Pinch harmonics, also known as artificial harmonics or guitar squeals, are a playing technique that produces a high-pitched, bell-like sound by partially muting the string with the side of the picking hand and then immediately picking the string with the pick. You might have heard this techniques in songs like the opening of Pantera’s Cemetery Gates, Slipknot’s Duality, or even Lamb of God’s Laid To Rest. Stay tuned to learn how to guitar squeal & some tips to increase your chances of success.
How To Do Pinch Harmonics & Make Your Guitar Squeal
To perform a pinch harmonic, all you are doing is basically striking the string twice in quick succession. Once with your pick as normal, followed by a quick grazing with your thumb. It’s the grazing of the thumb that creates the harmonic squealing sound. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
This is a great video we found & we encourage you to try each phase in order to experience the harmonic effect first hand. This way you can build up some understandings of how it works and build up some small wins along the way, instead of jumping in head first & potentially getting frustrated.
Phase 1 – Pluck a string like the low E or A & touch it near the pickups to produce a harmonic. If you don’t hear the harmonic at first, try touching different points of the string to produce various harmonic tones so you can see how this affects the technique in general. Try this on the bottom 3 strings to get a feel, hear the effect coming from your own guitar. Remember, small wins!
Phase 2 – Now pick the string just like in the previous phase but touch it with the side of your thumb. I personally like to use the part of the thumb right before the knuckle. Experiment trying to produce the harmonic with different frets & strings. Start with the bottom 3 strings and in the frets below 5 since these are the easiest to do. I find the low E at the 3rd fret to be the easiest to pull off this technique.
Phase 3 – If you’re getting some consistency from the previous step, now it’s time to speed it up. The key here is to make 1 fluid motion & let the string ring out. The less dampening with your thumb, the clearer the harmonic will be. Try different frets & picking spots to find the sweetspot. If you’re having difficulty here, maybe start with the low E/3rd fret. Once you’re getting it to ring out, try adding some vibrato & you’re in!
Tips for Success
Practice with intent – Focus on each of the phases to build yourself up. Do this intently but if you start to lose focus or start to feel frustrated, take a break & come back to it later.
Pick & thumb placement – Take into account how you’re holding the pick, you might need to choke up on it to reveal less of the playing point. You can also experiment with a smaller jazz style pick & remember to try different picking areas to produce the harmonics. Last but not least if trying out different places to dampen the string with your thumb, such as the thumb tip, before the knuckle, on the knuckle, etc.
Use distortion or overdrive – While pinch harmonics can be produced on a clean channel, if you really want your guitar wailing, then add gain. Saturating your tone with distortion will help to emphasize harmonic overtones, which leads onto the next tip.
Use the bridge pickup – The bridge pickup has a much brighter tone which helps in bringing out the desired overtones. You’re also going to have an easier time if you’re using a humbucker set up versus something like a single coil pickup.
Bands & Songs That Use Pinch Harmonics
Below are a handful of guitarists & bands that have been known to use pinch harmonics (guitar squealing) in their playing. You can click/tap on any of them to check out some of their music on YouTube. Did we miss a recommendation that you think should be on the list? comment below to let us know!
- Children Of Bodom – Are You Dead Yet?
- Danzig – How The Gods Kill
- Death – Spirit Crusher
- Judas Priest – One Shot at Glory
- Lamb of God – Laid To Rest
- Machine Head – Imperium
- Pantera – Cemetery Gates
- Slipknot – Duality
- Zakk Wylde – Destruction Overdrive
To summarize, pinch harmonics are a difficult yet rewarding technique for any guitarists to master (especially for metal!). While achieving the right sound may take time & practice, the work is well worth it since it adds depth & character to your playing. Every guitarist can learn pinch harmonics and push their playing to the next level. Just stick at it, and realize that every tiny step forward is a step closer to mastery. Continue to play, learn, and never give up!