Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The History of Shred in a Nutshell, Part III: The Shrapnel Guys

Let your practice be your pleasure and let your fingers match the speed of lights, in other words - Happ New Year! All right, shredheads, here we meet again. Coming back to the history of our beloved music genre (at least I assume it’s so), today we’re examining the record label which’s impact on the guitar world in just impossible to overrate. Of course, I’m talking about Shrapnel Records.

Firstly, it would be no Shrapnel without the great MIKE VARNEY. Being not a player, but a producer and the label’s founder, he made indescribable services for the guitar music, promoting hundreds of talented guitarists from all over the world. Everyone who found himself good enough, could send his demo record to Mr.Varney and get rated – thus have many extraordinary players been discovered. Before the actual “shred explosion”, in 1980, establishing a guitar-oriented label might have seemed insane, but today we all know it was just hitting the bull’s eye and the name “Shrapnel” is one of the magical words for the six-string warriors. It was Varney who helped the teenage Yngwie Malmsteen start his career, but hiss further history is connected with another label. However, there are tons of other masters of the instrument which are strongly associated with Varney’s company; here I’ll present just the biggest few:

MARTY FRIEDMAN – Yep, THAT Friedman, that amazing guy from Megadeth. The Dave Mustaine’s band is with no doubt the most famous act he took part in, however, the guitar fanatics praise him equally, if not more for his solo career and the legendary Cacophony. It was a band, in which Marty crossed axes with the great JASON BECKER, providing some of the finest, coolest shred solos ever recorded. Although one can argue about the Cacophony songs’ musical value or the singer’s abilities (which were actually poor), the awesome legato lines or arpeggio sections created by Friedman and Becker have their unquestionable place in the history of shred. The band has released just two albums – “Speed Metal Symphony” and “Go Off!” which are necessary listens to every shred fan. From Marty’s solo work, I’d recommend the debut CD “Dragon’s Kiss” and “True Obsessions”. It’s also worth mentioning that on his latest release, “Loudspeaker” (2006) you can hear him “dueling” with Steve Vai and John Petrucci! Last but not least, Marty has developed very distinctive tone and phrasing, and he’s definitely got much to say, so we can still expect loads of fabulous music from him.


JASON BECKER, whom I’ve mentioned above, was more than the epitome of prodigy. Not only had he played some of the craziest shred lines ever heard being 17 years old on Cacophony’s debut CD, not only had he replaced Steve Vai himself in David Lee Roth’s band being only 19. When you listen to “Altitudes” from his first solo album, “Perpetual Burn”, you’re simply floored and the fact he was only 19 when composing that piece makes it only more impressive. The later history of Jason’s life is like a movie script – at the age of 20 he’s diagnosed with Lou Gehring’s disease, and lands petrified in a wheelchair. Despite that fact, he manages to compose further, and the album “Perspective” on which he didn’t manage to record all the parts, is one of the most marvelous and underrated CDs ever, style-regardless. Presumed to die ten years ago, Jason is still alive and waits for the cure to his disease. And no one knows how the story of the strongest warrior of shred will end.

Jason's MySpace profile

In my humble opinion, no other guitarist in neo-classical genre has a flair for melodies comparable with TONY MACALPINE. He’s widely known to be able to shred like hell and praised for his extremely precise use of alternate and sweep picking, but that simply doesn’t matter when you hear the moving “Tears of Sahara” or “Edge of Insanity” themes and simply can’t get’em off your head! You thought only silly pop hits can do that way? You were wrong! On the other hand, Tony likes to experiment with the harmony, unusual scales or timing, which can be heard on his “Chromaticity” solo album. He is also an excellent keyboards/piano player – it became a kind of tradition that each of his solo releases includes some works by Chopin… Many people first hear of Tony as a member of Steve Vai’s tour band, when he plays keyboards and sometimes grabs the guitar to duel the leader, too. I recommend to you “Maximum Security”, as in my private rank it’s the finest example of melodic shredding of all time !


One of the most important acts to be discovered by Mike Varney was RACER X, where PAUL GILBERT and BRUCE BOUILLET made, along with Cacophony, the coolest shred duo of the time. They easily harmonized some parts that sounded unplayable for average single player and mastered all the modern electric guitar techniques to formerly unheard extent. Their first albums, “Street Lethal” and “Second Heat” are nothing but a sheer shred fest, that still make jaws drop after two decades. Paul became later known as Mr.Big guitarist (each of you have heard him on your radio in “Wild World”…) and successful solo artist, whereas Bruce is still known mainly as “Paul Gilbert’s bandmate”. Today, Gilbert is one of the greatest names in shred industry, and steadily provides his fans with new exciting music. I’m sure you’ll see his name on this site many times!



Those mentioned are in my humble opinion the most important names to come out from Shrapnel, however, the label has “created” dozens of guitar stars and is still discovering new talnets. Some more Shrapnel guys every six-string—fanatic should know: Vinnie Moore, Joey Taffola, Richie Kotzen, Greg Howe and David T. Chastain. But remember – they’re merely the tip of the iceberg!

Uhm, maybe I became too “talkative” this time… If you want to read about some more Shrapnel guys, or have any questions and comments, just mail me! And wait for the last part of “Shred in a nutshell” series, covering the most recent years.

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