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5 Major Characteristics of Metal Guitar
Posted by Drop-Tuning.com 5:38AM CST 10/10/17​

Heavy metal is defined by hundreds of traits and traditions. One of the most complex and active genres in music, metal is a fluid, evolving organism. Camo cargo shorts, long hair, black denim, leather, and cigarettes are just a few of the stereotypes given to the lifestlye and music. In this read, we will discuss the 5 most notable and definitive characteristics of heavy metal guitar. \m/
#1 - Distortion

Distortion is the fuzzy, crunchy sound that rock and heavy metal guitar players use to create a bigger, darker sound. Without distortion, metal is just speed jazz with mean sounding vocals. Distortion is to heavy metal guitar, what moisture is to water. In rock and metal, distortion isn't typically listed as an 'effect', and instead, such a consideration is often given to the oddball clean songs, which do not feature heavy distortion use.
Distortion is responsible for countless different guitar techniques and styles, perhaps none as important as harmonics and pinch harmonics. 

What effects can be called 'distortion', is still the subject of some debate, some say gain, and some say overdrive, some even use a fuzz effect and call it distortion.

A relatively new effect, modern distortion got it's start in the early 1950's as players sought to add more and more crunch and bite to the tone of their electric guitars by exploiting the signal distorting effect of some older amps.
Below is a Boss DS-1 . A very good distortion pedal. -Available on zZounds.com
#2 - Palm Muting

The difference between a barrage of confusing, overlapping noise, and crisp chugs, is usually palm muting. Palm muting is achieved when the meat on the pinky side of the picking hand is laid over the very ends of the strings before they reach the bridge, absorbing and diminishing the string's output.

This technique provides extra control and lets the player really highlight what notes he/she wants to shine while diminishing the others. Often called 'muffling', palm muting creates a tighter, more aggressive sound than open strumming. Palm muting tends to be used with not only #1 on our list, distortion, but also #4 on our list, down picking.
#3 - Triplets

Any person routinely listening to heavy metal, knows exactly what triplets are and is likely a big fan. Lamb Of God's Mark Morton frequently employs triplets in a very tight, proffesional manor on his Jackson Signature Guitar . There have been very few metal songs without some form of a triplet featured.

Many people describe triplets as gallops, or a 'galloping' sound. One will notice that triplets are not as frequently used in slow songs and that if used right, can add a very upbeat vibe to a song or riff. Triplets are likely one of the first techniques that a fledgling guitarist will pick up on and practice.
Seen below, is the sheet music denotation of 4 triplets.
#4 - Down Picking

Downpicking is what gives the signature chugging sound that we all love so much from acts like Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, etc. Down picking differs from alternate-picking in that no upstrokes are used. Down picking delivers a darker, more sinister sound than alt picking and allows for greater precision and control.

Of course, as with any technique, there is a time and place for down picking just as there is for alt picking. Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell is well known for his use of down picking in many songs. Downpicking is rarely done without the strings 'palm muted'. This is because the point of downpicking, is to be crisp and concise, and 'palm muting' only helps this staccato-esque effect. ​​
#5 - Harmonics/Pinch Harmonics

Natural harmonics, as well as pinch harmonics, or 'squeelies', are nothing new. What happens when a natural harmonic is played, is the player rests a finger lightly on the string over a certain fret. With the player's finger resting lightly on the string, the string is plucked and instead of outputting its natural frequency, the string puts out a harmonic. This is because the finger absorbed nearly all of the low tones of the note, leaving only the highest of the 10x multiples of the root frequency to ring out. These frequencies are typically very quiet and without distortion on an electric guitar, are almost silent.

A pinch harmonic is where the note is played like normal, for this example, let's say a 3rd fret bend on the A string. When striking the string with their picking hand, the player drags the knuckle of their thumb immediately across the string in a certain spot above the pickup to make a brutal squeely sound. Think of Duality by Slipknot.

Below is a chart showing the natural harmonic relations of each fret to the open string.

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