How Much Did Improvements In Gain/Distortion Contribute To The Advent Of Shred?


When I started playing guitar it was 1984. If your amp didn’t have a good distorted sound, you could get a good distortion pedal to get that Randy Rhoads type sound. So this isn’t based on my personal experience, but mostly on what I’ve read about it including interviews.

I’ve read interviews in some of the major guitar magazines with well known shred guitarists who have said they can play fast with a completely clean sound or with a good distorted sound, but not with that in between half-distorted Jimmy Page sound. Well, that “half-distorted sound” is pretty much all you could get in the early and mid 70s, as far as I know. Even Judas Priest, who have become synonymous with heavy metal had a much less distorted tone on their 70s albums than on their 80s albums. Compare their tone on “The Sinner” from their Sin After Sin album to their tone on “The Sentinel” from their Defenders Of The Faith album. There’s a lot more gain on The Sentinel and it’s because that sound was available to them in 1984. That tone wasn’t available to them on 1977 when Sin After Sin was released.

So if you look back to the fast guitarists according to the standard of the day, the state of the art for shredding really took off at around the same time that it became possible to get a high gain guitar sound which adds compression as well as distortion and makes shred playing easier to do.

Do any of you find that it is just as easy to shred with a mid 1970s Jimmy Page type distortion as it is with the more high gain sound which to the best of my knowledge first appeared on the album Van Halen which was late 1970s and at the time was a tone which wasn’t widely available to guitarists?

Here’s The Sinner by Judas Priest and is a good representation of what their guitar tone was back then. They were one of the heaviest bands around. There weren’t many or any bands as far as I know back then playing with a more distorted sound.

Now here is the same band from their 1984 Defenders Of The Faith album. notice how much more heavily distorted the guitar sound is here.




I find no difference in my abilities whether I play with a clean, semi-distorted, or heavy distortion tone. I think finding a massive difference is mostly psychological, and if not psychological, then an indicator of bad technique.



As someone who plays unplugged most of the time I get a perceived skill increase once I plug in, add some gain and spend a few minutes getting use to playing to a high gain tone.

Not that I actually play faster or cleaner but the difference in Christmas music and metal is gain.

I say that because I was running common shred sequences unplugged and my wife asked “is that a Christmas song?”
I for sure laughed and asked her to please dont talk to me anymore but the point I’m getting at is I feel had this tone not existed this genre wouldn’t exist. Well it would but it would just sound like really fast xmas music.

However I dont make a distinction between rocker and shredder
To me all you need to do to be a shredder is run fast lines one way or another.

I’m sure that has something to do with my age and who I considered shredders when I was a kid.

Times change, I mostly stay the same just more handsome



It might have inspired players to play more if the tone was more singing distortion wise VS crunch
However the Uli Roth’s Scorpions work in the 70s still to this day remains pretty “shred” while still staying very melodic
That was mid to late 70s with a pretty clean tone vs what others would later use.
I think it has become much easier to get a good enough tone at just about any volume than it was when I started in the early 80s. I recall my amp sounded like a busy signal on a phone :smirk:
If you have a good tone it is easier to play perhaps because you are not having to fight that battle as well as the actual song you are playing.
In my opinion in is easier to play fast with a good clean tone than a bad distortion tone, as a example, because the notes tend to clip so uneven with a bad tone.