Heavy Metal Guitar: Neo-Classical Style

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Joe Who? Joe “SHREDLORD” Stump — That’s Who!

Heavy Metal Guitar: Neo-Classical Style

By NAfME Member Thomas Amoriello Jr.

NAfME Council for Guitar Education, Eastern Division Representative


If you were to ask the average listener what their idea of heavy metal guitar playing sounds like, a description may consist of: music played at loud volumes, fast tempos with chainsaw-like guitar tones accompanied by pounding double bass drum rhythms, and screaming vocals with lyrics about dragons, rainbows and Satan. Guitarists in this genre frequently use de-tuned power chords (the root & fifth of a triad often played on strings 6 and 5, ex. Eye of the Tiger, Iron Man) played with two fingers, and shifting fret positions to provide the soundtrack for the historically rebellious teenager. Many players in the genre often do not read music nor understand the theoretical background of their creations.


Joe Stump


On the flip side of the coin, there are many heavy metal guitarists out there who take their art very seriously. One of the branches within this style is referred to as neoclassical metal playing. This is a virtuosic style that requires many hours of practice and years of a dedicated work ethic including the understanding of exotic modes, Baroque counterpoint, metronomic practice routines and a higher knowledge of various classical music forms. In the 2011 music documentary Metal Evolution, during an interview with the most famous neoclassical shredder, the description of the style was summarized this way: “ Take the themes of Vivaldi, turn it up, put it through a Marshall stack, it sounds amazing.”

On a recent trip to Boston, I had the opportunity to take a private guitar lesson with Berklee College of Music Associate Professor and “metal specialist” Joe Stump. The American guitarist, also known as the, American Yngwie, whose European influences can be traced to the likes of Yngwie J. Malmsteen (Sweden), Ritchie Blackmore (England), Uli Jon Roth (Germany), and Gary Moore (Ireland) is a composer of instrumental tracks that employ a heavy classical influence also often citing the work of Paganinni, Bach (J.S. & C.P.E.), Beethoven and Vivaldi. Stump, who earned the nickname “Shredlord,” has authored method books, produced instructional DVDs, and presented many clinics, in addition to composing over thirteen solo recordings. Guitar One Magazine listed him as one of the top 10 fastest players, aka “shredders,” of all time. A slang and sometimes derogatory term shred guitar is often criticized as fast, mindless playing, void of meaning in the emotional content department. This writer challenges any reader to listen to Yngwie’s playing on Overture 1383, Michael Schenker’s Bijou Pleasurette, or Stump’s “Je T’Aime”, as the guitar cries a river in the hands of these electric guitar maestros.


Joe Stump


The golden age of the neoclassical metal guitar style (1983-1993) peaked with a 1985 GRAMMY nomination for the self-titled solo debut of Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, although many of today’s younger heavy metal stylists are still heavily influenced by the genre. Many players from metal bands also went on to study the classical guitar because of these pioneers in this virtuosic genre. In addition to Stump, other players of note include Chris Impellitteri, Michael Angelo Batio, Vinnie Moore, Walter Giardino, Katsu Ohta, Dushan Petrossi and Rusty Cooley. In addition to being a brilliant musician and personable fellow, Joe has the unique distinction of being recognized as an instructor of the guitar on the higher education level, which sets him apart from his peers.

He teaches students from all over the world including Malaysia, China, Japan, Chile, Guatemala, Brazil, and Mexico. He teaches the full spectrum of every genre and sub genre of heavy metal, whether it’s technical death metal, classic metal stuff, modern, and progressive. Stump covers technique inside and outside whether it’s alternate picking, economy picking, all kinds of arpeggios, sweep picking, and classical kind of linear fretboard gymnastics. “I have a huge library of transcriptions that I acquired from various places and a bunch I’ve done myself, of course my transcriptions are of all the players I love so I mean the shred library is really quite vast.” At this point, Stump has been at Berklee since 1993. Check out Joe Stump on Pandora radio to hear the maestro of shred guitar for yourself!!!


heavy metal guitar


Here is his quote from the Berklee College of Music website:

“Since I’m kind of the high-tech metal specialist, I spend a lot of time demonstrating these techniques. It’s really a player’s approach. Rather than holding the student’s hand and saying, ‘Do it like this,’ I’m showing them how it’s done and fielding questions, making it clear how to execute certain things. Then they come back after they’ve worked on it a bit.”

“I think in this day and age, since there’s so much instructional material available—whether it’s guitar CDs or DVDs or transcriptions on the Internet—a lot of the material comes easy to a certain extent. But it takes a lot of dedication and work ethic to play at a virtuosic level. It looks kind of effortless, but as far as putting it all together, it’s another story.”

“One thing my students come away with is inspiration. This is their time, when they’re supposed to be living, eating, breathing guitar. I’ve been doing it since I was younger than them, and I’m still doing it after however many different records and tours. So that kind of love of playing and inspiration and intensity and dedication to the instrument comes through. Not every student shares that, and I’m not the kind of guy that beats people with a stick and says, ‘What do you mean you don’t want to be a virtuoso?’ If you want to work hard and break your back and do it that’s great, but if you don’t have that kind of dedication, you shouldn’t aspire to play like that. I’m not going to give you a detention. It’s not about As and Bs. We’re playing rock here.”

About the author:

Thomas Amoriello

Thomas Amoriello serves on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education as the Chair-Elect and is the Guitar Education Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association. He teaches guitar for the Flemington Raritan School District and Hunterdon Academy of the Arts. Tom graduated from the Shenandoah Conservatory of Shenandoah University with a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance. He is the author of the children’s picture book A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo, available from barnesandnoble.com. He recently recorded tracks with a stellar roster of musicians including Ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Phil Soussan, former Michael Schenker Group drummer Shane Gaalaas and ex-Yngwie Malmsteen keyboardist Michael Troy that will be released in September 2017.

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