Guitar Harmonics Lesson: In This Lesson, we’re gonna talk about harmonics-how to get ’em, where you can find ’em and what you can do with ’em. There are a number of different ways you can make harmonics happen. You can induce ’em with your pick (pinch harmonics), you can tap ’em like Eddie Van Halen does sometimes (tap or touch harmonics) or you can get ’em by lightly resting one of your left-hand fingers on a string and then picking it. The last type is called natural harmonics, and they’re the suckers we’re gonna be dicking with.
The easiest place to get a natural harmonic on any string is at the 12th fret. All you do is lightly rest one of your lefthand fingers on a string directly above that fret and then pick it. Don’t let the string touch the fret, though, or it won’t work, dad! When you do this right you’ll hear a bell-like note that’s exactly one octave higher than the open-string note. To help make harmonics easier to get, use your lead (bridge) pickup and a lot of gain. When I first started experimenting with harmonics, I’d sometimes hook up two distortion boxes just to get my strings “frying,” which helped bring out the harmonics. Also, once you’ve chimed the harmonic, it’s not necessary to leave your finger on the string – in fact, if you let go of the string immediately after you pick it the harmonic will ring twice as well.
You can also get harmonics happening above other frets like the 7th, 5th, and 4th. Some dudes seem to think that these are the only points where harmonics happen but, as far as I’m concerned, there is literally a harmonic to be found at any place on any string. Check this out and you’ll hear what I’m saying: rest your left-hand bird (middle) finger lightly over the highest fret of your fat E string. Then start chugging out a groove on that string with your pick. While you’re doing that, keep your left-hand finger resting lightly on the string and start moving it slowly towards the nut. You should hear a shit-load of different harmonics all over the string!
Some of my favorite harmonics are located between frets. There are two really cool ones between the 2nd and 3rd frets that I use a lot. One is at about a quarter of the way between the 2nd and 3rd frets and the other is at about three-quarters of the way. They’re pretty hard to get, so once you find ’em make a mental note of exactly where they are.
I use some pretty radical harmonics at the beginning of “Heresy” (“Cowboys From Hell”). FIGURE 1 shows a riff similar to the one I’m talking about and, as you can see, it uses harmonics on the low E string.
The best way to make sure you’re playing this right is to listen to the record real carefully and then find the exact spots where all the guitar harmonics are. Use your ears and your eyes, man–look and listen!
TO BAR OR NOT TO BAR
A lot of guitarists tend to only use harmonics when they want to make weird noises with their whammy bars. That’s cool but, as FIGURE 1 shows, you don’t need a tremolo arm to make harmonics wail. Two of my favorite players, Edward Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, did some real happening things with harmonics without reaching for their bars! FIGURE 2 is similar to the verse riff of “Mouth For War” [“Vulgar Display Of Power”].
In bar 4 I play a simple little fill using harmonics a quarter of the way between the 2nd and 3rd frets on the G and B strings to create a high-pitched percussive sound that gives the riff an extra dimension. And, once again, no whammy shit is going on.
Guitar harmonics s are cool to screw around with, so don’t be afraid to experiment with ’em. As long as you remember to look and listen you’ll do just fine. Next month I’ll tell ya all about how I get my trademark harmonic screams, like the ones at the end of “Cemetery Gates”(“Cowboys From Hell”). Until then…try, fail, live, learn–and die happy trying!
Check the next episode here: