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Pinch Harmonics 101

It is good to be back! I haven’t written a new column in a year. I just finished writing my first guitar book, so I’ve been holding off on putting new column material on this site. I’ve prioritized some studio releases and have been doing a lot of recording the last half a year. There are only so many hours in a day and it comes down to prioritizing my time to what is going to be most important to me career wise in the long term. So, I am happy to say that I’m back with a new column after many long months of absence. What else more can I say, I am a busy guy!

This column is being written solely on the basis of request. I’ve gotten tons of emails from people requesting this lesson. For some reason, no one knows how to properly do pinch harmonics anymore. So this is will be more of a basic lesson where we will discuss ways to pull off better pinch harmonics.

First off there are a million lessons on the internet on how to execute an artificial harmonic. I won’t even waste my time. My goal is to help you execute them more consistently and in greater variation.

I remember sitting in geometry class thinking, when will I ever going to use this crap. It is not every day you wake up and try to calculate the hypotenuse of your kitchen table if you know what I mean. Well guess what, you need it now! So clear the dust out of your head and break out your algebra and geometry mathematical skills.

Picture a string on your guitar as a straight line. Exactly half way between your nut and bridge is the 12th fret. Half way between the 12th fret and the bridge is the 24th fret (if you have one). Every time you divide the string length in half, the pitch of a natural harmonic is one octave higher than the previous division. Pretty basic stuff right?

Well, the same rule applies to artificial harmonics. If you fret an E on the 12th fret of the E string and pick your artificial harmonic exactly where your 24th fret would be, you will produce a harmonic that is one octave higher than the 12 fret e. Imagine that! Can you see
a pattern here?

Now try halving the distance between where you just picked the pinch harmonic to the bridge. Find the imaginary place where this would be and do a pinch harmonic there. BOOM!!!!!!!!!!! Another octave higher!

Now let us apply the same principle across the fret board. Play any note and then pitch a pinch harmonic 24 frets up from it. You will probably have to feel around for it but when you hit it, you will know. So that is how you hit fundamental harmonics.

Now, there are also partial harmonics that exist in the spectrum. Here is how you find them. Think mathematically. Divide the fret board and area over your pick up into mathematical sections depending on where your note that you are playing is located. Play an A on the 2nd fret of the G string. Now take your pick, and start at that magical 24th fret up from there and play an artificial harmonic. Now start trying to hit pinch harmonics rapidly as you slide your pick down towards the bridge. Basically what you are doing is playing every couple of millimeters and finding what different kinds of harmonics exist on the spectrum. You will hear all kind of harmonics: 5ths, 3rds, octaves, etc. Learn to become familiar with where these are and what they are. Now if you slide your finger to the 3rd fret, all of those harmonics slide up by 1 imaginary fret. It is simple mathematics. Pretty easy right?! So that is the trick. Take your pick and start exploring. The more you get used to where certain harmonics are, the easier it will be for you to hit them. Just keep practicing!

As a final execution tip I will say use a wide vibrato when you hit these harmonics. It will make them jump off the fret board more and make them sound stronger. It is like that Zakk Wylde sound. It makes it easier to hit them and make them stand out.

As a general rule of thumb, the more amp distortion you have and the more treble you have, the more the harmonics will come out. Some amps are better than others, just like pick ups. Usually hot guitar pick ups with a nice high gain amp will give you that wild screeching Dimebag Darrel / Zakk Wylde artificial harmonic sound.

Have fun, enjoy, and I will see you all soon!

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