Now that we’re all hunkered down in our homes, what better time to dust of that guitar lurking under your bed or in your closet… and finally graduate to “shredder” status! Need some inspiration? The 10 shred classics below are sure to challenge even the most talented guitar players.
In 2017, I assembled the book Shredders!: The Oral History of Speed Guitar (And More), which as its title suggests, tells the story of the style of guitar that stresses six-string technical proficiency. Beginning with the roots of shred and going through the genre’s ‘80s peak, its ‘90s downfall, and its triumphant revival in the early 21st century, countless big names were interviewed for the book.
Among those chiming in on the art of the shred in the book are Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan, Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, Kirk Hammett, Guthrie Govan, Alexi Laiho, and others, with a foreword and afterword provided by Alex Lifeson and Uli Jon Roth, respectively.
While the current pandemic has shut down the concert industry, it is giving guitarists and other musicians more time than ever to hone their skills. During this difficult time, guitar makers like Fender and Gibson are offering free online classes, while members of Megadeth, Anthrax, and more are participating in free one-one-one online mentoring sessions for music students.
If you’re already a pretty skilled guitarist, and want to get to that next level, below are 10 classic shred songs to aspire to while isolating at home.
10. Dream Theater, “Ytse Jam” (John Petrucci)
All of the current and former members of Dream Theater are incredibly talented at their respective instruments. And on their debut album, guitarist John Petrucci wastes little time showing off his six-string skills, while bassist John Myung also navigates around his four strings with the greatest of ease – especially on the album’s lone instrumental, “Ytse Jam” (which is “Majesty” spelt backwards, as that was the band’s original name before switching over to one we all know now).
09. Racer X, “Scarified” and Cacophony, “Concerto” (Tie)
Mike Varney was one busy man throughout the ‘80s, launching Shrapnel Records and helping introduce the masses to the world’s top shredders – Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, Vinnie Moore, and especially, Racer X (featuring Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouilett) and Cacophony (featuring Marty Friedman and Jason Becker). On “Scarified”, Gilbert and Bouillet show that besides speed soloing, the band could also come up with badass riffs, while on “Concerto”, Friedman and Becker push their instruments to the point of destruction.
08. Pantera, “Cemetery Gates” (Dimebag Darrell)
Fans of shred guitar should be forever grateful to Dimebag Darrell – as he almost single-handedly kept skilled soloing alive in the 1990s (during an era when quite a few rock bands opted to bypass guitar solos altogether). And while all the selections on this little old list are full-on rockers, one of Dime’s top solos can be detected in a tune that alternates between being a power ballad and a headbanger – “Cemetery Gates”.
07. DragonForce, “Through the Fire and Flames” (Herman Li and Sam Totman)
Shred seemed to be all but dead in the mid-late ‘90s. But shortly after the dawn of the 21st century, a new wave of well-practiced guitarists were ready to show off their skills – especially DragonForce. On what is probably their best-known track, “Through the Fire and Flames”, guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman wage war on the fretboard – especially during an extremely dangerous “guitar duel” that begins at the 3:22 mark.