There’s a reason why Thor does not have a whammy bar. The plan from the start is to incorporate an electronic whammy bar, instead of the traditional mechanical vibrato.
We use the term vibrato instead of tremolo. The term Tremolo is actually a misnomer. Tremolo deals with change in volume, while vibrato deals with change in pitch. It is unfortunate that companies such as Fender caused confusion using the incorrect term.
The vibrato is a very effective means for musical expression, and musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Van Halen use it to great effect. But guitar players have a love-hate relationship with the vibrato mechanism. These are quirky devices! There are various technological refinements, but by-and-large, the vibrato has physical limitations and peculiarities that make it far less than ideal.
Traditional vibrato mechanisms change the pitch by changing string tension. And that is the crux of the problem.
- Friction in the vibrato mechanism, the nut and the tuners cause tuning instabilities. Locking tuners and better designed nuts alleviate such problems.
- Floating bridge designs, which allow both up and down pitch changes, become unusable when one of the string breaks. Break any string on a floating vibrato bridge guitar, and everything will be massively out of tune.
- The pitch of each string changes in different amounts as the vibrato arm is engaged. That means you can’t form chords that will maintain proper intervals when using the vibrato. The TransTrem is an exception, all the rest are flawed in this regard.
- Guitars with vibrato are more difficult to re-string and tune. The difficulty is exacerbated with floating bridges, and even more so with locking systems such as the Floyd Rose locking vibrato.
An electronic whammy bar does not have such issues because there is no physical interaction with the mechanism and the strings. Instead, the electronic whammy bar senses the bar movement and generates a control voltage that is used to change the pitch electronically, either directly using pitch shifting devices or indirectly via MIDI.
Cycfi Research in collaboration with Oliveira Pires designed such an electronic vibrato that shall be incorporated as an optional feature in Thor and other future Cycfi guitars. The system utilizes a non-contact hall-effect sensor to detect bar movement and translates that into a control voltage. The mechanism includes two springs (expansion and compression) for setting the tension and adjusting the center.
Oliveira and I agreed that the design will be 100% open source!
Here’s are video clips of the second prototype that Oliveira made: