In his own words – and, indeed, in the minds of almost every guitar fan who has ever heard him play – pinched harmonics are an integral part of Steve Vai’s sound. In a technical arsenal that somehow manages to make room for just about every fingerboard acrobatics under the sun, the humble harmonic scream often takes center stage.
Indeed, no one armed with such knowledge would ever think of asking Vai to remove said six-string embellishment from his tonal repertoire – that would be like asking Eddie Van Halen to stop the two-handed tapping.
Yet the virtuoso has now recalled the time an individual, who clearly disliked harmonic pinching, tried to veto Vai’s use of the technique when recording Go / Cutbecause, well, he thought it sounded “like a dying whale”.
Talk to MusicRadar (opens in a new tab)the Ibanez signature guitar the owner reflected on his check-in experience Go / Cutand recounted the unsolicited advice he received while working with an unspecified big band.
“I brought an A&R guy into the studio of a big band that I was recording with and playing harmonics with,” Vai began. “Now you know what a harmonic is? It’s a cry. It’s part of my style. This is part of the styles of most guitarists. And he said, ‘What is this?’ And I say, ‘Oh, it’s a harmonic. You pinch it with your finger and…’”
Still the ax craftsman, we can’t even imagine a time when a Vai pinch harmonic doesn’t hit the mark – he could dial in a pinch harmonic solo and it would still sound like music – but apparently for this particular A&R guy, the fingerboard creak seemed to land flat. Everytime.
Vai continued, “He says, ‘No, don’t do that. It looks like a dying whale. And I said, ‘That’s a harmonic pinch!’ And he said, ‘Well, take it out. Take it out.’ It’s all over the record and it says, “Get ’em out.” Take them all out.
It would take a brave or foolish soul to teach Vai to organize his guitar parts (Jacob Collier Grave in the Old Camp), and while we understand that the music-making process is an entirely collaborative experience – one that invites the perspectives of everyone involved – we can’t help but feel that the line should be drawn when it comes to Vai and his technical.
Obviously, judging by her response, Vai felt the same way: “I said, ‘Fuck you!’ Well, in so many words.
Of course, harmonic pinching isn’t the only technique Vai is known for. Another aspect of his impressive playing style concerns vibrato – in particular, the innovative “circular” approach he was the pioneer, unlike any other guitarist.