The 30 Greatest Shred Albums of All Time
To some people, shred guitar is about one thing, and one thing only: the need for speed. The yearn to burn. The desire for fire.
Just the word itself can conjure glorious images of long-haired, pointy-guitar-wielding metalmen, fingers scaling fretboards with dazzling dexterity and furious speed, melody and musicality by damned. And indeed, during the shred zeitgeist of the 1980s, it seemed as if guitarists built up bpms the way Russia and the U.S. stockpiled nukes.
But in fact shred was around well before the Eighties, and it has continued to thrive in the decades since. Because shred guitar is about more than just velocity, or how many notes you can squeeze into a bar of music. And it doesn't necessarily require the use of distortion, electricity or, is some cases, even a pick.
In the following gallery, we present 30 great players from the Golden Era, the Old-School Era and the Modern Era of shred, along with the album and song that best exemplifies their shredding skills.
As these entries attest, shred is about pushing boundaries, exploring the great guitar unknown and, basically, doing really cool stuff that's never been done before. Of course, a bit of sheer, unadulterated fret-burning speed doesn't hurt either.
NOTE: Once again, the photo gallery below is divided into three eras — the Golden Era, the Modern Era and the Old School era — each of which contains 10 albums. The gallery is arranged in that order.
Brad Paisley Who Needs Pictures (1999)
He’s been called Eddie Van Halen on cornbread, and with good reason. Paisley’s hot licks, precision hybrid picking, and clean, twangy tone are as distinctive as his paisley-topped Tele, and he’s earned the right to be considered the fastest gun in the South. For true flatpicked, neck-burning mayhem, look no further than “The Nervous Breakdown,” played at a whiplash-inducing 340 bpm.
SONG: “The Nervous Breakdown”
Buckethead Monsters & Robots (1999)
He wears an upside-down KFC bucket as a hat and calls himself Buckethead, but these might be two of Brian Carroll’s least unusual qualities. Insane four-finger fret-hand taps, wild chromatics, octave displacement, wide-interval runs and string-skipping patterns, and unfathomable speed figure prominently in his work. Buckethead’s guitar lines are often so blindingly fast they resemble video game effects.
Trey Anastasio A Live One (Phish, 1995)
A master of improvisation, Anastasio has an encyclopedic knowledge of styles, songs and techniques. He specializes in winding, whimsical leads with elements of country, blue-grass, blues and jazz, and are specked with complex chord outlines, “outside” notes and spot-on quotes from other artists’ work. His studio work is strong, but like any true jam-band man, live is where he shines.
SONG: “You Enjoy Myself”
Dimebag Darrell Cowboys from Hell (Pantera, 1990)
He was the most influential metal guitarist of the past 20 years, with a sound, style and look as outsized as his legendary personality. Though it was Pantera’s fourth album, Cowboys was most metal fans’ introduction to Darrell and the maniacal riffs and runs, impossibly thick and biting tone, and all- around fret-burning madness that would define metal in the Nineties.
SONG: “Cowboys from Hell”
Marty Friedman Rust in Peace (Megadeth, 1990)
In an era overrun with speed demons, Friedman made himself known with a style that combined Eastern-sounding melodies and modes with straightforward metal aggression. On his first album with Megadeth, he employed unusual phrasing, wide bends and vibrato, and an incredibly clean alternate-picking technique, including heavy use of upstrokes, to impart a distinctive edge to runs and solos.
SONG: “Tornado of Souls”
Steve Vai Passion and Warfare (1990)
Unusual scales, complex melodies and rhythms and jaw-dropping speed are all hallmarks of Vai’s approach, while his pioneering development of the seven-string guitar, use of harmonizers and other tone processors, and patented whammy bar–manipulated “talking-guitar” techniques have continually pushed rock playing into uncharted waters.
SONG: “For the Love of God”
Paul Gilbert Second Heat (Racer X, 1987)
Gilbert’s lead approach is characterized by rapid-fire alternate picking, tapping, string skipping and sweep arpeggios—not to mention the occasional use of a power drill. Paired with guitarist Bruce Bouillet on this album, he constructed some of the most mind-bogglingly complex dual-harmony guitar runs in hard-rock history.
Kirk Hammett Master of Puppets
Hammett’s playing abounds with blazing pentatonic runs, hammer-ons and pull-offs, frantically paced triplets and whammy-bar antics. But as evidenced on Puppets tracks like “Battery” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium),” it is his attention to melody and structure—as well as his distinctive way with a wah-wah pedal—that makes him truly stand out from the pack.
SONG: “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”
Joe Satriani Surfing with the Alien (1987)
Satriani almost single-handedly brought instrumental rock guitar to the masses in the Eighties with this, his second solo release. He infused technique with heavy melodicism, tight, compact songs that boast singing leads, whammy-bar squawks and screams, pick taps and fretboard-spanning arpeggios. A guitarist’s guitarist, he taught everyone from Steve Vai to Kirk Hammett to Primus’ Larry Lalonde.
SONG: “Satch Boogie”
Yngwie Malmsteen Rising Force (1984)
In the Eighties, no one played with more speed than the Swede. The very embodiment of the neoclassical style, Malmsteen took the compositional forms of composers like Paganini, Beethoven and Bach and adopted them for heavy metal guitar. Harmonic-minor sweeps, diminished arpeggios and Phrygian and other exotic scales abound in his playing, all of it delivered with astounding and jaw-dropping technique.
SONG: “Black Star”
Jeff Loomis Dead Heart in a Dead World
The elder statesman of the current wave of hyper-technical players, Loomis has incredible speed, but it’s just the tip of his technique. Diverse scales and modes, sweep arpeggios, tapping, chromatics, atonal runs and string skipping all factor into his lead style. Despite his barrage of dazzling moves, Loomis’ solos are compositionally tight and impressively musical.
SONG: “The River Dragon Has Come”
Derek Trucks Joyful Noise (Derek Trucks Band, 2002)
His skills are stunning, and stunningly diverse. On his third Derek Trucks Band album, Trucks displays facil- ity in an incredible range of styles, including rock, blues, jazz, Latin, world and East Indian Qawwali. As a slide player, he’s without peer, a font of effortlessly fluid, microtonal-specked lines that glide and soar with vocal-like grace.
SONG: “Joyful Noise”
Synyster Gates City of Evil (Avenged Sevenfold, 2005)
With a background in jazz-fusion guitar and a love for the soundtrack work of Danny Elfman, Gates is among the most well-rounded and idiosyncratic players in metal today. His solos on tracks like “Beast and the Harlot” and “Bat Country” play like mini-compositions full of finger-twisting licks, acrobatic sweeps, devilish chromatics and towering dual-harmony runs.
SONG: “Beast and the Harlot”
Joe Bonamassa You & Me (2006)
Bonamassa was mentored by Danny Gatton and played alongside B.B. King before he even reached his teens. Now 33, he’s developed into one of the blues’ most talented and successful players, with impeccable touch, tone and technique. On his sixth solo album, his muscular bends, soulful phrasing and scorching pentatonic-based runs recall blues-rock greats from Clapton to Beck to Rory Gallagher.
SONG: “So Many Roads”
Chris Broderick Endgame (Megadeth, 2009)
Accomplished in a range of styles, from rock to jazz to fusion, Broderick is first and foremost a metal monster. Signature moves are a smooth, multi-octave sweep-picking approach and a complex tapping technique: employing a custom “ring” pick, Broderick shifts fluidly between standard picking and four-finger taps, his picking hand traversing the length of his guitar at staggering speeds.
SONG: “Dialectic Chaos”
Alexi Laiho Are You Dead Yet? (Children of Bodom, 2005)
A classic Eighties-style shredder, Laiho creates leads that are chock-full of taps, sweeps, squeals and scales. Despite the amount of impressive technique squeezed into every lick and run, his main concern is sheer speed. On COB’s fifth album, Laiho races up and down the fretboard with fiery and relentless alternate-picked precision.
SONG: “If You Want Peace...Prepare for War”
Buddy Guy A Man and the Blues (1968)
Buddy Guy is the direct link between the founding fathers of electric blues—T-Bone Walker, B.B. and Albert King—and the blues/rock gods of the Sixties. His progressive approach to blues soloing includes extreme bending techniques, articulated alternate picking, and tremendous aggressiveness. He is also capable of the quietest, most delicate playing imaginable.
SONG: “First Time I Met the Blues”
Robert Johnson King of the Delta Blues Singers (1961)
Johnson synthesized the guitar trends of his time into a sophisticated style that allowed him to play bass parts, chords and lead melodies simul- taneously, often making a single guitar part sound like two players. He was so advanced for his time, it was rumored that he’d sold his soul to the devil in return for his talents.
SONG: “Come on in My Kitchen”
Freddie King King of the Blues (1995)
Playing and singing the blues with gut-wrenching power and a razor-sharp sound, Freddie King blended Texas and Chicago-style blues into a unique synthesis. He also wrote some of the genre’s most enduring instrumentals— “Hideaway,” “Sidetracked,” “The Stumble,” “Sen-Sa-Shun." He played his signature Gibson ES-355 with very light strings and used fingerpicks on his thumb and index fingers.
Johnny Winter Live Johnny Winter And (1971)
Texas albino Johnny Winter arrived in New York City in December 1968 as an unknown guitarist. Within hours he was jamming with Jimi Hendrix. Equally adept at standard soloing, Johnny drew from legendary blues slidemen Robert Johnson, Elmore James and Muddy Waters. His vocabulary of blues licks is vast and his solos are one brilliant idea after another.
SONG: “Mean Town Blues”
Eric Clapton Wheels of Fire (Cream, 1968)
For his 1966 recording session with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Clapton plugged his 1960 Les Paul into a 45-watt 1962 Marshall 2x12 combo, and turned the amp full up “Till it was about to burst.” The thick, overdriven sound forever changed the nature of the electric guitar. Clapton synthesized the medium with his own flair and intensity, laying the foundation for blues/rock guitar.
Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland (1968)
With spirit, inspiration and devotion to the reinvention of the instrument, Jimi Hendrix took musical expression on the guitar to the stratosphere. Using a Stratocaster and 100-watt Marshalls, Jimi utilized the Strat’s whammy bar and toggle switch, and effects like a Vox wah-wah, Octavia octave splitter and Uni-Vibe, to create sounds, moods and atmospheres beyond imagination.
SONG: “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”
Alvin Lee Undead (Ten Years After, 1968)
With Ten Years After, guitarist Lee followed the lead of his countrymen Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck by forging blues-soaked rock driven by virtuoso playing. Inspired by a diverse coterie of blues, rockabilly, country and rock and roll players, Lee incorporated these elements into a sound characterized by flash and speed, heard to good example on the live Undead.
SONG: “I’m Going Home” (live)
Steve Howe The Yes Album (Yes, 1971)
Though he's had no formal musical education, Howe developed a wide-ranging, virtuoso style that traversed virtually every genre of guitar-based music. Armed with a hollowbody Gibson ES-175 played through Fender Dual Showmans loaded with 15-inch speakers, Howe revealed fast alternate-picked passages, long legato lines and an acoustic fingerstyle technique.
SONG: "Yours Is No Disgrace"
Clarence White Live at the Fillmore: February 1969 (The Byrds, 2000)
A master of chops-busting bluegrass guitar, Byrds guitarist Clarence White intertwined his formidable fingerpicking, flatpicking and hybrid-picking technique on the Telecaster with the use of a device he helped to invent, the Parsons-White B-bender, which allowed White to recreate pedal steel guitar licks with stunning accuracy.
SONG: "Nashville West"
Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy (1977)
A fusion player, Di Meola endeared himself to rockers of all stripes with his speedy, heavily palm-muted scalar runs, melodic sensibility and beefy tone. On his second solo outing, Di Meola displayed a total command of a wide range of rock and non-rock styles, from Latin to flamenco to classical, all executed with precision and fire on both electric and acoustic.
SONG: “Race with Devil on Spanish Highway”
John McLaughlin The Inner Mounting Flame (The Mahavishnu Orchestra, 1971)
Pulling from rock, jazz and Eastern influences, McLaughlin created music with the Mahavishnu Orchestra that was earth shattering in both power and originality. At the center of it was his speed-of-light guitar playing. With his signature Gibson EDS-1275 double-neck guitar, McLaughlin played solos with the sound of Hendrix and the musical depth of John Coltrane.
Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas Flood (1983)
SRV is the most electrifying bluesman of the past 30 years. On his 1983 debut, he rolled smoldering Albert King blues and Hendrixian rock into a sound all his own. Blazing pentatonic licks, gut-wrenching bends and double-stops, and incredibly nuanced pick-hand dynamics were SRV stocks in trade, with every lick and lead delivered with controlled intensity, searing emotion and stinging tone.
SONG: “Pride and Joy”
Eddie Van Halen Van Halen (1978)
Ed revolutionized rock guitar like no player since Hendrix. With his work on Van Halen’s self-titled debut, he made blistering pentatonic-based runs, whammy squeals and dive bombs, pinch harmonics and two-handed tapping essential techniques in every rock guitarist’s oeuvre. Undeniably, the era of shred begins here.
Randy Rhoads Blizzard of Ozz (Ozzy Osbourne, 1980)
Rhoads infused the explosive, fleet-fingered, yet largely blues- based guitar style of Eddie Van Halen with classical music- inspired melodies and runs and an advanced knowledge of music theory. His playing on Blizzard classics like “Crazy Train,” “Mr. Crowley” and “I Don’t Know” raised the bar for guitar shredders in the Eighties and beyond.
SONG: “Mr. Crowley”