Guys, let’s face it. As guitarists, we’re all somewhat guilty of perpetuating the “shredder” stereotype.
Certainly, the second the word is uttered, our minds conjure an image of a player, pointy guitar in hand, wholly immersed in a deathly metronome warfare. Upon hearing this proverbial shredder play, it isn’t terribly long before we huddle to form a vehement chorus of cries, condemning their work as “a million tasteless notes”, or “a mindless bunch of arpeggio sweeps”, or, better yet, flooding said unsuspecting “shredder” with perplexingly cryptic requests like: “bro, where’s the feel?”. There’s no doubting that the “shred” label is as much a product of a guitar culture we’ve authored as it is about playing at insane speeds.
As musicians, this mind-set grows dangerous when we unthinkingly slap any technically proficient playing with the ‘shred’ label. On the topic, the inimitable Guthrie Govan has insisted that the jazz guys have been shredding for years. It’s just that we, as guitar players, decided to attach a silly label to it. Charged with a likewise conviction, this article shortlists five players that play with a style, musicality and vocabulary as refined and expansive as their technical brilliance; certainly shred – but tastefully so.
We’d be doing something terribly wrong if we were to not mention this man. Born in rainy Bradford, England, Allan Holdsworth burst onto British jazz-rock scene in the late sixties, performing with various outfits in his early career. The mid-seventies saw Holdsworth billed alongside, and as part of, some of the era’s most influential progressive and fusion artists, including: Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Jean-Luc Ponty, Soft Machine, and later in the decade, the fusion supergroup U.K.
Holdsworth’s playing, and chiefly his legato technique, is the stuff of legend. With a spidery reach across the fretboard, his fingers were able to weave together a myriad of scales and patterns that culminated in his angular, ‘outside’ sound. Considered a touchstone of modern guitar playing, both in terms of technique and improvisation, Holdsworth has been cited as an influence by the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Tom Morello, Yngwie Malmsteen and John Petrucci. To get a feel for Holdsworth’s immense musicality and eye-watering chops, check out ‘Letters of Marque’ from his 1982 album, I.O.U.
André Nieri is a Brazilian-born guitarist whose blending of modern, rock and classical technical styles has culminated in a fresh, virtuosic approach to the guitar. Drawing as much from Brazil’s rich musical heritage as he does from his favourite players, André’s playing is infused with a unique sense of groove, movement and vocality that truly sets him apart.
André’s YouTube channel is a treasure-trove of electric and classical fingerstyle guitar playing, executed to perfection. The tune ‘Brazilian Fusion’ is a sublime snapshot to his style. The song’s solo section sees André step on the gas. Featuring his classically influenced, hybrid picking technique, André unleashes a barrage of arpeggios that, wave after wave, send notes swirling across the neck. It’s an awesome feat of guitar playing that is both a testament to André’s huge technical prowess and also his refreshingly unique musicality – shredding, but done with all the class in the world.
Like the retro, fifties, sci-fi comic book utopias that adorns his album covers, Nick Johnston’s music is similarly expansive and cinematic. Captivating guitar melodies are set against beds of majestically orchestrated piano and stringed passages, stirring mental images of worlds far beyond our own. Certainly, if that doesn’t do it, Nick’s guitar playing will soon have you questioning whether he’s from another planet.
What sets Nick apart is that he extracts every ounce of tone from is Atomic green, single-coil clad axe. His instrumental work is littered with deeply expressionistic phrasing; Nick attacks the instrument to summon snarls, quacks and harmonic wails much like a singer would with their voice. Pair this with some truly blistering technique, speed, and a quirky, James Bond-like composition style, and you’ve got one of the most unique cats in the game.
When you have the likes of Andy Timmons complementing your playing, you know you must be doing something right. That’s certainly the case for Lari Basilio. Born into a musical household in São Paulo, Brazil, Lari was initially attracted by the guitar’s emotive and expressionistic qualities. These elements have remained central to Lari’s philosophy as an instrumentalist: melody-driven lines that are technically ornate, yet, phrased with poetic effortlessness.
Like all things Brazilian, groove is also at the heart of Lari’s playing. This rhythmic focus is achieved through a sublime mixing of chordal and melodic elements, allowing for her lines to gracefully float over a tightly punctuated rhythm. This said, Lari can turn the heat up at the drop of a hat; her work is peppered with ferocious picking lines, performed with machine-like efficiency. Her tune ‘New Time’ is a perfect snapshot of Lari’s style: atmospheric soundscapes, impeccable groove, insane technique, and of course, some of the best phrasing out there.
If you look up ‘legato’ in the dictionary, Tom Quayle’s name won’t be too far from the definition. Listen to the guy for five minutes, and you’ll either want to practice like hell or throw your guitar out from the nearest window. Following a Jazz degree, Tom fused the legato technique of eighties metal players with a harmonically sophisticated Jazz sound- something that has remained his calling card ever since.
Certainly, Tom’s technical command is bewildering. The tune ‘Between You and Me’ , composed by and dueted with the equally brilliant, German guitarist Martin Miller, is a perfect display of Tom’s otherworldly fluidity as he spells out gorgeously complex, singing lines. His success as both a player and instructor can be seen through his countless collaborations and performances with the likes of Dweezil Zappa, Tim Miller, John Petrucci and Andy Timmons, to name just a few.
Nigel Nunes is a London-based writer and an astoundingly ‘okay-ish’ guitar player. Talking music is one of his favorite things – second only to his true passion in life, the British pastry chain Greggs.
Photgraphy: Holdsworth by Frans Schellekens/Redferns (source), Nieri via Positive Grid, Quayle by Laurie Monk (source)