Two guitarists are at a jam session. They both play the same song. They both play the same notes. One of them sounds fantastic. The other one sounds OK, but something doesn’t sound as good as the first player. 

What is the difference between these two players?

It has nothing to do with the length of time they have been playing. Some guitarists have only played for a few months and sound very professional. In contrast, other guitarists have played for years and still sound like amateurs.

It has nothing to do with the gear they are using.

It is the fact that one of them is aware of the five things that can make any guitar player sound like a pro and the other one is not.

What are the five things that can make anyone’s guitar playing sound like a pro?

Muting Unwanted Sting Noise

Excess sting noise will make your guitar playing sound sloppy. You only want to hear the notes you intended to play. Unwanted notes create an unpleasant and messy sound. You must develop consistent right and left-hand muting techniques to deaden all unwanted string noise. Getting rid of excess string noise will make your playing sound more professional.

In-Tune Bends

Sting bends are one the most powerful and emotional techniques you can play on the guitar. An in-tune bend can add emotion to your playing and help you grab your audience’s attention. An out-of-tune bend is painful to listen to. You must have a pitch in mind when you bend. Practice bends until you can execute them consistently. You can use a tuner to check the accuracy of your bends. Take the time to practice bending in isolation, getting used to the sound of half step, whole step, and multi-step bends. Your ears will get accustomed to hearing what an in-tune bend sounds like, and your playing will sound much better.

In Time and In Tune Vibrato

Vibrato is a technique that can make your guitar have a more expressive vocal quality or make it sound like a swarm of angry bees. In time vibrato is the key. You want your vibrato to fit the tempo of the music. Depending on the feeling you are trying to express, it can be an 8th note, triplet, or 16th note pulse. It can not be out of time or inconsistent.

The other key ingredient to a professional vibrato is bending the string the same distance. Your vibrato can be narrow or wide, but it must be consistent

Playing In Time

You must play in time with the beat. Not before. Not after. Even a split second ahead or behind can make a big difference in how your guitar playing sounds. If you are playing with other musicians, this becomes even more important. Everyone in the band must be playing in time with each other.


This is often hard to do as you are playing. The best thing you can do is record yourself and listen to what you just played. You don’t have to buy expensive software to do this. Recording yourself on your phone will work fine. All you need to do is be able to listen for unwanted string noise, out-of-tune bends, out-of-control vibrato, or inconsistent timing. If any of these elements appear in the recording, you will know what you need to work on to sound like a pro.

About the author: Brian Fish is a professional guitarist living in Northeast Ohio and is an expert guitar instructor at  Guitar Lessons Geauga.