9 tips to be a shredding master, from a real-life guitar hero

Andy James

Guitar aficionados amongst you may already know the name Andy James. He’s the man behind Sacred Mother Tongue and Wearing Scars, he’s been previously involved with Fields Of The Nephilim, and is about to release an instrumental solo album. He’s a very busy guy.

He’s also a guitar teacher, running the aptly-named Andy James Guitar Academy, giving lessons to members of Tesseract, Bullet For My Valentine and Hacktivist to name a few. Basically, if you can play guitar, or you want to play guitar, you should talk to this guy… SO WE DID!

Below are the nine top tips from Andy himself about improving as a guitarist and how to eventually become a Master Shredder that will change the face of rock ‘n’ roll for generations. Or you’ll become the twat that plays Wonderwall at parties (don’t be that person).

1) You have to be dedicated and focussed; concentrate on what you love and don’t learn stuff you’re not fussed on. Also learn to write songs simultaneously with crafting your techniques.

2) Practice. Time spent with the instrument in your hands is never wasted, even though you feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

3) Enjoy the process. Don’t be so quick to wish you were the next Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. Patience is key – slow and steady wins the race.

4) Get in a band or jam with musicians, preferably ones that are more experienced than yourself, and that you can learn from. Always be a student even if you feel like a master.

5) A good tip for aggressive palm muting (chugging rhythm sound) or a consistent palm muted technique, is to use the fleshy side of your left (or right) hand inline with your little finger, and place it between your bridge pickup and the saddles of your bridge. That always seems to get the best tone and aggression, without choking the notes out too much.

6) If playing faster is your thing, a couple of techniques will help with this. You can use a metronome to gauge the progress of your picking speed, also angling your pick forward about 45% helps the pick glide through the string easier creating less resistance, especially at faster tempos.

Four or six note groupings using three-note-per-string scale positions isolated at the bottom, middle, or top of any scale shape on the neck can help build speed in small fragments. You can extend those ideas out across the fretboard, either using the full-scale position or taking the first part of the scale and playing the same pattern in octaves. It covers a lot of ground very quickly and you shouldn’t have to adjust your technique too much, especially if you’re using strict alternate picking.

7) Learning all your major scale three-note-per-string shapes and all of your minor pentatonic positions is a real must – you should know them as fluidly as speaking your own language. Speed comes from being able to see where you’re going on the neck. Also, just try and relax. Tension can slow you down because you’re using more effort.

8) Get yourself a tube screamer (Maxon is my preference) and a noise suppressor (Boss NS-2) so with any high-gain amp you can get a tight playable tone that doesn’t feedback like a wailing banshee.

9) After you’ve done all that, have fun and enjoy playing music. Nothing beats getting on stage and melting some faces with all the work you put in. And you might get laid, if you’re lucky!

Andy James’ album Exodus is out 5 May, via Urban Yeti Records.

He’s also hosting guitar clinics across the UK in May, more details can be found here.

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Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.