How to Play a Pinch Harmonic – [Step By Step Guide]

If you pay attention to certain songs, you may have observed from time to time a super loud squealing, screeching sort of sound. If you have been wondering how to achieve that, pinch harmonics is the answer for you.

Pinch harmonic is a great way to achieve loud, screaming sounds. The strongest points of harmonic on every open string refer to the fourth, fifth, seventh, and twelfth frets. All you need to do is to tap a string that is open over any of the frets picking the string, thus producing a melodious harmonic ringing out.

In turn, these harmonics may be shifted on the strings as a note is fret. For instance, you can play a second fret note, while the loud harmonics are expected at two frets above, which means the sixth, seventh, ninth, and fourteenth frets. They are referred to as ‘artificial harmonics’.

Pinch harmonics, on the other hand, use a similar principle, such as reproducing harmonics in the higher strings. The difference, though, is that it is done with a touch of a harmonic simultaneously with the thumb as the strings are picked.

All of these, however, is easier said than done. To get started and learn, check out this step by step, guide on how to play a pinch harmonic.

Step by Step Guide – How to Play a Pinch Harmonic

Before Starting

There are some things that you need to get familiar with before starting. At least you need to have some knowledge of harmonics and are capable of producing natural harmonics since basically this is a beginner’s skill.

Pinch harmonics can be considered as a part of the amateur playing level. If you do not even know what a natural harmonic is, it may be best to start learning what it is, before moving forward to the next level.

As mentioned earlier, one way to understand pinch harmonics is by having a basic understanding of natural harmonics. There are some areas on the neck where you can easily touch a string using a left-hand finger, pick the string, and get the sound. This means pressing the string down like what you usually do but only lightly touching the string.

What You Will Need

Here are the things that you need to achieve pinch harmonic:

  • Guitar
  • Amplifier
  • Distortion (an amplifier distortion can also be used, though it is best to ensure plenty of gains to make things easier).
  • Guitar pick

Step 1

Find a reliable natural harmonic between the fretboard and bridge

You may start this by fretting first the 2nd straight right at the 12th fret, picking it, touching the string lightly at different points using the index finger of your right hand. After hearing a loud and resonating sound, remember it as it is your good point.

There are also a number of ways that you will later on how to pull off this technique, but for now, you need to start real slow so that you can understand and absorb the basic idea.

Step 2

Hold your guitar pick right above the point that you have found earlier for the harmonic, and then pick the string, before lightly bringing the side of your thumb down to the string. This time, you need to hear a shrill sound. If you produce it, that means that you have successfully produced a harmonic.

Step 3

Try to do the steps faster in a single motion

This is one of the many ways to produce pinch harmonics. Keep in mind that there is no specific, single right way to do so. In fact, you can do it in different ways, depending on what you find is the easiest, provided that you achieve that kind of sound that you want.

You can start by holding your pick with your thumb slightly protruding coming from the side. Pick the string, and when they pick hits it, your thumb will then hit it afterward immediately. Next, hold the guitar pick using your index and thumb fingers, and use your middle finger to stick out right from behind.

Picking a string using an upstroke will also produce a pinch harmonic. This strategy is quite convenient for those who are left-handed. Afterwards, you can place the side of your palm gently on top of the point where harmonic resonance was observed, and pick the string. Another option is to pick the string and bring your palm down lightly.

Step 4

Know the best guitar and amp settings to achieve pinch harmonics

Even if you have the right skill, but if your equipment is not cooperating, you may not get the output that you require. This means that knowing the best settings for both your guitar and amp is very important.

Despite the fact that it is highly possible for you to achieve clear and clean pinch harmonics on your electric guitar, you may not achieve what you want if you lift the distortion level to ten. Also, you may attempt using bridge pickup and ensure that the volume of your guitar is at 10. This refers to the volume knob of your guitar but not on the amplifier. This will prevent damage to the amp speakers.

The ease of coaxing pinch harmonics using your guitar highly depends on the type of equipment you have. If you only have a small 15-watt amplifier for practice that comes with an in-built distortion, it may require some effort in order to achieve pinch harmonics.

Practices for Pinch Harmonics – Finger Touch Harmonics

Aside from the actual step by step guide on how to play pinch harmonics, you will also do well in improving your skills along the way. One way to do so is by practice. If you are to play the third-string right at its fifth fret note, expect to have several locations where you can possibly touch the string, such as the left-hand finger right, in order to achieve a sound harmonic.

One challenge about this practice, however, is that you just occupied your left hand with something, which means that you cannot use a finger from your left hand to reach the string. Rather, you need to lightly tap the string using the tip of the second finger of the right hand immediately after the string pick.

This will allow you to hear two notes. The first is the note produced by the third string at the fifth fret, and the second is harmonic, which is produced after touching the string.

Practices for Pinch Harmonics – Thumb Tap Harmonics

To achieve thumb tap harmonics, which is referred to as the second stage to playing pinch harmonics, you can do something similar, with a twist. At this point, you need to touch using the tip of the thumb of your right hand rather than the edge of the second finger. You will also want to pick in really close and just a little part of the edge surfacing out from the thumb and first finger.

With this, you will also be able to hear two notes. The first is the third string at the fifth fret, and the second is the harmonic that is right on top of the pickup of the neck.

Tap Harmonics and Pinch Harmonics

Playing pinch harmonic happens the moment you pick and tap the tip of the thumb at the harmonic point simultaneously. This will allow you to hear a single note only, not two separate notes.

Note that everything still relies on how the pinch harmonic is played. At times, you will get to play real harmonic, while you may also hear a combo of the main note that you fret with the left hand, along with the harmonic.

Looking for the Sweet Spots

Another thing that needs to be learned and familiarized when dealing with pinch harmonics are sweet spots. These refer to places where you can actually find harmonics that sound strong. Of course, it will take some time and experimentation to locate them. As you are your own unique player, you can map out harmonic techniques as you need, depending on your style.


Just like any other technique, doing a pinch harmonic takes time and practice. Even those who are already regarded as experts still need to continue mastering the technique. After all, there are also different ways to produce pinch harmonics.

Again, there are different ways in order to produce a pinch harmonic. This way is one of the countless ways that other players have discovered. For beginners, however, the guide above is one of the easiest to follow.

You may be able to work on these steps for a while, and then stick to one that can suit your preferences best. You may also want to experiment on the different ways to pinch harmonics until you get it.

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