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This is somewhat advanced so if you are a complete beginner or if you are at an early intermediate level this will not be useful for you yet. But if you have been an intermediate for quite a while or you are on your way to being advanced then this is another way to make your licks sound good.
I am going to tell you 3 guitarists that come to my mind: Eddie Van Halen, Dimebag Darrell and Zakk Wylde. Have you ever wondered how to make certain sounds on the guitar like they do or make ideas that sound a bit like the them? There are other guitarists that do this, but have you ever wondered how to get that sound?
If you listen to a lot of Van Halen, if you have heard Dimebag Darrell make his guitar scream or if you have heard Zakk Wydle’s aggressive playing, you have heard this sound. How do they do this?
The answer is harmonics. There are multiple types of harmonics that you can use. Here they are:
1) Natural harmonics
Van Halen and later Dimebag Darrell made great use of these harmonics. This is where you play on the edge of certain frets without pushing down on the string. Rest your finger on the edge of the 12th frets of the e and b string and play those strings.
You have played the beginning of Sanitarium by Metallica!
The most common frets are 12, 9, 7, 5. There are other harmonics but these are the easiest to start with. What Van Halen would do is use the whammy bar at the same time and dime would play multiple natural harmonics while using the bar.
You can use this in riffs like Van Halen did in Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love or in solos like Dime did in By Demons Be Driven.
2) Tapped harmonics
This is also what Van Halen and Dimebag used. This is a little harder to explain. This is where you play a note and then tap a harmonic that is above the note. For example. Play the 5 fret on the G string and then tap the edge of the 17th fret. Notice this is 12 frets up just like a natural 12th harmonic? You can also tap 7 frets up, and other frets as well.
This has a different pitch higher than the previous note each time.
3) Pinch harmonics
Dime uses these but Zakk is a heavy user of pinch harmonics. Listen to most riffs of black label society and Ozzy Osbourne when Zakk Wylde was his guitarist. You will hear that powerful growl-like sound when he plays low notes and if he plays higher notes it really screams at you.
This is pinch harmonics. To get this you pick a string while also contacting your thumb. This is harder to explain and will require a great guitar teacher to show you how to do it. You pick the string in certain places on the guitar, different places have different sounds, some parts make little or no sound. It will take practice to get used to where to pick.
4) Dimebag Darrell Squeals
This speaks for itself more than anything on this article. To get an instant example listen to the outro of Cemetary Gates where he copies Phil’s screams. He uses it in his solos also.
You pull off the g string then immediately place your finger on the edge of one of the natural harmonic frets and use that whammy bar. The 2nd harmonic is hardest to get by far. You will definitely need someone to show you this.
5) Action Step
Experiment with these to see which you like the most, then make use of them in your playing. You find your licks will sound a lot more exciting at this point!
About the author: Jake Willmot is heavily into music and listens to a lot of Van Halen songs, as well as a lot of Pantera. Jake was different from a lot of people when he was at school, in the sense that he did not socialise like a lot of other people at school did. Instead he played and practiced the guitar most of the time and is now an Exmouth guitar teacher.