Guitar Techniques - - Q&A -

Your ex­pla­na­tion in re­ply to Terry Dodds’s let­ter on string bend­ing and vi­brato last month was quite fas­ci­nat­ing. I liked the de­scrip­tion of the bend­ing, but the vi­brato bit kind of goes against the grain of what other teach­ers tell us is the way to do it. You said don’t drop the vi­brato back to the orig­i­nal ‘un­bent’ pitch each time you wob­ble the string, but per­haps half­way. I’m sure rock teach­ers like Shaun Baxter and Martin Gould­ing have said in GT that the note should go back to ‘base’ dur­ing vi­brato. Mike Longhurst Well, I to­tally agree with Shaun and Martin when it comes to metal or rock vi­brato. Lis­ten to Yng­wie Malm­steen – surely the pin­na­cle of metal vi­bratos – and his is wide and flu­ent, al­ways in time with the beat and me­chan­i­cally pre­cise. But in a way that very de­scrip­tion sep­a­rates rock and metal from blues – rock is in­deed me­chan­i­cal and pre­cise, but blues is slightly more or­ganic, some might even say hap­haz­ard. When I add vi­brato to a note I never con­sciously think of do­ing it in time with the mu­sic; I pre­sume it must bear some re­la­tion­ship but I’m cer­tainly not con­scious of it. And the amount you de­vi­ate be­tween the rest­ing (un­bent) and bent note is re­ally down to per­sonal taste. But I think if we are aim­ing for a ‘hu­man’ or ‘vo­cal’ style of vi­brato that chimes with blue­sier or even jazz­ier sounds, then that me­chan­i­cal ‘pitch to pitch’ vi­brato is not what we want. Well, not what I want, any­way. Try both ways and see which you pre­fer – I was just say­ing how I do it, and it’s not for me to dic­tate how any­one plays. But who knows, you could be the first blues star with a tone-wide metal vi­brato. Bring it on! trot­ting out the same old stuff all the time. Then I hear a track by Dave Gil­mour, Brian May or Joe Walsh and think to my­self, “I’d never be able to do that even if I grew five more fin­gers!”

So my ques­tion is: How do I move for­ward? Is there a ‘quick fix’ or is it more of the same old slog? Seb Stephens, Hamp­shire There can’t be a gui­tarist read­ing this that hasn’t thought the same about their play­ing – in­clud­ing me and I’d guess lots of tu­tors and many of our gui­tar he­roes too! Any­thing where skill is re­quired de­mands work if we are to get bet­ter at it. But square-bash­ing scales and force-feed­ing the­ory is un­likely to pro­duce some­one with flair who loves what they do – in fact it can sti­fle progress, so per­haps you should back away from that course of ac­tion.

But a cou­ple of thoughts... Is your play­ing re­ally as dull and pre­dictable as you think? Why not record your­self and have an hon­est lis­ten. And if you can stand to be cri­tiqued, ask a few player friends what they like and don’t like about your style. If you or they come up with spe­cific flaws, then you can get to work on those as­pects of your play­ing with a clear goal. Or do you have older record­ings against which you can judge your­self? If so, dig them out; we usu­ally get bet­ter with­out re­al­is­ing it, and the ‘old you’ is al­ways the best barom­e­ter of progress in the ‘new you’.

Also, you men­tion three great but very dif­fer­ent gui­tarists. There is one thing that con­nects them all though, and that’s su­perb feel. We’ve had some ex­cel­lent feel-based fea­tures in re­cent is­sues – last month’s Blues Work­out and GT233’s String Bends to name just two. Why not go through them thor­oughly, to test and tax your­self on the essences of play­ing with feel? Then mea­sure your­self against some­thing you know by Joe, Brian or David – can you now play it bet­ter, more ac­cu­rately, or with bet­ter tim­ing and touch than be­fore?

And what about your sound: is it as good as that of your favourite play­ers? I have of­ten been spurred on by a new bit of kit, so is it time to trade your Strat for a Tele; Tele for an SG; or SG for a JEM? You could splash out on a new over­drive pedal – al­ways a great source of in­spo!

Lastly: sit down with the last three is­sues of GT and go through Pete Cal­lard’s Blue Note jazz licks – if that doesn’t add new zest and zing to a tired old lick­bag, then noth­ing will!

Should the string re­turn to its un­bent pitch dur­ing vi­brato?

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