What is Vibrato?


I hear the word "vibrato" alot when hearing and reading about guitar technique but I don't think I really know what it means or how I would describe it.

I have heard thinks like, I love, hate his vibrato.

What would be a good defintion of the word?

Tom Gross

OG Forum Member
Gold Supporting Member
Vibrato is fluctuation in pitch.
Tremelo is fluctuation in volume (Leo Fender got it backwards, and called the whammy bar a "tremelo bar")
Anyway, technique wise, it is the motion of moving the string up and down rapidly (or slowly) to create a shaky tone effect. On fretless guitars, the finger is moved forward and back, as on a violin.
"Good" vs. "Bad" vibrato is often a matter of taste. Too rapid, uneven, cut short so it doen't ring, too wide, etc. are often taken as bad.
I dunno.

Vibtatos I like: Angus Young, SRV, BB King, Jeff Beck, Albert King, Albert Collins, Jimmy Page, Hendrix, a zillion others.

Ah Xoc Kin

Just to add a little bit, here are some types of vibrato you can practice:

1. Forward and back
2. Up and down
3. Combination of 1 + 2. Your finger moves in a circular shape, and remains positioned between two fret. (I hope that makes sense).
4. Quickly move your finger to one fret above and one fret below.
5. Move (push/pull) the guitar's neck.

The first two are just as Tom mentioned.
Number 3 is used by Steve Vai. While I loved his sound, it somehow sounded too "perfect" for me. He also has it perfectly in sync with the song's tempo. At least on a DVD I saw.
I can't remember which guitarist(s) used number 4. As you can imagine, it's not subtle, and does require speed and precision to sound good.
I'm not a fan of number 5, but some guitarists use it, including SRV.

Tom mentioned some great players. It is often easy to identify a player just based on their vibrato. It's a huge part of their voice (in addition to tone, note choice, phrasing, etc.). BB has the famous "butterfly" vibrato. Clapton's is more up/down, and he let's go of the guitar with his left hand, that is, only the finger(s) is touching the string without his thumb supporting it on the back of the neck. Of course, when bending and applying vibrato it is usually a good idea to have support from the thumb.

I think it's important to practice different types of vibrato, and practice them with a metronome. I'm finally going to follow that advise :D


Silver Supporting Member
Great technical advice above....I would just add that if you listen to Robin Trower's Live album you will hear a good example of vibrato. Especially after bending up to a note.


Senior Member
Yeah, the original Floyd Rose tremolo is actually the original Floyd Rose vibrato.


I was extremely disappointed when I realized that Gilmour's vibrato was whammy bar induced!

I think a good vibrato, and especially a good bend up vibrato (followed closely by a good first finger vibrato) are the keys to soulful playing.

For me, it is important to be able to adjust the tempo of your vibrato (ie for the song, not within a single application).

If you can do the bend up, then controlled bend down while vibrato-ing the whole time that Clapton does in While my Guitar Gently weeps, you've probably mastered it!

My technique is kind of a pivot, actuated by the wrist, using the thumb on the back of the neck as an anchor point. It is a little different depending on which finger I'm using. I would think whatever is comfortable for you that sounds smooth and consistent would be fine. Of course, I'm self taught so I'm sure I do everything "wrong".

Avoid the dreaded "thin, cheesy" vibrato at all costs!

Another key to technique is being able to turn it on and off rapidly and transparently.

One of my older brothers friends used to call me "Captain Vibrato" when I was first starting out way (way) back when. I guess it stuck.


Silver Supporting Member
I found that just thinking of a vocalist's vibrato helped me develop a more vocal quality to my guitar vibrato. After all, the main purpose of vibrato is to render your playing to a more organic, human-like level, and equating your technique to such can inject a warmth that so few really achieve. Listen to the great vocalists, they all have different vibratos and vary the degree throughout their songs. This should help not only in reaching that organic quality, but in how you vary your use throughout a song as well. Using the same degree of vibrato all the time will eventually sound stale.


I heard an interesting track by Eric Clapton the other day.
They had set the Tremelo (Vibrato on Leo's amp) of his guitar to the same Speed as the Vibrato of Eric's voice. Very interesting effect, though it appears it was obviously done after he recorded the guitar (and I couldn't get the same waveform from a BF Fender Vibrato - EC has a Vibro Champ).

Best, Pete.


Originally posted by eBay
My favorite Vibtatos are scalloped or baked with butter and sour cream. Umm good.

I don't think you'd make fun of Vibtatos once you had them scattered, smothered, and covered. Or maybe, au gratin. :D

Trending Topics

Top Bottom