Players whose technique has diminished with age

I’ve been working on “Tamacun” by Rodrigo y Gabriela. In the process I watched a bunch of their live performances of this song, and I noted that Rodrigo’s picking ability has fallen way off over the years. He hasn’t played the “Tamacun” solo live as originally recorded in well over a decade, instead substituting a simple little legato lick for the most difficult picking passage. You see it in other areas of his playing as well. I don’t know if he developed physical problems with his hands or what, but he was still a pretty young guy when ability to pick fast and clean started noticeably diminishing.

It got me to thinking of other players who’ve lost a step with age. For example, Eric Johnson no longer picks like he used to, employing almost full legato in his playing now. Zakk Wylde still alternate picks, but it’s nowhere near as precise as it was in his prime. It seemed he picked more from the wrist when he was younger, whereas now it’s almost all from the elbow.

I think it’s similar to how many of those 1980s singers who made their bones screaming like banshees now find it impossible to reproduce those performances in their later years—if they can even perform at all, because many have trashed their vocal chords with their youthful vocal gymnastics.

I don’t know if I really have a point with all this. I’m certainly not trying to shame the cited guitarists, as playing at such a high level requires physical abilities that will inevitably degrade with age. Perhaps it can act as a seed for discussion on how to minimize the impact of age degradation as you grow older. Obviously having a relaxed technique will go a long way, same as it is with singers. I always kind of winced watching Steve Morse play, because he looks so tense, like he’s brute forcing his way through everything. I haven’t really followed his career, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he’s developed some problems directly related to his playing style.

It’s really hard to say if many players have age related decline vs just not caring so much about technique or just not having the focus on it they used to.

I think you’ll get a better answer looking at classical virtuosos where there is continued pressure to keep chops at an elite level late in life. Ithzak Perlman is still playing Paganini live in his late 70’s


I was thinking the same thing.
The only case I can think of is Steve Morse suffering arthritis. But I’m no doctor so can’t say if that’s down to technique, simply playing too much, genetic … Anyway, he’s modified how he plays to get around this which I think it pretty damn impressive

As someone who plays violin—though not exceptionally well—I can say it is a much less physically demanding instrument. Also, most folks who learn the violin had an actual teacher to correct any bad, and potentially physically damaging, habits. Technique is more standardized on the violin, so fewer players are apt to employ physically ruinous technique.

That said, your point is well taken. Certainly not all guitarists suffer such steep declines as the examples I cited.

I saw John McLaughlin play here in New York around 12 or so years ago (he was in his late 60s), and he was really in very good shape technically, maybe just a smidge slower than he was at his peak - he played a long set, too, about 2 hours.

Jeff Beck was in his early 70s when I saw him around 5 years back, and while he’s no shredder, his ability really hadn’t diminished at all.

I like looking at those examples because they go against what is expected to happen. Lifestyle choices and unavoidable age-related issues will catch up with everyone eventually, but the longer it can be pushed off, the better.

EDIT: oddly enough, Facebook memories showed me one of the pics from that night, a few hours after making this post, and it was 12 years ago to the day. lol I guess my memory is still working well at 43. Here he is hanging out outside of the venue post show, I’m on the right.

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So…still blazing fast then??? :slight_smile:

When I saw this thread I thought of Petrucci. I hate to criticize because he’s one of my favorites and probably one of the biggest influences on me in terms of practice/work ethic. For him, I chalked it up to all the other things that he’s involved in, and very good at. Namely:

  • Composition
  • Producing

Those are very time intensive things and can take away from the gobs of time he used to spend on his technique.

Plus I feel like he’s already proven himself and probably just doesn’t care to the extent he used to. Subjective, I know, but I think he’s still got some of the best tone ever :metal:

Another would be…Yngwie. BUT I attribute that to his auto accident. What he lost in clarity he makes up for with the high kicks lol!

I feel like Ive gotten better with age, but some things are mnore difficult than others. For example I can pick up on Ritchie Blackmore riffs to an extent. I have trouble nailing Smoke on the Water solo, but then I can play Stargazer pretty easily. i think with Smoke I gave up too quickly i have to get back on it. Point is some things come easy and others require more focuus. i can still write and compose songs and play all instruments etc, i am planning on working a tune this winter. the ideas come to mind but then they need laid down on tape its a process.

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As we get older, life asks a lot of us in terms of time, among other things. Honestly even high level pro musicians I have spoken with don’t get much time to practice; they have gigs and sessions, making content, travelling/touring. Throw marriage and kids into the mix, schedule gets pretty cramped. There always become issues of ‘what is worth my time right now’ and I’d imagine in many cases keeping up perfection on the hardest part of their hardest song might just not be a high priority.

Also, even with the same amount of practice time available, attention might go more towards other aspects of practice besides technique.

of course, purely physical age-related issues probably exist, but it’s very difficult to isolate factors.

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Petrucci is a guy I’ve seen numerous times over decades. He’s definitely become more “elbowy” over time - I’m not sure why that is. But he’s also got a wife and kids (and a fair amount of wealth to enjoy), so aside from what you mentioned, he probably just doesn’t have the time and desire anymore.

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I can’t remember where but I know I’ve seen threads on here where people talk about this. It could be a contributing factor for sure. Since prior to that was a wrist player capable of both mixed escapes and DBX, switching to the DSX only elbow could definitely mess with things that otherwise worked cleanly.

EDIT: of course there’s nothing wrong with elbow. But I know from experience if you aren’t aware of the DSX you get out of the box, it can hold you back. On the other hand, being aware of it (either subconsciously or not) and exploiting it…well, now we have Rusty Cooley :slight_smile:

I think this is possibly the biggest factor in why someone might seem like they don’t play like they might have during their “peak”.

Especially for full time musicians. I’ve heard many say they don’t have time to practice as such, only to play!

Very much agree (ex-violinist here too).

I think its more of a live thing as his studio chops are still bang on in my opinion. I wonder if its road fatigue or more of a stamina issue. Plus his back-catalogue is hefty in terms of output and song length.

Deffo has to have an impact. 100% agree

One guy I’m pretty confident still practices a lot is MAB, and he’s pushing 70. I think although his playing is still elite level, he’s not as clean as he used to be looking at videos like this one when the faster alternate picked lines come in. That’s not a knock to him either, his paying is still top notch, just not where it seemed to be 20+ years ago.

His technique has changed subtly as he got older - it’s much more elbow-driven now than it used to be. Now, did the technique change out of necessity, or did the old technique require more maintenance, which he no longer wanted to put in? Who knows…

He’s said on livestreams that he uses a lot of economy picking now…

Wherever that’s changed the elbow mechanic , I have no idea!

Is the implicit question here whether you can continue to play well as you get older? In general the evidence suggests that you can, for just about as long as you want. When you have a technique where the motions are already learned and you use it regularly, it will last just about as long as you like. Jorge Strunz and Albert Lee were both 60+ when we interviewed them. Mike was 50 in the first interview and 60 in the second. They all sounded essentially perfect to their recorded selves.

Mike in the live “No Boundaries” clip posted above is still playing extremely well. The entire segment from about 2 minutes until the descending scale line at 2:40 is about as well played as you would want anyone to play it. Keep in mind also that the arpeggios from 2:19 to 2:24 aren’t typical sweeping — the descending side is actually alternate picking. For the curious, here’s what is actually going on:

All the “sloppy Yngwie” clips I’ve watched in the past few years seemed more like impatience than physical degradation. He plays at warp 11 all the time, and fills every gap whether or not there’s time for a fill. There are elements in all these performances which are mechanically perfect and sound just like recorded Yngwie. I don’t think you can really draw any conclusions about aging from what he sounds like in these clips.

The Petrucci elbow thing might just be a choice, albeit not one he probably needed to make:


I could be imagining it but the No Boundaries sounded a bit messy around 40s and 1:30 - not extremely so but those runs stuck out to me. The overall performance is good enough that it’s really hard to say there’s any definite decline in playing ability, and mentally I’m probably comparing it to studio recordings while this is a more raw take.

Barring some arthritis, neural issues or injury that prevents a player from making the same motions they used to, I would be surprised if there were much age related decline.

Another data point, didn’t Segovia keep performing well into old age?

There is really no question really in my initial post. It’s just an observation and a point of discussion. As we’re all guitarists and we’re all subject to aging, so I think it’s an interesting topic.

There is no question that older players can still play well. Even the players I cited as examples of diminished abilities still play well. It’s just that maintaining high levels of technique becomes more difficult with age, for a plethora of reasons, as other posters have pointed out.

One thing I’ve thought about is how we’re using the guitar in a way it wasn’t initially meant to be used. I think it was designed as a simple accompaniment instrument, not a solo instrument that blazing fast passages are played on. That’s why guitar players struggle with technique more than players of any other instrument; we’re basically fighting the guitar and forcing it to do things it wasn’t meant to do. This can have health consequences if one doesn’t take care.

I agree that generally, it’s very hard to attribute technical decline to age over other factors.

Regarding Eric Johnson specifically, I think there’s more to it than just aging.

If you watch earlier footage of his playing, for example his playing in the mid '70s with the Electromagnets, or in the early '80s at the beginning of his solo career, he was already an excellent guitar player with a distinctive style. However, his technique and style continued to develop.

From the late '80s to the mid '90s, Eric was an absolutely terrifying guitar monster. His mechanics were totally refined, with any rough edges from his earlier period having been polished. The degree of synergy between Eric’s mechanics and his vocabularly at the time was astonishing, and he pushed the capabilities of his mechanics to the extremes.

I don’t believe it’s actually possible to play Eric’s lines any better than he played them. He was as close to perfect as it’s possible to be.

It’s also well known that during this period, Eric was becoming increasingly neurotic and obsessive over the smallest details. He not only felt that his vintage Fuzz Face sounded better when it was held closed with a rubber band instead of screws, he even marked a “T” on his rubber bands to indicate which side he wanted on top. His obsessive perfectionism resulted in several recording projects being delayed or scrapped, to the detriment of his career.

He became increasingly anxious and began suffering from severe tinnitus (which are closely correlated), and was unsure if he would be able to continue his musical career at all. He has been very open about the stress he felt during that period. Also, somebody very close to Eric was murdered at the time, which was obviously deeply traumatic.

Eric has discussed the process of getting away from that perfectionism and anxiety and learning to love the processes of playing guitar and making music in interviews. There has been a very clear shift in his music and his guitar playing beginning with the Bloom album. It seems his relationship with the guitar and with music is much healthier now, and he has been much more productive in recent years.

He has also discussed trying to get away from the pentatonic pyrotechnics and find new melodic and harmonic directions. His playing on the Eclectic album with Mike Stern and on the Up Close album offer good examples.

Perhaps some of the decline in his technique is due to aging, but I suspect that it’s mostly the result of trying to get away from his perfectionist tendencies and trying to move in different musical directions.


Physical decline is a fact of time and is unavoidable. It can be slowed or staved off, but never stopped. To steal a quote from Bronn in Game of Thrones “Nothing (screw)s you harder than time.”

Players like Eric Johnson, Yngwie etc. didn’t develop their technique for the sake of technique. They were solving a problem in order to hear what was in their heads. It was a means to an end.

EJ is 68, Yngwie is 59, Batio is 66, Morse is 68. Morse in particular has had hand issues for many, many years and changed his approach to compensate.

Whether they’ll admit it in public or not - they all know they’ve lost a step somewhere. Guaranteed each of them is/has and will be dealing with wear and tear on their bodies. Carpal tunnel, tendonitis, arthritis.

That’s not good or bad. It just is…and I’ll be at the show when EJ passes through Cleveland late in '23. :slight_smile: