Jason Becker hailed his “stunning technique and explosive guitar tone” – now Jien Takahashi is building a unique brand of shred shaped by Ritchie Blackmore, Morbid Angel and a quest to prove “a guitar solo can be as persuasive as a singer's voice”

Jien Takahashi
(Image credit: Kosuke Eikura)

Recommendations from Jason Becker should never be taken lightly. And so, when Becker shouted out Japanese shredder Jien Takahashi earlier this year for his ongoing “Jason Becker Spotlight” series, the Instagram and YouTube guitar communities took notice.

“Ever since Marty Friedman and Jason started Cacophony in 1986,” Becker said on Instagram, “Japan has been a special place for them. 

“Their talent and endearing music have inspired generations of Japanese artists for decades, and from the beginning, the love and support they have received from this beautiful country and its people has never wavered. This brings us to today's Jason Becker spotlight artist, Jien Takahashi, from Tokyo.

“Combining stunning technique and an explosive guitar tone, this up-and-coming young artist is someone @TeamBecker will be keeping an eye on.”

If you were to mosey on over to Takahashi's YouTube channel, you'd find yourself falling down a rabbit hole of shreddy, over-the-top, and often '80s-inspired goodness. Covers and lessons covering tracks ranging from Ozzy Osbourne's Goodbye to Romance to Megadeth's Tornado of Souls and Europe's The Final Countdown are littered throughout, demonstrating precisely where the young six-stringer's heart lies.

With passion to spare emanating from his nimble fingers, it’s easy to see why Becker put the spotlight on Takahashi. Interestingly, though, as a child, Takahashi wanted to be a singer and loved Michael Jackson. But it wasn't to be, as the youngster says he “didn't have talent and the sense of a singer”.

“I wanted to do something else after I realized I couldn't sing,” Takahashi says, “And I had an English teacher who was also great at guitar. I was very influenced by him, and that led me to pick up the guitar.”

I bought it for $50, but as soon as I got it, I began imitating Ritchie Blackmore and did the whole scalloped fretboard thing!

Takahashi loved music, but stepping away from the microphone and strapping on a guitar felt alien at first, and led to a tough period of acclimation. Luckily, Takahashi had an aptitude that matched his drive to succeed, leading him to pick up a Strat-style guitar by budget company Legend.

“I bought it for $50,” he laughs. “But as soon as I got it, I began imitating Ritchie Blackmore and did the whole scalloped fretboard thing!”

Things moved quickly from there, with Takahashi moving on from his cut-rate rig to performing covers online and, eventually, “writing songs in the shower, where song names appear,” before fleshing things out on his acoustic later.

As for riffs, he explains, “I'm conscious of the aggressive nature of American death metal bands like Morbid Angel and Death. I like those sorts of things. And with solos, I go about those naturally, so I'm always myself when playing them.”

Takahashi's early aspiration to be a vocalist, however, has never left him – he still approaches his songwriting with the mindset that “a guitar solo can be as persuasive as a singer's voice,” leading him to “level up the vibe of the song by a main guitar solo that works in that way.”

These days, Takahashi's trusty Legend Strat is packed away in mothballs, though he takes it out now and again to remember where he came from before turning his eye toward any number of PRS and Ibanez guitars, and blasting through blistering covers of tracks like Majustice’s Ancestral Recall, a song he says “best demonstrates the player [he is] today.”

“I like Paul Reed Smith and Ibanez guitars a lot,” he says. “Their tuning stability is great, and they have accurate pitch. That's important, because tuning is the biggest thing I look at before I decide to use a guitar.”

Probably taking cues from the likes of those who inspired him (hello, Marty Friedman and Jason Becker), Takahashi keeps it simple yet powerful from a kit perspective, deploying a Maxon AF-9 [Auto Filter] for solos, which he pairs with several wah pedals.

As for amps, Takahashi keeps it classic. “I've actively worked to use real amps,” he says, “I love my Marshall JMP-1 [Super Lead], for example. But I will admit, for ease of use, I'm switching entirely to a Kemper. I can do everything I need, and it's seamless.”

No matter the amp, modeler, pedal or guitar, Takahashi is forever chasing sounds and wrestling with heartfelt songs.

“The reason I began writing songs was because I couldn't find enough songs that I wanted to listen to,” he says. “But even with my songs, I haven't found any that I'm 100 percent satisfied with yet. I guess that's what the journey of being a musician is, to be forever chasing those sounds.”

Shoutouts from Jason Becker and an ever-growing collection of guitars that would make the most GAS-stricken guitarists water at the eyes aside, Takahashi is keeping it simple. Beyond that, he says, “I just want to be myself. That's what has gotten me this far.

“If I do that,” he concludes, “I'll be fine. I will keep rocking and using my guitar to play the songs I love. Through that, I'll grow and hopefully continue writing songs we all can love!”

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is an iced-coffee-addicted, oddball Telecaster-playing, alfredo pasta-loving journalist from Long Island, NY, who, in addition to being a contributing writer for Guitar World, scribes for Rock Candy, Bass Player, Total Guitar, and Classic Rock History. Andrew has interviewed favorites like Ace Frehley, Johnny Marr, Vito Bratta, Bruce Kulick, Joe Perry, Brad Whitford, Rich Robinson, and Paul Stanley, while his all-time favorite (rhythm player), Keith Richards, continues to elude him.