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I've always struggled with this, tried watching Youtube tutorials, but can't get it to work.

Should you hold the pick in any particular way? I've always held my picks with three fingers, for stability, but have a feeling that won't work here.

Does it work for all notes? As I understood it you have to hit the string at some particular points, but can I use it for all notes?

Thanks! Final question: How did you learn it?

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I always hated the term "pinch" because you are really dampening it slightly, not actually pinching it with your fingers. –  horatio Sep 6 '11 at 16:20
Gibbons is famous for using custom-made extremely light-gauge strings (.008s or .007s I believe), a lot of amp gain to compensate for the lack of output from his very thin strings, and using a Mexican peso coin or an American quarter as a pick. This must mean that he picks and strums with an extremely light touch, and that harmonics squeal out of his playing very readily because of the heavy gain boost. –  Wheat Williams Jul 28 '14 at 15:34

10 Answers 10

(Just in case of any confusion, this answer was originally in response to a duplicate question about pinch harmonics used by Billy Gibbons of ZZTop - thanks for the merge, Dr Mayhem!)

These are probably pinch harmonics. In which case, they are not produced by a particular amp or effects setting, but are produced by the picking hand while playing (although they are much easier to produce when using a lot of overdrive/distortion).

Pinch harmonics are produced by creating a node with the picking hand as it picks, rather than creating a node above one of the frets (eg. 12, 9, 7, 5) with the fretting hand, which are natural harmonics. (See the end of this post, for an explanation of what nodes are and how to find and create them.) There are several ways to do this. Most players do pinch harmonics using the thumb of the picking hand; I touch lightly with the nail of my ring finger (3rd) on my picking hand. Either way, the thumb or finger should touch at exactly the same time as the pick and then move away from the string at the same time as the pick. You will need to experiment with moving your pick position along the string, to find different node positions for different pitches (and, of course, these change, depending upon which fret your L.H. is fretting).

Like many players, I suspect, I first "discovered" pinch harmonics by accident (usually while using distortion). With a bit of practice, though, it becomes easy to create pinch harmonics for any fretted note. I must confess, I take a rather "non-scientific" approach to pinch harmonics, being able to find them somewhat intuitively. However, there are plenty of guitarists who know exactly where to create the R.H. node to create exactly the harmonics they want for any particular fretted note.

Another term for harmonics created when playing fretted notes is artificial harmonics. In particular, this term is used when playing classical guitar. Obviously, no pick is used for classical guitar, so the method of production is different. The node is created by the R.H. index finger; the string is then usually played with the R.H. ring finger. (Although, this may need to be different if playing chords containing an artificial harmonic.) When producing these kind of artificial harmonics on classical guitar a hit-and-miss approach is not useful; the R.H. index finger needs to be placed exactly at the node point on the string (usually half the length of the fretted string, to produce a harmonic an octave higher than the fretted note, although other harmonics can be effectively produced too). The lack of distortion and volume when playing classical guitar means that only "exact" harmonics sound effectively, whereas, with plenty of volume and distortion, pinch harmonics can almost be produced accidentally as a kind of "effect" when playing electric guitar.

ADDITIONAL INFO: What are nodes? How do I find and create them, to produce harmonics?

As requested, here is some additional info about finding node points on strings to create harmonics.

Node points for harmonics can be found at points along a string by dividing the total length by an integer (whole number) value. For instance, there is a node point at 1/2 way along the string (in other words, it is found by dividing the total length by 2). Dividing the total string length by 3 gives two node points, producing the same harmonic; one is a 1/3 of the string length from the nut, the other is a 1/3 of the string length from the bridge.

If a vibrating string is touched at a node point (while or after it is plucked) the string vibrates "in sections", with the node point (and other equal node points) being still. This creates a harmonic, a higher pitched overtone, present in the open or fretted pitch (the fundamental frequency).

The pitch of the harmonic is directly related to the integer value of the string division. For instance, playing the harmonic with a node at the halfway point along the string doubles the frequency, which makes it an octave higher. If the node point is found by dividing the string length by 3, the frequency is 3 times the fundamental frequency, which makes it an octave and a fifth higher. The wikipedia article here gives a good, detailed explanation (and illustration) of how strings vibrate when touched at these different node points, and how this affects the frequency of the harmonics produced.

How does this relate to playing pinch/artificial harmonics on guitar?

When playing an artificial or pinch harmonic, the node points are now a division of the fretted length of the string; in other words, the distance between the bridge and the fret being pressed with the fretting hand.

If using the R.H. thumb to play pinch harmonics, the point of the thumb closest to the string (usually the left side of the thumb's tip), touches the string at a node point, at the same time as the pick touches the string. The pick will be plucking the string slightly to the right of where the thumb touches the string. The images at this webpage illustrate this well.

If using a R.H. finger to play pinch harmonics, it's tip (or nail) will again touch at a harmonic node-point, but the pick will now be plucking to the left of where the finger touches the string. I use my R.H. ring finger to do this, but it is possible to use the index, middle or little fingers, too.

To produce artificial harmonics on classical guitar, the R.H. index finger usually touches the node point (by "pointing" somewhat towards the neck), while the R.H. ring finger plucks the string. The image below illustrates this well:

enter image description here

EDIT: one last point. The technique of using the ring finger to pluck the string is helpful on classical guitar, as it means you pluck the string some distance from where you touch the node. As classical guitar is acoustic (and so, obviously, doesn't use distortion either!) it is harder to produce a strong harmonic. Plucking further from the node helps to do this. I illustrate this in my answer to another question, here.

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My personal way to do a pinch is to hit the string with the fleshy part of my thumb right as I pick the note. It's incredibly easy but it takes practice. Also, note that where you pick the string actually matters. It will change the note if you pick closer or farther from the bridge. –  Alexandre P. Levasseur Jul 28 '14 at 11:10
If you find you can't get the pinch right, you could also try "tap harmonics" - play the string normally, then create the node by lightly tapping the string with your right hand. It's a different sound, but also a good way to explore where the nodes exist. –  Ryan Kinal Jul 28 '14 at 14:54
This is a great answer but if I were a newbie (as per OP) I don't think I'd really understand the technique of using thumb or finger. Could you explain that in a bit more detail ? –  user2808054 Jul 28 '14 at 16:13
@user2808054, I added in quite a bit of info about harmonics, nodes and how to find and play them, at the end of my answer - hopefully this helps! –  Bob Broadley Jul 28 '14 at 17:54

You need to change your finger position on the pick so that your index finger or thumb is slightly over hanging the side of the pick. Strike the note with the pick and then brush with the flesh of your finger or thumb (depending on whether it's an up or down stroke). Notes / strings will get different harmonics at slightly different places. Use your pick ups as a visual indicator of where your pick should be. Experiment with lots of different picking positions.

This is a hard technique to master. Good luck.

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Harmonics occur on the string at points that divide the string into equal parts. Lightly touch a string right above the 12th fret bar and while doing so strum the string -- you'll notice that the string sounds an octave higher, though different from just fretting the 12th. What you're doing is dampening the fundamental frequency and "odd" harmonics (3x, 5x, etc.) of open string, leaving the "even" harmonics (the predominant one being 2x the frequency of the fundamental, which is an octave higher). Notice that the 12th fret is exactly halfway the length of the string. You can do the same as the 7th fret (1/3 of the string) and the 5th fret (1/4 of the string), for example.

Now pick a note, say the 12th fret on the D string. Fret that note, and pick the string exactly halfway between that fret and the end of the string (the end on the body of the guitar of course, not the neck). You might have to experiment a little to find the exact halfway point to pick, since it's not over a handy fret marker. You'll notice a similar effect to the above harmonics. You can do this for any note. Pick another fret, find the halfway point between that fret and the end of the string, and pick the string. Same effect.

To intensify the effect, you need to lightly touch the string at this point as quickly as possible after picking (see yossarian's answer). This will bring out the harmonic more instead and keep the fundamental frequency dampened.

Just like with regular harmonics, you can also pick a point 1/3 or 1/4 of the way along the string instead of 1/2 of the way, although this is more difficult.

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Another interesting harmonic is whilst playing a note, lightly touch the same string a full octave up (same note); this works for any note –  DRL Jan 14 '11 at 5:48
@DRL That's actually the same as the halfway-point harmonic :) –  Matthew Read Jan 14 '11 at 19:20
I know, its just better to think of it in terms of an octave, instead of a halfway point :) –  DRL Jan 14 '11 at 19:21
@DRL I agree, but I'm assuming (possibly incorrectly) that Znarkus does not have much music theory behind him. Thanks for your comment though -- having it explained both ways will make it easy for everyone to understand this answer. –  Matthew Read Jan 14 '11 at 19:23

There are 'sweet spots' along the length of each string. When a string is played and is vibrating, a light tap on the sweet spot can cause a harmoinic sound. This happens because the tap slightly alters the way the string vibrates.

A usual sweet spot is just above the first pickup. To hit a pinch harmonic, pick the note and almost immediately afterwards, touch the string lightly with the edge of your thumb on your picking hand.

Think of it as picking and 'brushing' the stri in one motion.

It will take a lot of practise but over time you'll get better.

To add some attitude, you can give the note a lot of vibrato just after hitting the harmonic.

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Pretty easily; play the note on a downstroke, make sure you catch it well, on the way out (after sounding the note) catch the string slightly with the skin of your thumb, not too much or you will kill the note, note too little or the harmonic will not sound.

Practice this; and you'll have it in no time; try playing a minor pentatonic all in pinched harmonics.

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I followed this tutorial... at first it was hard... very hard indeed... it sounded awful... but with lots-o-opractice it started to sound good


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Pinch harmonics are harmonics, and harmonics come with less volume than the fundamental. You need some sort of compression or boost to offset that. If you aren't compressing or turning up or stomping a distortion pedal, you won't get the result you want. The rest of what everyone says (not a lot of pick sticking out from the thumb, knowing the right spots to pick) are important, but some gain or compression is crucial.

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Also a hot pickup helps a lot. Even the best harmonics merchants will struggle with a quiet passive pickup. –  slim Jan 17 '14 at 15:51

See: Dance the Night Away - Van Halen - another way, apart from putting the fleshy part of your index finger lightly over the note ( as explained above) and then plucking with your third finger: Point and Pluck, is to tap the note you want to play as a False Harmonic. Again watch Eddie Play the solo to Dance the Night Away....

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For me the pick with sharpend end (sometimes this is called jazz shape) helped in mastering this technique.

It was instantly change: Standard pick = i can't do this and then sharpend pick = i can:)

Maybe You could try to change Your pick/it's shape?

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I usually hold my pick like this (with slight variations depending on what needs to be played: (That's not me btw :P )


I find that the bulge on your thumb at the knuckle can be used to easily pull of a pinch, without having to move your hand clumsily.

I learnt by watching a couple of videos on YouTube. Doesn't matter which ones, they'll all basically tell you the same thing.

Theoretically, you can pull it off at any note, any string. Practically, however, it depends on many things like the thickness of the string, how a high a note you're holding, and well, how good you are.

Yes, you have to hit the string at particular points. You can find out where exactly by, as yossarian already said, by using your pickups as a reference point.

On a side note, I advise against holding your pick with three fingers. It makes it more difficult to switch between the lower (6th, 5th) strings and the higher ones (1st, 2nd). You would have to displace your hand. If you use only two fingers, as seen in the above link, it's much easier. I think you should start migrating to two fingers.

The only way to get good at squealies is to understand how exactly to do it, and keep trying. I know it's frustrating in the beginning, you don't know what exactly people are talking about, how to move your finger, you're hurting the side of your thumb, and you just wanna snap your strings but trust me, once you pull it off and get the hang of it and realize you CAN sound like Dimebag... It's gonna be totally worth :)

Keep it metal \m/

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