There’s only a single thing that can turn me off from a guitarist. No, it’s not a lack of speed, vocabulary, gear, or tone. Maybe I lied - poor tone will do it, but I’ll get to that in a different blog post. To illustrate where I’m going, imagine this scenario:
I’m checking out a band at a local venue. They’re tight, and absolutely crushing it. Halfway through a mid-tempo ballad, the lead guitarist steps forward for the obligatory solo. Opening with a fantastic line, he settles in a slow, climbing whole step bend with stellar intonation and then…
…violently shakes the note with a quick, sharp, rigid vibrato reminiscent of the elderly lady that sits behind you and sings at church. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing in the right application. It absolutely has a place in music and specifically guitar music. The problem is there are a slew of guitarists that do not know where that place is. Maybe it’s an intentional choice, but I’m willing to bet for several players it isn’t - and it likely hasn’t been considered or is a conscious decision. Does that make them poor guitar players? Not in the least bit. We've all approached or will approach this hurdle in our never-ending quest to simply be better guitar players.
Here’s the thing - you wouldn’t shout while conversing in a coffee shop or quiet restaurant. You probably also wouldn’t paint your house with a tire iron or shave your beard with a weed whacker. Using the correct tools and methods in the right environments typically yield the best results. With that said -
Few things can make a single note more interesting and satisfying for the listener than a sophisticated, musical vibrato. Being players of fretted instruments, we don’t have the liberty of utilizing pitches both above and below the note with exception of bending, using a slide, or a guitar’s tremolo. However if you listen in depth to your favorite guitar players, they likely don’t have an issue with it.
A quick and intense vibrato isn’t any more out of place in the wrong scenario than a wide and slow one, which could simply make you sound out of tune. Everything has its place. Spend a day honing in your vibrato technique, record yourself, and listen. You will be amazed at the improvement in your sound as a whole. Excellent, appropriate, well-placed vibrato is every bit as tasteful and juicy as a perfectly marinated steak. The next time you pick up a guitar, use your ears and eat up!