IN THE WOODSHED
This month Charlie Griffiths focuses his attention on pinched harmonics and explains how to produce specific, not random, pitches.
Charlie Griffiths turns the spotlight on pinched harmonics and reveals how to achieve specific, not random, pitches.
Harmonics are created by dividing the string at particular points in order to isolate the many overtones that make up regular notes. Harmonics can be produced with a few different techniques, but the mechanism behind all of them is the same. The simple way to produce a harmonic is to lightly touch one of the strings directly over the fret-wire with your fretting finger and then lift off the finger while simultaneously picking it. As you will see in Example 1, the 12th fret is the exact halfway point between the nut and the bridge, which creates an octave above the open string. Divide the string in two again and you will hear a harmonic two octaves higher than the open string. Halve the string length a third time and you will hear a third octave. By this point your finger would be higher than the highest fret on your fretboard at what would be the 36th fret. If you have a 24-fret guitar then this ‘virtual’ 36th fret is exactly halfway between the 24th fret and the bridge. It’s a good idea to use your pickups as a visual reference point; this will of course vary depending on your pickup configuration, but it’s an easy trick to learn.
When pulling out harmonics in the pickup zone, it is no longer practical to touch the string with your fretting finger while picking, so instead the ‘string touching’ part can be performed with the side of the picking thumb, thus condensing the two-handed technique down to essentially one digit; this in essence is the pinched harmonic. As you down-pick the string, momentarily brush the side of your thumb against the string before releasing the string and allowing the harmonic to sustain. A saturated high-gain sound will give you the best results in the vein of players like Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai or Eddie Van Halen. Or think about Joe Walsh’s beautiful pinched harmonics in The Eagles’ Hotel California. Now your fretting fingers are free from the actual job of creating the harmonics, you can use it to hold fretted notes. Example 2 shows that you can play regular fretted notes and use pinched harmonics to produce pitch accurate harmonics. A good place to start is to find the second octave harmonics, which are always found 24 frets higher than the fretted note. With practice you can quite quickly get used to ‘adding’ 24 frets to the note you are fretting, although this will almost always be in the ‘virtual fret’ area above the fretboard.
Once you are familiar with pinching harmonics two-octaves higher, then move on to Examples 3 and 4, which demonstrate other available intervals. Keep your fretting finger still and gradually move your pick nearer to the bridge and you will find a 3rd, b7 5th and interval harmonics. The positions of all these intervals change on direct relationship to the note you are fretting, which makes it almost impossible to ‘learn’ where they reside. Example 5 shows the fretting hand moving down the fretboard and therefore the picking hand follows suit. Practise each example slowly and careful at first to get a sense of where all the harmonics are, then as you get more confident, try practising over the backing tracks provided.
Steve Vai is a killer pinched harmonic player