When you start playing the guitar, you’ll quickly discover that notes and chords aren’t the only way to create listener interest.
Most instruments allow you to modify the sounds that come from the guitar. If you route your sound through pedals, you can incorporate several unique effects.
Another option is the Whammy bar. This non-locking tremolo lets you bend each note’s pitch or chord upward or downward based on what you want to accomplish. When this feature gets activated repetitively, musicians can incorporate more vibrato into their songs.
The Whammy bar gives you direct control over string pitch, offering a diverse array of sounds and playing options.
If you have a Gibson Les Paul guitar with this feature, you’ll have one of the best instruments imaginable to unlock your full playing potential.
Best Gibson Les Paul Guitars with Vibrato or Whammy Bars
The Gibson Less Paul series is considered by most musicians, fans, and critics to be one of the industry’s two most important electric guitars of all time. It was first released in the 1950s, but it has now grown to encompass thousands of unique variants, families, and sub-models, including vibrato and whammy bars.
If you search for a Gibson Les Paul guitar today, you’ll find thousands of different choices across the Internet. Whether you shop for something second-hand on a site like Reverb or want something new and look at Amazon’s listings, you’ll find a design that meets your needs.
Although it would be impossible to describe the mechanics, design advantages, and potential conflicts of every Les Paul ever produced, you will find that this iconic Gibson instrument does offer some common ground across the board.
Most Gibson Les Paul guitars have a similar tone and sustain. It’s the modifications that you can make that set the individualized instruments apart from each other.
What Is the Whammy Bar Used for on a Guitar?
The Whammy bar is the lever you can find on some guitars. It attaches to the instrument’s tailpiece or bridge so that the musician can depress it to increase string tension. This dynamic change creates effects like portamento, vibrato, or dive bombs.
Since each string’s tension is a little different, a Whammy bar creates changes across the entire spread. You can achieve different frequencies and pitches with dynamic differences, effectively shifting the instrument’s tuning temporarily.
If you break a string while playing a guitar with a Whammy bar, the entire instrument goes out of tune.
That’s because the springs on the instrument’s underside allowing for these note changes experience less tension with the string’s removal. It pulls harder on what remains, requiring an immediate fix.
Some people call the Whammy bar a different name, such as a vibrato arm, tremolo bar, or a trem bridge. This terminology essentially refers to the same things.
When you activate the Whammy bar, you’re creating vibrato by manipulating your note or chord pitch. If you have a tremolo, you’re impacting the volume levels of what you’ve played. That’s why a dive-bombed design is sometimes included in this category.
All of the terms are used interchangeably, including by some manufacturers. That’s why you’ll want to look at the specs of your Les Paul guitar before finalizing your purchase to ensure it can meet your needs.
■ Who Invented the Whammy Bar for Guitars?
The first Whammy bars were created and patented by Doc Kauffman in the 1930s. He called the device a “Vibrola,” and it was included on a few of the early-style Epiphone guitars late in that decade.
Once musicians discovered what they could accomplish with this new technology, every guitar manufacturer wanted to include the device on their instruments. The only problem with the invention was that it caused the strings to go out of tune rapidly.
Merle Travis was a famous country guitarist who wanted to use the Vibrola without the headache that came with it. He commissioned Paul Bigsby to develop a different system, which would eventually create the rocker bridge we call the “Bigsby Vibrato.”
The musician could push the arm down on the bridge to loosen the strings to make a pitch drop possible. You can find instruments with this design still getting released today.
Leo Fender would create the first synch tremolo for his guitars in the 1950s, with the first option appearing in the ’54 Stratocaster. It brought a fantastic pitch range to use for this playing style, along with the first option to bend sounds upward.
The latest update to the design is the Floyd Rose tremolo. It is named after the inventor who created the first locking version in 1979. If you play metal or rock, this design option is almost mandatory.
What Are the Best Gibson Les Paul Guitars with Vibrato or Whammy Bars?
If you’re ready to take your playing skills to the next level, having a Les Paul with vibrato or a Whammy bar can give you the versatility needed for any composition. You’ll get the vintage sound, comfortable strum, and pure audio bliss that this design is known to produce with the added individuality you want.
Here are the best guitars you’ll find right now from the Gibson Les Paul design to add to your collection.
1. Gibson Les Paul Supreme Florentine
All you need to know about this guitar is that it uses AAAA-grade maple to create a stunning sound. It uses the Florentine cutaway as a variation to the original design, offering a chambered mahogany body and pear split-block inlays to deliver an impressive performance.
The golden trim and highlights stand out against the Caribbean blue and horizontal grain patterns for impressive optics. Even the grovers get this attention. Abalone inlays and a gold truss-rod cover complete the look.
You’ll get a 498 humbucker in the bridge and a 490 in the neck, creating all of the sounds from the original Les Paul that you want. It offers independent tone and volume controls with a three-way switch for maximum versatility.
This guitar is a limited run that uses a genuine Bigsby vibrato to deliver individualization. It comes in a vintage brown Gibson hardshell case.
2. Gibson 1960 Les Paul Waddy Wachtel Guitar (Collector’s Choice No. 14)
Bob “Waddy” Wachtel was one of the best sessions-based guitarists of his era. He worked with Keith Richards on his solo album, recorded with many of the industry’s biggest stars, and is on virtually any rock LP that demands a signature tone.
When Wachtel wasn’t playing a Strat, he strapped up a Les Paul. Gibson decided to give the guy a signature instrument to the exact specifications needed to enhance his performance. Waddy wanted a thinner neck, and old-fashioned Bigsby, and a tighter low-end so that he could work the harmonics with precision.
Gibson produced a run of 300 guitars that replicated the signature instrument they made for Wachtel in 1960. It features a nitrocellulose lacquer finish, mahogany body, and a figured maple top for a warmer tone.
You’ll find that the instrument plays fast and smooth, with the rosewood fingerboard supporting whatever style you prefer. The nickel-plated bridge and custom buckers reproduce transparent tones, while the lemon burst finish delivers the classic Gibson look.
They’ve even gone so far as to hand-age the instrument so that it matches the character of the original that Waddy developed during all of those playing sessions.
3. Gibson Les Paul Alex Lifeson Axcess
Alex Lifeson redefined the boundaries for the modern guitarist. Through his work with Rush, the progressive rock he created with his Gibson set new standards for bluster, drama, and character. You won’t find a more inventive spirit than Lifeson’s when examining the history of rock.
If you want a Gibson Les Paul with vibrato or a Whammy bar, it only makes sense to select an instrument that Alex Lifeson helped personally design. You’ll get all of the classic tones from this guitar that you’d expect while receiving the sonic versatility needed for the progressive riffs and melodies that Rush recorded.
It carries two high-output humbuckers with series-parallel wiring options. The guitar also combines the Floyd Rose locking style with the Ghost® piezo bridge saddles from GraphTech for an intense combination. All of the vintage-style tuners are in gold.
The technology included in this Les Paul can let you drive heavy metal power chords or make the instrument sing like a steel acoustic. Although it might be a little over-the-top for a casual player, it’s also the one investment that covers all of your bases as a guitarist.
Once you pick up this Les Paul, you’ll fall in love.
4. Gibson Les Paul Fort Knox Guitar
This 2016 Les Paul was a limited run that Gibson produced to create a signature look that would turn heads instantly. Only 150 units were produced.
What makes it stand out is the combination of gold hardware, hand-wired electronics, and a bullion gold finish. It uses a Bigsby tremolo to create its signature sound, while the antiqued white binding and mother of pearl inlays create the highlights that you want to see.
It comes with a black pickguard, but the instrument looks a lot better when you take it off to let the gold shine. The tone and sustain make it an excellent guitar to play for almost any genre, and it even incorporates some self-tuning technology.
What makes it stand out even more like one of the best Les Paul options with vibrato or a Whammy bar is the ’50s top style. The early LPs had massive necks, and this design works to replicate that style. Even the trapezoid inlays are a nod to the original era.
Although some consumers complained about this guitar’s cost, it’s about half of the price of other limited-edition Les Paul models. Although only a few of them are out there, you’ll want to consider getting your hands on one if it comes up for sale.
5. Gibson Les Paul Axcess Standard
When you work with Gibson’s custom shop, you can find some impressive guitars that represent the pinnacle of today’s craftsmanship expectations. With a focus on sound excellence and overall quality, its authenticity, accuracy, and attention to detail deliver impressive results.
This guitar features a two-piece figured maple top and solid mahogany back. It incorporates the Floyd Rose locking style to help your instrument stay in tune while creating a heel-less feel with the upper frets. Instead of stretching to reach those notes you want to play, you’ll have a comfortable experience with its contour.
The one change you’ll notice from the traditional Les Paul is that the body is a little thinner. They’ve chambered it to provide some weight relief, but that doesn’t change the sound coming from the 496R and 498T pickups.
It feels and plays like a traditional Les Paul, but you’ll have more solos and shredding options with this design.
Do You Need Vibrato with Your Playing Style?
As with any choice that a new guitarist faces when selecting an instrument, your new Les Paul must serve the musical style and genre you prefer. When you have lots of rhythm playing and chords to navigate, a fixed-bridge option might work better.
If you have scoops, dive bombs, and other techniques to perform in your songs, it’s often better to find a Les Paul that uses a Floyd Rose.
When you choose a fixed bridge Gibson, you’ll find that the guitar has more sustain since the bridge remains in contact with the body. If your fretting hand can hit the Whammy bar or vibrato, you can produce noticeable changes that will please your audience.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to avoid the high cost of a Gibson Les Paul is to work with the Epiphone brand instead. The limited-edition Emperor Swingster Royale offers the F-stop hollow-body design to create an almost identical sound to its higher-priced cousins. It features a classic construction, series-parallel switching, and lots of bling that will make you stand out on stage.
You don’t need vibrato or a Whammy bar to become a world-class musician. If you want more variety with your style, investing in a Les Paul could be the best choice you make this year.