Watch the Vibrato & Bending online guitar lesson by Gary Hoey from Blues Rock Reactor
Let's take a few minutes to talk about vibrato and bending, which I think is a very important thing to focus on. Vibrato is like the expression of your voice on the guitar; when I hear someone's vibrato, it tells me what kind of player they are and the emotion that they're feeling in their music. Between guitar players and singers, vibrato can really define your personal sound - it's almost like your fingerprint on the guitar. Having said that, I want to remind you to find your own voice on the instrument: Some people have very fast vibrato, some have slow, slinky vibrato, and I think it's all good! Here I'll show you a few riffs that I put together to practice your vibrato and develop your voice.
When you're using vibrato, you want to keep the pitch centered around the note that you're striking. You'll be vibrating the note back and forth from the correct pitch, so try to keep it based around that center to keep the intonation sounding clean. Sometimes you'll want to just do really wild and crazy vibrato to give it more personality, or you can even do a delayed vibrato, where you can play a note and hold off on the vibrato until it has rang out for a few beats.
When bending with vibrato, it's important to play the note you're trying to bend to in order to get the sound in your ear. One trick is to use a chromatic guitar tuner and bend the note, trying to get it as close as you can to the correct pitch on the guitar tuner. This is a great way to test yourself and see if you're really bending in tune. Another exercise that I recommend is using a metronome to practice bending in time. Speed up the metronome, little by little, and work your way up to faster bends/vibrato.
Bending is best achieved with a proper string gauge - Stevie Ray Vaughan used 13's, which is too heavy for me. I grew up using 9-42 gauge strings, then moved on to 10-46 gauge strings, and today I use 10-52, which has a heavier bottom string, but it's very important to find what will work best for you. If you're having difficulty bending, try switching to a lighter string and see if it helps.