensure your strings can handle bends and vibrato a lot more.
How to Break Guitar Strings In
2) Decrease the Pitch – Don’t Increase It
Ultimately, this depends on the style of the bridge you have but all of my guitars have a Fender Stratocaster-style tremolo bridge. They’re fairly solid and almost like they’re fixed in place.
Because of the way they’re designed, they’re not meant to increase the pitch as much as they are to decrease it.
Of course, you can lift up on the vibrato bar just a bit to increase the pitch, but in general, these systems aren’t used for massive depreciations or appreciations in pitch.
They’re meant to create vibrato! We’ll talk more about the different styles of bridges and how this is a factor in a minute.
If you want to do dive bombs and other techniques like Dimebag Darrell but you don’t have a Floyd Rose or floating tremolo system, purchase something like the DigiTech Whammy Pedal (my guide on pitch shifters) shown in the image above.
3) Don’t Abuse the Vibrato
Assuming you don’t reef on your whammy bar Dimebag-style, you should be able to avoid breaking strings. As I said to you, a standard vibrato system is simply meant to create a bit of vibrato in the guitar sound, and that’s it.
If you really wanted a vibrato system that can handle a lot of abuse, you should feel more inclined to get a floating bridge like the Floyd Rose, along with some locking tuners.
Floating bridges do exactly what the title describes – they float in place, rather than sit in place in a locked position. This means they can depreciate or appreciate with a huge variation.
4) Use Thinner Strings
And this one is probably up for debate, but I find that lighter (or thinner) guitar strings are actually much better served for heavy bending and vibrato use. In my opinion, thicker guitar strings tend to break a lot more than thin guitar strings.
Thinner strings just feel as though they break in a lot better and they’re meant to be abused a little bit more. Compare that too thick strings which tend to feel more locked-in place and as if they like to move around a lot less.
And it certainly makes sense because they are thicker. This could also be why jazz guitarists tend to use thicker strings – they rarely do bends.
Are Different Vibrato Systems More Likely To Break Strings?
Ultimately, you’re more likely to break strings on a guitar with a floating bridge like the Floyd Rose than a standard Fender tremolo bridge. The reason for this is that you can dramatically increase the pitch up and down with a floating bridge, increasing the probability of breakage in the process.
That said, it’s going to depend on whether you’ve followed the steps that I’ve outlined in the section above. Are your strings super old?
Are they tarnished and rusted? Have you broken them in properly? Are you maybe going too hard on them? Are you using thinner strings? Is there a burr or an old piece of string stuck somewhere in the saddle?
These are all good questions to ask yourself. Changing strings is something you have to get used to anyway, especially if you intend on recording a lot of guitar parts.
Other Articles You May Be Interested In
- What’s the Difference Between A Whammy and Tremolo Bar?
- Whammy Pedal vs Whammy Bar – What’s the Difference? [EASY]
- Are Whammy Bars Supposed To Be Loose? [ANSWERED]
- How to Fix A Whammy Bar That’s Too Stiff [SIMPLE]
Important Things to Note About Whammy Bars and Broken Guitar Strings
1) You Should Learn How To Replace Strings Anyway
The way I look at it, fresh strings sound a lot better so you might as well get used to changing strings every 2-4 weeks, assuming you’re a vigorous guitarist who is always playing and recording.
But this is up to personal taste. Personally, a freshly-set-up guitar with new strings on it feels amazing and makes me feel like playing a lot more. I find I’m a lot more creative because of this too.
1) Elixir Super Light (on Amazon)