The Secrets To Playing Incredible Guitar Solos, Part One: How To Creatively Use Vibrato

by Tom Hess

Guitarists often complain about how their lead guitar licks don’t sound as good as they want. Truth is, there could be countless reasons why this occurs, however there are very precise ways to solve every problem. Here are some of the most frequent problems I notice in most lead guitar solos and licks:

  1. Not using ‘any’ vibrato during your solos (or using out of tune vibrato)
  2. Using very narrow (or no) vibrato to begin your solos – causing them to feel ‘weak’ and uninspiring
  3. Adding vibrato to every note you play in the exact same manner

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 the points below to build a solid foundation for great vibrato technique and use it to enhance your solos:

1. Play Vibrato That Is Perfectly In Tune

Nothing will kill the sound of a great guitar solo faster than vibrato that is out of tune. For this reason, it is crucial that you always play your vibrato in tune! To do this, always bend the string up to the exact pitch you are targeting and back down to the original pitch you began on before releasing it. So if you wish to apply vibrato that is a whole step wide, you need to bend the string to match the pitch 2 frets above the starting note before returning it back down to the pitch you started with (and repeating this many times quickly to achieve a vibrato effect).

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

Example 1 – Perfectly In Tune 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.

2. 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. The timing of when the vibrato is used after a 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 make your guitar solos sound creative and inspiring, use vibrato in a different way by ‘delaying’ its application for a few moments. This will add additional interest to your playing in the form of musical tension, while also extending the life of the note.

Here is the difference between the conventional approach of instantly applying vibrato vs. delaying it:

Example 1 – Instant Vibrato: Hear It

Example 2 – Delayed Vibrato: Hear It

To make your soloing sound even more unique, after delaying the vibrato, pick the string again (with a lot of power) to emphasize/re-articulate the note. Here is what this sounds like:

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:

Pick out one of your favorite guitar licks and look for the notes in that lick that are sustained longer than the others. Next, record yourself playing the lick for 5 minutes straight while applying vibrato to these longer notes as follows: ‘instantly’ applying it as soon as you play a note, ‘delaying’ it for a moment or two after playing the note and ‘delaying’ it + striking the string again. Focus on using as much variety as you can throughout your recording to develop mastery for all 3 vibrato types.

3. Adjust The Depth Of Your Vibrato To Make It Appropriate For Any Musical Context

If you always begin the first note of your guitar solos with narrow vibrato (of a depth that is less than 1/2 step) your playing will sound soft. This sound is ‘sometimes’ appropriate, but sometimes it simply makes your playing sound ‘weak’. To have more expressive options in your soloing, learn to use wide vibrato on the very first note to add a powerful punch to the phrase! To do this, use vibrato that is at least a width of 1/2 step or one whole step (while keeping it in tune). This is not ‘required’ for all solos of course, but you should make sure you are not always beginning 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 half step): Hear It

Notice: Using narrow vibrato can certainly sound good when you are doing so in the right context – The mistake you must avoid is ‘only’ using narrow vibrato because you are unable to play wide vibrato that sounds good/stays in tune.

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

Example 3 – Extra 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 two to three small guitar licks. For each lick, make the first note ‘longer’ in terms of duration (such as a half note or longer).

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

Step 3: Repeat the previous step for several minutes. Practice this for a couple of weeks until you have developed your vibrato technique to a high level. Once you’ve done this, you will be able to effortlessly apply this idea during any guitar solo.

The ideas in this article will help you to quickly improve any normal guitar lick or solo to make it a truly great one. However, there is much more you can do to create killer guitar solos. In part two of this article, you will discover how bends can be used to make your solos sound even more unique and creative!



About The Author:

Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, songwriter and a pro guitarist. He uses the best online guitar lessons to train guitar players to reach their musical goals. Go to to get more guitar playing resourcesguitar playing eBooks, and to read more guitar playing articles.

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