Tremolo vs Floyd Rose vs Whammy

What’s The Difference Between Floyd Rose, Tremolo, and Whammy?

If you’ve been shopping for guitar gear recently, you’ve probably come across the terms Floyd Rose, tremolo arm, and whammy bar. While each tool creates vibrato on the guitar, there are subtle differences. Which vibrato system you should buy depends on the type of guitarist.

So, what’s the difference between Floyd Rose, Tremolo, and Whammy? First, Floyd Rose systems are more intricate than a simple tremolo arm. Additionally, guitarists revere Floyd Rose systems for their unmatched ability to keep their instruments in tune. However, a whammy bar is sufficient for most guitar enthusiasts.

The science of music gear is fascinating but complicated. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about each vibrato system and which you should buy.

What is a Tremolo Arm?

The most basic vibrato system is a tremolo arm. You’ll recognize it as a metal bar connected to the bridge. When you hit it during a solo, you rapidly bend the pitch up and down to create ‘vibrato.’

It sounds incredible, but the technology is pretty simple. Most electric guitars either come with a tremolo arm or a location to attach one to the bridge. If you don’t already have one, your solos are probably missing something.

Despite how common tremolo arms are, not all guitars have them.  The Gibson Les Paul famously lacks a whammy bar.  Thus, guitarists like Jimmy Page improvised, creating vibrato by pressing the strings above the fretboard.

What is a Whammy Bar?

The term “whammy bar” is an informal name for a tremolo arm. Guitarists talking to friends will likely use this term in place of “tremolo arm.” However, if you’re a guitar teacher, you might want to use the term “vibrato bar” for correctness’s sake.

What is a Floyd Rose?

Floyd Rose systems feature tremolo locking, reducing the need for re-tuning your guitar after an aggressive playing session. They are an expensive alternative to a typical bridge and whammy bar setup. However, they are worth it for lead guitarists who depend on excellent vibrato.

Floyd Rose is the name of the company that patented the double-locking system. They’ve been in business since 1980, delivering the best tremolo systems on the market.  Consequently, hard rock and heavy metal lead guitarists love Floyd Rose systems for their reliability on stage.  They allowed guitarists like Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai to play for hours without holding back.

Should I Get a Floyd Rose?

Whether or not you should get a Floyd Rose or not is an individualized question.  Playing style and budget are the most significant considerations.

You should get a Floyd Rose system if you’re not limited by your budget and serious about guitar.  The time you save re-tuning your guitar enhances your enjoyment.  Just be sure that you know how to install a Floyd Rose system or hire someone who can do that for you.

You should also get a Floyd Rose system if you’re a lead guitarist who plays aggressively.  With a standard tremolo arm/whammy bar setup, you’re likely to bend your guitar out of tune during an intense session.  Because stopping to re-tune isn’t an option, a Floyd Rose system is a worthwhile investment.

However, you should hold off on buying a Floyd Rose system if your budget is limited and you chiefly play rhythm.  In this case, it’s better to save up for some high-quality humbucker pickups.  You don’t need a Floyd Rose system if you play softer genres and don’t mind re-tuning once per session.

Types of Vibratos

There are many tools available to help guitarists produce killer vibratos.  But what is it that makes vibratos so great?  Pitch-bending can create countless unique sound effects to enhance your playing.  Below, we’ve included some common vibrato effects that lead guitarists love to play.

Roll Vibrato

The classic type of vibrato involves “rolling” your finger up and down the fretboard.  It creates a subtle pitch change that emulates a singer’s voice.  Because all you do is slide your finger side to side, you don’t need a whammy bar to perform a roll vibrato.

Rock Vibrato

Because you slightly bend your wrist to perform a rock vibrato, it’s also called a wrist vibrato.  You achieve it by turning the string up and down. This creates a more remarkable pitch change than a roll vibrato, about a three-note shift.

Unfortunately, performing this vibrato can quickly detune your guitar.  You must bend the string out of tune to get the effect.

Divebomb Vibrato

The sound of this vibrato is enhanced with amplification.  As the name suggests, it sounds like a bomb falling from a plane.  You slowly lower the pitch by pressing down on the whammy bar to perform a divebomb vibrato.

Dimebag Darrell, Eddie Van Halen, and Herman Li were/are masters of the divebomb effect.

Circle Vibrato

For something extra punchy, a circle vibrato can wow an audience.  You move your finger in a circle as you fret a note to play it.  It combines the effects of a rock vibrato with a roll vibrato, giving it an authentic rock-and-roll sound.

While impressive, the circle vibrato is challenging to master.  Being able to bend a string in two directions simultaneously requires advanced technique and hardy callouses.

Floyd Rose Alternatives

Having been on the market for 40 years, it’s inevitable that manufacturers have tried to improve the tried-and-true Floyd Rose system.  Thus, there are many options for guitarists seeking something a little different.

Trem King

The Trem King is a more recent innovation, having made its debut in 2007.  It combines the fun of a whammy bar with the stability of a fixed bridge.  Thus, you can achieve mesmerizing tremolo without re-tuning every 30 minutes.

It’s also more straightforward than a Floyd Rose system, making it easier to install and operate.

Strandberg – EGS Tremolo

Like Floyd Rose systems, Strandberg’s EGS Tremolo features a floating bridge.  A floating bridge is suspended between springs in the body and the strings for those who don’t know.

The EGS Tremolo is tricky to set up and mechanically complex. In addition, unlike traditional bridge setups, the EGS Tremolo bridge extends below the guitar’s body.  Consequently, not all guitar bodies can accommodate the design without significant modifications.

However, what the EGS lacks in ease of use, it makes up for in outstanding capability.

Tremolo Pedal

Lastly, investing in a tremolo pedal allows you to control vibrato with your foot. As a result, you won’t need to move your hand to hit the whammy bar, letting you play uninterrupted.

Unlike bridge systems, a tremolo pedal modifies pitch electronically.  However, a tremolo pedal is typically cheaper than Floyd Rose systems. So if you’d like to achieve impressive vibrato without forking out $100+, these tremolo effects pedals are excellent options.


Do Bass Guitars Have Whammy Bars?

Bass guitars and electric guitars differ in many ways if you look closely. For example, despite the length of the neck, string count, and string thickness, most bass guitars lack a whammy bar.  Why?

The main issue with putting a whammy bar on a bass guitar is tension.  Thicker strings place more pressure on the body.  Whammy bars present difficulties even with the thinnest of electric guitar strings. So, It’s easy to see how they’d create a nightmare for bass players.

Fortunately, there are other ways to achieve vibrato on bass without a whammy bar. You can still bend the strings to achieve roll and circle vibratos. However, you may want to strengthen your fingers first.

How to Do Vibrato on Acoustic Guitar

Like bass guitars, acoustic guitars don’t typically have whammy bars.  The structure of a hollow body makes a floating bridge and tremolo arm challenging to attach.  Additionally, a vibrato system like a Floyd Rose would interfere with the acoustics of the guitar, something electric guitars don’t need to worry about.

Nevertheless, string bending vibrato methods allow you to embellish melodies in a skin-tingling fashion.  Rock, roll, and circle vibratos can play on an acoustic guitar.  You can also do the Jimmy Page technique by pressing above the nut on the fretboard.

Suppose you’re trying to crush a DragonForce solo on an acoustic guitar. In that case, you may need to look into some new equipment.


Floyd Rose, tremolo arms, and whammy bars are examples of vibrato-producing gear.  Tremolo arms, also called whammy bars, are the basic tremolo setups on most guitars.  However, Floyd Rose systems increase tuning stability and performance at a higher cost.

Whether you choose to splurge on a Floyd Rose system, stick to your trust whammy, or explore alternatives, it’s hard to go wrong.  Every design is perfect for certain types of guitarists.  To decide which is right for you, you need to ask yourself, “What kind of guitar player am I?” Once you answer that, you’ll know how to select the best accomplice for incredible guitar playing.


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