Note: When I started this article, it was intended to be about how to play fast. But, as I was writing, it sort of morphed into an article about playing style, and the struggle we have trying to sound like our Guitar Idols. Here is what I ended up with. I hope it helps.
Every guitar player, at some point, wants to be able to SHRED! Playing lightning fast is a pretty common goal for most guitarists. However, some guitar players are just naturally inclined to succeed in this particular area of guitar playing. You know what I'm talking about.
Guitar legend Slash of Guns & Roses, is a great example for this in particular. Have you heard the fast run he does about halfway through his solo in "Sweet Child O' Mine"? I have probably listened to that solo a thousand times, even slowed it down to half speed, trying to replicate it myself. I can nail the rest of the solo, but that one part from 3:02 to 3:06 has alluded me for years. I get pretty close, but the phrasing and timing is hard to replicate. He has a flow to his picking that is totally unique to him.
My guitar instructor Bob Pheiffer, really brought this home for me. He has taught students for well over twenty years, and I trust his advice completely. He is infinitely better at the country genre than I will EVER BE. At the same time, there are metal licks I can nail down that he cannot, and he is totally at peace with that.
He could definitely dedicate an hour to that particular lick and get damn close, but its not his style. He knows the fretboard inside and out, and to watch him play is amazing. His style is totally unique to him, and I've learned its better to devote my playing time to developing my own style.
Its so easy these days to go on YouTube, and be totally astonished by any number of guitarists. It can seem like everybody is a better guitarist than you. Don't try too hard to be someone else, you are much better served by developing your own style.
Another great example of even faster playing is Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold . One of his more well known solos is featured in "Bat Country". The run from 2:44 to 2:49 is incredibly fast, so many individually picked notes in just five seconds. I don't think I'm alone in struggling to replicate that particular lick.
My last example of naturally gifted shredders is Herman Li of DragonForce. I remember the first time I saw the music video for "Through the Fire and Flames". I mean, its just utterly astounding. I had no idea that guitarists could PLAY THAT FAST. Sitting down to try and learn that song on guitar is gonna take you a long ass time. I never did perfect that solo, its just above and beyond my willingness to sit for hours and hours going over licks.
Eventually, as a guitarist, you learn that everyone has their own playing styles, strengths, and weaknesses. There are things that Herman Li can do, that I will NEVER be able to replicate exactly. The important thing to remember is that there are also licks that I can play, that Herman Li may NEVER be able to replicate exactly.
The same goes for you. There are things you can play, that Slash probably wouldn't be able replicate exactly. Synyster Gates can play his sweeps like nobodies business, but can he play that Jazz riff you wrote last week, with the same phrasing, accent, and overall feel that you can? He could probably get pretty close, but chances are, you would hear the difference.
When asked, "Which guitar players would you credit as influences for you?", Li answered "There are so many guitar players I love listening to and many of them have influences, some more than the other. The ones that influenced me the most are probably the following: Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Tony MacAlpine, John Petrucci, Marty Friedman, George Lynch, Vinnie Moore."
Its good to have goals and to learn your favorite guitarist's licks, but its not the end all be all. Their licks should influence your style, thats how progress is made. Would Herman Li be the same guitarist today if he hadn't been influenced by his guitar idols? Probably not. He said it himself "many of them have influences, some more than the other". Some of those guitarists are more influential to his style than others. Think of your favorite guitarists and incorporate a few of their licks into your next practice session.
In conclusion, you should try to replicate your favorite artist's licks and solos. It can be a ton of fun, and it can catapult your abilities. It can really boost your confidence when you nail something you thought might be impossible. What you learn from them can be the firm foundation that your personal playing style is built upon. You may never make your version sound EXACTLY like the record, and thats okay. Every guitarist has these frustrations. The important thing is to never let those perceived shortcomings hold you back or keep you from getting better.
The Axe Dr.