What is Shredding On Guitar?

Shredding guitar is the fast and furious, jet-style way of playing guitar with extreme speed and complex techniques. It is one of the most important and influential playing styles that require high speed, control, and an advanced technique.

Shredding guitar is based on advanced techniques like extreme-speed alternate picking, sweep picking, tapping, legatos, arpeggios, harmonics, and extended use of the whammy bar. Only virtuoso-level guitarists can shred successfully. That is why there is a certain appeal and magic in the art of guitar shred.

A Brief History

Shredding style of playing dates back to the late 1970s and 1980s when the first shred guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, and Randy Rhoads pushed the limits of their instruments. They used many techniques such as high-speed alternate picking, sweep picking, finger tapping, and palm muting with high precision and speed. 

Although many other famous guitarists already used these techniques many years before them, such as Les Paul and Django Reinhardt, shredders took these techniques to another level with their extreme control and speed. 

The progression to shredding guitar was already hearable with guitarists like Jimmy Page and Ritchie Blackmore, playing with high speed and precision in the solos of songs like Stairway To Heaven and Highway Star. The incorporation and evolution of the mentioned techniques contributed significantly to the shredding hype during the 1980s.

Where is Shredding Used?

Shredding is mainly used in genres such as Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Instrumental Rock, Flamenco, Jazz, and Jazz-Rock Fusion. However, it can be implemented in any genre as Michael Jackson did for his pop song Beat It with a collaboration with Eddie Van Halen.

While these are the more common genres that use shred guitar that we know of, there are others like post-rock and post-metal that have a significant amount of shred guitar. In these genres, the shred guitar is more of a guiding light that narrates a particular story in a way, like it’s actually talking to the listener.

How To Shred

To shred successfully, you need to have master-level technique, high-level control over your instrument, and jet-level speed.

Techniques

Alternate & Economy Picking

The first technique you will have to master is alternate picking. It is the way of playing the notes in an up-down-up-down pattern with your pick. You have to maintain this pattern even when changing the strings, which is the hardest part.

Alternate picking works excellently in the same string but skipping strings while keeping the pattern is quite challenging. Sometimes you will have to break the up-down pattern to play other strings in between the notes, which adds to the challenge. When you break this pattern to be more efficient and fast, you start using the technique called economy picking.

Sweep Picking

Sweep Picking is one of the most advanced guitar techniques. It is essentially playing arpeggios in a fast and fluid way. You use constant upstrokes or downstrokes to play the notes while the fretting hand fingers the consecutive notes in synchronicity. 

Using sweep picking, you can play extremely fast passages as your hands move in only one direction, not losing time changing the direction in techniques such as alternate picking or economy picking. You can use multi-octave arpeggios going up and down the fretboard with extreme speed, which is great for shredding.

Tapping

One of the coolest techniques to play on guitar is tapping. Tapping is using the fingers of the picking hand on the fretboard, pulling off, or hammering on the fret notes. The technique was introduced by Eddie Van Halen to the mainstream audience, and it is used to play riffs and licks with an extreme speed as both hands are playing different notes one by one.

While the basic technique is done on a single string with a single finger, advanced players like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani use many fingers on different strings creating out-of-world melodies like playing piano instead of a guitar.

Other Techniques

While shredding, you might need other techniques and additions like legatos, slides, using the whammy bar, and harmonics. You should have master-level control over these techniques to play them at high speed without missing notes or losing the rhythm. Otherwise, even if you shred and play fast, you will sound sloppy.

Control

Control is the most crucial part of shredding. Control of the technique, scales, rhythm, and your instrument, in general, is the key to playing like a virtuoso with a high speed. Speed without control sounds just awful and amateur.

That is why great guitarists work hours each day building up their techniques for better control over the instrument. Because playing fast exposes flaws in players’ technique.

Control is not just about technique and speed, as we are not robots or computers. You will have to gain control over the scales and musical theory to create nice licks and riffs while soloing. Even a little odd note in the scale creates wonders on the melody, but another can ruin everything.

Speed

With high control and technique comes speed which is the definitive factor of shredding. As shredding is basically playing complex licks with high speed, it requires a mastery of the instrument and its techniques. 

Without the control, trying to play at high speeds sounds pretty awful as players often miss notes and lose the rhythm, resulting in a bad sound. As mentioned before, high speed exposes the flaws more clearly. That is why guitarists must be patient and build up the proper technique before attempting to play fast.

Tone & Gear

While this is not the most crucial part of shredding, it helps the guitarists shred a bit easier. Shredders often use distorted tones with high feedback and a high-gain amp to make their life easier. This way, they get a harmonically reach and powerful sound, making the loudest and quietest notes closer to each other in overall volume.

You will need a good compressor effect as well as an overdrive or distortion effect to get to that tone. Furthermore, you can use a shredder guitar or adjust your guitar to shred easier. Shredder guitars have low-action, shorter frets, ultra-thin necks, and high-output pickups. These guitars are designed to give the players more speed and control when shredding.

But of course, you are the player; the tone and gear are only the side roles in this show. A master guitarist can shred even with a classical guitar as Paco De Lucia does or with cleaner tones as Joe Satriani or Guthrie Govan does. The only and most crucial thing a guitarist needs for shredding is practice.

Famous Guitar Shredders

There are many virtuoso guitarists who are masters of shredding. Some are Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert, John Petrucci, Eddie Van Halen, Frank Zappa, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, Guthrie Govan, and Paco De Lucia. 

While the genres these masters play are different, they are all respected virtuosos who are top-level guitarists. Frank Zappa and Guthrie Govan are jazz-fusion masters, while Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, and Paul Gilbert play hard rock and heavy metal. Paco De Lucia is a classic guitar virtuoso, while John Petrucci is a progressive metal master. Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and his student Steve Vai, are instrumental rock players. 

There are many more expert shredder guitarists from different genres that we did not mention here. What is common among them is that they are all the masters of their instruments and shredding art.

Famous Songs With Shred

Surfing With The Allien – Joe Satriani

For The Love Of God – Steve Vai

Wonderful Slippery Thing – Guthrie Govan

Far Beyond The Sun – Yngwie Malmsteen

Entre Dos Aguas – Paco De Lucia

Eruption – Eddie Van Halen

Summary

Shredding or shred guitar is, basically, a masterful solo playing style with advanced playing techniques and complex methods. It includes techniques like high-speed alternate picking, sweep picking unending arpeggios, finger tapping, and whammy bar abuse, with speed and precision, creating awe-striking instrumental passages.

While it is commonly misused as “just playing a fast solo,” shredding is actually the masterful balance between technique, control, and speed. It is the highest summit of guitar playing that leaves us the audience’s jaws dropped. Only the most respected virtuosos shred guitars successfully, thanks to the thousands of hours they spent with their instruments.

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