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Neoclassical Shred Guitar


Hey there. I received quite a few emails asking for an article about "neoclassical shred"... y'know, Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore-style stuff. Now, since this style of music has influenced me quite a bit, especially when I started out, I am happy to oblige... so let's get out those Strats, grab a sword and let's go slay some dragons with some sharp, diminished licks...

Just so that no one is confused, the term "neoclassic" usually refers (at least among guitarists) to "neoclassic rock / metal", not "contemporary classical music". We're talking about rock and metal, influenced by classical music.

The style became popular (or: pretty much was defined) in the early to mid 80s. One album stands out as the one that got the ball rolling: "Rising Force" by Yngwie J Malmsteen.

A friend of mine attended the NAMM show in 84 or 85, and he told me that Yngwie did a short showcase there (he had just been brought over to the States by Mike Varney). Some people had heard him before, but at that NAMM show, he created a serious buzz when he did a short showcase.

The "Rising Force" album could be considered a blueprint for the whole neoclassical thing. Literally thousands of players were influenced by it, and many tried to copy it. If you listen to the output of the Shrapnel label (Mike Varney's label) in the 80's and early 90's, you'll hear a lot of records that sound similar or at least heavily inspired by Malmsteen's first few releases.

Why did that record have such an impact?
Well, first of all, I believe that style of music, that combination of metal riffs and classical melodies (heavily inspired by JS Bach and Niccolo Paganini among others) simply seemed to fit together quite well. Heavy Metal, hard rock, usually has a very dark sound, and the melodies and riffs can work quite well with the sound of an orchestra (as proved by Apocalyptica and the "S&M" album by Metallica... even way before that, Deep Purple recorded a concert with the LSO, and it was obvious even back then that metal and classical music seem to work together quite well).

When I was a kid, I once heard an album with compositions (toccatas and fugues) by JS Bach, played on a huge church organ. I immediately thought that the power and sound of that really had some similarities to heavy metal.

Second of all, the guitar playing on "Rising Force" simply set a new standard. Most people had never heard stuff like that before. Sure, Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker and Richie Blackmore (those guys are some of Yngwie's influences) had used lots of natural minor licks and also, some classical style melodies (Blackmore's infamous "Highway Star" solo always reminded me a bit of some Bach-ideas), but none of them had played them at that speed, with such a furiosity.

Also, Yngwie displayed an impressive alternate picking-technique, and also used sweep-picking quite a bit, which, back then, still was a pretty new technique.

Just like the first Van Halen record, "Rising Force" had a huge impact on young guitarists, and all of a sudden, lots of guys were working on those Yngwie-style licks and runs, playing diminished arps etc.

Yngwie influenced some popular players, who took that influence, added some of their own ideas (some more, some less) and recorded albums that sounded quite a bit like "Rising Force". Listen to Richie Kotzen's first album, the first Racer X-record, "The Mind's Eye" by Vinnie Moore, "Edge Of Insanity" by Tony MacAlpine... those were undeniably inspired by the Yng.

Just like Eddie, he had created some new style of playing, and was copied by a bunch of players. Some of them continued to develop their own style, others didn't, and are remembered as mere "Yngwie-clones".

Before me move on to licks, exercises and some other stuff, let me throw in a few thoughts about Yngwie...

The king lives >>