The Modern Guitarist

Shred -- Eh?


'Shred'. It's a term used, misused and abused by nearly every musician and non-musician in the world of modern guitar music. And for all the attempts magazines and individual players have made at defining this ambiguous term, few if any have arrived at a satisfactory, let alone definitive definition. To confound this further, the following represents several guitarists' personal interpretations of the term whose answers only go to show that they don't know what 'shred' means either!

Nathan Doyle

'Shred is a technique performed at mind-bending speed, when your fingers start melting and your wrist flexor group feel ready to explode you're rippin', when your playing so fast that you can't see your fingers move -- I guess that's pretty O.T.T., but real shredding has to be about stamina as well, the ability to keep shredding, just when the listener is feeling dizzy with the demi-semiquavers riveting them to their wall, you strike again with your best shot that literally tears their head off, it is also about fitting as much as you can in to a "sentence" with no punctuation!'

Todd Duane

'Hmm ... the Harvard Dictionary of Music describes a virtuoso as the following: "a performer who excels in technical ability. The term is sometimes used as a derogatory reference to one who excels in technique only, lacking comparable understanding and musical taste". I think this describes shred pretty good.'

Tony Gamble

'To me it means sitting down for several hours a day with a metronome working on various techniques i.e. tapping, alternate picking, sweep picking, legato, as well as harmony and theory, rhythm techniques and being able to incorporate that musically in song-writing, and different styles of music, and being able to play it extremely fast and clean.'

Brett Garsed

'The term "shred" was coined a long time after I began to play so I don't feel I have much affinity to it. It's always meant as a compliment although I tend to look on it in a derogatory sense. To me, it implies a player with substantial technique and physical ability, but little in the way of taste, phrasing and melodic sense. Then again maybe I'm just a boring old fart!'

Guthrie Govan

'At its best, it represents total freedom of musical expression, unfettered by technical limitations. At its worst, it represents a competitive sport for those with no musical identity. Allan Holdsworth and Chris Impellitteri spring to mind as examples of these extremes (though it would be unprofessional to say which player represents the best of shred and which represents the worst...!).'

Rob Johnson

'To me the word "shred" has always meant over the top, exciting guitar playing. Not the dull norm.'

Rich Kern

'Well, to me, it basically means playing fast. I don't use the word much, but when I hear it, I think of Racer X, early Yngwie, and so on.'

Dave Kilminster

'Shred is the Devil on a stick!'

Vladimir Korovin

'Maybe shredding is a musician who searches for new musical ideas, who finds his own way in wide musical streams, but maybe he is a person who plays guitar for a long time until he gets crazy.'

Magnus Olsson


Milan Polak

'Tasteless fast, distorted, more or less meaningless picking of scales up or/and down.'

Mike Romeo

'When a guitarist -- or any musician -- achieves blinding speed; or totally "out of control", sick-sounding licks; or extremely intricate compositions; or dissonant layers of harmonies; AND any combination of these: so that your average listener will be so overwhelmed, he or she will go home and kill his/her cat with a fork! Now that's shred!'

Joe Satriani

'The way I look at it, if you really play your guitar with attitude and you don't care about any rules or boundaries that are temporarily set up by commercial considerations, then you're a shredder.' (Guitar World, November 1993 {P.49})

Sven Stichter

'Trying to express oneself beyond technical playing barriers such as speed or wide intervals. Having a certain sound or lick in your head and trying to figure it out on the guitar, no matter if it's at light-speed or a 10 octave lick!'

Brett Stine

'I don't see shred as just the ability to play fast, but the ability to combine different aspects, such as attitude, feel, conviction, technique and originality to the guitar. That to me is shred.'

Terry Syrek

'Shred to me is sort of a derogatory word, used by guys who can't play, for guys who have some level of technical proficiency.'

Ron Thal

'According to Webster's Dictionary, shred means to cut, tear, come apart or break up into narrow strips. In guitarist sub-culture, it refers to the ability to utilise advanced finger techniques with precision and speed. All too often in our quest to shred, we lose sight of our objective -- to make MUSIC, not run a finger race. Yet equally important is the conviction we apply to our music -- the attitude. These two components create our identities that we wish to portray to the listeners. Picture the Zodiac scale of Libra, with musicality on the left and attitude on the right. Every musician distributes the weight on their scale differently from each other to acquire their own balance. Good shredding is putting all your weight on both sides of the scale. Great shredding is cheddar cheese on a taco.'

From - The Modern Guitarist: A History of Rock Guitar Since the Seventies, Mad Matt Music Publishing 1995

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