What all great guitarists have in common is kickass bending and vibrato! Virtuosity, knowing all the scales by heart and shredding uber-fast is super rad.
But what really separates a pro from an amateur is bending and vibrato! Or as Han puts it, ”Hokey tapping and ancient scales are no match
for a good vibrato at your side, kid!”
It is the most crucial thing you will ever learn on your guitar journey. Without proper bending and vibrato, everything falls apart. It doesn’t matter how fast you shred those scales.
If you can’t shake it like you mean it, you will always sound like a beginner. Making your guitar scream is not only the coolest thing in
the world, it gives you your unique voice.
BENT BUT BEAUTIFUL!
WTF?! Bending and Vibrato
Bending strings means that you pull or push a fretted note to change its pitch.
The trick is to bend the note to the right pitch, or target note if you want. If you bend without reaching the right pitch, chances are, someone might just die immediately of ear cancer. Ancient
legends have it, that bending out of tune was a favored method of torture during the Medieval Inquisition. And yes, there are few things crueler than messy bends!
Vibrato means that a note is repeatedly bent and released to the original pitch.
A wide range of sounds can be achieved with vibrato. From subtle and slow to very fast and wylde vibrato (unmistakable hint). The mechanics of both techniques are very similar and most of the
time, bending and vibrato come together.
Great players with unique bending and vibrato are Steve Vai, Slash, Zakk Wylde, Gary Moore, Angus Young, Marty Friedman or John Sykes. Those few guitarists should just give you
an idea how guitar players can easily be recognized by the way they use vibrato and bending.
The solo from “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC is a great display of raw, screaming rock guitar.
Best Practice: Avoid Beginner Mistakes
Which fingers do I use? You can use every finger you like. This is more or less given by the kind of lick you play. Usually, you use your ring finger for all the major bends and
vibrato. Make sure to support the finger you bend with. This means, if you bend with your ring finger, you use your index and middle finger as support. That gives you better control and strength
when bending. The same applies for vibrato.
Do I bend up or down? In short, it doesn’t really matter. The effect is the same. You shorten the length of the string and the pitch is changed. But! Usually, you bend up on the
higher strings. It feels just natural and gives you more control than pulling down. You also have physical limitations. Bending the low E string up will not work. The string will flop over the
neck. The same goes for the high E string when you bend the string down. First
Why does my bending sound out of tune? That’s because you simply don’t bend to the right pitch. You should bend in intervals. Those intervals can be half-steps, whole-steps and
so on. Bending to the right pitch needs practice. Over time you will get a feeling and ear for the right pitch. Yes, there are exceptions in which a “wrong” bend sounds awesome. But in order to
break the rules, you need to know them first.
Do I use my wrist? Hell Yeah! Bending and vibrato are achieved by a combination of finger and wrist movement. That means, that the wrist should slightly rotate to support the
fingers. Understand this concept as one movement. Look carefully at good players, how they move their wrist and fingers when playing, that’ll give you a nice starting point and idea.
1. Getting Started: Bending And Vibrato Basics
Before we go full throttle, we will look at bending and vibrato separately.
We will start with some target practice. The first lick gives you an easy exercise to internalize the concept of bending to the right pitch. Instead of just playing the notes as
they are, we will bend up to them!
The key is to really engage your ears! Just play the notes a few times to remember the sound. Then try to emulate those notes with bending. Does it sound good? If you can say
yes, you are on the right track!
The mechanics for vibrato are pretty much the same as for bending. Only this time you will vibrate a specific note. Understand that note as a pivot
point that you will always come back to. This pivot point can be a “normal” note or a bent note. The trick is to hit that pivot point or else you will vibrate out of tune.
Just experiment on all six strings and use different fingers. Vibrato is a bit trickier on the high and low E string because you can only vibrate one way. The tab shows you some random notes to
illustrate how different the feeling can be.
A little trick by Steve Vai is to vibrate above and below the target note. Instead of just bending in one direction and coming back to
the original pitch, you will bend responsively in both directions. It will be easier to have that pivot point right in the middle.
3. Combining Bending and Vibrato
Bending and vibrato are crucial for bringing music to life. Here is the beautiful intro melody from “Still Got The Blues” by Gary Moore. This catchy melody is not easy to nail! Take your time and
If it sounds good and feels easy and natural when you play, you’re doing it right! The key is to use your ears and to experiment the
hell out of it. Congrats! You just took the first step into a whole new musical area.
Understand the technique and mechanics as your tool. What really matters is your intention on how you want the notes to sound like. It all starts in your head. The muscles can only
transform those ideas. If you can play what you hear inside of your head, you have mastered the technique.
2. Full Shred Ahead! - Step by Step
The possibilities you have with bending and vibrato are seemingly endless. I have written down a list of the most common variations. Check it out!
1. Bend-Release and Pre-Bend
First stop will be the bend and release. As the name implies you bend up and come back to the original note. Well,
now you know what you just played in the Garry Moore lick! The intro melody from “You Give Love A Bad Name” by Bon Jovi is another good
display and exercise. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity! Making a melody like this sound good is not that easy.
As mentioned in the introduction, John Sykes has an incredible vibrato and bending technique! The first bit of the solo from "Is This Love" by
Whitesnake shows great feel and control. Check it out!
Another cool technique is called pre-bend. You bend the note up without making it sound. Now, pick the pre-bend note and release it to its
original pitch. If done right, this can create a very emotional effect.
2. Blues Bends
There is a quarter bend that seems weird but gives you such a sweet bluesy sound! This bend is somewhere in between and is a real feeling thing. Rule of thumb: If it sounds bluesy, you are doing it right.
A great display is “The Thrill Is Gone” by BB King. Make sure to listen to the original recording. “Half-step bend? Ain't nobody got time for that!"
3. Two-String Bending and Rock Cliches
Let’s shake things up and add some grit to our sissy one-string bends! You have probably heard of rock cliches?! The Chuck Berry or Angus Young licks everyone loves? Well, here are some rock
cliches in the world of kick-ass bending! Here is a lick from "Girls Got Rhythm" by AC/DC for your dirty deeds.
Double stops on the higher strings are great for some gnarly vibrato. This time, you will use vibrato and on both strings at the same time. This adds some real dirt!
The next tab shows three evergreens for two-string bends. Those bends come with the demand for attitude! Make sure to bend only one note and keep the other note in its original
The next lick is an undying classic! Played by nearly everyone who ever picked up a guitar. The solo from "Sweet Child O'Mine" by Guns 'N' Roses features this
awesome rock lick. Slash uses a wah-wah pedal on the recording but it also sounds killer without a wah-wah.
4. Bending Rhythm
Bending and vibrato are not for lead only! Check out the main riff from "Walk" by Pantera. Simple and heavy as f*ck!
How can you make a cliche sound fresh again? Well, check out the band Slaughter! They know for sure with the awesome intro riff to "Burnin' Bridges".
3. Nat Geo Shred: You Shook Me All Night Long - Full Guitar Solo
This Nat Geo Shred issue features the guitar solo from “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC. What a classic! It’s a dirty, bluesy screamer
that shakes you to the core. The best part?!
Angus plays all kinds of bending and vibrato variations, which makes this solo a great lesson in phrasing! We will break the solo down into small parts and learn this classic step by step.
Bars 1 - 3
The solo is in G minor and we start with a tasty bend. After you bent up, give it some gentle vibrato. In bar 2 we go down the G minor pentatonic. Bend and release followed by a mini blues bend.
Use the ring finger for the fifth fret and index for the bluesy bend. Listen closely to the record! Focus on how it is played and try to make it sound that way.
Bars 4 - 5
There are those bluesy bends again. Even though the tabs shows ¼, listen how Angus plays it and try to get as close a possible. Use your index again for the bends in bar 4 and 5. Quick stop after
the second blues bend before we slide up.
Bars 6 - 8
The next bend as something new in this lesson! You bend the A note (10th fret on the B string) and without letting go, you play the D note (10th fret on the E string) before you release the note
on the B string.
After that, we have two whole-step bends. It’s a bit tricky because they are right next to each other. With the last bend in bar 8, we jump right into the next part.
Bars 9 - 12
We pick the bent note again to give it some attitude before we walk down the scale as we did it in the beginning. Half-step bend and release for an extra bluesy sound.
After the double stops we will alternate between two strings. Bend with your ring finger and play the F note (18th fret on the B string) with your pinky.
This part is pretty tricky with all the bending and double stops. Use your ring finger for the double stops 17th fret. Your index for the double stops 15th fret.
Slow everything down and get comfortable before playing the lick at full speed. In bar 12 we will bend once more into our last section.
Bars 13 - 16
Vibrato on the Bb (18th fret on the E string). Half-step bend and release that actually targets the Bb again. The phrasing in the last bars is so beautiful.
The goal is to incorporate all the bending effortless into the melody. To have an even flow if you want. The last vibrato wraps up this rad solo!
If the guitar solo is too hard for you, focus on the topic of the lesson: Learning how to bend and use vibrato! Just pick little licks and work on them until you get it
Take your time with bending and vibrato. Listen to all of your favourite players, try to imitate them and really engage your ears. When you get it down, bending and vibrato will become your most
My recommendations for further studies:
"Pentatonic Hardcore" by Zakk Wylde (Part 1 - Basics on YouTube)
“String Bending Masterclass” by Guthrie Govan (Part 1 - 4 on YouTube)
Try this query on Google/YouTube “[Your favourite guitarist] on bending/vibrato”
If I don’t totally suck, you should now have a basic understanding of string bending and vibrato. Listen to your favourite records and have fun with bending those strings!
Thank You for Your time and May the Shred be with You!