With a display of sheer craftsmanship and mastery over the guitar, shred guitarists continue to defy expectations. These guitarists can truly melt an audience’s collective face to the floor with their blazing-fast techniques.
In a way, many shred guitarists are modern versions of classical virtuosos, commanding total control over the instrument. Many even incorporate classical music inspirations into their own playing to provide that distinct shred guitar sound.
The following guitarists are some of the biggest names in regard to the shred guitar playing style.
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In the early 2000s, footage of Guthrie Govan began to surface on the internet, taking the world by storm. Surprisingly enough, he actually gained worldwide recognition in the early 1990s for his supreme skills.
Guthrie possesses complete mastery over the guitar, with techniques far beyond traditional shredding. Part of what makes his style so unique is that feelings of emotion are often incorporated into his vocabulary.
Today, Guthrie Govan is one of the most popular guitarists that learning guitarists look up to for knowledge. Being the humble guy he is, Govan has shared his secrets, many of which can be found on YouTube.
In fact, teaching is one of Govan’s strengths as much of his career has been spent in this field. Nevertheless, Guthrie Govan is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists to touch the instrument.
There’s a fair chance that future generations will continue to look at Govan’s techniques as a source of inspiration. In the meantime, we’re blessed to have the opportunity to see him perform with The Aristocrats.
Michael Angelo Batio
If you were a consumer of late-1980s MTV music videos, chances are, you’re vaguely familiar with Michael Angelo Batio. He’s best known for playing a guitar that actually has 4 fully functioning guitars built into one instrument.
Yes, that’s right, Michael Angelo Batio can play 4 guitars simultaneously. This footage appeared in the music video for Freight Train (by Nitro) and made Michael Angelo Batio a household name.
Today, Michael Angelo Batio is considered one of the greatest shred guitarists to grace the industry. Matching his speed, particularly with sweeps, was a feat that many guitarists have attempted over the years.
For the record, Batio was considered to be the fastest shredder in the industry.
You don’t need to be steeped in 1980s metal culture to be familiar with the name of Yngwie Malmsteen. This guy commanded complete respect with his classical music-influenced style of playing.
In fact, Malmsteen’s playing style ended up becoming a massive influence on the entire metal genre in the 1980s. After Malmsteen broke into the mainstream, neoclassical influences could be heard in other bands.
In a way, Malmsteen also helped to establish Sweden as one of the headquarters of metal music. The country is still a prominent player in the genre today, with many acolytes carrying on in Malmsteen’s tradition.
What’s interesting is that Malmsteen’s signature guitar of choice is actually a Fender Stratocaster. This is a bit of an unusual choice for a genre largely dominated by guitars with humbucker pickups.
Malmsteen is also a major proponent of using a scalloped fretboard. There’s no doubt that this slight modification helped him achieve that unbelievable playing speed.
Steve Vai might be the guitar equivalent to achieved Tibetan monks in regard to his guitar wizardry. If it wasn’t for Vai, guitar virtuosity might not have been able to stand on its own in the 1980s.
Guitarists have been releasing solo instrumentals since the dawn of recorded music. However, Steve Vai achieved something truly special with his debut solo release, Flex-Able.
Of course, Vai’s success did not come without a lot of hard work. He actually began his career making musical transcriptions of Frank Zappa’s complex compositions (which is no small feat in itself).
If his music didn’t help him become a household name, his appearance in the film Crossroads solidified his status. It was his imaginative approach to the guitar that proved only he was fitting for such a devilish role.
Today, Steve Vai is still incredibly active for somebody that shouldn’t have anything to prove. And yet, after all these years, Vai continues to push the boundaries of the guitar beyond the impossible.
If we’re going to mention Steve Vai, then mention must be made of Joe Satriani. For those unaware, Satriani was actually Steve Vai’s guitar instructor back in the 1970s.
Of course, Steve Vai wasn’t the only pupil that Satriani took under his wing. Many guitar virtuosos have benefitted from Satriani’s tutelage, including Metallica’s Kirk Hammett.
In fact, Hammett often consulted Satriani during Metallica recording sessions to help compose guitar solos. Without his guidance, Metallica may not have been at the leading forefront of metal in the fashion that they were.
As a guitarist, Satriani is known for his otherworldly style of playing. His album, Surfing With The Alien, continues to be a landmark for anyone interested in virtuous guitar playing.
While his playing is iconic, Satriani’s personal look is perhaps just as iconic. His bald head and signature sunglasses make him instantly recognizable on any stage.
For a shredder, John 5 has a curious background unlike many of the names to be found in this article. As a child, John 5 was actually influenced by the classic era of 1960s country music.
Anyone who has read guitar magazines over the years knows that this country influence wasn’t lost on John 5. He’s actually had multiple magazine features where he puts his unlikely influence center stage.
It is this influence that plays a role in his using a Fender Telecaster as his guitar of choice. His playing is all the evidence you need to know that the Telecaster isn’t just a guitar for country music.
While he does have a solo career, John 5 made his name as a session player. He’s best known for his work with Marilyn Manson in the early 2000s.
Anonymity can often be a good thing for an artist, especially when it’s used to build a mythology. Buckethead might be one of the greatest examples of anonymity with regard to the guitar.
Most people became familiar with Buckethead by means of the popular video game series, Guitar Hero. However, Buckethead has been wowing audiences and musicians alike since the early 1990s.
As the years pressed on, Buckethead’s mythology only grew, with many speculating about his true identity. Recently, it’s come out that Buckethead’s name is Brian Carroll, and that he has had a serious heart condition.
Buckethead might be one of the most prolific music artists in the entire history of recorded music. He has released well over 400 different studio albums, all of which are unique releases.
His persona might be bizarre, but it’s the perfect front for a playing style that is truly otherworldly. He even has a killswitch built into his guitar to help give him that jittery glitch rhythmic aspect.
Are you familiar with Racer X or Mr. Big? Even if you’re not, there’s a fair chance you’re familiar with Paul Gilbert.
As far as shredders go, Paul Gilbert has been consistently ranked among the greatest in the world. What’s interesting is that many of his influences come directly from the shred metal scene itself.
Paul Gilbert was one of the first shred guitarists to really embrace the role of an educator. His teaching material is a popular choice for anyone looking to beef up their chops and speed up their licks.
If you don’t know the name of George Bellas, that’s all about to change. Though he doesn’t have a huge name like Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen, George Bellas stands out on his own.
Maybe the biggest reason that he isn’t well known is the fact that he’s primarily a solo artist. In today’s day and age, instrumental guitar music just isn’t as popular as it was in the 1980s.
Regardless, Bellas was classically trained as a young child and it’s obvious that his studies have paid off. It’s allowed him to play all across the world alongside some of the biggest names in the business.
If you’ve dug through Megadeth’s 1990s music catalog, you’ve been blessed with Marty Friedman’s playing. Yet, there’s a good chance that this would never have happened had teenaged Marty not seen KISS in concert.
Marty is best known for incorporating exotic scales into his insane shred techniques. Considering Megadeth’s penchant for often featuring Eastern sounds, it makes sense why Marty was such a good fit.
And while he might have left Megadeth in 2000, Marty Friedman has been incredibly busy. He’s had a solo release almost every year, with his latest having dropped in 2021.
Speaking of Marty Friedman, mention must also be given to the guitarist, Jason Becker. Back when Becker was barely old enough to drive, he joined forces with Friedman in the band, Cacophony.
You can already guess that being around another virtuous guitarist at a young age would be great for development. It eventually led to Becker filling in for Steve Vai on a David Lee Roth tour.
Unfortunately, Jason Becker’s career was affected by a medical diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Even still, Becker is considered at the forefront of incorporating neoclassical influences into shred guitar.
If you’re like me, your introduction to Herman Li’s playing came through playing the Guitar Hero video game series. Anyone who has played knows there is one song in particular that is hard to beat on expert mode.
The song in question? DragonForce’s Through The Fire And Flames, which was enough to make anyone rage quit.
Li has a very modern style that often seems to take inspiration from video games. This has helped Herman Li stay extremely relevant among today’s guitarists, who are often influenced by the same things.
Does the name Alcatrazz mean anything to you when it comes to 1980s shred metal? Joe Stump was the guitarist who helped make that name mean so much to metal fans.
Stump has a neoclassical style that follows the traditions and same school of thought as Yngwie Malmsteen. After all, to be relevant in that time period required skills to match the very best in the game.
Joe Stump eventually transitioned to educating other guitarists where he taught his techniques at Berklee. Today, Joe Stump is still considered one of the absolute best when it comes to incorporating neoclassical elements into shred.
If you were a guitarist hungry to learn shredding chops in the 2000s, you might be familiar with Luca Turilli. He was one of the first to build an online schooling platform that many lesson-based platforms take inspiration from.
Luca’s influences do include classical elements, but he does not pigeonhole himself into a corner. Instead, you’ll find that Luca has ventured out into some unbelievable avenues of music, unlike any other shred guitarist.
Don’t believe me? Chew on the fact that Luca has released music as a concert pianist and you’ll see what I mean.
You probably can’t play in a band called Symphony X without at least having some sort of neoclassical shred style. Fortunately, Michael Romeo has perfectly held that role since 1994.
What’s interesting is that Romeo’s influences come directly from the shred wizards of the 1980s. In turn, Romeo has influenced many of today’s guitarists who incorporate neoclassical elements into their playing.
There’s probably a fairly good chance you aren’t familiar with Cesario Fiho if you’re stuck in the 1980s. Fiho is at the forefront of today’s neoclassical guitar movement and is quite popular on the internet.
It just goes to show that social media channels can be incredibly lucrative for skills worthy of the world’s attention. Fiho has built his channel by incorporating both performance and education into his content.
Sure, Fiho’s career is by no means as decorous as most of the names on this list. However, there’s a good chance that he will be a well-known name in years to come.
Another guitarist you might not be completely familiar with is CJ Grimmark. However, it’s definitely not because of his playing that his name isn’t on everyone’s tongue.
As a genre, metal has been completely dominated and often steeped in Satanic imagery. Since the late 1990s, CJ Grimmark has provided his insane shredding skills for the other team.
This is almost unheard of for a Swedish guitarist who comes from the home of black metal and death metal. Despite this, Grimmark’s techniques are inspired by the greats of the genre while providing his own unique twists.
If you want to be a shred guitarist with classical influences, it’s best to study classical music. That’s precisely what Tony MacAlpine did as a young child with a propensity for musicality beyond just the guitar.
In fact, MacAlpine actually studied classical music at several different colleges. This early influence no doubt played a huge role in informing MacAlpine’s style of shred guitar techniques.
Tony MacAlpine is definitely one of the big names when it comes to this playing style. He’s worked alongside Vinnie Moore, Steve Vai, and the popular progressive metal band, Planet X.
Vinnie Moore is another huge name in the world of shred guitar and continues to be one of the best. However, the world might not have been introduced to him had he not been discovered by Mike Varney.
Today, Vinnie is mostly known for his role in the longstanding band, UFO. And while he’s been playing in the band for 20 years, Vinnie’s career has been important beyond the band.
In fact, Vinnie Moore was one of many who were responsible for fueling the guitar mania of the 1980s. His debut solo album remains a landmark album for the instrumental shred guitar genre.
Speaking of the band, UFO, mention must be given to Michael Schenker. If you’ve read any guitar magazines over the years, this is a name that will be familiar to you.
The reason for this is that Schenker has been an insanely influential figure for metal guitarists. Pick almost any popular metal guitarist from the 1980s until now and Schenker is likely a direct influence.
Michael Schenker exploded onto the scene with the popular German band, Scorpions. Eventually, Schenker went on to work with UFO and has had innumerable solo project releases.
For many guitarists, the introduction to neoclassical shred elements came by way of Randy Rhoads. Of course, being a founder of Quiet Riot and playing on Ozzy Osbourne’s first 2 albums certainly helped.
Randy was actually trained as a classical musician on the guitar. There’s no doubt that he applied this influence directly into his blazing solos, many of which are considered the greatest.
While his career may have been tragically cut short, the legacy of Randy Rhoads still lives on. Many consider his playing to be some of the best to have ever been recorded.
Dimebag Darrell is another player that had his career cut way too short but has a legacy that continues today. Darrell is best known for being a founding member of Pantera and Damageplan.
Sure, Dimebag’s playing style doesn’t necessarily incorporate classical influences like many on this list. However, his playing seemed to adopt techniques from Texas blues players which helped give Pantera its signature groove.
Randy Rhoads might be most commonly associated with the Flying V guitar style. Ironically, so too, is Dimebag Darrell, who was often featured in guitar magazines with his signature Dean models.
Malmsteen was the absolute king of shred guitar until about the early 2000s. It was around this time that another name became insanely popular among shred fans: Chris Impellitteri.
Make no mistake about it, Impellitteri possesses a penchant for speed that cannot be matched. It’s this insane skill that brought him to the limelight via guitar magazines.
Impelliteri has primarily been active in his own solo career, which has been active since the late 1980s. He continues to release albums regularly, with the last having dropped in 2018.
To be a well-known guitarist in today’s modern generation of shredders, you need a massive toolkit of techniques. That is precisely what Kiko Loureiro brings to the table, eventually gaining him a position in Megadeth.
Loureiro’s guitar career seemed destined for greatness ever since the beginning. He made a name for himself as a teenager playing in Brazil with his band, Angra.
What’s really interesting is that Kiko is actually left-handed but plays a regular right-handed guitar. It just goes to show that you can do anything you want to if you want it bad enough.
Jeff Loomis is a huge name in regard to shred guitar spanning from the 1990s until the present day. From an early age, Loomis has possessed a staggering bag of tricks that can wow any audience.
Many of Loomis’s influences actually stem from a number of names that have been featured in this article. Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine even told a young, teenage Loomis that he was destined to do great things on the guitar.
Jeff Loomis has been in a number of different bands over the years, including Nevermore and Arch Enemy. He continues to tour and perform session work.
Shawn Lane is a name that deserves more recognition than what he’s had over the years. While some might object to his inclusion here, there’s definitely a reason why he’s considered one of the best.
Lane’s style didn’t necessarily incorporate neoclassical elements but it was informed by a classical education. This ultimately allowed Lane to incorporate a large number of different elements into his fusion playing style.
A good number of names on this list would consider Lane to be one of the greatest guitarists ever. Dig around for some performances and chances are likely that your jaw will need to be lifted from the floor.
Since the late 1980s, John Petrucci has been a constant enigma in the world of guitar. After all, he’s one of the founding members of the all-star band, Dream Theater.
Sure, Petrucci might not incorporate Bach fugue elements into his playing, but that doesn’t make him any less accomplished. Petrucci has a mastery over the guitar that demands the respect of anyone interested in the guitar.
And really, Petrucci’s wide range of influences is partly what makes him such a noteworthy guitarist. He’s made a point to continually evolve where others are content running the same old techniques.
Best Shred Guitarists, Final Thoughts
If it seems like shred guitarists are a rare breed, you’re probably not wrong in feeling this way. Decades of time spent on building exceptional technique is a luxury and discipline many guitarists cannot always undertake.
Nevertheless, every generation has its own community of shred guitarists who continually push the envelope of evolution. It’s almost a guarantee that future generations will have incorporated shred techniques as a common vernacular in foundational skills.
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