Shred guitar or shredding is a virtuoso leadguitar solo playing style for the guitar, based on various advanced and complex playing techniques, particularly rapid passages and advanced performance effects. Shred guitar includes “fast alternate picking, sweep-pickedarpeggios, diminished and harmonic scales, finger-tapping and whammy-bar abuse”, It is commonly used in heavy metal guitar playing, where guitarists use the electric guitar with a guitar amplifier and a range of electronic effects such as distortion, which create a more sustained guitar tone and facilitate guitar feedback effects.
The term is sometimes used with reference to virtuoso playing by instrumentalists other than guitarists, as well. The term “shred” is also used outside the metal idiom, particularly in bluegrass musicians and jazz-rock fusion electric guitarists.
Many jazz guitarists in the 1950s such as Les Paul, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow improvised various guitar techniques comparing to contemporaries blues guitarists like Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly.Les Paul’s song, “How High the Moon” contained sweep picking, one of the earliest recordings of the technique.
Ritchie Blackmore, best known as the guitarist of Deep Purple and Rainbow, was an early shredder. He founded Deep Purple in 1968 and combined elements of blues, jazz and classical into his high speed, virtuostic rock guitar playing. Songs like “Highway Star” and “Burn” from Deep Purple and “Gates of Babylon” from Rainbow are examples of early shred. Blackmore separated himself from the pack with his use of complex arpeggios and harmonic minor scales. His influence on Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen was definitive for the evolution of the genre.
In 1969, guitarist Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin composed “Heartbreaker“; his guitar solo introduced many complex techniques mixed together (very fast note playing with hammer-ons and pull-offs). Page included excerpts of classical music in the solo when playing it live. Steve Vai commented in a September 1998 Guitar World interview:
This one (“Heartbreaker”) had the biggest impact on me as a youth. It was defiant, bold, and edgier than hell. It really is the definitive rock guitar solo.
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, harmonic minor 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, Eddie Van Halen released “Eruption“, a “blistering aural assault of solo electric guitar” which featured rapid “tapping“. 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 Ritchie Blackmore, jazz fusion player Al Di Meola and Eddie Van Halen. Randy Rhoads and Yngwie 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. Lesser known guitarists like Shawn Lane and Buckethead continued to develop the genre further in the 90s.
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.