Why do so many popular players play worse as they get older?


To clarify the title:
I grew up admiring many well known players like Yngwie, Zakk Wylde, Paul Gilbert, Alexi Laiho etc.
As I got a better guitarist myself, I started to notice the finer nuances of their playstyle. And what struck me the most at some point with almost all of them is the fact that they got sloppy in their live performances, played “weird” stuff in their solos, seemed to hit not even 50% of the notes they should actually play and so on.
I mean, why is this? Didn’t they care about proper practice anymore at some point? Or years of drug (which includes alcohol for me) abuse?
I can not imagine that their age is the problem, because first I don’t think that your hands are all of a sudden not capable of doing these movements if you are 50 years or older, and second, Paul Gilbert is an excellent counterexample (although he decreased the shredding part a little bit, but he still seems to be capable of doing so).

In the case of Alexi Laiho, which is or was my biggest influence at some point, I believe it is the fault of many years of drug abuse and of course several broken arms. It is always kind of painful for me to see this guy play live because I admired him so much years ago.

Let me know what you think!


“Why do so many popular players play worse as they get older?”

change players to “football players” or “baseball players” or “singers” or “runners” or “golfers”

many reasons.

  1. age

  2. different focus. A young person is broke and hungry lol. Once they become rich and older they might have other things to do than scales all day

  3. distractions. When Eddie was a kid living with his dad in a tiny house, what distractions did he have??? How about when Eddie owned his own huge house, his own studio, his own wife and kid, his own vehicles, lawyers, accountants etc etc

you ever seen April Malmsteen? You SURE youd be doing 10 hours of scales per day if u had this beside you??


I think the OP is flawed and plenty of older players maintain their chops but move in other directions aesthetically.


I think the overuse of their appendages simply wears them out eventually. Some of these guys have been gig-dogs for 4 decades or more.


For some players it’s a physical problem related to overuse as you mentioned. Physical problems can be simply age related as well. Arthritis in particular can just decimate someone’s playing ability.

The phenomenon I’ve noticed more than a physical decline is a decline in the creative output of most musicians as they get older. Most bands can still play their classic songs live, even though the vocalists may not be able to hit all the high notes, but how many of their new songs are on a par with the quality of their older material?

Try doing this: Write down the names of 5 of your favorite bands or solo performers who have had careers of 20 years or more. Then write down a couple of your favorite albums by each. How many of the albums you listed are from relatively early in their careers, and how many are from the later stage of their careers? I bet most of you are going to find that most of the albums from your list will be from the first half of their careers and that few if any will be from the second half of their careers.

Musicians tend to hit their creative peaks fairly young. Maybe it’s the grind of being in the road 200 to 300 days a year. It’s an unnatural, high stressful lifestyle and it takes its toll in a variety of ways.


As others have noted, there are lots of players who don’t exhibit this to a super obvious degree — Albert Lee, John McLaughlin, Michael Angelo Batio, who was circa 50 when I first interviewed him and circa 60 when interviewed him next, come to mind. It’s anyone’s guess why others do, and you probably know more about that than I do.

However if what you’re really asking is, are you doomed to play worse as you age despite good health and practice, the answer is a resounding no. This has been studied, and fine motor skills can be maintained very late in life with regular use. And not even huge amounts of use — just regular use. If you lose some edge at age 80 I think we can all forgive you. But there’s really no reason to suspect you’re going to decline rapidly at 50 or 60.


Agreed. Vai, Petrucci, Adam Rogers, Jeff Beck etc, either get better, or at least do not noticeably get worse.


I thought a lot about it myself and I agree with previous messages.

  1. Not all players lose their skill. Michael Angelo Batio & Jeff Waters from Annihilator are my two favorite counterexamples. Jeff Waters often insist on the importance of having a healthy life.

  2. Health problems : broken bones, alcohol & drugs abuse which can hurt the brain permanently, … However it seems that we are not all equal regarding this issue, Roope Latvala kept most of his awesome skill even after decades of non-stop drunkenness.

  3. Loss of the interest towards music. This is very common unfortunately and often explains huge decrease in both guitar and songwriting skills.

  4. More cameras recording everything everywhere which mean guitar players “bad days” can’t be hidden anymore.

Sad indeed.


Let’s split guitarists along the lines of instrumentalist vs. composer. In terms of instrumentalists, I believe that many of the current players have built on the discoveries of the giants of the past and become much better than they were: Indeed, the tide has risen, research like Troy’s has removed the “magic,” and I personally believe that electric guitar technique is now mature, and even more amazing instrumentalists will come out than ever before, leaving the historical players further and further behind (because they were the innovators, they didn’t have the luxury of having Troy explain picking to them).

From the perspective of composition, I’m not sure that there is anybody currently as good as Jimi, or EVH, as they shook the foundations of popular music in their time, and although they have been eclipsed, technique-wise, by thousands of instrumentalists at the very least, their composition and historical innovation will make them immortal. YJM is not interesting because he can shred, he is interesting because, in his historical timeframe, his music was mind-blowing.

So, going back to OP’s question: The rising tide has made the past giant’s technical ability look less impressive than it was at the time, but this in no way diminishes their greatness, given that they all became famous for their compositions. Shred, for the sake of shred, is amazingly boring, and I can build you a machine that could shred ten times faster than the best human with flawless accuracy, and would anybody care? No, because the music would not be interesting.

My one wish, however, is that Max Martin (a metal guy at heart) sits down with some of these modern technique monsters and writes some music for them… that would be incredible, a fusion of great instrumentalists with arguably the greatest composer of popular music.


I think that people latch onto their “music” in something like their late teens or early 20’s and follow their artists for life, likely not changing their musical taste. So, the artists are pretty much forced to cater to their fan base with greatest hits, and if they were to change too dramatically, they would lose the old fan base and fail to pick up new fans (because of age discrimination, the young fans want artists their age). I believe that this explains why many artists keep their main band rolling with the classic hits and have side projects for new music.

I am actually an exception to the above rule, but my friends behave as I described, above.


Joe Stump is 58 and has as much speed and articulation as you can ever want


Troy nailed it, when he said that skills “declined without regular use”, & I think that’s the answer with age.

Skill goes where you focus, or don’t focus. To turn a phrase “use it or lose it”.