Steve Vai does vibrato by circling his finger around the note like he's giving it a massage.. He says that this somehow makes the note go flat as well as sharp.
I can't hear it. I try to do it on my guitar and can't hear it. Is this even possible? Unless you change increase the length or decrease the tension on the string neither of which you can do if your fingers are on a fret playing a note.

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    All vibrato boils down to a micro tonal pitch shift. Very few notes played on the guitar are actually played on pitch, something which makes it possible for music from other instruments to be played on guitar, but not guitar music be played on other instruments, at least not without a change in phrasing.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 10:20
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    Why do you think you can't pull a string toward the pickup with your fretting finger, thus reducing the playing tension slightly? Sure you can, as your finger has some friction with the string. Commented May 10, 2021 at 11:21
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    @NeilMeyer - your comment is odd. Some vibrato on guitar is a tone wide - hardly 'microtonal'. As far as 'on pitch' is concerned, there are many out there that would violently disagree. And the last part makes little sense to me. Maybe elucidate?
    – Tim
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 13:54
  • if vibrato is a tone wide than i think it becomes a bend, you bend towards other tones, vibrato is a subtle change of pitch somewhere in between pitches
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 14:11
  • tim guitarist bend and vibrato so often that playing on pitch is almost boring, but that is in no means a bad thing, the way in which the guitars phrasing leads to so much music in between pitches is what makes the guitars phrasing capabilities unique
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 14:13

2 Answers 2


You can make the note go a little flat by pushing it forward, since you do decrease the tension on the speaking length of the string. Test it yourself with a tuner and see how flat you can get the notes. It's easier to push the notes flat on larger strings and on wound strings. Now, it can be quite difficult to do, and it's certainly debatable whether circular vibrato pushes the notes flat enough to make a practical difference.


Using the same motion as classical guitarists the note becomes slightly sharper as the finger rolls to the back of the fret - closer to the guitar's nut. I'd argue that yes, the pitch changes, and does go flatter (minimally) when the finger is closest to the bridge, but that's semantics. Since the correct note ought to be when the fret is fingered just behind the fretwire, its pitch alters, but the opposite way! Otherwise the string stats out of tune.

Against that, the actual bending of the string - laterally - will increase the pitch far more effectively, and somewhat negates any other pitch change.

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