To Shred, Or Not To Shred?

If you want to trigger a debate among guitarists, inject the subject of shredding into the conversation.

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If you want to trigger a debate among guitarists, inject the subject of shredding into the conversation. Besides seeming to have advocates and detractors in equal numbers, the topic gives rise to more fundamental questions: What constitutes shredding? Who were and are its greatest practitioners? Is shredding all about technical skill, or is it possible to convey real emotion in those blizzards of runs, the way a blues guitarist can rip your heart out with a single note?

Many guitarists trace the art of shredding back to the first Van Halen album. Others insist the phenomenon began earlier, with Uli Jon Roth's work in The Scorpions or even with Alvin Lee or Ritchie Blackmore, at the dawn of the '70s. Few would deny, however, that the era in which shredding fully took flight was the middle to late '80s.

Three guitarists in particular Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson were extolled as frontrunners in the field as the concept of shredding took hold at that time. Each made pioneering albums in the '80s that remain signposts for any player shredder or not. Below, we present thoughts from each of them on a shred-guitar legacy that, rightly or wrongly, they are credited with furthering. Be sure to let us know how you feel about shredding, in the comments section.

  • Joe Satriani, from Guitar World, December 2010: "I couldn't understand how people would think that I was a shredder. If you listen to Surfing with the Alien or Not of this Earth, which came out around the same general period, you would know that I was just a total oddball and had nothing to do with that whole movement. When I think of songs like Echo' and Midnight' and Always with Me, Always with You,' from Surfing I mean, there's no way those compositions could be on a shred' record. I remember thinking, I'm much more bluesy than everybody.' Maybe people weren't seeing or hearing that at the time; they were all caught up in a scene. I was really just using speed fast, aggressive playing as an effect."

  • Eric Johnson, January 2011: "I'm probably a bit hypocritical when it comes to shredding. I'll do a show and shred a 15-minute solo, and then listen to a tape of it later and think, What am I doing? That was good for about two minutes.' Part of it is entertainment. But on the other hand, if you play a show where you just shred for two hours, you'll see a lot of the crowd especially the guys' wives or dates start to zone out, and want to go home. And who can blame them? That sort of playing is okay if it's done properly and within the context of a song. But I came to love guitar because I heard Brian Jones play a cool fuzz-tone lick on Satisfaction.' I heard Hendrix do the same thing on May This Be Love.' I love melody, but then again some people listen to shredding and hear strong melodies there. It's a matter of what turns you on. I don't think it's about whether you shred or not, it's about the musicality behind it. And that's subjective."

  • Steve Vai, August 2012, from a forthcoming interview with M Music & Musicians: "In the '80s, the trend was the ability to play the hell out of your instrument. That's how I envisioned myself playing, and I really liked it. A lot of people were pseudo-shredding a lot of the '80s bands had people who were great guitar players who were doing nothing but that and there was nothing wrong with that. It was acceptable and it was part of what was going on. But then it hit a wall, as most genres and trends do. Somebody came along as always happens and started creating new music that was very different. And that was grunge. But it wasn't as if players like Joe and Eric and me said, Oh boy, what are we going to do, now that people are no longer playing guitar solos?' Playing as we did was why we started playing in the first place, and changes in trends weren't going to stop us. Now there's a trend in shred-guitar playing that dwarfs what we were doing back them. To me it sometimes sounds less like music than like fascinating ways to impress yourself. But there are people who feel that way about how I play. That's fine, and to a degree it's true. Some of how I play is because I like to fascinate myself. But it's certainly not everything."

    Videos:

    A Shredding Lesson from Zakk Wylde:

    Buckethead Shredding on Jump Man:

    Eric Johnson Shredding on a '64 SG:

    Thanks for the report to Russell Hall, Gibson

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      Megadethfan245
      I'm not usually a fan of shredding due to the fact that sometimes it can feel like a "cope and paste" kind of thing. I think if it's presented properly it can definitely fit. But most of the time it just seems like shredding for shredding. I still respect the people that dedicate a lot of time to perfecting their art though. "What sort of void am I filling in terms of musical composition? And the answer is nothing. I'm doing f*ck all. I'm sitting around here, pissing around trying to make music that people are gonna like." - Devin Townsend
      stonedhippos
      I'm not usually a fan of shredding
      and your name is "Megadeth fan245"? anyway, i agree. 5 minute guitar circle-jerks are annoying.
      stonedhippos
      I'm not usually a fan of shredding
      and your name is "Megadeth fan245"? anyways, i agree. 5 minute guitar circle-jerks are annoying.
      RndyW0
      And your name is stonedhippos and you double post? More fitting actually
      GuitardudeDK
      i wouldn't call megadeth solos shred..
      KerNeL_KLuTcH
      then what the **** is tornado of souls and the rest of the rust in peace album. If it includes sweeping it's shred.
      thechaostheory
      Incorrect. Sweep picking can be used in blues,and be used in a manner other than shredding, or as you say. It is used to outline the chord you are playing over top of correct? Therefore it can be used in other ways than just playing it excessively fast.
      mp8andrade
      Wrong. Sweep picking and arpeggios are completely different stuff. People usually sweep pick arpeggios, but that doesn't mean arpeggios and sweep picking are the same thing.
      sherry07
      If you want to start a debate among guitarists, read a vast majority of the "news" articles published on UG. That said, this isn't that bad an article, for a change.
      AnnihilationUK
      Shredding is good if it fits. Zakk Wyldes pentatonic shred runs in every song is not good. I'm a massive fan of tasteful "baby making" solo's too.
      DjangoUnstrung
      If you're going to play lots of notes at a fast tempo, make sure it's actually good. Like Guthrie Govan or Shawn Lane. And what about Django Reinhardt? That dude was better than everyone on this site and he only had 2 working fingers.
      Ibeanez
      Oh, my, are you suggesting that there are people outside metal/punk/grunge that play guitar?
      Root Beer
      I'm not really a fan of shredding in general, but if I had to pick a shredder that actually had feel, it would have to be John Petrucci, even though I don't really like Dream Theater. Now from a standpoint of sheer technical ability, while still managing to be creative, I'd say Buckethead.
      guitardWARf
      I'd go to Paul Gilbert for a shredder with feel I think Petrucci is to much about sheer speed and and odd time signatures most of the time but it's kinda like comparing apples with pears
      wylde1994
      I think the thing with Petrucci is that he's almost too good and too technical because of his musical back ground, and thats why sometimes i think DT's stuff lacks a certain something.
      Root Beer
      I think "substance" is the word you're searching for. Think of Jimi Hendrix for example; he was technically pretty sloppy, but he put so much into every note he played that it was incredible. I could say the same for someone like Kurt Cobain or even Jimmy Page. There are people who can shred at 300 bpm, and there are those who believe putting YOURSELF into your work is what's most important. I generally prefer those in the latter category.
      Face R1pper
      King/Hanneman aren't shredders. Twenty seconds of whammy abuse is not considered shredding. But it is disappointing to see how they left out some important early-mid 80s shredders like Lynch and Yngwie.
      KISSmyass666
      yes they are shreders lisen to god hates us all and south of heavan i also forgot dimebag darell
      oxymoronicman
      ...no, they're not. Face R1pper is right. And this is coming from somebody who loves Reign in Blood.
      KISSmyass666
      I made my point slayer is awsome. and can shred a hell of alot better than a man with a kfc buckit on his head.
      Thrash Jage
      There is no comparison between Slayer and Buckethead. King and Hanneman are kids compared to Buckethead. I like Slayer a lot, but what Slayer calls 'solos' is pure distorted nonsense. Besides, great musicians can not only shred, but create sophisticated music that you can listen to longer than just a few minutes.
      Root Beer
      Sorry, but I don't think someone with KISS in their name is qualified to criticize Buckethead.
      KISSmyass666
      honestly, any one can criticize a man with a bucket on his head.
      Battery Chicken
      As unpopular as it is, I also can't take a man seriously who wears a bucket on his head. Let's face facts, he looks frickin ridiculous.
      Jtrocks1356
      Alright, it's clear at this point that you're about the age of 13 and just discovered rock/metal using the typical introductory bands - but get your head out of your ass and stop thinking you're so elite because you've heard of Slayer and Pantera. There are MUCH better examples of shredding.
      KISSmyass666
      I am not 13, I have herd of buckethead and respect him, but don't like his music or aparance.I am suprised that UG did not reresent slayer or yngwie malstine for thare style of shreding an as allways pepole blow eveything out of proprotions. and shreding is very vuage so any one has thear own styles.
      sukittrebek
      I really like some fast shred passages but too much and it's really boring. I really like the way Protest the Hero does it, it's fast-paced and Luke is def. shredding but there's always a pretty good sense of melody to it. Sometimes the melody aspect is totally lost then it's just a bunch of boring notes.
      Sparda93
      Don`t like shredding very much, but Dimebag and Chuck Schuldiner shredded very tastefully.
      travislausch
      When it comes to shred... I'm a sucker for a good melody. And while shred solos contain a lot of rather superfluous speedy notes, there are almost always these occasional glimpses of a great melody, and they're usually enough to hook me in. Sometimes speed has great effect, like how BTBAM's solos are often interesting at their fastest. As for playing, I'm an advocate of learning as much technique and theory as possible. Really, learn to shred. You don't have to necessarily use what you learn, but learn it anyways. I'd rather know most of a musical language than a fraction of it.
      metalgod96
      I think shredding is cool once in a while, but not for an entire show or album. I saw a Tony MacAlpine performance at a guitar program a few years ago and it was the coolest thing in the world for five minutes. Then it wasn't. Every song in his hour long set sounded just like the last one and it bored me to death. I respect the time and dedication it takes to learn to play like that but don't do it constantly.
      jamie_hough
      I think with these things theres an element of wether or not you can actually do it. I cant shred and dont really like the sound of it so have never really tried, thus of course Im going to say I dont care for it. If I was more gifted on the guitar maybe I would think differently though. There is certainly an element of jealousy involved with this debate sometimes, not exclusively, but sometimes. As such I suppose I have to put my opinion across which is that shredding, although impressive, rarely leads to a good song. I think people who learn it can become a little obsessed with it and forget that writing a good song as a whole carries so much more weight than a gazillion note 30 second solo towards the end of a song... I dunno though, does it really matter, each to their own and all that...
      Megadeth2011
      I've always enjoyed good shredding. Jeff Loomis, Chris Broderick, Vai, Mike Amott.. I love their styles and how they play. While I'm not a big Rusty Cooley fan, he never ceases to amaze me, and I can honestly say his record with Outworld is phenomenal, and I love the shredding on it.
      SISO
      If the phrasing is good the solos are going to be good, no matter if you play fast or not, as you can feel listening to David Gilmour or Guthrie Govan. Period.
      iommi600
      I dig shredding, when it's not pointless. Yngwie Malmsteen on his first albums, Ritchie Blackmore, and so it goes... but I can't stand pointless guitar wanking like Michael Angelo Batio.
      RoboHendrix
      I shall quote Hendrix "The blues is easy to play, but hard to feel." I prefer the playing of guitarists like Hendrix, Blackmore, Gilmour and Page to the playing of Laiho, Van Halen, Malmsteen and Hammet... It's all a matter of opinion though, because at the end of the day, music is a biased topic.
      iscreamicecream
      [deleted]
      iscreamicecream · Aug 16, 2012 04:57 AM
      Low Profile
      If used right shredding can sound awesome and add alot to a song or solo but if used wrong it sounds repetitive and forced.
      xHellbound
      The shred on Warning on the first Black Sabbath album will always be my favorite. I think it shaped the way a lot of musicians shred today. Then again, any band I've seen live that didn't have some connection to Ozzy or Dio, there was no shredding.
      Wppa
      Yeah, I agree. You're pretty gay.
      one-dead-cop
      Go f-ck yourself, you homophobic c-nt.
      Wppa
      When did I ever say anything homophobic? You're the one who used "gay" as an insult by saying only gay people shred that (and that you're implying shredders are lame). I'm just agreeing with a part of your sentence.