Shred guitar or shredding is a lead playing style for the electric guitar, based on various fast soloing techniques. Critics have stated that shred guitar is associated with "sweep-picked arpeggios, diminished and harmonic minor scales, finger-tapping and whammy-bar abuse", while other guitar writers say that rather than being a musical definition, it is a fairly subjective cultural term used by guitarists and enthusiasts of guitar music. It is usually used with reference to heavy metal guitar playing, where it is associated with rapid tapping solos and special effects such as whammy bar "dive bombs". The term is sometimes used with reference to playing outside this idiom, particularly bluegrass, country, jazz fusion and blues.
In 1974, the German band Scorpions used their new guitarist Ulrich Roth for their album Fly to the Rainbow, for which the title track features Roth performing "... one of the most menacing and powerful whammy-bar dive bombs ever recorded". A year later, Roth's solo guitar playing for the album In Trance "... would become the prototype for shred guitar. Everything associated with the genre can be found on this brilliant collection of songs — sweep-picked arpeggios, diminished minor harmonic scales, finger-tapping and ... jaw-dropping whammy-bar abuse".
In 1979, Roth left Scorpions to begin his own power trio, named "Electric Sun". His debut album Earthquake contained "... heaps of spellbinding fret gymnastics ... and nimble-fingered classical workouts." In 1978, a "heretofore unknown guitarist named Eddie Van Halen" from Los Angeles released "'Eruption', a blistering aural assault of solo electric guitar" which featured rapid "tapping", which "had rarely been heard in a rock context before". Chris Yancik argues that it is this "record, above any other, that spawned the genre of Shred."
Guitar Player's article "Blast Into Hyperspace With The Otherworldly Power Of Shred" reviews the book Shred! and states that the pioneers were "Eddie Van Halen, Al Di Meola and Ritchie Blackmore". This fast playing style combined with melody and technique and a heavily distorted tone of heavy metal music resulted in a new nickname "shred". Randy Rhoads and Yngwie J. Malmsteen advanced this style further with the infusion of Neo-classical elements. Progressive rock, heavy metal, hard rock, and jazz fusion have all made use of and adapted the style successfully over the years. In general, the phrase "shred guitar" has been traditionally associated with instrumental rock and heavy metal guitarists. This association has become less common now that modern forms of metal have adopted shredding as well. In the 1990s, its mainstream appeal diminished with the rise of grunge and nu metal, both of which eschewed flashy lead guitar solos. Underground acts like Shawn Lane and Buckethead continued to develop the genre further.
In an interview in March 2011, Steve Vai described 'shred' as: "The terminology used for someone who can play an instrument, and has such a tremendous amount of technique that what they do just seems completely effortless and absurd. It's like this burst of energy that just comes out in extremely fast tearing kind of playing where the notes actually connect. Shred has to have a particular kind of 'tide' to it, I think, that actually gives you that 'blow away' factor that makes it impressive, to a certain degree."
Shred guitar has advanced rapidly. What was once 'fast' playing during the 1990s has been rapidly replaced by a new breed of shred guitar style twice or up to four times faster. The most recent ascent in speed seems to be centered around speed competitions using the classical music piece 'Flight of the Bumblebee.' Both male and female shred guitarists from various countries are setting up these YouTube channels and are at the cutting edge of that form of shred guitar. Tom Hard, Philip Taylor and a few others demonstrate similar speed.
Shredding includes "sweep, alternate and tremolo picking; string skipping; multi-finger tapping; legato, [and] trills." Speed Building, Legato, Tapping, [and] Sweep Picking techniques shredders need to know—sweep picking, tapping, legato playing, whammy bar abuse, speed riffing, [and] thrash chording. Shred guitarists use two- or three-octave scales, triads, or modes, played ascending and descending at a fast tempo. Often such runs are arranged in the form of an intricate sequential pattern, creating a more complex feel. This run or lick can be played by individually picking all, or a selection, of the notes, using techniques such as alternate picking or economy picking. Shredding has been used by many guitar players and become a huge technique in guitar.
Alternatively, the lick can be played by multiple-picking notes (tremolo picking), or picking just the first or second note of a string followed by a rapid succession of hammer-ons and/or pull-offs (legato). Rhythmically, a shredder may include precise usage of syncopation and polyrhythms. Sweep picking is used to play rapid arpeggios across the fretboard (sometimes on all strings). The tapping technique is used to play rapid flourishes of notes or to play arpeggios or scalar patterns using pure legato with no picking. Various techniques are used to perform passages with wide intervals, and to create a flowing legato sound. Some performers utilize complex combinations of tapping, sweeping, and classical-style finger picking. This increases speed by reducing the motion of the strumming hand.
Shred guitar players often use electric solidbody guitars such as Ibanez, Gibson, Fender, Kramer, Carvin, Jackson, Charvel, Schecter, B.C. Rich and ESP. Some shred guitarists use elaborately-shaped models by B.C. Rich or Dean, as well as modern versions of classic-radical designs like Gibson's Flying V and Explorer models. Guitars with double-cutaways give performers easier access to the higher frets. Some shred guitarists, such as Scorpions' Ulrich Roth, have used custom-made tremolo bars and developed modified instruments, such as Roth's "Sky Guitar, that would greatly expand his instrumental range, enabling him to reach notes previously reserved in the string world for cellos and violins."
Some shred guitar players use seven or eight string guitars to allow a greater range of notes, such as Steve Vai. Most shred guitar players use a range of effects such as distortion and compression to facilitate the performance of shred techniques such as tapping, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, to create a unique tone. Shred-style guitarists often use high-gain vacuum tube amplifiers such as Marshall, Carvin, Peavey, Mesa Boogie, ENGL, Laney, Hughes & Kettner, Krank and Randall.
Popular shred guitar bands
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Shred guitar was most prominent in the 1980s in the heavy metal and "hair" metal genres. As for the "hair" metal bands,the most popular among them were Ratt, Dokken, Def Leppard, Poison, Mötley Crüe, Warrant, Whitesnake, Skid Row, Tesla, etc. "Hair" Metal is typically known for using shred guitar the most and often ridiculed because of its excessive use of mindless shredding and "whammy bar" abuse. As for the heavy metal bands that used shred guitar, the most popular were Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Queensryche, Joshua Perahia, etc. After the 1980s, bands that used shred guitar techniques became almost non-existent. Later on in the 2000s bands started to use shred guitar techniques once again.
In 2011, Guitar World Magazine focused on how shredding exists outside of heavy metal music with an article pointing out the magazine's Top 5 Shredding Bluegrass songs. The list included songs by instrumentalists Tony Rice, Josh Williams, Bryan Sutton, Chris Thile and David Grier. Music Radar's list of the top 20 greatest shred guitarists of time featured Al Di Meola, John Petrucci and Steve Vai as the top three, respectively. Guitar World ranked Al Di Meola - Elegant Gypsy, Van Halen - Van Halen, and Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz, as the top three shred albums of all time, respectively.
In 2003, Guitar One Magazine voted Michael Angelo Batio the fastest shredder of all time. In the same year, Guitar One voted Chris Impellitteri the 2nd fastest shredder of all time followed by Yngwie Malmsteen at 3rd. The current fastest shred guitar player in the world is a 28-year-old music teacher in Colorado named John Taylor, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records where he played Flight of the Bumblebee without error at 600 BPM at the Guitar Center in Westminster, Colorado in April 2011 
- History of Shred: Uli Jon Roth Chris Yancik December, 2001 http://web.archive.org/web/20111006083532/http://house-o-rock.com/HouseofShred/features/shredhistory/history_1201.htm
- Lewis, Luke, "The Story of Shred", Total Guitar, March 2004, p38-41
- Govan, Guthrie, "Play Faster Now", Guitar Techniques, November 2007 p16-26
- History of Shred: Eddie Van Halen Chris Yancik October, 2001 http://house-o-rock.com/HouseofShred/features/shredhistory/history_1001.htm
- Buckethead impossibly good, unfathomably weird, Chicago Maroon, Nov 28, 2006, Accessed Jan 26, 2009
- genre redefined by guitarist Irron R. Collins IV with the mixture of Neo-classical shred and Industrial metal. source cited http://industrialrock.net/php-files_en/news.php
- Clip from Steve Vai interview from documentary production 'Not Dead Yet' : The Story of Jason Becker" Copyright Opus Pocus Films Ltd 2011
- Michael Angelo at Dean Guitars, Shredaholic.com. Retrieved 13-1-2009.
- Shredding Bluegrass Songs
- "Fastest Guitar Shredders". Phil Brodie Band. Retrieved 2008-05-29.
- "Top 10 Fastest Shredders of All Time". Guitar One Magazine. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2008-05-29.