How To Play Awesome Guitar Solos, Part 1: Vibrato

by Tom Hess

There are many possible reasons why your guitar solos and licks don’t sound totally amazing. The good news is, every problem you can think of has a very specific solution that you can implement to fix any issues and become a more creative player. Here are some of the most common issues I see in the lead guitar playing of many players:

  1. Using little to no vibrato or playing with vibrato that is NOT in tune
  2. Playing the first note of your guitar solo in a very weak manner by using narrow vibrato (or no vibrato)
  3. Using vibrato in the exact same way every time you add it to a note

Before you learn how to use vibrato to enhance your guitar solos and licks, it is important that you SEE and HEAR how this technique can improve your solos. Do this now by checking out the video below:

Use vibrato in the following ways to make your guitar solos sound AMAZING:

1. Use Vibrato In Many Different Ways

You must gain control of two main variables in order to play great vibrato:

1. The way the vibrato sounds (affected by how wide the vibrato is and how fast the pitch fluctuates)

2. How long it takes for vibrato to be applied to a note after the note is played.

In most cases, guitar players apply ‘narrow’ vibrato to a note ‘immediately’ after they play it (every time). If you use vibrato in this manner every time you play a note, it will quickly become less interesting (achieving the opposite of what you want).

To easily make your guitar solos sound much more interesting, use vibrato in a variety of different ways. For example, rather than instantly applying it to a note, ‘delay’ its application for a moment or two. This approach is not common, and will make your playing sound much more unique and interesting. Additionally, it will make the note sound much more intense while helping to sustain it longer.

Listen to the difference between vibrato that is ‘immediately applied’ vs. ‘delayed’:

Example 1 - Instant Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 - Delayed Vibrato: Hear It

Another creative way to enhance your soloing is to both delay the vibrato and strike the note again to add additional intensity to the note. Listen to this example to hear how this sounds:

Example 3 - Delayed Vibrato + Striking The Note Again: Hear It

Example 4 – Here is a short example of how to combine the three different vibrato types discussed above by using various levels of intensity/speed: Hear It

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Select a guitar lick from a guitar solo that you like to play and identify the notes that are sustained longer. Next, record yourself playing this lick for several minutes while using vibrato that is applied immediately after the note is played, delayed for a moment or delayed + an additional pick attack. Use a lot of variety in this recording in order to force yourself to think creatively.

2. Play Vibrato That Is Perfectly In Tune

You must ALWAYS keep your vibrato in tune! Many guitarists play their guitar licks with out of tune vibrato, ruining potentially great sounding solos. To keep your vibrato in tune, make sure you consistently bend the string up to the desired pitch and return it back to the original pitch where you started. In other words, if you are applying vibrato to a note that is a width of a half step, the string needs to be bent up to match the pitch 1 fret above the note you started on. Next, the string must be returned back down and released to match exactly the original pitch you started on.

Hear what out of tune vibrato sounds like compared to perfect vibrato by listening to the examples below:

Example 1 - Perfect Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 - Out Of Tune Vibrato: Hear It

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Determine how wide you want your vibrato to be (such as a half step or whole step). Then invest time into applying this vibrato to different notes in different locations all over the fretboard while keeping it in tune. To speed up the mastery process, record yourself playing so you can pinpoint times when you were playing out of tune and understand the changes you need to make to correct this.

3. Match The Depth Of Your Vibrato To The Right Musical Situation

The most common way that guitarists apply vibrato in their solos is by making it sound very narrow and very subtle. Instead of ‘always’ using this approach, sometimes it is best to begin your guitar solos with a ‘kick to the face’ by using wide/heavy vibrato on the first note! Do this by using vibrato that is a half step or wider (while also remembering to keep it in tune). With this in mind, you don’t always have to use this approach (sometimes the soft/weak vibrato is exactly right for the context) – just make sure not to ‘always’ begin your solos with narrow/no vibrato.

Check out the audio samples below to hear the difference between narrow, wide and ‘extra wide’ vibrato:

Example 1 - Narrow Vibrato (less than a 1/2 step): Hear It

Note: Remember that narrow vibrato can sound good when used in the right situation, you just want to avoid ‘always’ using this type of vibrato as a crutch if you are unable to play wider vibrato. Work on becoming proficient with both types.

Example 2 - Wide Vibrato (1/2 step): Hear It

Example 3 - Very Wide Vibrato (whole step): Hear It

Note: Using vibrato wider than 1/2 step isn't always the best choice over a more narrow vibrato. When you use vibrato in your solos, focus on matching the width and intensity of your vibrato to match the musical context. Being able to play wide vibrato gives you the option to add ‘intensity’ in musical situations that require more tension (this cannot be achieved by using narrow vibrato which is much more subtle). By mastering both narrow and wide vibrato, you will gain the ability to freely express yourself with the technique under any musical circumstance.

How To Use This Concept To Improve Your Guitar Solos Right Now:

Step 1: Think of several licks where the first note of the lick has a ‘longer’ duration (such as a half note or whole note).

Step 2: Use half or whole step vibrato to enhance the first note in each of these licks.

Step 3: Repeat the second step for 5 minutes. Do this once a day, for two weeks until your vibrato sounds killer. This will make it very easy for you to creatively apply vibrato into your solos anytime the opportunity presents itself.

Now that you’ve learned these methods for using vibrato in your solos, you can easily transform any ordinary solo or lick into a totally killer one. The even better news is that this is just the beginning. There are many more ways to enhance your lead guitar playing. In the next part of this article series, you will learn how to use string bends to mold your guitar licks and make them sound totally badass!

Author's Bio: 


About The Author:

Tom Hess is a professional touring musician, recording artist and online guitar teacher who teaches guitarists from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. On his website,, you can get additional free tips about guitar playing, guitar playing resources, mini courses and surveys.