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?