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Watch the Vibrato: A Player's "Fingerprint" online guitar lesson by Andy Timmons from Electric Expression

Let's talk about vibrato. Vibrato is really one of the most defining parts of a player's identity. It's how, when you hear Eric Clapton you know immediately that's who it is or Eric Johnson or Hendrix. Whoever it might be. The vibrato is such a highly personal thing and it's what really gives your playing a vocal quality, because it's kind of adding vibrato like a singer would, or maybe a violinist, or another string player. So I thought I would demonstrate a couple ways that I do it. Again, there's no right or wrong ways, but it's something that I think kind of naturally develops over time. A lot of players in their younger years tend to have a pretty fast vibrato, because it's kind of hard to control and so the tendency is really over-vibrato sometimes. So I'm going to talk about some ideas of how to slow it down a little bit and how to hopefully get the most musical type of vibrato that we can. A great exercise to start out with, believe it or not, is no vibrato and I find that for some players this is really difficult to do. Just to play a note and not do anything with it because I think most of us that play electric guitar, the first inclination is we want to do something with that note. See if you can do it. I mean, even right now my hand is aching, like it wants to do something. But let's try not having any vibrato, then adding a little bit of vibrato just slowly and I'm achieving that by pulling down with my wrist. I'm going to analyze some of this for the first time while I'm talking to you and I see that my thumb pulls away from the neck, at least on this particular note. If I'm fingering certain notes without vibrato I'll tend to have my thumb up here, but when I start giving it, instead of holding on with this part of my thumb I'm actually clenching the neck between my finger and that part of my hand. Then I'm shaking the bottom of my hand. I'm pulling down with the wrist. One of the things to think about with vibrato is tuning, because if you have too nervous of a vibrato or too fast you can tend to over-pull the string and it can get a little sharp. Sometimes that's not a good thing. But on that note it can be a good thing, because that's the, minor third that sounds good slightly bent. Let's try it on the tonic note. I'm thinking in the key of B. There's a great example of over-vibrato, and there's some players that bring the finger all the way off. I mean, bring the hand completely away, some people do a circular thing. I haven't personally developed that. I noticed with my third finger that I do anchor a bit more with the thumb again. First finger, I'm away from the neck a bit more and clenching with that part of the hand. The reason I think that that's happening for me is because with that third finger I'm able to grab the neck in a certain way to get the vibrato, but then I'm in a good position to bend beause I anchor a lot when I bend, and we'll discuss that in another section.

For now, let's take that note and just not do anything with it. Add that vibrato, and there's your Foxy Lady. Good Jimi vibrato. Not to say that fast vibrato doesn't have a place too, because sometimes for energy you might want to get the nice energetic vibe to it. But again, one of those defining parts of a player's personality is not all the fast stuff but what happens when they resolve that note. Certain players that have a lot of technique and play real fast all the time, sometimes their vibrato can also reflect that. When they land on a note it might just be too nervous or too fast. So let's also work on vibrato on the bend, because that's another expressive part of guitar playing is having that note bent, and then adding some vibrato to it. Now I'm anchoring quite heavily with the back of my hand and with my thumb. The width of your neck might dictate whether this is an appropriate technique for you. My signature guitar has a pretty narrow neck shape, so it's easy for me to wrap my hand around it. Your neck may be wider, and it may not be the best technique for you to duplicate, but again, just depending on the size of your hand as well. Jimi had extremely large hands so he easily wrapped around. I think I'm pretty average in the size of my hand. But anchoring does help, however you can. I like that bent-note vibrato where I keep re-bending up to it. It's almost a form of vibrato. Of course, with a bent note you can actually get the pitch below and above the actual note you're bending to, whereas when you're fingering and fretting a note you can only go sharp with it. This particular guitar is set up with a tail piece that I call on the deck. I can't pull up on the bar at all. It's strictly for going down in pitch and in a second we're going to demonstrate with the guitar that I've got with a floating tremolo, so you can hear that expressive quality. It's also not a bad thing to start with a faster vibrato, then slow that down. That can be a really nice quality at the end of a phrase.

So let's go to the guitar with the floating tremolo. As you can see I've switched to my AT100 that has a rosewood neck, and I've got this guitar with a floating tremolo. Most of my guitars are set up with the tremolo on the deck, because I like the stability of more of a set tail piece. But there's a huge amount of expression that you can get with a floating tremolo that you can't get with that kind of set bridge. So that's why I've got the guitar set up this way. The reason that it's white and with a rosewood board is because my hero Jeff Beck had one on the cover of the "Wired" album. That beautiful white strat, Olympic white. To that end, I'd like to just talk about Jeff for a second and that the level of expression that he achieved and continued to develop all these years, he's still pushing the boundaries of the electric guitar, and for me one of the most inspiring players ever. He could've stopped at "Shapes of Things" in '65 and still have been legendary. That's a landmark solo. But he's conitnued to evolve and he never just settles back and does what he did on the last record. He's continually, like I say, pushing the boundaries and exploring, and one of the things that he's highly developed is his use of the tremolo bar, the whammy bar. So not only does he have a great finger vibrato, but he can add the whammy bar with it floating in this haunting, beautiful quality. So I'm going to demonstrate a little bit of playing with that, where I'm just subtly raising and lowering, sometimes dipping into notes. Maybe we'll play along with the track a little bit and just give you another little sampling of this kind of vibrato. So as you can see with the floating tremolo you've got the ability to not only have your finger vibrato, but there's an extended level of expression because when you can raise and lower the pitch of that with that tremolo bar it works great for chords as well. So explore all these different ways of achieving the vibrato. Again, it's really that part of your playing that really will help define your musical expression. It's your soul coming out through your instrument, and start slow. Try it without the vibrato. It's really difficult to do, but it's a lot of fun, and again, it's just going to take your levels of expression to a new height. So have fun.