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How Robb Flynn discovered his trademark natural harmonics by accident

Robb Flynn of Machine Head
(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic)

Anyone familiar with Machine Head knows natural harmonics are integral to their guitar approach. From the opening riff of Davidian, first track of their 1994 debut, Burn My Eyes, to the final seconds of Arrøws in Wørds Frøm the Sky, the closer from their new album Øf Kingdøm And Crøwn, natural harmonics pervade the Oakland outfit’s entire discography.

And while they became an intentional part of the band’s musical fabric, frontman Robb Flynn discovered natural harmonics by accident as a young guitarist.

As he explains in the new issue of Guitar World, his first guitar was a rental from a local Fremont music store. His father insisted on the temporary purchase to see if Flynn would actually stick with playing guitar.

“When I first started playing guitar, I was crazy about Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales and D.R.I.’s [Dirty Rotten imbeciles] Dealing With It!, the punk-rock crossover classic,” Flynn recalls.

“My parents didn’t have a lot of money. I was bugging my dad about getting a guitar, and he was like, ‘I don’t think you’re going to stick with it. We’re going to rent a guitar, you’re going to try it, and if after three months I don’t see any improvement, we’re not going to do that again.’”

He continues: “We went and rented a guitar for $50, the cheapest guitar the store in Fremont would loan us. I’m sitting there just trying to learn every D.R.I., Slayer, Metallica or Celtic Frost song. Especially with Celtic Frost and D.R.I., they had all this feedback, but I didn’t know what feedback was.

“I was like, ‘What’s that sound?’ I’ve got no distortion box, I’m playing out of an amp as big as my phone, so I just mistakenly hit a harmonic and was like, ‘Oh… that must be what that is.’ I got good at doing really quick little harmonic hits, because I think I’m playing feedback.

“Later on, of course, some friend of mine was like, ‘No, you idiot, that comes from the amp.’ But it became part of my style. It sounds cool to me.”

Robb Flynn

(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic)

Machine Head released their 10th studio album, Øf Kingdøm and Crøwn – and first with guitarist Wacław Kiełtyka – last month.

Elsewhere in the interview, Flynn details his approach to continually improving as a musician and guitarist now decades into his career.

“I remember hearing a quote from [basketball player] Michael Jordan years ago: ‘You don’t have to love the NBA; you just have to love the game of basketball,’” he recalls. “That’s how you’ll flourish! I got it at the time, but I really get it now. Like, you don’t have to love the music business; you just have to love the music.

“You’re not competing against other bands; you’re competing against yourself – you’re competing against your guitar-playing skills from a year ago, or 10 years ago. You’re constantly trying to better yourself as a player, a lyricist or a vocalist.”

Read the full Robb Flynn interview in the new issue of Guitar World, available now via Magazines Direct (opens in new tab).

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Sam is a Staff Writer at Guitar World, also creating content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar (opens in new tab).