Can You Put a Whammy Bar on a Les Paul? Is It Worth It?

Author: Richard Clyborne | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

The Gibson Les Paul is the definitive solidbody electric guitar. From jazz and blues to classic rock and metal, the first solidbody electric guitar still shows up in all styles of music.

Do you want a Santana cry? A Lynyrd Skynyrd honk? A heavy metal chug? They all call out for a Les Paul.

Les Paul – the First Solidbody Electric Guitar

Guitarist/inventor Les Paul got a lot of things right on his first design way back in 1941. The model that came to bear his name has changed little over the years.

The dependable tuning and powerful signal make it the weapon of choice for many pro players.The Les Paul guitar is known as reliable, highly playable, with a complex sound and a durable build.

Bushings, Heavy Metal

A key piece of the stable tuning is the hardtail bridge on the bushing design. Large, dense metal lugs are driven in the mahogany top, allowing for a heavy metal bridge to take the intense tail to nut pressure of the six strings.

This permits efficient transfer of string vibration into the body of the guitar, giving the Les Paul a juicy long sustain.

The Lacking – A Whammy Bar

Sometimes the shimmering jazz chords or the squealing metal bends are just begging for a little tickle of a whammy bar to bring them to life. Some kind of tremolo system would add a useful modern feature to this grand old thing. Those big bushings are the key. We can hang all kinds of hardware on them.

From the Factory

When considering whether or not to add a whammy bar to our Les Paul, let’s look at what the factory offers. As it turns out, not much from the time-honored Nashville factory.

The boys at Gibson have done just a few Les Paul models with a whammy bar. On the upper end, Gibson has this reissue model.

Your Options Among Les Pauls Copies

Though the Les Pauls can be pricey, especially with mods like a whammy bar, they are an oft copied model. Many guitar companies offer Les Paul-ish guitars with some different features.

The PRS SE Singlecut offers some Les Paul type tone and stylings with a strat style floating bridge.

Gretsch does the Duo Jet, one of my favorite guitars of all time. The factory model with the Bigsby is a fine tool for classic rock and blues. It’s a little nastier, not as refined as the Les Paul, but I love its snarl.

Check out this locking Floyd Rose trem Schecter Solo-II FR Apocalypse. What a mean finish, and nasty Alnico pickups. Yes Please!

Aftermarket Mods

Since the Les Paul has those big old steel bushings sticking out of the top, all kinds of aftermarket tremolo solutions can be attached.

The Classic Bigsby

It’s just a few hours of work with a screwdriver and a drill to slap a Bigsby on a Les Paul with one of these kits. Measure twice, drill once!

The Les Trem II, The Easiest Solution

A German company, Duesenberg, has come up with a rig that simply replaces the standard hard-tail bar with a system that looks and feels a little like a floating strat type bridge. They call it the Les Trem II. I’ve never tried one, but it seems easy to install.

A Floyd Rose System With Just a Drill

Stew-Mac, Kings of guitar parts, offer this surface mount Floyd Rose system that requires no routing, but some careful measuring and a fair amount of drilling.

The Kahler System (For Pros Only)

The Kahler company has a serious set of hardware made for a Les Paul. The installation is, however, much more involved, requiring some routing and shaping of a cavity, sacrificing precious, tone shaping mahogany.

Don’t Bother With a Strat-style Trem

A strat style floating bridge is out of the question. The routing needed on the guitar body will be deep, and on both sides.

Most people turn away from this kind of guitar surgery due to the time or money it takes. Routing a Les Paul for a floating system is not worth it. Especially with options that have a lower impact on the meaty Les Paul body.

Is It Worth It?

Factory versions of Gibson Les Pauls featuring a whammy bar are rare. Epiphones pop up every now and again with a Bigsby or a Floyd Rose, like this limited run Alex Lifeson model (of ‘Rush’ fame).

Similar models, like this Les Paul adjacent SG with a Vibrola tail-piece, drip out of the factories.

It is If You Do It Yourself

Adding a Bigsby or a Les Trem II is easy. Take a peek at some used models, they’re both common mods. It’s worth it to buy an Epiphone Les Paul and install your own tremolo system. Just a few tools and a few hours and you’ll have the holy grail of superb guitar tone WITH a whammy bar.

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About Richard Clyborne

Richard is a guitar player and music producer from Denver, CO. Apart from touring extensively with his band, he has briefly worked as a session musician and recorded at several prominent recording studios across Colorado.

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