Riffer Madness: Dimebag Darrell on Harmonics, Part 2 (Harmonic Screams)

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This entry comes from Dimebag Darrell's classic Guitar World column, "Riffer Madness." In case you missed part one, go here

What's shakin', tough guy? Like I promised at the end of last month's column, this time I'm gonna light you up on how to do "harmonic squeals," like the ones at the end of "Cemetery Gates" (Cowboys From Hell.) A bunch of you have written in asking about this technique.

To get "harmonic screams" (same shit, different term) happening, you need a whammy bar. So, if your axe doesn't have one, then you're gonna have to sit this lesson out-sorry, dude! Also, just so you know, we're gonna be doing some pretty brutal dives that will definitely knock a non-locking tremolo system way out of tune. So a locking one, like a Floyd Rose-type, is kind of essential.

In case you're not exactly sure what I mean by a harmonic scream, there's a real long, slow one in "This Love" (Vulgar Display Of Power) which starts at 6:21 (CD time) and runs to the very end of the track. You can also hear me doing a bunch of them in "Cemetery Gates, " between 6:14 and the end, where I imitate Phil's [Anselmo, Pantera's vocalist] screams. I love that sort of vocal stuff, but there's no way in hell I can do it with my voice-I don't have that kinda range! So, harmonic screams are my way of "singing out, " using my guitar instead of my throat. That's why I really dig this technique.

I stumbled on harmonic squeals when I was dicking around one day. A lot of people think I use a harmonizer or a [Digitech] Whammy Pedal to do them, but I don't; all I use is my bar and some natural harmonics. To make harmonics scream, I first dump my Floyd Rose real quick, hit a harmonic with my left hand while the string is still flapping, and then use the bar to pull it up to the pitch I wanna hit.

If this sounds kinda complex to you, don't schiz; it's actually a pretty simple thing to do once you've got the technique down. So, let's learn how to do a real basic harmonic scream in "slow motion," by breaking the idea down into four easy steps. Let's use the harmonic that's directly above the 5th fret on the G string ('cos it's a pretty easy one to nail) and make it "scream" up to its original pitch of G. First though, dial up a distorted sound (remember, gain helps harmonics happen) and switch to your lead (bridge) pickup.

Step 1: Position your left hand so you're ready to hit the 5th-fret harmonic on the G string with your bird (middle) finger. Then mute the high E and B strings with your left-hand index finger, and the low E, A and D with your thumb by wrapping it around the top of the neck.

Step 2: Flick the G string with your bird finger and dump the bar down to the pitch you want the scream to start out at. You can take the bar down as little or as far as you want; just don't take it down too far, or the string will die of shock and the harmonic won't happen.

Step 3: As soon as the bar is dumped, sound the harmonic by lightly tapping the G string directly above the 5th fret with your bird finger. While you're doing this, make sure you're still keeping the other strings quiet with your thumb and index finger.

Step 4: As soon as you've hit the harmonic, release pressure on the bar and let the G string return back up to pitch. As long as you've sounded the harmonic properly, it'll "scream" up to G (as shown in FIGURE 1).

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The first few times you do this you're gonna hear the open G string "growl" before the scream starts happening. This is just because you're doing everything in slow motion. Once you've got this technique down, though, you won't hear the growl because you'll be doing the first three steps so quickly they'll almost be simultaneous. If it takes you some time to get these squeals happening, don't skid-it took me a while too.

Work on this technique until you can nail FIGURE 1 no problem, then move onto FIGURE 2.

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This one stays on the G string but has you "screaming" a bunch of different harmonics up to pitch. The last one can be a bitch to hit, but stick with it 'cos it sounds real cool when you nail it. Once you get this one down, try doing the same thing on the other five strings.

Shit, I'm outta space. Bust a nut on FIGURE 2, 'cos next month we'll be cranking these sons-of-bitches so high that dogs'll be barking! Time for me to unhook! Gotta book! Until next time, don't forget how ripper the guitar sounds. So GET SOME OF IT *#$%* damn it! Lata!

The "Dimebag Darrell Riffer Madness" DVD is available through Alfred here.