What do Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Joe Satriani, and Paul Gilbert all have in common? They’re all generally known as shred guitarists! But exactly what is guitar shredding?
Read on to find out all you’ll need to know about this high-speed play style! You’ll learn where shredding originated, we’ll look at the advanced techniques involved, examine a few of the best shred guitarists and shred songs, and finally, we’ll find out what to look for in a guitar to unleash the speed on.
What Is Guitar Shredding?
Guitar shredding is a flashy style of lead guitar playing that is typically characterized by the use of extreme speed and precision. In order to achieve a fast tempo, various advanced guitar techniques such as alternate picking, economy picking, legato, sweep picking, and finger tapping are used.
In a 2012 documentary ‘Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet’, guitar God Steve Vai defined shred guitar as:
“The terminology used for someone who can play an instrument, and has such a tremendous amount of technique that what they do just seems completely effortless and absurd. It’s like this burst of energy that just comes out in extremely fast tearing kind of playing where the notes actually connect. Shred has to have a particular kind of “tide” to it, I think, that actually gives you that “blow away” factor that makes it impressive, to a certain degree.”
Is It Hard To Shred Guitar?
As with many play styles, shred guitar is fairly easy to learn, but difficult to become truly proficient at. At a high level, shredders will be able to unleash lightning fast licks with seemingly minimal effort.
Shred guitar will take a lot of practice and dedication to master, as an enormous degree of finger dexterity, speed, and hand-eye coordination must be developed. It is imperative with this style of play, in particular, to make sure to take your time and slowly increase your speed in order to maintain a clean and efficient technique.
Most guitarists who have mastered the style will have spent many a night with their trusty metronomes! Check out my guide to metronomes to learn why this tool is essential for clean technique.
Who Invented Shred Guitar?
Shred in the 1950s
The earliest examples of what we might call shred guitar can be traced back as far as the 1950s when legendary players such as Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, and Les Paul were busy revolutionizing the instrument.
Believe it or not, Les Paul’s 1951 release ‘How High The Moon’ contains examples of sweep picking (one of shred guitar’s most notable techniques). This is one of the earliest known recordings to feature what could be known as shred guitar.
Many musicians also cite the late, great, Dick Dale as being the original shred guitarist. The surf guitar pioneer is largely credited as having invented tremolo picking, another technique now synonymous with shred.
Shred in the 1960s
A key player who really helped to develop and establish the style was Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore. He combined techniques and theory from various styles of music such as classical, jazz, and blues to create a playstyle that was uniquely his. Most notably, he was well known for utilizing exotic scales such as the harmonic minor, as well as for his use of mind-blowing arpeggios with a classical tint.
His contributions to the world of shred guitar are undeniable, and his playing has had a huge impact on guitarists who would later go on to really bring the play-style to the mainstream. For example, some of the biggest names in shred such as Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and Joe Satriani all list Ritchie as being a huge influence on their playing.
Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page is also cited as being an early pioneer of the style. Shred virtuoso Steve Vai once called Page’s Heartbreaker solo ‘the definitive hard rock guitar solo’.
How To Shred Guitar
Although these are also used in many different genres of music, here is a list of a few advanced guitar techniques commonly used to great effect by shred guitar players to achieve their lightning-fast speed.
Fast Alternate Picking
Alternate picking is a style of play that requires the player to adhere to a strict down, up, down, up, down picking pattern. It sounds simple enough, but mastering this technique isn’t quite so straightforward.
When played repeatedly on single strings, alternate picking can also be referred to as tremolo picking. On a single string, this style of picking is very straightforward and is the most efficient method for spitting out fast and fluid runs.
The tricky part of mastering alternate picking is when you need to move to a different string and the direction of your next stroke makes the movement less efficient.
GuitarWorld has a fantastic lesson on developing a clean alternate picking technique which you can watch below.
Sweep picking is a flashy technique that was widely popularized in the 1980s when shred guitarists were arguably at their peak popularity. It is commonly used to play arpeggios at phenomenal speeds, but has a bit of a bad reputation of being largely useless outside of shred circles.
When sweep picking, the guitarist will use a fluid ‘sweeping’ motion of the pick to very quickly play single notes on consecutive strings. It is quite an alien feeling technique when first attempted, and it can take a lot of practice to sync up the picking and fretting hands.
When trying out sweep picking for the first time, many players will make the mistake of focusing too hard on picking each individual string when the movement should instead be one fluid sweeping motion, similar to strumming a chord.
Get yourself a proper introduction to efficient sweep picking by checking out the excellent beginner video below!
While adhering to strict alternate picking a player may be required to pass over a string prior to actually picking it – not exactly the most efficient motion. Economy picking eliminates this issue by removing the strict down-up pattern, minimizing the movement of the pick.
When utilizing this technique and moving to a new string the player will instead pick in the direction of travel. So a down-stroke if moving down a string, and an up-stroke when changing up a string.
This means that economy picking is somewhat a combination of both alternate picking and sweep picking. When playing on a single string the player will use alternate picking, and when moving to a new string sweep picking is used.
If you think this technique could be a good one to add to your bag of tricks, you’ll get a solid intro to economy picking in the video below.
While a technique such as alternate picking will result in an abrupt and percussive (staccato) sound, legato instead opts to provide a more fluid, and smooth style of play.
In essence, legato is a combination of various tricks such as slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. These are techniques that do not require much in the way of picking, and this is why using legato will result in a much smoother sound.
As a result, you’ll need to really work on your fretting hand strength and dexterity to successfully conquer this technique. Instrumental artists such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani are absolutely masterful in the use of legato. They will often combine their legato passages with tasteful whammy-bar abuse to create even more complex and intricate sounds.
Get started on your road to nailing legato with the video below!
The final shred guitar technique we’ll look at is ‘tapping’, a style most famously used by artists such as Eddie Van Halen. The tapping section of Eruption is arguably one of the most iconic guitar solos of all time!
In essence, tapping is a mixture of hammer-ons and pull-offs, but done using your picking hand fingers rather than purely the fretting hand on its own. Double tapping is when we use both the picking hand and fretting hand at the same time to perform these hammer-ons and pull-offs.
We can make this technique even more impressive by using multiple picking hand fingers to perform complex tapping stunts. This is known as multi-finger tapping.
Start yourself off on the right foot with the beginner guitar tapping lesson below!
Who Is The Best Shred Guitarist?
There are way too many amazing guitar shredders to list in one article, but here are a few of the best known (and some lesser-known!) artists who will happily melt your face off!
- Yngwie Malmsteen
- Paul Gilbert
- John Petrucci
- Steve Vai
- Shawn Layne
- Jeff Loomis
- Nita Strauss
- Eddie Van Halen
- Joe Satriani
- Zakk Wylde
- Marty Friedman
- Jason Becker
- John 5
- Guthrie Govan
- Nick Johnston
- Andy James
- Jason Richardson
- Kirk Hammett
- Rusty Cooley
- Michael Angelo Batio
- Tosin Abasi
- Dimebag Darrell
- Allan Holdsworth
- Jennifer Batten
- Nuno Bettencourt
- Rusty Cooley
Too mainstream for ya? Check out the video below which showcases 27 of the best modern YouTube shred guitarists. It’s an absolute treat for the eyes and ears!
What Are The Best Guitar Shredding Songs?
Again, there are way too many incredible shred guitar songs to mention in just one article, but here is a list of some well-known tracks you can check out!
- DragonForce – Through The Fire and Flames
- Buckethead – Soothsayer
- Jason Becker – Altitudes
- Rusty Cooley – Dark Matter
- Racer X – Technical Difficulties
- Eddie Van Halen – Eruption
- Joe Satriani – Satch Boogie
- Yngwie Malmsteen – Far Beyond The Sun
- Michael Angelo Batio – No Boundaries
- Steve Vai – For the Love of God
- Jeff Loomis – Escape Velocity
I’ll stop here, otherwise, I might get too carried away! If you’d like to have a go at learning any of these classic tracks, you will find a ton of guitar shred tabs on Ultimate Guitar.
Who Is The Fastest Guitar Player?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, officially the world’s fastest guitarist is John Taylor, a guitar teacher from Colorado, USA. He successfully managed to play ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at an astonishing 620 beats per minute.
To hear what this incredible feat sounds like, check out the video below!
In a less ‘official’ capacity, Michael Angelo Batio was declared the fastest guitar shredder of all time by Guitar One magazine in 2003. His name is synonymous with the world of shred guitar, and it was actually his Speed Kills instructional VHS (yeah, I’m old!) that introduced me to sweep picking and the like as a kid.
Best Guitars For Shredding
Technically, you can shred on any guitar, so don’t feel like you need to go out and splurge on a new guitar in order to achieve the fastest speeds.
However, there are a few key features that will make life a little easier when picking your shredding axe. Related post – Why is a Guitar Called an Axe?
What Makes A Good Shred Guitar?
A good shred guitar will likely have some or all of the following appointments:
- Good upper fret access
- A slim, fast neck
- Low string action
- High gain humbucker pickups
- Jumbo frets
- Larger radius (flatter) fingerboard
- Locking tremolo
Brands For Shred Guitars
I have listed below a handful of popular guitar makers whose names are synonymous with shred, hard-rock, and heavy metal. Although these brands produce a wide variety of guitars for a range of different genres, these would be the ones I’d check into for a solid shred monster.
Personally, I started out on an Ibanez RG. This is one of the classic 80s shred guitar models that really helped to make a name for Ibanez. Crucially, it is available as part of the ultra-affordable GIO series, all the way up to the professional J-Custom range. So there should be an RG-style guitar available to cater to all budgets.
Other Shred Guitar Equipment
Aside from a suitable guitar, most players will also use a variety of effects and a good quality amp to achieve a tasty shred tone.
For example, a typical shred rig will involve a distortion pedal, compressor pedal, and maybe a delay pedal as well. A high-gain tube amp is usually the amplifier of choice, but many players will opt for an amp modeller such as the Fractal Audio Axe-FX or the new Neural DSP Quad Cortex.
The video below will give budding shred maestros a good idea of how to put together a good rig without spending a fortune.
So, now you know everything you need to know to get started with this high-octane play style! It will be a long journey to complete proficiency, but the pay-off is that you will be able to blow the minds of almost any audience with your unbelievable speed and precision.
Here’s a good place to start…