How To Play Better Guitar Solos Than You Ever Imagined Possible Part 1: Using Vibrato To Enhance Your Guitar Licks

by Tom Hess


Your lead guitar solos and licks will sound ‘average’ at best when you make these extremely common guitar soloing mistakes:

  1. Using either no vibrato or poor, ‘out of tune’ vibrato throughout your solo
  2. Beginning your guitar solo in a very ‘weak’ manner by using narrow vibrato or no vibrato at all
  3. Applying vibrato technique in the ‘exact same way’ every time you use it on a note

Before I show you how to use vibrato expressively to play incredible guitar solos, watch the video below to see and hear a demonstration of how much better any guitar solo can sound once the vibrato is improved (the solo is played by one of my students):

Here is how you must practice vibrato to improve YOUR guitar solos:

1. Keep Your Vibrato ‘In Tune’ At All Times

While applying vibrato to a note, you must ALWAYS make sure to keep the vibrato ‘in tune’. This is essential! If your vibrato is not in tune, it will totally ruin an otherwise killer solo. Keep your vibrato in tune by bending the string all the way up to the target pitch and returning the string back to the original pitch where you began. For example, while applying vibrato that is a ‘half step’ wide, you must bend the string so that it matches the pitch precisely one fret above the fret you are on. Then release the string so that you return to the original pitch you are playing.

Listen to the two examples below to hear the difference between perfect vibrato and vibrato that is out of tune.

Example 1 - Perfect Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 - Out Of Tune Vibrato: Hear It

How To Best Apply This To Play Killer Guitar Solos Right Now:

First, decide how wide you want to make your vibrato (the distance between the original pitch and the pitch you bend to). For example, you can make the vibrato a half step wide or a whole step wide. Then practice applying this depth of vibrato to several notes on guitar (on a variety of strings/frets), focusing on keeping it in tune as described above. It will be helpful to record yourself playing vibrato so you can later listen back to your recording with your full attention to identify which notes were perfectly in tune and which ones weren’t.

2. Make The Depth/Width Of Your Vibrato Appropriate For The Music You Play

Your guitar solos will sound weak if you ‘always’ begin them by playing the first note with either no vibrato or vibrato that is very narrow (less than a half step wide). To give yourself more creative options, practice starting your guitar licks with a ‘punch in the face’ by adding heavy and wide vibrato to the very first note! Using vibrato that is either a half step or a whole step wide is harder to do (well) and having the ability to do it will help you to have more expression and greater variety in your phrasing. Of course, you don’t have to ‘always’ make your vibrato as wide as possible, just make sure that you also don’t ‘always’ start the solo with little/no vibrato.

Listen to the examples below to hear the difference between narrow, wide and ‘very wide’ vibrato when applied to the same pitch:

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

Note: Keep in mind that using narrow vibrato CAN sound good if the context is right for it - The problem you must avoid is ‘only’ using this type of vibrato because you lack the ability to make wide vibrato sound good/in tune when the context calls for it.

Example 2 - Wide Vibrato (half step): Hear It

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

Note: Using vibrato that is a whole step wide isn't necessarily always better than using vibrato that is a half step or less. While applying vibrato in your playing, pay attention to the musical context to determine which type of vibrato is most appropriate. For example, the advantage of wide vibrato is that it will add ‘conviction’ in contexts that demand this kind of intensity (something that narrow vibrato cannot achieve), while a more narrow/subtle vibrato is better suited for less intense musical situations. Make sure to master both narrow and wide vibrato so you can freely express yourself with the technique in any musical context.

How To Best Apply This To Play Killer Guitar Solos Right Now:

Step 1: Create 2-3 short guitar licks. Make sure the first note of each lick a ‘longer’ duration (such as a quarter note or half note).

Step 2: On the very first note of each guitar lick apply either a half step or whole step vibrato.

Step 3: Repeat step two for each of your licks for 1-2 minutes in a row and continue consistently practicing this over the next several weeks until you have mastered this use of vibrato. After doing this, it will be easy for you to apply this concept every time you begin playing a new guitar solo.

3. Apply Vibrato In A Variety Of Different Ways

There are 2 main variables to control when playing vibrato:
1. ‘How’ the vibrato sounds (a combination of how wide it is and how fast its pulses occur)
2. ‘When’ the vibrato occurs on a note after the note is played.

Most guitarists use vibrato in the exact same way in their guitar solos (either always narrow or always wide), and always apply vibrato in the exact same way every time they use it (usually applying it immediately as the note is played). When you do this without being aware of it, your licks (and vibrato) will quickly lose their novelty and will sound repetitive and predictable.

To make your guitar solos sound highly unique and creative, apply vibrato in a different manner by ‘delaying’ it for a few seconds after you play a note. This will not only sound unique (compared to the common approach of applying vibrato ‘instantly’), but it will add extra musical tension to the note and sustain it for much longer.

Here is an example of how this sounds:

Example 1 - Instant Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 - Delayed Vibrato: Hear It

To add even more variety to your soloing, delay the vibrato and strike the string again to re-articulate/add extra power to the note. Here is an example of how this sounds:

Example 3 - Delayed Vibrato With Re-Articulation: Hear It

Example 4 – A short lick combining the 3 vibrato types above and varying the intensity/speed of the vibrato (from very wide/fast in the beginning to very soft/slower on the final note). Hear It

How To Best Apply This To Play Killer Guitar Solos Right Now:

Choose a lick from one of your favorite guitar solos or licks and identify the notes of the lick that are held out longer. Then record yourself playing this lick for 3 minutes while using vibrato that is instantly applied, delayed or delayed with re-articulation. Use as much variety as possible (apply vibrato in different ways to different notes of the lick and keep playing for the entire 3 minutes to force yourself to think as creatively as possible.

The concepts above will help you to begin the process of transforming any ordinary guitar solo into a truly unforgettable one. However, this is only one (out of many) ways for you to learn how to play awesome guitar solos. In part 2 of this article series, you will learn a powerful method for using bends to ‘shape’ your guitar licks and make them sound even cooler!


Maximize your guitar playing progress and become a better guitar player much faster.


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