Pinch, punch, first day of the month, it’s pinch harmonics time!
Now, if you were sat there one day and thought…
Hmmm, I feel like my guitar playing is missing something… Aha! Some screaming and squealing!
Then pinch harmonics and you are a match made in heaven.
Today I’ll be going over how to do and use pinch/artificial harmonics on electric guitar so that you can get screaming.
The Pinch Harmonic Technique
Rule No.1 – playing awesome sounding pinch harmonics is all in the thumb.
This is because it’s the thumb clipping the string just after you’ve already picked it that creates the harmonic sound. Pick → Thumb→ Squeal.
So to make this as easy as possible, you want to slide it down so that it goes right next to the tip of the pick.
It’s a good idea to use this as your natural position when playing riffs or solos with plenty of pinch harmonics.
Because all you have to do to make a pinch harmonic from here is roll your thumb downwards so that it’s behind the tip of the pick.
But if you’re improvising and want to throw in an artificial harmonic on impulse, you’ll just have to get used to quickly switching to this thumb nea-the-tip position, rolling the thumb down, and back again.
This ensures that the thumb will gently touch the string every time you pick something.
Emphasis on gently. The biggest screams need the lightest touches.
You literally just want your thumb to very lightly brush the string as you pick through.
Make sure it doesn’t keep contact with the string for more than a split second or that your palm is muting the string. Otherwise, you ain’t gonna get nothing.
And that’s essentially the basic technique.
Wow! That’s so easy. I could do that in my sleep… without any hands!
Ha ha ha…. Nope.
Tips for Great Sounding Pinch Harmonics
There are a few things you need to watch out for to make sure you get a proper squeal every time and not just a flat kachunk.
And no one likes a kachunk.
My first tip is to have your bridge pickup selected, with a high gain tone dialled in.
This’ll ensure that your pinches are as loud and nasty as possible, and you’ll stop trying to pick harder to get extra bite.
My second tip is for pinch harmonics for the higher, thinner strings.
These strings are known as particularly difficult to get pinch harmonics from because most people pick too hard and kill the good vibrations.
You really have to be as delicate as a gorilla with a sledgehammer to get the higher strings like the B and E screaming.
Oh wait, that implies the opposite. Maybe a gorilla with a handbag… a daffodil… another, smaller gorilla… We’ll go with a gorilla with a daffodil.
My third tip is to give each pinch harmonic a massive-ass wobble!
On their own they sound lame. But with some vigorous wibble wobble vibrato, MAN they roar.
Finding Where Pinch Harmonics Are
The No.1 Rule of pinch harmonics, is to remember that every pinch harmonic has a different sweet spot.
(The sweet spot is where you get a crystal clear and viscous sounding scream)
Lower frets will have a sweet spot closer to the neck and higher frets will have one further away
For example, play the pinch harmonic on the fifth fret of the A string using the technique and concepts we’ve recently covered.
You may have to experiment in picking the string closer to or further from the neck to find the sweet spot. But once you’ve got it, play it continuously.
Then – without changing what your picking hand is doing – move your finger that’s doing the fretting from the 5th fret, up to the 7th fret.
You’ll notice that now the harmonic is going kachunk instead!
(If it’s still fine then I envy you and want your magic powers)
But if you move your picking hand back a touch, you’ll realize it comes back again.
So basically, the higher the fret, the marginally closer to the bridge the sweet spot is.
This means that your picking hand may have to dance forwards and backwards a bit between notes when playing melodies like this:
Use that as your practice lick to get everything squealing nicely, and getting used to hopping between harmonic sweet spots.
Riffs to Practice Pinch Harmonics
Now’s the fun part! Let’s get you riffing with some of these bad boys.
Because I’m just the best guitar teacher you could ever ask for, I’ve created a couple of electric guitar riffs with pinch harmonics included.
You can use these to practice your pinch harmonics or just play them on full volume out of your amp to see how many people you can annoy with one riff.
Doesn’t matter to me.
Here’s numero uno:
You’ll want to get used to having your thumb close to the tip of the pick at all times in that riff, so you can quickly roll it down and pinch on command.
And you know what? How about one more:
But if you have a passionate hatred to my riffs and think they are absolutely rubbish, then here’s a few songs with prominent pinch harmonics:
- The Sentinel – Judas Priest (or any Judas Priest solo for that matter)
- Psychosocial – Slipknot (if you like stuff in drop Z tuning)
- No More Tears – Ozzy Osbourne (it’s the eyeliner that makes me scream)
- Cemetery Gates – Pantera (classic Dimebag)
- Satch Boogie – Joe Satriani (for all you shredders out there)
Obviously there are loads more for electric guitar, and you can always make your own riffs too, or just add pinch harmonics to existing riffs.
Wrapping It Up
That’s it ladies and gentlemen!
You now know how to make the guitar scream like me when I see a spider.
Dammit. I wasn’t meant to say that. I’m not scared of spiders…
Add these to your riffs or solos here and there to add some extra spicy spice, and you’ll get a few heads turning in your direction.
The moral of today is…
Thumb not co-operate = bad pinch harmonic. Thumb do co-operate = good pinch harmonic.
So as long as you have that down, all will be good.
I’ve been Sam Olverson,
Have fun screaming!