Tone Changers & Trem Tricks

Scroll down to see tablature

Today I'm going to show you three techniques that you can use to bring some variety into the sounds you produce when you play. Use them all the time until they become a part of you. When this happens you'll find yourself using these techniques intuitively, without thinking about it.


The first technique is also one of the most used in the "business". Most people call them "pinch harmonics" and they are really very easy to do with  a little experimenting and practice. The trick is to pick the string and then to lightly touch it afterwards with the side of the thumb or with the tip of your index finger. I use one technique for down strokes and another one for upstrokes.

Down Stroke Squealers

Let's do the downstrokes first. This is how I hold the pick when I'm not doing pinch harmonics:

And this is how I hold it when I want to make the guitar squeal:

When I perform the downstroke I make sure that it's very easy for my thumb to hit the string right after the pick leaves it. When the pick has done it's job, the strings swings back to it's normal position but in that swing it lightly touches my thumb. Not because I move my thumb, but because it's there already. - Because of how I hold the pick. You need to experiment with this yourself to get it right. Also, it matters where you pick the string, so try picking it in different places. Start close to the bridge and then gradually move up towards the neck while picking the string.

Up Stroke Squealers

This is a different kind of pinch harmonic, because in this case you have to produce the harmonic, but you also mute the string in the process. I like the tone this produces very much but you judge for yourself. Again this is how to hold the pick when you're not doing the squealy thing:

And this is how I hold it when you want that whiny sound:

Notice how I position the index finger under the tip of the pick, making it impossible for me to do upstrokes and not hit the string with my index finger. Again you have to fool around with this one as well, to get the feel for it. In today's video I've also included a little example of how these upstroke pinch harmonics sound when you use them in conjunction with downward slides. Have fun trying out different combinations of techniques.

These harmonics are best made with the bridge pickup, so remember to have that one kicked in. And if you have no idea what the heck I'm talking about, here's and image of me pointing towards the switch in the bridge pickup position and another image of me pointing towards the actual bridge pickup, just so we're all on the same page :)

When you've learned to do both up stroke and down stroke pinches, try playing every note like that for a couple of days. This will make them part of your vocabulary.

Vintage Flutter

To use the flutter technique, you need to have a guitar with a tremolo that goes both up and down. The vintage 6 point Stratocaster tremolo wont work here because it only goes one way. You can only lower the pitch of the note with this tremolo, not raise it. So you need either a Floyd Rose type of tremolo or a two pivot point tremolo that is set up to go in both directions. In this picture you can see how mine is "floating" above the body of the guitar:

It's not true that you can only get this effect with a Floyd Rose (As you can clearly hear in the video) but a Floyd Rose is certainly very effective.

The trick is very simple. Instead of pushing the tremolo down and releasing it, you relase it like a spring. You press it down and let go of it, so that it bounces back into it's normal position. This will make the tremolo shake back and forth for a fraction of a second, and this creates the "flutter" effect.

One note down - Another one up

This is one of my favorites. You bring a lower note all the way down with the tremolo. Right until the point where the tremolo arm hits the body of the guitar (Or the string looses it's ability to produce a note) Then you pick a high note while still pressing down the tremolo. And while bending the note you bring the tremolo back to it's zero position again. You don't have to bring down an open string note. You can experiment with other notes. The point is to 1. pick a note 2. Push the tremolo all the way down and hold it there 3. Pick another note 4. Bring the tremolo up again.

Now the next step is, as always, for you to expand these techniques and see if you can change them, combine them, refine them, or in any way add to them. Look upon any new technique as an idea that you can expand upon. Expect to be able to develop anything you come across and you will. Have fun with it!