5 mind-blowing techniques you can learn from Polyphia’s Tim Henson

Tim Henson
(Image credit: Fishman)

Tim Henson – the guitarist of the progressive metal band Polyphia – combines complex guitar riffs, intricate rhythms, and an innovative approach to electronics and sound design to create a unique blend of progressive metal, jazz, trap, and K-pop music, resulting in a distinctive and cutting-edge sound. 

Born in 1993 in Texas, Henson started playing guitar at the age of 10 and now, at the age of 29, is a highly respected musician whose playing style is characterized by a virtuosic technique and intricate, melodic playing. 

He is known for incorporating a wide range of musical influences and techniques into his playing – including hybrid picking, tapping, harmonics, sweep picking, and jazzy chord progressions – to create a unique sound that is both technically impressive and emotionally rich. 

Polyphia's fourth and latest album, Remember That You Will Die, showcases this diversity with progressive pop songs like ABC, the alt-rock-flavored Bloodbath (which features Deftones’ Chino Moreno on vocals), and the technical guitar display Ego Death, which features a guest spot from Steve Vai.

In this lesson we will use hybrid picking, sweep picking, natural harmonics and tapping to create unique licks and riffs. 

The core of Henson's playing is a hybrid picking technique, which means using a pick to play the lower strings and the second, third, and fourth (marked as ‘m’, ‘a ‘and ‘c’ in the notation) fingers to pluck the upper strings with a fingerstyle approach. 

Every example uses a hybrid picking element, but Example 1 will act as an introduction to the technique if you are unfamiliar. The Polyphia sound uses fretted notes and open strings to create huge interval leaps, which are then pushed further with other techniques. 

Example 2 could be described as hybrid sweep picking and is performed with a downward pick sweep across the strings, with the highest note being played with a second-finger pluck. This has an added possibility of creating a variety in timbre with palm muted sweep-picked notes, followed by a louder, snappy final note.

Example 3 focuses on natural harmonics, which Polyphia use to create sudden, octave-jumping interval skips. The key to clean harmonics is to position your finger directly over the fret wire of the fret in question, unless you are searching for harmonics between the 1st and 3rd frets.

The final piece of the puzzle is tapping with fingers of both hands. Rather than the Van Halen-inspired arpeggio or scale-based tapping style, Henson uses picking-hand tapping to grab a single note or two here and there to integrate the effect of a contrasting tapped note attack into a riff or a lick. We also have fretting-hand tapping (marked in the music as squares, which are hammer-ons to a new string), which has a unique attack as well as freeing up the picking hand. 

Get the tone

Amp Settings: Gain 3, Bass 7, Middle 6, Treble 7, Reverb 2

Tim Henson is an Ibanez endorser and, while you might expect these examples to require heavy distortion, they are actually best played with a slightly compressed clean tone. 

But Henson also likes to use a nylon-string guitar for certain things, so you might want to give your fingers a little challenge by trying that. Add a little light reverb.

Example 1. Hybrid picking

Learn the chords of this Minor II-V-I first and play them with your pick on the sixth string and simultaneously pluck the three higher strings with your second, third, and fourth fingers. In between the chords play the licks based in A Minor Pentatonic (A-C-D-E-G) with hybrid picking as marked in the notation.

Example 2. Sweep picking

Form each chord shape with your fretting hand and use palm muting to keep the notes separated as you sweep pick across the strings. For the first three chords, sweep across the fifth, fourth, and third strings, then use your second finger to pluck the second string. For the final chord add the sixth string into the sweep, too.

Example 3. Natural harmonics

Play clean natural harmonics by lightly positioning your fingers directly over the fretwire and let the adjacent strings ring together wherever possible. Start bar 2 with a picking-hand tap, then pull-off before descending a B Minor arpeggio with fretting-hand tapping.

Example 4. Tapping with two hands 

Sweep pick this five-string A Minor arpeggio, then tap the 17th and 19th frets with your second and third fingers. Next, play a diminished shape followed by a mixture of fretting and picking-hand taps and octaves to create a seamless flow of notes.

Example 5. Mixing several techniques

Here we combine sweep picking, alternate picking, harmonics, open-string pull-offs and tapping for a lick with a variety of timbres. Play each section of the lick slowly to ensure clean execution before speeding up and linking it all together.

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Charlie Griffiths

Charlie Griffiths plays guitar in acclaimed prog-metal outfit Haken, and has a wealth of experience handling corporate and session gigs for genres as diverse as rock, heavy metal and pop. He has been a regular contributor to Total Guitar, Guitar Techniques, and Guitar World for over a decade, and released his debut solo album Tiktaalika in 2022.