By: David O’Toole
Stratocaster Whammy Bar
Most guitar tuning problems on a Stratocaster, arise from the old style whammy bar or “vibrato bar” as it’s correctly called. And altho’ a wonderful, fun, fantastic, and great invention, does have it’s shortcomings. Newer Strat designs and double-locking systems have mostly overcome these annoying side-effects, but they do have a very different feel to them.
But if you set an old one up properly, and keep it well lubricated (use sewing machine oil), you can reduce your guitar tuning vibrato-bar problems to a minimum.
It’s well worth your while learning all you can about your guitar and music gear, as regards keeping it serviced and running smoothly. If you don’t do it yourself, it means taking it to a repair guy or someone else, every time the slightest thing goes astray. I have a mountain of books like this for reference and it’s another interesting side of playing. Guitar mags such as the excellent and long running Guitar Player, or try Guitar One Magazine, Guitar Amps and so on are also a mine of information. I’m sure I’m not alone there.
An important point to remember when it comes to choosing strings is don’t “Cheat on the Cheese”. This too is a major source of Guitar Tuning problems even nightmares! Try a few different brand types out, and only buy from recognized and reputable guitar-string makers. Different players, styles and guitars have different needs. Always go with a respected brandname such as “Ernie Ball” or “Fender”.
I like 9’s on a Strat and something heavier on an electric guitar with no whammy bar. You can experiment with gauges yourself, find one you like and stick to it, especially on a guitar with an old style hand-vibrato on it, ok whammy-bar. If you intend to play slide on electric or acoustic guitars, use heavy gauge for the best tone and tuning. In general the heavier the string the heavier the tone, but they are harder to play and control. Try bending a g string on a heavy set and you’ll see what I mean. Strings are your guitars lifeblood, and as mentioned elsewhere, no Lee Chang or Red Dragon 50c Specials!
Use that Pencil Behind Your Ear/Stay in Guitar-Tune Nirvana!
Sometimes you might hear a pinging sound when you use the whammy. This is caused by stored tension in the Nut being released as you dip the bar, and then bam, your out of tune. If it’s an emergency, i.e. it happens in the middle of a song during a gig, try pulling the bar up a bit and depending on how far you’ve slipped out of tune, this might just get you back in. At least to the end of the song. Hallelujah…
To solve this annoying and interfering nuisance, some good ol’ lubrication is needed here. The best thing to lubricate the nut-end of things, is graphite. An easy way to do this, is to use an ordinary pencil, and literally write onto the nut underneath where the strings slot in (lifting it up first, loosen if necessary), and give it a coating of lead. Then the strings just glide along the grooves instead of sticking there until you “ping” and release them.
This simple little trick works wonders for Strat guitar tuning dilemmas. Depending on your style and how often you gig, once a week of this treatment should be fine. Vaseline is also recommended for this task but I think it’s a bit messy and more suitable to nappy rash ;-).
Remember Guitar Tuning is half the battle as they say, so it’s seriously worth getting right at an early stage. Good or excellent guitar tuning skills, will automatically improve your musical ear and this also helps you play better. There’s nothing worse or more unprofessional than a “lazy ear” player, who flies around on the guitar no problem, but the guitar is constantly out of tune. So pay attention to your strings and look after them and you will be repaid back a hundred times.
Next we’re under the bridge and checking out the nut, plus we’ll be having a look at the all important guitar-neck massage.
David O’Toole is a guitar player, music fan, and musician from Ireland. He is the webmaster/editor at the following musician sites:
A keen player and experienced guitar teacher, he is also the author of the popular standard, lefthand, reverse guitar, and piano / keyboard Basic Chord Family series.