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Cracking the Code is Back! (What Took You So Long?)

By codenews, News 32 Comments

One Thing Leads to Another


50 SHADES OF GRADY: Why do we guitarists inflict the pain of practice upon ourselves?

Did you ever get out to the parking lot, realize you forgot the milk and the eggs, and have to go all the way back inside? It’s just like that time you had that killer idea to film those guitar players in slow motion, and print it up on a DVD. But then you realized you left out the truckload of technical research necessary to understand it all, and, on top of that, the historical backstory explaining why anyone even cares about this stuff in the first place. Totally — happens all the time!

And so it is that a simple idea born in the era of spinning optical discs grew into the most detailed investigation of picking technique ever put to internet video: Cracking the Code, the series.

Across three seasons, and more than five hours of in-depth historical and mechanical analysis — and, for that matter, five hours of plain old fun — the puzzle of plectrum dominance is expounded, unraveled, and finally mastered.

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A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

By News 7 Comments

Once upon a few billion years past, a chance lightning strike on the roiling seas of an empty world synthesized the tiny germ of an idea: a plot to unravel the secrets of guitar pick mechanics. From that moment, a mad accretive genesis ensued, piling idea upon idea, giving rise to the florid tangles of jungles, the heaving throngs of cities, the sandy spires of the pyramids, the…

…er, the sound of my alarm going off? (Queue the iPhone “Marimba” jingle.)
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A Little Bit Country

By News One Comment

Anyone who thinks filming an indie documentary means sitting around coffeehouses in Greenpoint with your MacBook and a copy of Final Cut Pro has clearly never attempted to track down virtuoso guitarists in their natural habitats. While my sleep deficit suffered this month, my appreciation for American music, and my growing collection of frequent flyer miles, are the better for it. It’s fitting that filming the three country players in this month’s Code update also required me to see a lot more of it. The country, that is. So straighten your seat backs and return your tray tables to their upright position, we’re coming in for some hot country picking. Read More

Frankly Speaking

By News One Comment

It’s a good thing I don’t work in Apple’s marketing department, because I really can’t keep a secret.

I silently posted two updates to the Cracking the Code players page over the past month or so, and now that global media distribution has become as easy as falling down stairs, it didn’t take long for word to get out. And with stiff competition for pop cultural bandwidth from Anna, Sanjaya, and Don, I consider this a victory for guitarists everywhere. Read More

Amp Shopping

By Features 5 Comments

A guitar player with no amp? What’s next, a graphic designer with no Macintosh? A writer with no latte? Alas, it’s true. With the highly focused and forensic nature of the work on the Cracking the Code film project, there’s been no need for me to own anything that produces actual amplified sound. For the last several years, my musical activities have targeted the mechanical over the creative, and the visual over the aural. Sure, I’ve produced lessons, but those have generally been recorded direct-to-Powerbook, using one of my trusty Tech 21 NYC Tri-OD or GT2 pedals, or the amp emulation built into Apple’s excellent and underrated GarageBand. Otherwise, there has been no writing of song nor playing of gig. Walking past my house, there would be no evidence to suggest it was anything other than the abode of another sonically unobtrusive yuppie. Read More

Shawn Lane: So What?

By Lessons 8 Comments

Centrifugal Funk was supposed to be just another one of those guitar compilations.  Released by shred pornographer Mark Varney in 1991, it featured a trio of hired guns laying down silicone-enhanced solos over processed covers of trad jazz tunes.  This was the era of Nirvana and Pantera, and the infomercially polished karaoke numbers on the disc were already dead on arrival.   But the formidable talents of the help bordered on necromancy. Read More

Albert Lee: Fun Ranch Boogie

By Lessons 2 Comments

If you’ve ever been humbled by the effortless speed and harmonic fluency of our string-slinging siblings south of the Mason-Dixon line, you’re in good company. So universal is the admiration among shred masters for their flatpickin’ and fingerpickin’ brethren that country-inflected radio rock tunes like Van Halen’s Finish What Ya Started comfortably share iPod space with the striking industrial-country fusion of players like John 5. Then there are the bona-fide switch hitters like Eric Johnson and Steve Morse, whose dual citizenship in roots and rock essentially moot the question. Suffice it to say that a healthy fear of country skillz is an integral part of the shred psyche. Read More

There's a Freight Train Comin'

By Lessons No Comments

This lesson appeared originally as a master class at

It’s always exciting to get your hands on something you can’t get anywhere else. So as a measure of thanks to Joel Wanasek for inviting me to do a guest column at, I offer up a transcription you won’t find anywhere else on the internet. It’s none other than the guitar solo to Nitro’s Freight Train, the most over-the-top ’80s metal song you never heard. Read More

Yngwie Malmsteen: Now Your Ships Are Burned

By Lessons 14 Comments

When they named it shred, this is the song they were thinking of:  soaring leads, piercing vibrato, weepy tremolo, slippery legato, and ferocious picking, simmering over a roiling cauldron of drum and bass that’s almost as funky as it is angry.  We’re talking about Now Your Ships Are Burned, the third track from Yngwie Malmsteen’s watershed 1984 album, Rising Force. Read More

Michael Angelo: The Art of Playing Lightning Fast

By Lessons 2 Comments

My favorite parts of Michael Angelo‘s seminal instructional video Speed Kills are the impromptu, undocumented solos that pop up occasionally throughout the DVD. There are precisely four of them, and I like to think of them as being named by the huggably cheesy dialogue that invariably surrounds them. If you’re familiar with the video, you might recognize such basement-tape classics as The Art of Playing Lightning Fast, The Keys to the Lamborghini, You Can Just Kick Back, and Tendonitis. Read More