Welcome to the Jungle
It’s the 1980s in Los Angeles, California and Sunset Strip is rife with Spandex, perms and the smell of hairspray in the air…and that’s just the men! It was the decade of decadence, flamboyance, showmanship and partying, all of which were personified by the bands of the time. Many of the guitarists from this era were known as ‘Shredders’; a term which typically referred to the intricate, fast and technically difficult playing style demonstrated by players including Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt, Slash, Eddie Van Halen and Jason Becker. Whether it’s referred to as Glam Metal, Hair Metal or Cock Rock, guitar music was huge in the 80s and whilst it is mostly now looked back on with light hearted nostalgia, the guitar slingers of the 80s were among some of the most technically gifted the world has ever seen. Many of the shredders from the 80s are still active in the guitar world today which begs the question…Is ‘shred’ really dead?
It’s all in the Technique
Whilst the term ‘shredding’ is loosely employed to describe fast, intricate playing, there are in fact many different techniques that a true shredder might have in his/her arsenal.
Alternate Picking – This technique involves both an upwards and downwards picking motion to maximise speed whilst minimising hand movement. Essentially, each note is picked which gives it more definition and an almost percussive sound. To hear alternate picking being used to great effect, check out Nuno Bettencourt’s solo in ‘It’s a Monster’ by Extreme.
Sweep Picking – This technique is perhaps the hardest to learn as is requires a lot of accuracy to make each note sound clearly. Sweep picking refers to when a player ‘sweeps’ the pick over the strings in one fluid motion, both up and down, which allows for some very fast arpeggio runs. Check out any of Yngwie Malmsteen’s back catalogue to hear sweep picking in action!
Tapping – A relatively easy technique to get to grips with; tapping involves ‘tapping’ a note with your strumming hand and combining it with a series of hammer ons and pull offs with your fretting hand. Arguably the most famous example of tapping can be heard in Eddie Van Halen’s instrumental, ‘Eruption’.
Legato – Legato, which is Italian for ‘tied together’, is a technique that involves hammer ons and pull off with your fretting hand, occasionally picking out the first note in a run. This technique can be used to great effect when using the ‘three note per string’ method of playing scales to create fast, smooth passages of notes. Joe Satriani is a big fan of the legato technique and it can be heard on most of his songs, but very noticeably in ‘Surfing with the Alien’.
Dive Bomb – This technique is only possible on guitars with a tremolo system, ideally a locking system like the Floyd Rose. It is involves playing a note, or better still, a harmonic, then pushing the tremolo arm all the way down, which creates a sound reminiscent of a cartoon bomb sound effect! Steve Vai can be heard employing this technique on most of his songs but noticeably in ‘For the Love of God’.
Pinched Harmonic – A tricky technique to master, the pinched harmonic is when the player ‘pinches’ the string between their thumb and pick to create a high pitched ‘squeal’ sound. The pitch of the harmonic can be altered depending on where the string is picked and which frets are being played. Combined with a wide vibrato technique, Zakk Wylde is a master of the pinched harmonic and it can be heard all over Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘I Don’t Wanna Stop’.
Choose your Weapon
80s guitar music had a very distinctive sound which was partly down the playing style of the individuals but also largely down to the gear they used. A ‘Super Strat’ style guitar plugged into a cranked Marshall JCM800 was a staple of the 80s sound, often with a thick layer of chorus and reverb on top! The term ‘Super Strat’ was applied to a Fender Stratocaster style double cut away guitar that was fitted with a humbucking pickup to create a bigger, fatter sound. In many cases, these guitars would be fitted with a Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo system for maintaining tuning stability whilst performing guitar acrobatics! The guitars of choice for the shredders of this time were Charvel, Jackson, Kramer, ESP, B.C. Rich and Ibanez among others. Whilst the spandex and perms may be a distant memory now, the guitars of this era are making a comeback! Many players are again searching for guitars with slimmer profile necks and double cutaways for maximum playability combined with the big, rich tones associated with high output humbuckers.
Meet the Masters
Steve Vai has been regarded as one of the best shredders in the world for over thirty years and he continues to create and innovate today. His long term association with Ibanez resulted in one of the most recognisable signature guitars of all time, the JEM, which is Ibanez’s longest running signature series. The unmistakable ‘Monkey Grip’ feature, combined with the classic pointy Ibanez head stock and eye catching paint job made this ‘Super Strat’ a shredders dream on its release in 1987. Steve Vai continues to play these guitars almost exclusively today whilst continuing to inspire new generations of players. Check out the Ibanez Premium JEM77P-BFP Steve Vai Signature model here.
Another of the shredders from the 80s who is still very much active today is Joe Satriani. Like Steve Vai, whom Joe mentored, Satriani is known for his incredible technique and his exclusive use of Ibanez guitars. The JS series of guitars are another Super Strat style guitar with a very slim tapered neck and locking tremolo system making it perfect for fast legato runs and dive bombs! Whilst Satriani’s playing these days is more chilled out and melodic than his albums from the 80s/90s, he is a player still very much flying the flag for shredders everywhere. Check out the Ibanez Premium JS24P-CA Joe Satriani model here.
A guitarist worthy of being called a true shredder is John Petrucci (Dream Theater) whose fast alternate picking technique and emotive, melodic solos have earned him a place on the G3 tour with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani no less than 7 times! A long term user and endorser of Music Man guitars, Petrucci currently has a number of signature models including the Music Man Petrucci Artisan Majesty, Music Man John Petrucci JP15 and the more affordable Music Man Sterling JP150 Jonn Petrucci models.
The New Breed
Guthrie Govan may not be a household name or have decades worth of number one albums under his belt but what he does possess, is two of the most gifted hands on the planet! Arguably one of the most technically proficient shredders in the world today, Guthrie is an endorser of Charvel, who are now owned by Fender. The Charvel Guthrie Govan Signature HSH model is a classic Super Strat in every way and one of the easiest playing guitars I’ve ever played.
Whilst not considered a traditional shredder, Mark Tremonti (Alterbridge, Creed) is another current player who can tear it up as well as the next guy! Tremonti, known for his heavy riffs and fast, melodic solos, has been a PRS endorser for over ten years and currently has three signature model guitars and a new, recently released signature amp, the PRS MT-15. Check out the PRS Limited Edition Wood Library Mark Tremonti Signature model, and the more affordable PRS SE Mark Tremonti 2017.
With the introduction of Grunge music in the early 90s all but killing off the last of the Glam Metal bands, all is not lost for fans of fun loving, good time rock music! Many of the big headline bands from the 80s, including Guns n Roses, Van Halen, Extreme and Mr Big are still touring today and still filling arenas and stadiums the world over. There is a band though, who have bought Glam Rock and shred back with a bang in a flurry of leopard print leggings, big hair and face melting solos…that band is Steel Panther! Although a parody band, modeling themselves on the Glam bands of the 80s, Steel Panther combine tongue in cheek, often explicit song content with real musicianship and talent. Lead guitarist Russ ‘Satchel’ Parish can be seen shredding on his signature Charvel Satchel Pro Mod DK signature model, prompting lots of us to dust of our Super Strats, turn up the volume and start shredding again!
With musical genres going in and out of fashion all the time, who knows whether we will see a full blown revival of the shred scene again. One thing that is certain though, is that shred is most definitely not dead, it’s alive and kicking, you just have to know where to find it!