Pinch Harmonics Overview | Hub Guitar

Pinch Harmonics Overview

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Hi, this is Hub Guitar.

If any lesson needs a video, it's this one. This technique is not really easy to explain using diagrams and descriptions.

Pinch harmonics are a way of activating harmonic notes using only the picking hand. This technique is often played with the pick, though, it can also be played with the fingers.

Hopefully you've learned to play other kinds of harmonics already, such as natural harmonics, artificial harmonics, and percussive harmonics.

The pinch harmonic is similar to an artificial harmonic, except instead of using your thumb and index finger, you'll use your thumb and pick together to play the harmonic. I'm going to show you how to do that.

So to pull this technique off, it really matters where you put your right hand. If you're floating above a space that is not very rich in harmonics, you're just not going to get much out of it.

So get that technique down. If you are a pickstyle player, you are going to use the pick. If you are a fingerstyle player, you are going to use your thumb and your index finger. If you are both, then you are going to learn both. So try to get that technique down and then apply it to scales.

How To Play Pinch Harmonics

  • Hold the pick close to the tip.
  • With the fret hand, fret a note.
  • Locate the harmonics spot near the sound hole. You can use artificial harmonics to search for the location.
  • Pluck the string with a firm downstroke, allowing the string to bounce very quickly off of the flesh of your thumb.
  • Note that the pick strikes at the point where an artificial harmonic can be found, the string bounces off of the thumb, and then the thumb no longer makes contact with the pick.
  • Practice makes perfect!

What are Pinch Harmonics?

“Pinch” harmonics are a special type of harmonic played with the pick. This technique can be performed on acoustic or electric guitar, but it is most well known as the distorted electric guitar technique that creates screams, screeches and wails.

While difficult to learn, once mastered, this technique will become second nature.

There are several requirements to consider in executing this technique.


Your picking hand, which holds the plectrum, must be positioned above an invisible spot on the guitar, often near the location where the neck and the body of the instrument intersect. This “sweet spot” varies from one instrument to the next. And the location of the sweet spot changes depending on what note is fretted. In short, you must pick the string at exactly the right spot, and this spot will move depending on which note you are fretting with the other hand.


The pick is held as normal, but the thumb is closer to the edge of the pick. The pick plucks the string, and the string bounces off of the thumb immediately after. This combination of motions produces the harmonic.

Pinch Harmonic Exercises

  1. Play an A minor pentatonic scale using the pinch harmonic technique. If you’re playing an electric guitar, try using lots of distortion and see if you can get a clear harmonic.
  2. Execute a pinch harmonic and then bend the harmonic note up a whole step.

Pinch Harmonics FAQ

  • “What’s the best Pickup Height for Pinch Harmonics?” — A sweet pinch harmonic has more to do with technique, gain and tonal processing than pickup height. But if you suspect your setup is not ideal, you might want to see a luthier to discuss. Read more on why you need your guitar set up.

  • “How do I play louder pinch harmonics (why are my pinch harmonics quiet?)” — This is one of the most frequently asked questions. Probably the most common mistake is not to realize that the pinch harmonic needs to be played at a harmonic sweet spot on the guitar. If you’re playing it in the wrong spot, it will never sound loud and clear. That makes this technique hard to learn, because if you’re practicing it in the wrong spot, you’ll feel like you’re going nowhere! Try finding the harmonic sweet spot for the open strings, just after the last fret, right before the sound hole. Remember that as you fret higher notes, that “sweet spot” moves slightly towards the bridge.

  • “How do I execute the pinch harmonic properly?” — A small, thick pick is best. Let the string bounce off of your thumb as you play it. Hold the pick in such a manner that the thumb is close to the tip, but hold it in such an angle that the string has room to bounce and then hit the thumb.
As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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