I've been in a metal mood as of late. I think to counter attack the low-energy office environment of my new job, I've been listening to nothing but metal through my headphones. I'm pretty sure everyone thinks that the new guy is nuts because I'm constantly bobbing my head and grimacing while working in spreadsheets; but, indeed the metal of Pantera, Lamb Of God, Shadows Fall, and old school Metallica and Megadeth gives me that extra push to get sh-t done in the workplace. Metal.
A byproduct of my metal binge is more focus on guitar playing and lead playing in particular. And wouldn't you know it appears quite the discussion was raised during this week's UG Wednesday Question - Who Is The Best Guitar Shredder? A question like that is like a tasty lure for trout or a bottle of 2-buck chuck for winos. Perfect timing for a shred chat.
I perused the list and reacquainted myself with the usual metal suspects: Petrucci, Govan, Vai, Broderick, Loomis, Becker, Friedman, Cooley, etc. There was a time when I was wholly stoked on these guys, and it reminded me of my shred phase a few years ago.
And then that brought me further down the boulevard of memoria as I recalled a particular guitar lesson I had with one Mr. Paul Gilbert several years ago. I wrote about the experience on a blog I started as part of a composition class in college; the point of the class was to create a blog about something you were passionate about, write weekly posts and workshop the class's entries. It was basically the birthing of my stint as a music blogger, far before the End Of The Week As We Know It days.
So for your entertainment, here is the unedited version that blog post, which covers some thoughts on Paul Gilbert and shred guitar. I'm cringing a little over the novice nature of my writing style at the time (it's kind of like watching a video of your old high school band playing a talent show), but I think it illustrates an interesting, albeit naïve perspective on shred. Here we go.
I just had a guitar lesson with Paul Gilbert. You probably haven't heard of him. Here's a glimpse of how SICK he is at guitar.
Technical Difficulties! (Is this at all impressive/enjoyable to anyone who has no idea what is going on technique-wise?)
Before Christmas break last semester, I was getting into a lot of YouTube videos featuring Paul Gilbert. His videos blew me away as I watched his alien-like fingers race across the fretboard in beautiful yet aggressively executed passages that injected a high dose of humility into my veins.
I saw on his official website that Paul was giving 3 VIP lessons in Anaheim in early January for a small number of students. Knowing I couldn't afford the lesson, I gave up the idea until my dad said that he would pay for it as a Christmas gift. WHAT? PAUL GILBERT? YES! I applied, got a spot, and spent all Christmas break practicing constantly, knowing in a few weeks I would be jamming in the presence of a true guitar virtuoso.
There are a handful guitarists who are regarded as virtuosos who also manage to find mainstream success with bands or solo careers. Guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all pioneered new ways to manipulate the sonic possibilities of the electric guitar. Their originality and innovations led them to become icons in the world of guitar and household names.
Paul Gilbert isn't exactly a household name. Outside of the guitar community or groups of music buffs, Paul Gilbert is relatively unknown. Paul isn't alone though; there are THOUSANDS of amazing guitarists out there who are unknown in the public eye but lead successful careers as studio musicians, teachers, or solo artists.
The problem with much of guitar-centered instrumental music is that many technical masters of the guitar lack a certain creativity when it comes to writing and recording music. To a non-musician, the brilliance of being able to play lightning-fast arpeggios in a D-Mixolydian mode in an odd time signature doesn't really appeal. For instance, I can appreciate how good Yngwie Malmsteen is because his talents are freaking unreal, but I have a hard time listening to him for pleasure. A lot of other guitar masters write really cheesy songs with bland lyrics.
Paul Gilbert is a little different though. His whole philosophy is to make music enjoyable. Sure he does the straight up shred-your-face-off metal at times to satisfy guitar-geeks like myself, but he also explores many genres of music and was part of the band Mr. Big. I'm sure everyone has heard this song at some point: "To Be With You". For real, when I told my roommate that Paul Gilbert was in this band, he started playing this song nonstop for two weeks and the chorus melody WOULD NOT get out of my head. It's too catchy. Yeah, Mr. Big are kind of a joke now because they were a part of that late '80′s hair metal thing, but it's a very decent pop song and Paul isn't showing off at all here. Just chords. It's cool when guitarists can pull back from showing off when it's not appropriate.
But anyway, my lesson with Mr. Gilbert went very well. Watching him play two feet in front of me was mind-blowing. I learned a great deal of useful concepts that will benefit my growth as a guitarist.
I also got him to sign my guitar. The signature is smudged now because my hand rubs it when I play, but it looks cool nonetheless.
Sigh. Okay, college Zach, first off, you should have, you know, DESCRIBED THE LESSON in more detail. Jesus... and I can't believe I defended "To Be With You" as a decent pop song. But despite the clunky sentences and lack of focus, I definitely recognized why shred wasn't too appealing to a non-guitar audience.
My opinion on Gilbert is a little different know. Sure, his technique and speed is astonishing, but he isn't the strongest songwriter. There's a reason why more people don't pop in his solo records more often. Same thing with guys like Rusty Cooley or Shawn Lane; they'll impress the guitar community, but not a mass audience.
In retrospect, nothing about the lesson with Gilbert changed my guitar playing significantly; it gave me a few grab bag tricks and was a fun experience overall, but it didn't provide me with any info I couldn't easily find on YouTube. At the time, I thought that by being in the presence of a virtuoso like Gilbert would somehow transfer guitar skills through osmosis and I'd be significantly better after learning his ancient Chinese secrets. False. Practice is practice and there's no quick way to the top. These shredders all have one thing in common; they all know how to practice.
So the Wednesday Question discussion was certainly fun and it definitely brought me back to my shred phase. I think every electric guitarist becomes captivated with shred at some point. I mean, who doesn't love a lightning fast guitar solo every now and then?
Of course, it's impossible to discern who is the best shredder because it's a broad term and is entirely subjective. Shred can be anything. Metal shred. Classical shred. Jazz shred. Country shred. And speaking of, check out Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed pull off this live shred diddy in '75.
Now THAT's shred! And I just realized that Jerry Reed was the coach in "The Waterboy". Remember? Youuurrrrrr Firrrred! Mind. Blown.