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How to Play Pinch Harmonics on Electric Guitar

Guitarist Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top set the standard of "soulfulness" in the rock guitar world with his smoldering pinch harmonic solos. You can add soulfulness to your guitar music by learning how to play pinch harmonics, too.

Although Gibbons is a masterful blues guitar player with a well-rounded playing approach, he’s best known for his edge-of-the-pick (also known as pinch) harmonics. To play a pinch harmonic, follow these steps:

  1. Grasp your pick so that only a small piece of the tip can be seen from between your thumb and index finger.

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  2. Just as you strike the string, give the pick a little forward twist, so that the flesh of your finger touches the string to partially stop or mute it slightly.

    This takes some practice, but the resulting note should have a harmonic (a high, bell-like sound resulting from the string being partially stopped) in it.

  3. Add plenty of distortion to help the effect “read” better.

    You can crank up the electric guitar's signal so that sound is distorted.

Among Gibbons’s best guitar tracks are “La Grange,” “Tush,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” “Blue Jean Blues,” and “My Head’s in Mississippi.” The following tablature shows two of Gibbons's hallmarks: his dark, Texas-style riffing and a blues line that closes off with is patented pinch harmonics.

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Click here to download and print this guitar tab.

Gibbons’s fat lead tone is legendary among rock players. He’s particularly famous for using a flametop 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard lovingly named “Pearly Gates,” as well as a pink late-1950s Strat given to him by Jimi Hendrix, both of which greatly contribute to that tone.

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