How to play pinch harmonics

Pinch harmonics are a great tool to add a little extra flare to your guitar playing. It creates a high pitched “squeal” on an electric guitar. You usually hear pinch harmonics used in heavy rock or metal songs. 

You can hear a good example of pinch harmonics in Van Halen’s “Panama”. Listen for the “squealies”.

What is a pinch harmonic?

When you pluck a guitar string normally, the sound you hear is mostly the fundamental frequency, or the lowest frequency of the soundwave. You’ll also hear overtones, which are frequencies greater than the fundamental frequency. 

Playing a string harmonic isolates the overtone of the string, creating a sound much higher than it would normally produce. 

How do I play a pinch harmonic?

To create a pinch harmonic, the thumb of your picking hand will lightly catch the string after it’s played. 

You’ll need to “pinch” your pick, letting part of your thumb hang out over the top. As you strike the string, let your thumb graze the string, slightly muting it to cause a harmonic. 

When it comes to using pinch harmonics, it’s all about location – find the spot on your guitar’s body where the string harmonics ring out most clearly. On the fretboard, the harmonics ring out most clearly on the third and fifth frets. 

You’ll also want to use a lot of gain on your amplifier to help the note ring out. A tip – using the bridge pickup will help get more squeal out of your guitar! 

Practice combining picking and muting the string in one fluid motion.  It can take some time to get it!


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Other types of harmonics 

Pinch harmonics aren’t the only type of harmonics you can use on a guitar. 

Natural Harmonics – Natural harmonics are created by gently touching the string (rather than using pick) as you pick a fret. Natural harmonics are created using only the picking hand.

Artificial harmonics – This technique involves holding down a note with your fretting hand while using your right hand to create the same “soft touch” to create an open-string harmonic. 

Tapped note – To create this effect, fret the note and use your picking hand to tap the harmonics further down the fretboard. 

If your guitar heroes include Eddie Van Halen, Dimebag Darrell, Steve Vai, and other legendary shredders, learning how to use pinch harmonics is key to getting their sound. 



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