How To Get A Killer Vibrato

At some point we all ask ourselves: " Okay, I'm playing the same notes as this guitar player, but why does he sound so much better than me?! " Well, most people I think would assume that he sounds better because of all his expensive equipment, but this is not truth.

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At some point we all ask ourselves: "Okay, I'm playing the same notes as this guitar player, but why does he sound so much better than me?!" Well, most people I think would assume that he sounds better because of all his expensive equipment, but the truth is, the reason why he sounds better is probably because of his superior vibrato technique.

I am sure you have heard the phrase "the tone is in the fingers" right? Well that is what we are going over here. Vibrato is the art of pulsating the pitch of a note to make it sound more dramatic. In guitar terms, that would be bending the note back in forth in order to make it sound more expressive. So why is this important? Simply put, most guitar players do not understand the importance of having a good vibrato.

I have seen tons of players that can sweep up and down the neck, but when they bend that last note at the end, it sounds like a cat dying. You want to be in control of your instrument because you want to sound good. No matter how fast you can shred, if you cannot make that last note scream, you are not in control. If you do not have control of the notes, no matter how insane your chops are, your playing will still come across as "amateur-ish." Having a good vibrato technique is what seperates good players from the great players.

Before we go further, lets examine some of the technical aspects of performing vibrato. Many people have asked me which direction you should bend the strings. Generally you’ll want to bend the string 'down' (toward the floor) on the low E, A, and D strings, and to bend the string 'up' (away from the floor) on the B and high e strings. The G string you would bend either direction depending on the playing situation. The reason why you'd want to bend the B and high e strings 'up' is because you won’t have to worry about pulling the strings off of the fretboard. Another thing to keep in mind, is that the vibrato motion should be done with the wrist, not the fingers. This will give you more control of the motion.

Another commonly asked question is how far should you bend the note during vibrato. Up until I was first asked this I never really though about this, I just let my ears guide me. After close examination though, I have generally found that most the time I bend the notes a half step. However, you will want to vary the pitch and speed of the vibrato depending on how you want your phrases to speak. For example, if you want to show a lot of aggression and intensity you could do a full-step vibrato (or in some cases maybe even more). If you’re playing a slow melodic passage, you may want to use ¼ vibrato on some notes. I would recommend listening to other players with a good vibrato while paying careful attention to the nuances of their technique.

Now let’s look at the right way to do vibrato, and the ways people do it wrong. I have found that vibrato sounds best when it is done slow and wide, especially if you’re into rock and metal music. (Get a vibrato example here) The most common error players make when performing vibrato is that they do it way to narrow, and way to fast. When people do vibrato that way it sounds incredibly annoying. You don’t want weak, wimpy sounding vibrato, you want to be able to blow people away with one note from a mile away. Some less experienced players may not be able to notice the difference as much, but more advanced players definitely will. Also, when you’re bending a note, make sure you bend it at an even pitch and an even rate. On top of that, you need make sure to return to the original pitch of the note after each bend, or else it will sound out of tune. This can be especially difficult when performing Bend-Vibratos (That is when you bend the note, say a full step, and then apply vibrato with the note still bent), but with enough practice and dedication, it will become second nature.

Click here to get a free expanded vibrato lesson with audio examples and more information on improving your vibrato and string bending skills.

By Jeff Treadwell

67 comments sorted by best / new / date

    chuckmehh
    This is my lesson on vibrato...hope you guys like it..the technique is the slow and wide as described by Mr. Treadwell. Enjoy!
    MarkCourt
    To all the people who don't want to learn anything, and already think they know everything about anything, why bother wasting your time reading this and ultimately our time reading your response that is nothing but your opinion based on your experiences... i guarantee that at least HALF of the people who say this article is not helpful and that they already have good vibrato.. in reality and truth actually don't. Maybe people here should start actually listening to their playing instead of stroking their egos and telling themselves how amazing and close they are to being as good as steve vai. but, hey this is only my opinion too
    corp769
    i do anything possible to get that sh*t to ring out. vibrato and/or whammy, depends on what i am doing, and depends how much i want. i'm a straight death metal player, so i use a lot of my fingers for the vibrato, such as pinch harmonics, whereas, during leads and solos, i am using my tremelo to go as much as 8 whole steps up and down for more massive attack to my songs.
    Antony Reynaert
    Great article Jeff! Indeed there are plenty of ways to do vibrato, but once you learn what technique works & what doesn't work you can improve the sound of your vibrato immensly! Thanks for bringing this up! Ant
    sammo_boi
    i have never been able to use my wrist for vibrato, but then i learnt you could also use your whole arm. it gives you more strength to bend higher too. search vibrato in video lessons on UG and there's a couple of good lessons. some good tips but mostly old news.
    xitlight
    For bends I prefer using a SRV-style vibrato, and on notes that I don't bend I prefer a clapton up-and-down vibrato. It's all a matter of preference and what works with your playing.
    reaper_x
    broken fusion! wrote: my vibrato is 14 inches long and as thick as my arm
    There goes my self confidence.
    GoWithTheFlow
    its all about expression. there arent really any rules except you shouldnt sound like shit. it all comes with practice. you will develope the ear. zakk wylde can only do pinch harmonics and bends. it sounds like he cant keep his fingers still for a minute.
    armstrong26491
    There are many ways of performing vibrato, i refuse to listen to people who say 'do this way, it's better than that'.
    Chris Martins
    Great article Jeff. I'd love to hear the vibrato of the people dissing this article as you're basically giving the keys to a great vibrato here...
    The Pickle Man
    wrote: Ookay, here's the problem I have with this.... You can buy an effect called "Tremolo" that does the exact same thing. You can not buy an effect called "Five-String Sweep".
    That's not a very smart comment. First of all, tremolo is a volume sweep effect, it has nothing to do with the pitch of the note. And the notion of turning on a vibe pedal every time you want a dramatic note and then turning it off immediately after is absolutely retarded. Jeff Treadwell is absolutely, appropriate use of vibrato in playing is an indicator of skill.
    -tempest-
    broken fusion! wrote: my vibrato is 14 inches long and as thick as my arm
    i loled
    DaddyTwoFoot
    TatarSalad2 wrote: Um... Vibrato with your wrist? In order for me to do that I have to let go off the neck. I don't think that gives you better control.
    I don't think you quite understand. You just hold your fingers stiff and then turn your wrist like you're turning a doorknob. Pretty simple really. There's a video on YouTube of Paul Gilbert explaining it.
    Silky Smooth
    Good vibrato is one the most important aspects of playing IMO. It seperates the amature sounding players from someone who really has control over the instrument.
    hvm_pt
    Excellent article on vibrato! I've already seen one of yours on another guitar website and it was a huge help to start improving my own vibrato. How about one detailing how to use your wrist in bends and vibrato? It's something that you can't find that much on the internet...
    Blas3
    Was this supposed to be a simple and stupid advertisement of your lesson? it's not the right way to do that.
    jordie0405
    reaper_x wrote: broken fusion! wrote: my vibrato is 14 inches long and as thick as my arm There goes my self confidence.
    lol @ that
    dark templar
    for me, it boils down to what i feel when playing a tune. i would go for a wide vibrato for some, a narrow fast one for some or even a wide and slow going faster and narrower or a fast wide going narrow but slow..man music is about expression, if i want to express the shit out of my head then i could just do a ****ed up vibrato over open strings strumming or whatever dude...the article is not bad, nor not good enough but there's no way it's wrong. i just hate the shit from other people thinking that they are the "RIGHT ONES"...**** the standards of what's supposed to be "RIGHT", a kid can play a tiny guitar with 4 strings and it would still be music to my ears, with vibrato or none!
    rhcp4
    LMAO he said g-stirng in 4th paragraph of fourth sentence
    Ghostrelm`
    Blas3 wrote: Was this supposed to be a simple and stupid advertisement of your lesson? it's not the right way to do that.
    I believe so. Shady as hell. Go advertise somewhere else and PAY for it ya scumbag!!! And Stevie Ray Vaughn's vibrato can tear apart his any day.
    jimRH7
    I don't bend it when i'm doing vibrato - I move my hand back and fourth really quickly, like "shake" it.
    Jonny_V
    Yeah good advice. There are plenty of novice players out there who would do well to listen to advice like this!
    bluesman27
    I think the one thing people forget is to not tighten the wrist on their fretting hand when doing vibrato. That's where pretty much all of the problems come in. That and not building up the speed at which you can do vibrato. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article... learning_vibrato_on_guitar.html?cat=33
    gizmodious
    SauerPilsner wrote: i make vibrato by moving my finger up and down the fret fast. Sounds better for me. Bad article in my opinion
    Kinda like a acoustic style vibrato. Yeah, sounds good, but not nearly as agressive or expressive as a true 'bend' vibrato. You, my friend, pointed out you were a noob and failed to discount and article at the same time. ....fail.
    SauerPilsner
    i make vibrato by moving my finger up and down the fret fast. Sounds better for me. Bad article in my opinion
    strat0blaster
    This article could have been two words long. Like this - "How to get a killer vibrato." Practice hard.
    coffeeguy9
    To "wail"... I use the technique discussed here. To get vibrato, I very the pressure of the string against the bridge by pulling and pushing the string parallel with the strings. It's a classical vibrato, it's more universal. Closer to all other instruments (wind and non-fretted strings). Vibrato is not always neccessary either. I actually love the way my vibrato sounds, and I had a lot of pride in my vibrato. Then I listened to recordings of myself and my guitar playing resembles an opera singer, WAY too much vibrato for any situation, all the time. So Then I worked on finding the right balance, and I now have what I like to think of as a near-perfect vibrato (for my tastes and style, that is). And yes, I agree with your whole amateur/pro discussion, very true. It goes back to the whole "emotion" discussion of blues/shred.
    decayingdave
    There's no right and wrong way to perform vibrato, it's all down to the individual - If I went around telling people off for doing something that I'd prefer not to, I wouldn't expect people to react favorably. This article could be helpful to an absolute novice, but other than that, vibrato all comes down to common musical sense and preference.
    earplay
    The article pointed out some helpful tips I didn't know about. Zakk Wylde has a slowish wide vibrato like he's talking about. Yup, and so does LaRocque. I'm going to practice being consistent now..
    Pepefloydean
    The article was right on saying that vibrato is a really important part of a guitarists playing, but there are tons of ways to do the vibrato (look at Vai's 'circular' vibrato technique).
    Pepefloydean
    The article was right on saying that vibrato is a really important part of a guitarists playing, but there are tons of ways to do the vibrato (look at Vai's 'circular' vibrato technique).
    nitromaniac
    people, you shouldn't slag this lesson off. Think of the beginers. I don't need this either, but people that have been playin for less than a yea instead of 6 or 7 will find this handy
    SayHello2Heaven
    Straight up. I've been working on my vibrato for the last month or so (modeled after Mike McCready of Pearl Jam) and It's almost exactly as this guy says. Those of you who are too arrogant to take instruction, why bother reading this stuff? I really don't care if you get over yourself or not, but stop spamming up the comments board.
    burning_ax
    "There's no right and wrong way to perform vibrato" ??? Oh yes there is . I perfectly understand what the OP is trying to say.Because as an amateur guitarist i know that my vibrato does sound awful,weak and most of all uneven. I should practise slower to get more even bends and then try to increase my speed i suppose
    TatarSalad2
    Um... Vibrato with your wrist? In order for me to do that I have to let go off the neck. I don't think that gives you better control.