No bent notes, no vibrato
What happens when you compose music on guitar that has absolutely no bent notes or vibrato?
Before I answer that, the guitar above is the Fender Deluxe Stratocaster in Sapphire Blue Transparent. That guitar in particular is very bend-friendly because it has a 12-inch fingerboard radius instead of the typical 9.5, which means less fretting out when bending notes. If you want a Strat where you can bend notes real easy with no "squeak", the Deluxe is the Strat to get. It's a Mexico build. If you want something USA-made, see the Fender American Elite Stratocaster that has a compound radius fingerboard from 9.5" to 14". And of course there is Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster with its scalloped fingerboard for the ultimate in note bending...
...but this is about guitar riffing us no bent notes and no vibrato at all.
Painful truths about note bending on the guitar
Something that unfortunately happens with a lot of guitar players is that they feel they must bend notes and must use note vibrato because they feel that shows skill.
There a few painful truths to know here.
1. Bending notes and vibrato doesn't show guitar skill and never did.
2. The vast majority of guitar players don't bend notes correctly where the note will be slightly sharp or flat.
3. The vast majority of guitar players cannot perform vibrato correctly. The sound is either too slow and sounds like a warble similar to a warped record, or too fast and sounds like a chitter. Most players chitter.
4. Most people hate bent guitar notes. And I'll tell you exactly why.
The "perfect" guitar note vibrato is supposed to sound like a human voice. But the only way to really do that is with 100% clean, non-distorted guitar, and to use it sparingly like this:
...and this is part of the reason Chet Atkins was such a genius on the guitar. It's not only what he did but what he didn't do that mattered.
Now when it comes to bent notes, an absolute perfect bend is like the one heard on the clarinet in the beginning of the song Rhapsody in Blue:
Clarinetists who do that opening note slide correct get a perfect arc with a vibrato at the tail end of the note...
...which very few guitar players do. Instead, what you hear is a poorly executed two-semitone bend that's flat on the end with no vibrato to speak of. It's downright awful. And that's why people hate hearing notes bent on guitar. It just sounds bad.
How to write a song using no note bending and no vibrato
Rule 1: STOP F***ING SOLOING
I've said this before and will say it again. Stop soloing. Concentrate on the riffing and songwriting instead.
Rule 2: Stop treating the guitar as a lead instrument
Every guitar player thinks the guitar is the only instrument that matters. Obviously, that's not true. Scale it back and make it part of the song rather than The Thing Over The Song Everyone MUST HEAR NOW NOW NOW.
Rule 3: Stop overcomplicating your songs
The guitar player mentality is to make things complicated on purpose, which is the exact opposite of what you should do. People prefer simple songs over complicated ones. Simpler songs are also easier to remember and easier to play. Why punish yourself?
Huge guitar player advantage to a no-bend/no-vibrato approach
Guitar players like a guitar where the action is low to make playing the instrument easier. But if you're the type who bends notes often, you know that the lower the string action is set, the more difficult it is to bend notes...
...unless you stop bending entirely, or let the vibrato system perform that duty if your guitar has one.
Stop bending notes, or only bend to apply light vibrato sparingly on occasion, and you can then set your string action lower. Possibly a lot lower.
If the only reason you have your strings set higher than you'd like is for easier note bending, imagine how much better your guitar will play and feel if you stop bending notes.
There is no rule that states you must bend notes on guitar. You never had to.
My personal experience with no-bend/no-vibrato
I'm bending notes a lot less these days, but there's still that "must bend note" guitar player mentality that's tough to let go of.
When I do let go of it and concentrate more on riffing and songwriting, it's a very cool thing. Songs come together a lot easier, I can play for longer because I'm not constantly straining my fret hand with note bends, and the music I make just sounds better overall.
I highly recommend trying the no-bend/no-vibrato approach.
Like this article? Be a good doobie and help me out.