5 ways to shred like Buckethead

(Image credit: David A. Smith/Getty Images)

Buckethead, born Brian Carroll in 1969, is an enigmatic character and guitar virtuoso. Exploring a wide spectrum of genres, Buckethead’s music ranges from metal to avant-garde, experimental to bluesy, ambient and a whole lot more. 

He is highly proficient and often makes use of unorthodox sounds and techniques, from multi-fingered tapping, to hybrid picking, to slapping and popping, to shredding.

Example 1 is a two-handed tapping idea that alternates the first and second fingers of each hand. You could start by tapping your picking and fretting hands to create an even pulse, then take things one step further by alternating between the first two fingers of each hand. 

This can be applied to the fretboard as hammer-ons, or in the case of lick 1, as pull-offs. Much of Buckethead’s tapping is based around symmetrical shapes moved around the fretboard, so in this example we are using a half-whole diminished sound. 

Example 3 expands on the idea by applying the technique to three-notes-per-string scales. Buckethead calls this ‘nubbing’ and uses it with one, two, three and four fingers of each hand.

Example 2 is a traditional shred lick. The combination of legato and alternate picking was perhaps garnered from his one-time teacher Paul Gilbert, who originated this sound. It’s rhythmically off kilter as it’s a three-beat pattern played across bars of 4/4. Displacing licks through the bar is a fantastic way of making you sound less predictable.

Example 4 is a technique Buckethead uses to create rhythmic grooves. It combines notes and percussive sounds that create a constant stream of 16th notes. First, the side of the thumb is used to strike the sixth string against the frets at the top of the neck. 

Next is a hammer-on, a technique we guitarists we know very well. The third element is the ‘pop’, a strong, outward pluck of the strings. In between these elements are more subtle muted percussive sounds that add dynamics and groove to the flow of notes.

Our final example is a hybrid picked finger twister that alternates between the fourth and sixth strings with the pick and second finger. The riff uses contrary motion in that the notes of each string travel in opposite directions. This is a fun finger puzzle to work out and there are different options available. Use a metronome as you build up the speed of each example. 

Get the tone

Amp settings: Gain 7, Bass 6, Middle 7, Treble 4, Reverb 3

Buckethead uses a variety of tones, but tends to have a less driving sound than many of his peers. Use your bridge pickup but roll the tone down to about halfway, to create a softer tone. 

Buckethead uses Mesa Triple Rectifier or other big guitar amp, usually into Marshall cabs, so go for power amp volume rather than preamp fizz. Add a touch of reverb to taste.

Example 1 

For this diminished tapping lick use your first and second picking fingers to tap the 15th, then 16th frets on the sixth string. 

Using the same two fingers, move up a string at a time in b5ths until you reach the second string, then descend. Use fretting hand first and second fingers to mirror the pattern from the 9th fret.

Example 2

For this F# Aeolian lick (F#-G#-A-B-C#-D-E) start with a downstroke, then play the following three notes with legato. 

Move to the second string and use alternate picking, starting and finishing on a downstroke before picking the four notes on the first string ‘up, down, up, down’. 

Now repeat the lick twice more using the same techniques and finish with a tone bend using third finger.

Example 3 

This lick is based in E Dorian  (E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D) and uses two simultaneous scale positions. The fretting hand is at the 12th fret and the tapping hand is at the 19th fret. 

Use all four fingers of your tapping hand to tap and pull-off each note of the scale. Alternate between your two hands to create a smooth cascade of notes.

Example 4

This riff is based around B minor pentatonic (B-D-E-F#-A) and uses open strings, too. Rather than using a pick, slap the sixth string and hammer-on to the 7th fret. Next slap the sixth string again for a percussive mute, then use first and second fingers to pluck the 10th-fret notes.

Now drop your picking fingers onto the strings to mute them, then pluck the open fourth string with the first finger. Continue this for the rest of the riff then strum the final chord with your thumb.

Example 5

This finger-twister is played with hybrid picking. Play the sixth string with palm- muted downstrokes throughout and pluck the palm-muted fourth string with your second finger. Alternate between the two strings and aim for totally even 16th-note triplets.

The riff itself uses contrary motion; whereas the notes on the sixth string move up and down chromatically, the notes on the fourth string move down, then up.

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Charlie Griffiths

Charlie Griffiths plays guitar in acclaimed prog-metal outfit Haken, and has a wealth of experience handling corporate and session gigs for genres as diverse as rock, heavy metal and pop. He has been a regular contributor to Total Guitar, Guitar Techniques, and Guitar World for over a decade, and released his debut solo album Tiktaalika in 2022.