So you’ve been bitten by the need for speed? With those super fast legato runs, smooth sweep-picked licks, and efficient alternate-picked scale runs, it’s easy to see the attraction of playing shred guitar. It’s a bug that gets most guitarists at some point in their careers, but playing fast requires more than just countless hours of practice – you'll also need one of the best guitars for shredding.
A guitar purposefully designed for shredding will make achieving your speed goals that much easier, so we’ve brought together the top choices for those on the quest for lightning-quick licks. Whether you’re a vintage Vai enthusiast or prefer the modern tones of bands like Intervals, Plini, and Animals As Leaders, these guitars will all ensure an excellent playing platform for all your speed needs.
If you’re new to the world of shred guitar then head down to our buying advice section for some guidance on what makes a great guitar for rapid-fire playing. For those who just want to see the best shred guitars, keep scrolling for our top picks.
Best guitars for shredding: Our top picks
For those who want something that’s fast but a little less 'metal', look no further than the Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1. With a neck profile that occupies the perfect space between Fender ‘C’ and the flat and thin profile of an Ibanez, the Pro-Mod series comes with excellent Seymour Duncan humbucking pickups and a Floyd Rose 1000 locking tremolo, making it a brilliant shred machine that can do a wide variety of styles.
Finally, if money is no object, then the Jackson American Series Soloist SL3 is the dream guitar for speedy guitar playing. Featuring a compound radius fretboard and through-body neck construction, it offers phenomenal playability and incredible upper fret access. Add in three Seymour Duncan pickups in a HSS configuration and you’ve got one of the best guitars for shred.
Best guitars for shredding: Product guide
The Jackson Soloist SL3 takes the popular looks and style of the original trail-blazing Soloist and amps up the spec for the modern guitar player. It’s a stunning shred machine that marries the vintage aesthetic with modern build quality and technology - truly one of the best guitars for shred.
The neck profile is typical of Jackson, slinky feeling and fast playing with a compound radius fretboard to give you a faster feel as you move higher up the neck. The real winner here is the through-body three-piece maple neck. Turn the guitar over and you’ll note the complete absence of a neck joint, giving you unparalleled access to the upper frets. The wood extends through the whole length of the body too, giving it incredible amounts of natural sustain.
The HSS pickup configuration features three of Seymour Duncan’s finest and whilst some players will lament the lack of a neck humbucker, it certainly delivers bags of tonal versatility. A Floyd Rose 1500 series locking tremolo gives you the ability to deliver those crazy 80s divebombs whilst Gotoh MG-T locking tuners ensure quick restringing and rock-solid tuning stability.
Read the full Jackson American Series Soloist SL3 review
When the original Ibanez RG550 dropped in the late 80s it quickly became an iconic instrument in the world of shred guitar. Its pointy edges, vibrant paint job, and the accessible price came together to make it one of the most sought-after instruments for speed freaks. With this modern reissue, Ibanez reminded everyone who the true kings of shred really are.
The Ibanez Super Wizard neck is one of the thinnest that Ibanez manufactures, coming in a 5-piece Maple/Walnut construction to ensure excellent rigidity and stability. 24 jumbo frets ensure excellent performance for fast runs and huge bends, with a maple fretboard for a slick feel in your fretting hand.
The HSH pickup configuration consists of an Alnico humbucker at the bridge, Alnico single coil in the middle position, and a ceramic humbucker in the neck position. Designed by Ibanez themselves, these pickups are voiced for rock and metal, and with the five-position blade switch you get a decent variety of tones for non-shred applications too.
Combining top-quality materials with a storied history of building speed machines, the Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 is truly a shredder’s paradise. Despite its 80s-inspired looks and configuration, this is a thoroughly modern guitar capable of much more than just fleet-fingered frolics.
Straddling the line between Fender ‘C’ and the flatter, Ibanez style neck, the Charvel Speed Neck profile does exactly what it says on the spec sheet, invoking fast playing. It’s also got a compound radius, starting at rounder 12” near the nut for your chord work, before flattening out as you move closer to the body, ending in a 16” radius.
With a classic combo of a Seymour Duncan JB in the bridge position with a warmer ‘59 in the neck, you get the perfect balance of aggression and sophistication in your playing. Coil split gives you more tonal options, whilst the no-load tone pot handily removes itself from the signal path when turned all the way up.
With so many of the guitars on this list harking back to the glory days of the 80s, it’s refreshing to see the approach taken with the Standberg Boden Original NX 6. Looking like nothing you’ve seen before, Strandberg’s Boden does away with a headstock and adds some incredible player-centric features that make it one of the most ergonomic guitars in the world.
The neck profile is unlike anything you’ll have come across before. If you’ve played a ‘V’ profile neck it’s kind of similar, except the point has been shaved off leaving a flat portion. It certainly takes some getting used to and may well prove divisive to players used to more typical neck shapes. But one thing’s for sure, once you get used to it you’ll be flying across the fretboard.
The pickup configuration is less futuristic than you might expect, the Suhr-designed pickups offering a high-output bridge tone with a more vintage-style sound in the neck position. A five-way switch gives you single coil options as well, should you require a spanky Strat-type tone. Add in an excellent treble-bleed circuit and you’ve got yourself plenty of options for everything from high gain shred to bright and clean fusion tones.
Read the full Strandberg Boden Original NX6 review
The signature model of the modern guitar maestro behind Intervals, the Schecter Aaron Marshall AM-6 is every bit as forward-thinking as the man himself, resulting in a phenomenally well-playing axe for fast playing. This guitar offers a player-centric approach with an excellent feature set, making it without a doubt one of the best guitars for shred.
The neck is an unusual wood construction in Quarter sawn Wenge, but don’t worry if you’ve not played one before, it’s buttery smooth with a silky smooth feel in your hand. A compound radius ensures you get excellent playability higher up the neck, whilst extra jumbo stainless steel frets offer the perfect playing platform for bends and vibrato.
The pickups are as versatile as Aaron himself, delivering whether you need tight high-gain riffing or ultra-clean arpeggios. A five-way switch unlocks coil split options for the humbuckers should you want some of those in-between sounds to add to and expand your playing repertoire.
Based on the original Horizon range released in the late 80s, the pointy headstock of the ESP E-II Horizon FR-II lets you know straight away it means business. Clearly designed for shredders and metalheads alike, it retains that 80s shred playability with a much more modern, refined look.
Going a slightly different route from others on this list, it features a thin ‘U’ neck profile, with rounder edges than what you might find on your typical Ibanez-style neck. It’s pretty much the same thickness though, so while the feel is initially different, you don’t lose any of the speed. Like many guitars of similar ilk, a neck-through construction ensures incredible stability and sustain.
Two EMG active pickups deliver aggression and clarity in spades, offering that articulation you need for fast lead work whilst retaining plenty of heft for chunky riffing. Despite their reputation for only suiting metal tones, this particular pair sound fantastic clean and can do that warm PAF-type sound with less gain.
While we’d love to have included the full-fat Ernie Ball Majesty here, the fact of the matter is you can’t buy them anywhere – a testament to the popularity of one of the world’s best shred guitar players. Don’t worry though, the Sterling by Music Man John Petrucci Signature Majesty is a fantastic way to access iconic sounds without forking out nearly five grand for the privilege.
The playability of the neck on the Majesty is simply astounding, as you’d expect from the nimble fingers of one of prog’s finest. The action is incredible out of the box and it feels comfortable whether you’re fretting complex jazz chords or treating your audience to a salvo of three note-per-string legato runs.
The pickup configuration is simple but versatile. You can get a lot of different sounds out of these Sterling by Music Man-designed pickups, whether that’s for expansive clean-picked passages or aggressive riffing. There’s also a DiMarzio-loaded version if you’re willing to spend a little extra. The tremolo puts up with abuse remarkably well thanks to being paired with a set of locking tuners, so you can lean on it pretty heavily.
For players who love EVH, the EVH Striped Series is an awesome way to get the look and feel of Eddie’s Frankenstrat without forking out a boatload of cash. Available in three different looks all with the same minimalist specification, this is a guitar that’s designed for fast lead licks and chunky rock riffing.
The neck isn’t as slim as some of the other options here, having more in common with the Fender ‘C’ spec, but it certainly lends itself well to barrages of fiery guitar playing. It’s a quartersawn Maple construction with graphite reinforcement and a compound radius, every bit the match for the more modern designs of the best shred guitars.
You’d think the single pickup would be limiting but it’s quite the opposite, it forces you to change the way you play to achieve different sounds, which is a great lesson for any guitarist. The Floyd Rose is rock solid as you’d expect and also features the D-Tuna, a device invented by Eddie that allows you to instantly change the guitar to drop-D and back to standard again without unlocking the nut.
The Kramer SM-1 H is a guitar that doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to statements of intent. With its single humbucker, locking tremolo, and vibrant paint job, it screams big hair, spandex, and shred guitar solo galore.
The K-Speed SlimTaper C neck profile is an excellent platform for high-speed guitar licks, while the neck-through construction ensures long ringing natural sustain from both chords and single note work. A sculpted neck heel delivers excellent upper fret access.
With its single Seymour Duncan JB pickup, it isn’t the most versatile of guitars but if your love is 80s shred then you won’t care too much about that. It’s also got a push-pull on the single-volume pot so you can go from series to parallel instantaneously. Add in the classic Floyd Rose licensed tremolo and you’ve got the ultimate 80s shred machine.
Best guitars for shredding: Buying advice
What makes a good guitar for shredding?
Probably the most important aspect of a guitar for shredding is the neck and fretboard. To move quickly you need a neck profile that’s nice and slim, enabling your hand to travel freely across the neck. Jumbo frets make vibrato and huge bends much easier, whilst the radius of the fretboard also impacts how fast it feels. That’s why you’ll see a lot of shred guitars with a compound radius, where the curve of the fretboard gets flatter the closer you move to the body.
A low action (the space between the strings and the fingerboard) is a must for any shred guitar, allowing you to exert less force pressing your strings down and thus move quicker. Tremolos are also a key part of shred guitar, allowing for guitar theatrics made famous by players like Van Halen, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. Many shred guitars will come with a Floyd Rose or floating tremolo.
Finally, we come to pickups. Typically shred players use a lot of gain for their lead work and riffing, so the trend of high-output humbuckers has been a mainstay in the world of shred guitar. These usually come from companies like Seymour Duncan, EMG, and DiMarzio, which were at the forefront of shred in the 80s and offer excellent performance at high gain, whilst still being versatile enough for clean passages.
Can you shred on any guitar?
In truth, you can shred on any guitar if you’re good enough. However, you’ll find this a much easier task on a guitar designed for shredding. The difference between a Telecaster neck and that of an Ibanez guitar is really night and day, and you’ll have a much easier time getting up to speed on a thinner neck.
That said there are plenty of players who achieved serious speed on fatter guitar necks. Gary Moore rocked a fat Gibson 50s vintage profile on his famous ‘Greeny’ Les Paul but was still absolutely rapid in his day. What it comes down to is how comfortable you feel on the guitar, so it’s always worth trying different neck profiles to see what feels fastest to you.
What fretboard is best for shredding?
A lot of players will say that a maple fretboard is faster, and many shred guitars come with maple fretboards which could back this theory up. However in our experience, it doesn’t really matter. Different fretboards simply offer a different feel and you'll either prefer one or the other. Steve Vai gets by just fine with a rosewood ‘board, whilst Eddie Van Halen was rarely seen without a maple fretboard in his early career. Our advice is to try both and go based on the feel, rather than what strangers in forums say is best!
How we choose products for our buyer's guides
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At Guitar World, our team has played countless guitars, including many of the best shred guitars in this article. As active musicians, we also understand the importance of achieving the right sound and feel, harnessing our expertise gained from playing on stage, in the studio, and at home to identify the best guitars for shred.
To compile our list of the best shred guitars, we bring together practical experience, user feedback, and in-depth discussions with our editorial team to come to a consensus. We evaluate factors such as playability, tone, and durability to ensure that we showcase the best products currently available on the market.
As guitarists ourselves, we know the value of having the right tool for the job. That's why we're dedicated to providing trustworthy and knowledgeable recommendations to help you find the perfect guitar to suit your shredding needs. Our ultimate goal is to help you unlock your full potential as a guitarist with the best guitars for shredding out there. Always remember, shred ain't dead!
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