Vibrato for Steel Guitar

Vibrato for Steel Guitar

The vibrato of the bar, and the control/motion used to create it, is perhaps the most expressive and unique feature of bar control and steel guitar playing. Each player has such a unique vibrato that is ingrained in his or her tone; this makes it a large part of the steel player’s character and voice. Similarities, and patterns, can be found within their techniques though.

Creating the desired vibrato effect

Common starting points for vibrato expression begin with 1) shaking the bar back and forth more linearly, or 2) stirring and rolling the bar in a more circular, rounded motion. Many times these styles or types of vibrato overlap to create more possibilities.

1) Shaking the bar in a more linear fashion will give the vibrato a more excited, rock n roll, and edgy tone.

Shaking the Bar for Pedal Steel Vibrato

2) Rolling or stirring the bar in a more circular motion will give the vibrato a more warm, smooth, rounded sound.

Rolling the Bar to Create Vibrato on Pedal Steel

A player should experiment with both types during the learning stages.  A seasoned player usually doesn’t think about the vibrato types/technique while they play, they will play what feels right at that time, as an extension of their steel voice.  They are understanding and manipulating the bar while reacting to the music.  They know how/why they are using their vibrato at any certain point, but they have abandoned thought for feel.

The distance and speed of left to right movement of the bar are the two main physical principles behind the vibrato.  These have countless combinations, which is why no two steel voices are the same.  The tasteful use of a palette of vibrato tones, sounds, and textures makes a steel player an interesting character with a story to tell.

Pedal Steel Bar Control - Moving and Stopping

Click below to learn more about the other ingredients of bar control…

Movement Between Positions

Covering the Intended Strings

Bar Pressure

Keeping the Bar Straight

Also, check out the Visual Tour of Bar Control…

Bar Control Picture Gallery