This paper investigates the nonlinear characteristics of varying compliance contact resonance in a rotor–bearing system and takes into consideration the Hertzian contact deformation and internal radial clearance. We created an experimental rig of a rigid rotor supported by rolling element bearings. In the course of the rotational speed run up and down, the frequency–amplitude curves of the varying compliance vibrations were observed during experiments using different radial loads and compared with the results of our numerical simulations. The experimental and numerical results indicate that the varying compliance contact resonance in the vertical direction presents the soft spring characteristic, while the soft and hard spring characteristics coexist for the horizontal resonance.

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