Vibrato is one of the most expressive techniques available to us guitarists.
As such, it's wise to spend time experimenting with your own vibrato technique. After all, it's one of the most defining aspects of any guitar player's sound.
Let's start with an overview of the most common methods for getting a vibrato sound with your guitar.
1. Standard Electric Guitar Vibrato Technique - In this technique, you get vibrato by repeatedly bending the string sharp then returning it to pitch. It's possible to get extremely aggressive rock/blues flavored vibrato using this classic technique.
2. Classical Vibrato Technique - In this technique, the string is repeatedly "pulled" toward the headstock then "pushed" toward the guitar's body. No bending. This is similar to how a violinist creates vibrato. The benefit with this technique is that the vibrato takes the pitch above and below the target pitch. This is a sweeter, smoother sound than the standard guitar vibrato technique.
3. Standard/Classical Hybrid - This is also called Circular Vibrato, as employed by Steve Vai. This technique combines the standard method and classical method, so you're both bending the string (as in standard technique) and pushing/pulling the string (as in classical technique). This combined motion looks like you're moving your finger in a circular pattern on the fretboard. It's a tricky move to get down, but sounds quite nice.
4. Whammy Bar - For any whammy bar equipped guitars, this is a no-brainer. Anything from subtle vibrato to extreme warbles is possible using the whammy bar. Again, check out Steve Vai if you want to see the whammy bar's full potential. Other great bar users are Jeff Beck, Scott Henderson, Guthrie Govan, and Joe Satriani (among many others).
5. Bending/Shaking the Neck - This is a favorite of Tele-wielders such as Brad Paisley. I've also heard Tommy Emmanuel use this technique on acoustic guitar. All you do is push the neck of the guitar forward as you hold the body in place to get a dip in the pitch. This works great when playing chords. Be careful though...some guitars don't take well to this kind of abuse.
6. Vibrato/Chorus Pedal - Last but not least, there are countless chorus/vibrato pedals on the market to experiment with. This is really a category all to its own, but I figured I'd include it here for the sake of thoroughness. I recommend listening to these players for ideas on how to use pedals for vibrato...Mike Campbell (Tom Petty), Michael Landau, Eric Johnson, John Scofield, Mike Stern, and Oz Noy.
Take some time and experiment with all of these approaches to vibrato. One may really click with you, but they are all worth having in your bag of tricks.
There are basically three variables involved in vibrato. First is the method used which we've just covered.
Next is the rate of the vibrato. Try to lock into the tempo of the song with your vibrato - either eighth notes, triplets or sixteenth note subdivisions. This makes your vibrato blend with the overall sound of the music.
Third is the depth of the vibrato. Think of your vibrato as a light connected to a dimmer switch. It's not simply on or off. You can go from no vibrato to extreme vibrato and everywhere in between. Try it all.
You're now armed with all the info you need to dig deep into your vibrato technique. All that's left is for you to listen and experiment.
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