Jeff Loomis is one of metal’s most technically audacious players – and learning his techniques can really up your shred game

Jeff Loomis
(Image credit: Javier Bragado/Redferns)

Jeff Loomis made his indelible mark on the metal scene with the legendary band Nevermore, who over their 20 year career released some of the best albums of their time. From The Politics Of Ecstasy and Dead Heart In A Dead World, to This Godless Endeavor, Jeff’s stunning lead work and sledgehammer riffs gave the band their signature sound.

Nowadays, Jeff plays with Swedish melodic death band Arch Enemy alongside guitarist Michael Amott. He also continues to release his own solo albums, showcasing his technical riffing and soloing style.

Our first example deals with the meat and potatoes of metal playing: alternate-picked palm-muted riffs. Contrary to how this aggressive music sounds, the required picking technique should actually be as relaxed as possible. 

Use the edge of the pick to cut into the string for a clear attack, and its tip to strike the strings as this will make the changes smooth so less likely to interrupt the rhythmic flow of notes. Experiment with playing the riff with an open sustaining sound, with palm-muting and increments between the two to create different tones.

One of Jeff’s signature techniques is combining sweep-picked arpeggios with alternate-picked chromatic scales. Example 2 demonstrates how diminished 7th arpeggios (1-b3-b5-bb7) can be connected with chromatic notes for an almost jazz-like tonality over a the static B5 power chord riff.

Example 3 utilises a scale sequence pattern in E Aeolian (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D). The sequence uses all four fingers of your fretting hand and what’s vital here is economy of movement. Keep your fingers close to the strings and only move a digit when necessary; this is the key to being able to build up speed and accuracy together.

The picking style here is also economical, with the pick taking the shortest route from string to string. Contrary to alternate picking (down-up-down-up etc), economy picking utilises sweep-pick motions for string changes, which provides a different tone and (often) smoother note flow.

Jeff is an expert at seamlessly combining techniques during solos. Example 4 shows how he might use sweeping and tapping together to play diminished 7th arpeggios. Here we use sweep picking to ascend the three-string arpeggio, followed by a picking-hand tap, then we use fretting-hand tapping to descend the arpeggio. 

Our final example is a melodic riff using alternate picked arpeggios. Alternate picking is used here for a more mechanical, quantised sound with each note intended to be played with the same velocity. 

Keep your pick slightly twisted so the edge hits the string, but also keep the tip of the guitar pick angled upwards, so any upstroke movement naturally brings the pick away from the strings. This will make the string skips cleaner and more manageable, therefore minimising the chances of accidentally hitting the wrong string. 

Get the tone

Amp Settings: Gain 10, Bass 7, Middle 4, Treble 7, Reverb 2

Loomis uses a classic shred tone. It’s extremely edgy and distorted, and with little in the way of effects, other than wah-wah at times. You’re going to need either an amp with the channel gain cranked to the max, or a heavy metal style distortion pedal – even a distortion and an overdrive together. Go easy on the mids, too, and only use a modicum of reverb.

Example 1. Lydian dominant flat 2 lick

Jeff often uses unusual scales to create unique parts and this particular riff uses F# Lydian dominant b2 (F#-G-A#-B#-C#-D#-E, or 1-b2-3-#4-5-6-b7). Keep your thumb near the centre of the back of the neck to allow your fingers to stretch more easily, and use alternate picking throughout.

Example 2. Diminished 7 arpeggio

Use all four fretting fingers to play the diminished 7th arpeggio and chromatic scale shapes and make sure you take note of the suggested picking and pull-off directions, as there is a mixture of sweep-picked and alternate-picked strokes throughout.

Example 3. Economy picking and palm muting

Use your third finger to play the semitone bend and vibrato. Descend through the E Aeolian mode in a ‘sequence of four’ pattern, using economy picking for smooth string-to-string transitions. Keep the lick clean with light palm muting on the low strings and finger muting on the high strings.

Example 4. Picking and fretting-hand tapping

This lick is phrased in 16th-note quintuplets, or five-notes per-beat. For the five ascending notes use downstrokes and hammer-ons. For the descending five notes start with a picking-hand tap, followed by pull-offs and fretting-hand taps. Repeat the same lick as you ascend in minor 3rd intervals.

Example 5. Palm-muted, alternate-picked string skipping 

This melodic riff is based in A Aeolian (A-B-C-D-E-F-G), which switches to A harmonic minor (A-B-C-D-E-F-G#) in the third bar. Use palm-muted alternate picking to play through this intricate string-skipping part. Use the tip of the pick to glide across the notes and jump cleanly from string to string.

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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.