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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

The Science of Slow

By Lessons 3 Comments

Got Caught Stealing Once, When I Was Five

Back when I was learning to play in the late ’80s, I used a Casio SK-1 to steal licks off records. For those who are not familiar with the SK-1, this thing was basically a miracle.

It’s a 31-note keyboard with a built-in sampling function. Press the “sample” button, and it would record exactly 1.4 seconds of whatever you threw at its little microphone. Pressing middle “A” on the keyboard played back the sample at actual pitch and speed. Press the next lower “A”, and you heard the sample one octave lower and at half-speed. And so on. Read More