Pinch harmonics are an advanced guitar technique to master. Especially when it comes to pinching a lower strings on your guitar in order to get that cool, squeaking sound.
Pinch harmonics are made with the thumb barely scratching the string after it’s being plucked with the pick. But there’s more to it, as you’ll see in this guide.
What do we mean when we say “lower strings”. Lower strings are simply D, A and low E strings. They are “lower”, because they have bass in their sound and they’re wounded different than the higher strings.
To cut the long story short, here are essential tips for mastering pinch harmonics on lower strings. From beginning to the end.
1. Choose The Right Type Of Pick
It’s harder to perform pinch harmonics with soft picks. Harder the pick is, the easier it becomes to make pinch harmonics.
Especially when it comes to low strings. They are much heavier than higher set of strings (high E, B and G).
What pick is ideal for making pinch harmonics on low strings?
Ideal pick is the one which is not too thick, because thick picks don’t have elasticity. Why is that important when it comes to pinch harmonics?
Thinner picks are elastic, therefore they bend when you get a good grip on them. It’s simply easier for thumb to scratch the string after it’s being plucked when you use lighter pick.
Here, look at the picture.
You see how this thin pick bends between the fingers? That makes it easier to perform pinch harmonics.
Now, here’s how it looks with the thick pick.
You see how it doesn’t bend between the fingers? That makes it harder to perform pinch harmonics.
Also, choose the pick that has fairly short edge. If the pick you’re using has round edge, it will make pinch harmonics hard to perform.
2. Hold Your Pick Properly
Holding a pick properly is crucial in order to perform pinch harmonics on low strings properly.
How to hold a pick properly? The crucial thing is to cover the most of the pick’s surface with your thumb. Leave just a tip of the edge to stick out. By the way, that’s why a sharp edged pick is needed for making pinch harmonics.
This is how you’d hold a pick usually.
Now here, take a look at the picture below showing the way you should hold it in your hand while doing pinch harmonics.
As you can see from the picture, only a tip of the sharp edge is sticking out of the fingers.
That makes a thumb scratch that’s crucial for pinching easier to do.
3. Add Enough Gain
A skilled “pincher” is capable of doing pinch harmonics even on clean. Still, in order to hear a slightest pinch harmonic you create, add gain to the maximum.
A nice fat, gained distortion will make pinch harmonic loud. It will catch it easier than overdrive or clean.
Eventually, when you master pinch harmonics on low strings, you can turn back the distortion a bit, for the sake of cleaner, less noisier sound overall.
4. Pluck It Strongly
In order to make pinch harmonic as loud as possible, you need to pluck your pick against the string strongly.
However, that doesn’t mean you should break the string. That wouldn’t make any sense.
Grab the pick with your index finger and thumb firmly. Leave small tip sticking out and pluck it against the string strong. Once you do it, you’ll intuitively know how hard to do it.
5. Find The “Sweet Spot”
No matter how properly you’re plucking a pick against the string, and how properly you’re scratching your thumb against it, the pinch harmonic won’t ring out if you do it on the wrong spot.
Every fret has its own sweet spot. That spot is the spot where pinch makes the loudest and clearest sound.
How to find that sweet spot? Simply, pinch the string all along and you’ll hear it. Then, stick your hand around it and play it every time you need to play it.
Finding a sweet spot is something you have to master if you want your pinch to ring out. The moment you get good at it, you’ll find it every time in no more than a few seconds, intuitively.
Here’s me performing pinch harmonics on lower strings. As you can see, I’m finding the sweet spot on each fret and string I’m playing.
6. Use a Vibrato
Every pinched string, especially low string, sounds way better with the vibrato.
When you vibrate the low string, you’re doing nothing more than pulling the string up and down a bit. That up and down pulling of the string is making a pinch more likely to happen.
How? Simply, when you’re vibrating against a fret of a low string, it’s making the string going toward your thumb. So, not only a thumb is going against the string, the string itself is by vibrating going toward the thumb.
Two subtle motions are, therefore, going against each other. That’s what makes a pinch harmonic more likely to happen.
Here are some additional tips with which you can make pinch harmonics on low strings more likely to happen.
Use New Strings
New strings are fresh and clean. They sound way better than the old ones, obviously.
With that in mind, it’s perfectly expected of them to give more of a pinch ringing than old, worn out strings.
Old strings are also dirtier. Over time, a slack of dirt, finger oil and sweat is developed on their surface. That makes them less susceptible to pinch ringing.
Try Different Frets
Every fret on a guitar has its own sweet spot on the string to pinch on. However some frets have wider sweet spots than the others.
When it comes to low strings, 2nd frets of D, A and low E strings have very wide sweet spots, meaning, it’s easier to pinch 2nd frets of low strings than, for example, 1st frets.
Also, frets from 5 to 7 are good for pinching.
The point is to find a fret that’s making a pinch ringing the most and that’s easiest for you. Practice on those frets.
Once you master it, you can move on to another frets of low strings.
Watch Others Do It
By watching other guitarists do pinch harmonics on low strings, you’re engaging in the process of learning. For example, Zakk Wylde is perhaps the most notorious for his signature pinch harmonics, both on high and low strings.
Listen and watch him play riffs that include pinch harmonics, or watch videos explaining how he does that. For example, this video is cool and helpful.
Also, I’d recommend you to listen to rock and metal that use this effect. Check out the article from this page showing the list of famous rock and metal songs that use pinch harmonics.
It’s easier to learn something when you try to reproduce some famous riff. It’s also more interesting to do it, then just pinching the strings all alone.
Practice, Practice and Practice
Just play with it, practice and over a short period of time it will come natural to you. Pinch harmonics require practice, just like any other guitar technique.
I hope this article is helpful for your issues with pinch harmonics. Pinch harmonics are harder to perform on lower strings, since lower strings are thicker and are made out of a different material.
However, with proper and regular practice, it becomes easy to do and perform.
Don’t forget to check out some other interesting articles from this site about various guitar topics and issues!
Especially this section where you can find how to master certain guitar techniques guitarists often struggle with.
Cheers, and rock on!