Below, Guitar World picks the 10 essential country shred guitar songs. Enjoy!
Joe Maphis, “Flying Fingers”Flying Fingers
The link between blazing acoustic bluegrass and electrified country shred began with Joe Maphis and his furious flatpicking on songs like “Flying Fingers,” which he recorded in 1956. Maphis played both the six-string track and overdubbed octave-guitar unison track using both necks of his custom Mosrite double-neck guitar. During the Fifties, Maphis frequently performed on the Town Hall/Ranch Party television program, shredding the strings along with guests that included Ricky Nelson and a 12-year-old Larry Collins.
Phil Baugh, “Country Guitar”Live Wire
Phil Baugh’s original Country Guitar album released in 1965 features numerous dazzling instrumentals, like “The Finger,” but the centerpiece is the title track where he performs uncanny imitations of several guitarists, including Chet Atkins, Billy Byrd, Hank Garland, Les Paul and Merle Travis, who all are worthy of inclusion on this list. Baugh played on Merle Haggard’s early Bakersfield singles during the Sixties and during the Seventies moved to Nashville, where he played on sessions for countless hit records.
Jimmy Bryant, “Down Yonder”Fastest Guitar in the Country
Jimmy Bryant (guitar) and Speedy West (pedal steel) recorded incredible instrumental duets during the Fifties that still sound amazing, but Bryant also released some great, overlooked albums on his own during the Sixties. “Down Yonder” from the aptly titled Fastest Guitar in the Country album downplays his usual jazzy flourishes in favor of genuine country twang played in Bryant’s inimitable lightning fast style. Bonus points for the ultra-cool Voxmobile on the cover, which Batmobile and Dragula designer George Barris built for Bryant. Note: Since “Down Yonder” isn't available on YouTube at the moment, we've provided a clip of Bryant and West's "Frettin' Fingers" instead. Enjoy!
Albert Lee, “Fun Ranch Boogie”Gagged But Not Bound
“Country Boy,” which Lee first recorded with Head Hands & Feet in 1971, has become his signature tune, but this song also provides fine examples of Lee’s ultra-precise banjo-style hybrid picking and tasteful melodic sensibilities. “Albert Lee always sounds like Albert Lee,” Brad Paisley says in the May 2013 issue of Guitar World. “His style has evolved into more of a Strat-based sound using the bridge and middle pickup than the twangy Tele tone he used to play.”
Steve Morse, “John Deere Letter”Out Standing in Their Field
Morse has usually included at least one bona fide country shred tune on his albums going all the way back to his recordings with the Dixie Dregs in the Seventies (“Gina Lola Breakdown” and “Pride O’ the Farm” being great examples). This song from his latest Steve Morse Band effort proves that his hyperspeed chicken pickin’ keeps getting better.
Hellecasters, “Orange Blossom Special”The Return of the Hellecasters
Emerging toward the tail end of the shred phenomenon in the early Nineties, this all-star guitar trio consisting of Jerry Donahue, John Jorgenson and Will Ray showed that country boys could not only play as well as the rockers, but they could also do it with a lot more style, originality, humor and panache. “It’s hard to beat the Hellecasters,” Paisley says. “John Jorgenson is my number-one favorite guitarist. He’s what I’m trying to be.”
Michael Lee Firkins, “Big Red”Chapter Eleven
Most of the tracks that Firkins recorded in the Nineties fit perfectly with the Shrapnel label’s then-current roster of metal/fusion players, but this Nebraska born-and-bred player couldn’t resist revealing his country and bluegrass chops on occasion. This track is one of his more straight-up country jams, with clean tone as sharp as a Bowie knife.
Johnny Hiland, “Barnyard Breakdown”All Fired Up
One of the most impressive guitarists to emerge on the Nashville scene in recent years, Hiland can be heard tearing it up with Hank Williams III, on sessions with Toby Keith, Randy Travis and others, and even in downtown Nashville’s Lower Broadway honky-tonks. Hiland can play any style of music better than most, but when it comes to country he’s simply untouchable.
Brad Paisley, “Cluster Pluck”Play—The Guitar Album
This instrumental jam featuring Paisley, James Burton, Vince Gill, Albert Lee, John Jorgenson, Brent Mason, Redd Volkaert and Steve Wariner provides a great introduction to almost every current country shredder you should know. “Those guys are all my influences,” Paisley says. “Nobody really outplays anybody else, but when James put on his fingerpicks and did all those bends, double bends and weird arpeggios, I knew that everybody in the room wanted to be him.”
Marty Stuart, “Hollywood Boogie”Nashville, Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down
The incredible Kenny Vaughan and legendary Marty Stuart go head-to-head on this blazing instrumental that pays tribute to the Fifties recordings of Joe Maphis and Jimmy Bryant while adding their own modern flourishes. Playing Clarence White’s iconic Telecaster, Stuart’s tone remains the ultimate definition of “twang.” NOTE: In the video below, the action begins around 1:10, so you might want to skip ahead.