Michael Romeo is one of the world's elite shredders – test your soloing skills with this lesson on his devastating abilities

Michael Romeo
(Image credit: Miikka Skaffari/FilmMagic)

New Jersey-based Michael Romeo, born in 1968, is best known as the founder and main songwriter of the progressive metal band Symphony X, which he formed in 1994. He has since released nine studio albums with the group, as well as a slew of solo records.

Romeo is renowned for his use of sweep picking, alternate picking, and tapping techniques. With these he cleanly executes intricate riffs, arpeggios and runs with incredible speed and accuracy, always maintaining a relaxed, fluid feel. His playing is also distinguished by his use of complex harmonies, often incorporating classical chord progressions. 

He cites John Williams as a major influence on his epic sensibility. Romeo is also heavily influenced by Yngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker, but also leans into Pantera style groove metal riffing. 

This unique combination has made him a leading figure in the world of progressive metal. In this lesson, we will look at some of Michael’s key techniques and approaches to traversing the fretboard.

Our first example dives straight into some burning alternate picking and provides an opportunity to improve synchronisation of the hands. Picking on a single string is the simplest alternate picking approach and this example will allow you to focus on syncing your fretting fingers with your pick strokes.

Once you are warmed up, example 2 expands alternate picking to string-skipped arpeggios. The focus here is to improve string-to-string pick movement, which can be made easier by changing the angle of the tip of your pick. Try flicking the pick up for the last note on the third string, and flicking down and away from the strings for the final downstroke on the first string.

Our third example tackles Michael’s approach to tapping with some extended arpeggios played as string-skipped shapes. These use a combination of picking and fretting-hand taps, and no picking at all, which creates a smooth ‘synth-like’ sound.

Example 4 is inspired by the guitar and keyboard unisons of Romeo and Mike Pinella in Symphony X. These lines are played simultaneously to create a powerful melodic statement. Once you have the part down, play along with the backing track and try matching the recorded keyboard part.

For the fifth and final example we tackle sweep-picked arpeggios, which are played with smooth downward and upward motions across the strings, but also incorporating hammer-ons and pull-offs wherever there is more than one note per string. The key to this technique is in using your fretting fingers to mute the unused strings, so that the arpeggios sound cleanly.

Play each example starting slow and relaxed. Then only gradually speed up in small increments in order to build up the required dexterity and stamina over time. 

Get the tone

Amp Settings: Gain 8, Bass 4, Middle 7, Treble 6, Reverb 1

Use a modern tube distortion tone with plenty of gain, set the EQ to boost the midrange and be sure to set the treble to enhance the pick attack. But avoid making it too piercing. Use an overdrive pedal as a boost in front of the amp, with the gain at zero. This is to tighten the low-end and make the thicker strings sound less boomy. Use just a dribble of reverb.

Example 1. Pedal tone picking

This single-string pattern is based in G Phrygian dominant (1-2-3-4-5-b6-b7) scale with the open third string acting as a pedal tone. Use controlled alternate picking with only small pick motions, employing the very tip of the pick to strike the string.

Example 2. String skipping

Play these string-skipped arpeggios with alternate picking between the first and third strings, while hopping over the second string. Move your picking hand loosely from the wrist and employ fretting-hand and palm muting to keep the unused strings quiet.

Example 3. Tapping and legato

Tap the 15th fret with your picking hand first or second finger, pull-off the 14th to 12th fret, tap the 16th fret with the same finger before pulling-off and hammering on using three fretting fingers. Return to the first string with a fretting-hand tap on the 12th fret to restart the process, adjusting the notes to fit the progression.

Example 4. A harmonic minor picking 

This melody is based in A harmonic minor (1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7) and incorporates some intricate fingerings using all four digits, as well as employing alternate picking throughout. Break the piece down into manageable eight-note sections and learn each one before joining them all together.

Example 5. Sweep picking

Use sweep picking to glide your pick across the strings for rapid and smooth arpeggios. Start with an F# major arpeggio using your second finger to roll across three strings at the 11th fret, then in bar 2 change the chord/arpeggio to an F# minor.

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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.