John 5 teaches you insane sweep picking, sliding finger taps, pinch harmonics and behind-the-nut bends

This classic Guitar World lesson was first published in 2011.

Today, we are going to be looking at an arpeggio-driven, classical-flavored run in E minor, which incorporates some sweep picking, pinch harmonics, a sliding finger tap and some behind-the-nut string bending.

FIGURE 1 illustrates the lick, which we’ll break up into sections that can be mastered one at a time. Section 1 uses the neck pickup and begins with an ascending B minor arpeggio (B D F#) shape in seventh position.

Next, slide up the neck for a D major arpeggio (D F# A), which, in this context, creates a Bm7 (B D F# A) sound, before sliding up to 12th position and descending using our old friend the E minor pentatonic scale (E G A B D). 

As you’ll notice in the video, I pick using only downstrokes for the first 10 notes, together with a couple of hammer-ons and legato finger slides. I then revert to strict alternate picking (down, up, down, up, etc) for the E minor pentatonic descent.

Section 2 is where we start to put the pedal to the metal, in terms of speed, while staying on the neck pickup. This section starts off with an Fmaj7 (F-A-C-E) sweep arpeggio, performed with a single downstroke across the top four strings, using the fret-hand fingering shape shown in PHOTO 1.

Photo 1

The secret behind successful sweep picking is to not let the notes ring into each other like a strummed chord. This is accomplished by relaxing the fretting finger on each note before the next one sounds.

Immediately following the sweep, I tap the A note at the high E string’s 17th fret with my pick-hand middle finger (PHOTO 2), and then do a chromatic pull-off using all four fingers of my fret hand.

Photo 2

This whole pattern is then repeated, only this time, following the finger tap, I slide my tapping finger up the neck and then back down to the 17th fret before pulling it off. 

As I point out in the video lesson, as this tapped slide happens so quickly, it doesn’t really matter what fret it goes up to - it just sounds cool! After the chromatic pull-off on the high E string that follows, Section 2 ends with a bend on the D note at the B string’s 15th fret, with vibrato.

For the third and final section, I switch to the bridge pickup and do some behind-the-nut string bending (PHOTO 3) while picking pinch harmonics on the open G string.

Photo 3

It helps to have a lot of gain to get pinch harmonics happening, and you also have to graze the string with the edge of your thumb as you pick it (PHOTO 4). In super-slow motion, your pick hits the string first, followed a fraction of a second later by the edge of your thumb. Hence the name “pinch harmonic.”

Photo 4

These harmonics happen in different places, depending on whether you’re picking an open string or a fretted note. To enact the behind-the-nut bends you obviously need a guitar that doesn’t have a locking nut and, as you can see in PHOTO 3, I use more than one finger to push down against the string for added strength and control.

This short run and the techniques it utilizes will hopefully give you a few ideas to use in some licks of your own.

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