Who Invented Shred Guitar Techniques?

Who tapped the first lick? Who swept that first sweep? And who do we have to thank for the slippery legato shred runs we all love to try and master?

Whether shred guitar is your bag or not, these standard nuanced electric guitar techniques have helped shaped the voice of guitar as we know it (and moreover rock guitar); putting guitar solos on a pedestal during the golden ages of guitar heroes. When asked, we all know the godfathers of these techniques who popularised them and became true exponents & masters. But were they the first? Was Eddie the founding father of tapping? Who was sweep picking arpeggios from hell before Yngwie? We look at 3 of shred’s key techniques and ask the question: Who shredded it first?

1. Tapping

Yes, EVH was the undisputed king and pioneer of this technique and it stands to reason that he adopted his personal take on two handed tapping from his early days as a prolific classical pianist; approaching the guitar in a two handed fashion. But he wasn’t the first. In fact finger tapping has its origins in other stringed instruments (namely violin) with such composers as Paganini working the technique into their music.

Jimmy Page, Brian May and Steve Hackett all had their flirtations with the inclusion of finger tapping in their licks and solos. Anyone who has taken a look at our ZZ Top Tres Hombres Classic Album course, will also have spotted the number of occasions Billy Gibbons uses tapping to subtly emulate the sound of a harmonica!

But was there an earlier player who encompassed tapping as the centre piece of their style? Check out this video of classical guitar virtuoso, Vittorio Camardese, from 1965 and tell me this guy isn’t shredding!?

Is you sill think tapping is the sole preserve of the shredder, then watch Stanley Jordan, below, performing his version of Eleanor Rigby live in 1986, when everyone else was practicing their best Eddie Van Halen licks!!

2. Sweep Picking

The bastion of modern shred guitar! By the time we hit the 1990s, sweep picking had already peaked; with players such as Frank Gambale taking the technique to extremes which are still unrivalled today. Could we assume then, that sweep picking has some much earlier roots, long before the pointy guitar gurus of the 80s Shrapnel era?

Blues inspired players such as Hendrix would often sweep pick across a triad to approach a note (albeit a very different take on the technique) as opposed to the traditional ‘rake’ favoured by many bluesmen. You can also hear its use in the surf guitar parts of the 1960s (thats right, even Hank Marvin sweeps!). But the true originators of this, as an electric guitar style, have to be Les Paul and Chet Atkins; with Les Paul playing more of an approximation of what we would consider modern sweep picking licks.

Check out this clip from 1951 - if you want to skip the full nostalgia trip, jump forward to his guitar solo at 01:00 and see some ferocious sweeping in action!

For balance here is master, Frank Gamble performing recently - check out his sweeps at 01:30!

3. Legato

Joe Satriani certainly put legato on the map and became its biggest exponent during the late 20th century explosion of guitar virtuosos. Other players such as Shawn Lane and our very own Tom Quayle have been credited as defining the modern legato technique too.

Due to the nature of the instrument, legato as an electric guitar technique, is perhaps the youngest of our 3 shred guitar topics. However, the technique of legato is as old as written music itself; stemming from the Italian term ‘Legare’, meaning ‘tied together’. Legato, in musical terms, simply means played smoothly; it is our interpretation of this, as guitarists, which has led to us automatically associating the legato technique with flurries of hammer ons and pull offs, and other instruments have their own unique methods & techniques for creating legato. In short, it is more of a sound than a technique.

With this in mind, it only stands to reason that the main pioneer of legato, from an electric guitar perspective, was adopting the technique in order to sound like other instruments, in this case the saxophone. Allan Holdsworth was ripping up the fretboard from the late 1960s/early 1970s; playing mind bogglingly fast legato licks and lines which still stump modern players today. His prominent use of legato playing was the primary influence for Eddie Van Halen’s use of the same technique which brought legato to the guitar world and spawned the shred guitar movement!

Here is the legato godfather himself, Allan Holdsworth, performing live in 1974 - that's a mere 5 years after Hendrix turned the guitar world upside down! Want the good stuff? His solo starts around 01:00.

If you are busy developing your guitar technique, then becoming familiar with the beginnings of your techniques will give you a broader range of players from which you can draw inspiration and knowledge.