Guitar Lesson 9: Getting rocktastic with pinch harmonics and the tremolo bar

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This lesson came about as a result of the purchase of a new guitar for my 40th birthday.  As I have never owned a guitar which has a tremolo bar or one so well set up for advanced techniques and ideas, I wanted to look at some of the things it could do and what to practice.

Dan, as always, was full of ideas and suggestions.  This lesson might be a little more advanced than some of the more recent lessons we have published in our podcast, but full of useful techniques and tips following this theme.  The pinch harmonic idea has been widely used in Heavy Metal and Rock by guitarists such as Zakk Wylde, Billy Corgan, Randy Rhoads and Steve Morse and artists such as Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai use them along with the whammy bar to produce wailing notes from the instrument.

6077C6DD-1F8F-4441-8581-3AEB47A86169-12689-00000BC99A23B5ED_tmpThis post follows this theme and includes my research into additional listening, video techniques and demonstrations.  Don’t forget to look to the bottom of my post for further research and listening – I have attached some good videos to use.

Our podcast episode is here:

  1. Introduction – Dan talks about the evolution of guitar and how tremolo systems are set up.  As we settle on the topics we are going to cover as pinch harmonics and tremolo/whammy bar use.
  2. Definition of a pinch harmonic (Wikipedia) – A pinch harmonic (also known as squelch picking, pick harmonic or squealy) is a guitar technique to achieve artificial harmonics in which the player’s thumb or index finger on the picking hand slightly catches the string after it is picked, canceling the fundamental frequency of the string, and letting one of the harmonics dominate. This results in a high pitched sound which is particularly discernible on an electrically amplified guitar as a “squeal”. By using string bending, a whammy bar, a wah-wah pedal, or other effects, electric guitarists are able to modulate the pitch, frequency, and timbre of pinch harmonics, resulting in a variety of sounds.
  3. Dan explains that first where you play along the string makes a difference as to the pitch of the harmonic which then dominates the sound of the dampened string.  He also explains that the string you are playing on also makes a difference.
  4. Using as part of a rock riff and rhythm.  Dan does give me a simplified version of a palm-muted riff and then the descending riff which comes after starting with a bent pinch harmonic.
  5. At 23 minutes in, Dan gives the hint of starting with the volume back to ‘0’ and then bringing the volume in to create a nice sound with an increasing volume and removing some of the background noise to creating the pinch harmonic.
  6. Next Dan talks about controlling the volume after diving the tremolo bar down in order to create a whalesong-type sound.
  7. Tapping harmonics (26 mins) – choose a lick on the lower register and then tap directly 12 frets above, with both hands following eachother.  A great demonstration from Dan at about 28 mins in.
  8. Tapping harmonics (31 mins) – we fret a barre chord in the first twelve frets (D barre chord on the 5th fret) and then 12 frets above touch the string on the fret bar and then pluck with the thumb behind the harmonic.  Again a really good demonstration from Dan of this Eric Johnson style at 32 mins 40 – Definitely a good bit of motivation for continuing practice of this technique as the sound created is really lovely.
  9. TREMOLO SYSTEMS: At 39 mins 45 seconds we begin to look at some tremolo techniques.  First Dan talks about the evolution of the bridge, tremolo system and locking nuts and machineheads – talking about Floyd Rose and materials used in modern trem systems.
  10. Trem 1 – Scooping into notes – At 41 mins.  Hit the note and then as you slide dip and return the tremolo (during the actual slide).  Remember that trem systems don’t need too much movement for a pitch change.  Also, remember that it is spring-loaded and so there is no need to ‘hold onto’ the tremolo bar.  Another thing to remember about scooping into notes is that you a) need a lot of gain and sustain to maintain over several slides and b) as you dip the bar to scoop if you need to you can put another ‘cheeky’ pluck of the string into it.
  11. Trem 2 – vibrato at the ‘dusty end’ – (45 mins) gently hold the bar and use it like a vibrato.  Be careful to keep the hold loose and don’t over dip or pull.
  12. Trem 3 – Flicking up the bar – 46 mins 30 secs.  Squeeze to jerk up the bar instead of dipping it down, creating a Steve Vai sound and unusual vocal inflections which Joe Satriani talked about trying to mirror the yodeling of tribal singers (48 mins).  Dan’s example
  13. Trem 4 – Flick of the tremolo – 48 mins 30.  Using Steve Vai-type idea by turning the tremolo to the back of the guitar and then tapping lightly on the trem bar to create a distorted and screaming sound to the notes played.  Violent, but slight flickage required.
  14. Trem 5 – Catch a fretted harmonic on the way up – 51 mins.  Open G, with a 3rd fret harmonic on the way back up from the tremolo dive.
  15. At 52 minutes we have a jam over a backing track.
  16. At 59 minutes Dan gives some final ideas about adding spice to what you can do using the tremolo bar and harmonics.  “Be more gentle than the sound coming out of your amp” / “cradle the trem” / “where it sits on the spring is the neutral point”.

This is a good additional video to use to help you with your pinch harmonics:

Good for dive bomb effect, dropping the whammy bar with a trill, pinch harmonics and he does cover the flick of the tremolo with the bar to the back of the guitar:

A Satriani masterclass on using the Whammy bar.  Great ideas.

Steve Vai demonstrating his use of the Whammy bar:

A good quality video with some good ideas – make a neighing horse sound, using harmonics and other ideas:

And finally – Whammy Bar Tricks with John Petrucci of Dream Theater:

Here’s an interesting challenge: Rob Scallon plays an entire song using only pinch harmonics:

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