Master Eric Johnson’s harmonic-like two-handed koto technique in a few easy steps

Juan Antonio has shown us how to play Joe Bonamassa’s blazing pentatonics and Allan Holdworth’s “secret scale,” and now the guitar instructor is back with a new lesson that demystifies Eric Johnson’s signature “koto” technique.

The electric guitar technique, as Antonio points out, is so named because it emulates the sound of the koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument.

When it comes to how Johnson creates the sound, Antonio admits that “for a lot of years I just thought he was playing harmonics with his right hand”.

But after watching one of Johnson’s live videos, Antonio noticed how Johnson’s hands were spaced on the fretboard. “That already made me think this is not your typical harmonic,” he says.

(Image credit: Juan Antonio)

He then realized that Johnson was using his picking hand to press down on the note, meaning “it’s actually not a harmonic at all.”

As Antonio goes on to explain, “What he’s actually doing is he’s pressing on the fret [with a finger on his right hand], he’s picking with his [right-hand] thumb, and as soon as you pluck that note you’re going to add a little bit of vibrato with your left hand.”

To see how the technique works, check out the video above. Or, as Antonio advises, pull up almost any EJ video on YouTube to watch the master in action.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.