How to Play Rapid-Fire Hard Rock Licks in the Styles of Five Eighties Shred Gods

(Image credit: Fin Costello/Getty Images)

This month we’ll look at fast-and-furious repetition licks in the styles of five Eighties rock guitar shred gods.

Using these kinds of licks during at least one point in a solo is a cornerstone of rock lead guitar playing and is an effective device for raising energy and intensity.

From the late Seventies and early Eighties onward, guitarists had the benefits of a new technological age, with advances in amplifier design giving rise to more gain and tonal possibilities. The guitar was also quickly adapting to meet the demands of a new era, with slimmer necks, sleek contours, lighter strings, fast actions and greater sustain.

Players were evolving technically, and with the growing popularity of the legato approach, the more traditional pentatonic patterns of the classic rock era were hot-rodded for extra speed, high gain and wide and sexy vibrato.

To play these licks, set your amp gain to max, with the midrange flat (at 12 o’clock) and the treble slightly boosted.

FIGURE 1: To play this fragment based on the a blues scale (A C D Eb E G), angle your fretting hand to elongate your reach, and use your ring finger for the eighth-fret hammer-ons. Use the ring finger supported by the middle finger—a.k.a. reinforced bending—for the final bend and vibrato. (Use it in the following licks as well.)

FIGURE 2: This a minor pentatonic-add9 (A B C D E G) lick again uses an angled hand position to set up a finishing bend with a big vibrato. For the repetition phrase, use your index, middle and ring fingers. The picking is configured “inside the strings” for efficiency.

FIGURE 3: This lick is in A Dorian (A B C D E F# G). Again, angling the fret-hand wrist and using fingers 1, 2 and 3 is recommended for strong hammer-ons and pull-offs and to set up a good finish. Likewise, the picking is configured “inside the strings” for maximum efficiency.

FIGURE 4: This lick combines the A Dorian mode and the a blues scale in a symmetrical shape across the top three strings. A six-note pattern is set up and repeated on the top two strings, then played twice on the B and G strings, finishing with a G-string bend up to the fifth, E.

FIGURE 5: Our final lick is based on a minor pentatonic and incorporates a wide, five-fret stretch. Place the thumb in the middle of the neck, ensuring the fingers are spaced out. Rotate the hand as needed and use your pinkie to reach the 10th-fret D note. Stop and rest if you feel any discomfort.

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