Make it squeal. Pinch harmonics are a type of artificial harmonic that can add another dimension to your lead guitar playing. Pinch harmonics are sometimes refereed to as pick harmonics or squealies. In this video guitar lesson I will take you through some steps to help you get a handle on pinch harmonics.
Video Guitar Lesson
Best Guitar & Amp Settings for Pinch Harmonics
While you can get pinch harmonics with a clean sound on your electric guitar, you’re going to have the best luck at first if you crank up your distortion to 10. You will also want to use your bridge pickup and be sure and have your guitar volume set to 10. That’s your guitar volume knob, not on your amp…you don’t want to blow the speakers on your amp
How easily you can coax pinch harmonics out of your guitar will really depend on the equipment you are using. If you just have a little 15-watt practice amp with built in distortion it might take quite a bit of effort to produce pinch harmonics.
Natural Harmonic Crash Course
In order to better understand pinch harmonics, you will want to have at least a basic understanding of natural harmonics.
There are certain places on the neck were you can just touch a string with a left hand finger, pluck the string and get a note to sound. Not pressing the string down like you might normally do, just lightly touching the string. I will stay away from all of the physics of why in this lesson.
12th Fret Natural Harmonic
Try touching the 6th string very lightly right above the 12th fret bar and then pick the string. Once you pick you can lift up your left hand finger. The note will continue to ring even after you have let go. That is a natural harmonic.
Other Natural Harmonics
There are some other common places where you can play natural harmonics in addition to the 12th fret. They are at the 7th, 5th and 4th frets. There are more places as well, but that is all you need to understand at this point.
Finger Touch Harmonics – 1st Stage to Pinch Harmonics
So now we are going to take some steps to help you learn how to play pinch harmonics. If you were to play a note on the 3rd string at the 5th fret, there would be multiple places were you could touch the string to the right of your left hand finger to get a harmonic to sound.
The problem is that your left hand is already busy, so you can’t use a left hand finger to touch the string like you did for the natural harmonics. Instead you are going to touch the string lightly with the tip of your right hand 2nd finger after picking the string.
So you will hear 2 notes. First will be the note on the 3rd string 5th fret, then the harmonic after you touch the string.
Where I want you to look for this harmonic is right above your neck pickup. Or about were your 24th fret would be if you had one. If you do have a guitar with 24 frets then you can find exactly where that is. At first it is going to take a little experimenting until you find the “sweet spot”.
Thumb Touch Harmonics – 2nd Stage to Pinch Harmonics
Now I want you to do the same touch harmonic, but this time you are going to touch with the edge of your right hand thumb instead of the tip of your 2nd finger. Also you want to tuck your pick in close with very little of the tip sticking out from your first finger and thumb.
At this point it is still 2 notes that you will hear. The 3rd string 5th fret, and the harmonic right above the neck pickup.
From Touch Harmonics to Pinch Harmonics
A pinch harmonic is where you pick and touch the edge of your thumb on the point of the harmonic at the same time. So you will hear 1 note, not 2 separate notes.
It really depends on how you play the pinch harmonic. Sometimes you will hear a pure harmonic. Other times you will hear a combination of the fundamental note you are fretting with your left hand with the addition of the harmonic.
Finding Other Sweet Spots
Once you can get a strong pinch harmonic right above your neck pickup, try finding some other sweet spots to the right of that. There are multiple places were you will find strong sounding harmonics.
It’s going to take some experimentation to find them. And that’s just with that note you have been playing on the 3rd string 5th fret. As you play other notes with your left hand the sweet spots move.
For instance if you played a note on the 3rd string at the 7th fret, you would have to move your right hand slightly to the right to find the “sweet spot”. You can just wing it, or you can map out your harmonic strategy on a particular riff or lick.
Guitarists like Zack Wylde have pinch harmonics down to a science.