Many years ago, I read in a book, the name of which I can no longer recall, that there are two ways of bending notes on the guitar. As it has been quite some time since i actually used this technique, my memory is quite sketchy.

The first method is the usual bend where you push the string perpendicular to itself across the fretboard.

The second way, and this is less common, is to push and pull the string along its length which produces a sound more akin to a violin. The only well known guitar player that i've seen use this way of bending often is John McLaughlin.

What I would like to know is if anyone else is familiar with this technique and if possible, they can throw some light on the actual mechanics behind it. Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    Are you talking about string-bends or vibrato? Also, I think that McLaughlin has played on a scalloped fretboard at times, gaining new possibilities for bending and vibrato.
    – user39614
    Jun 28, 2018 at 22:23
  • Yes, I must repeat. Are you talking about vibrato or an actual bend where the note is held while the string is bent?
    – user50691
    Jun 29, 2018 at 0:05

2 Answers 2


It sounds like you're asking about vibrato, not bends. Although vibrato does incorporate some bending.

The first method you mention is the more common one for electric guitar use, where the string is pushed (and pulled) across the fretwire. This stretches and relaxes the string, so changing its pitch upwards. By as little or as much as the player wants. A semitone is common, as is a tone, but some players use wider vibrato than those. Blues players often don't manage quite a semitone, especially on m3s, hinting at the target M3. The string dragging across the fretwire also has a bonus effect of extra sustain.

The other method you allure to is the 'classical' vibrato. Here, the finger fretting the note rolls from nut end to bridge end of a fret. That changes the tension in the string, which in turn changes the pitch albeit slightly. I also believe it changes the tone or timbre of the played note slightly. it does get used by electric guitarists, as a more subtle vibrato.

There is a third, less usual vib. that entails simply pushing the string deeper into the fingerboard, again producing a pitch change. Works well on some guitars, not so well on others.


What you are describing sounds to me like the vibrato technique commonly used by classical guitarists. As your finger moves toward the higher fret while pressing down the string, it creates more compression, thus raising the note ever so slightly. As your finger moves toward the lower fret, there is less compression, and so the note sounds at its original pitch. For best results, you would typically press harder on the string than when simply fretting a note.

You can use this technique with steel strings, but actually bending the string is more dynamic, thus it is more common. But nylon strings are difficult to keep in tune under the best of circumstances; bending them often creates a tuning nightmare (I saw a professional classical guitarist routinely pause in the middle of any given piece to retune his guitar!). Thus, the parallel/horizontal technique is common with nylon strings.

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