From known to the less known, these four guitar players have been foundational to bringing neoclassical guitar playing to the (almost) mainstream.
More than just shred, neoclassical players were strongly influenced by baroque composers such as Bach, Vivaldi and Paganini; bringing a wider variety of scales (notably the harmonic and melodic minor scales. their modes and other neoclassical scales) to a wider rock and metal audience.
Arguably, Yngwie was the first electric guitar player to take virtuosity to the mainstream. Starting out with an acoustic guitar his mother bought for him from a catalogue when he was young, Yngwie started out learning rock and roll songs from bands like The Beatles and Kiss.
Until one day, he heard a piece of classical music on TV. The long sweeping arpeggios and virtuoso melodic lines instantly had him hooked, and he took that onto the guitar, practising relentlessly until he had mastered those techniques.
From that moment, it was only a matter of time until his famous story of going to America with his guitar, a spare pair of jeans and a toothbrush took place, starting his meteoric ascent to fame.
21 studio albums later, Malmsteen has shown that he is in this for the long haul.
While being a polarising character, his contribution to the neoclassical style is like his skills – undeniable.
Click here to read a review of Yngwie’s memoir, “Relentless”.
Something of a prodigy, Jason Becker has a very unique story. Growing up with guitar players in his family, Becker was introduced to Marty Friendman while he was still at high school, and was put into the neoclassical shred band Cacophany.
Cacophany took technical electric guitar playing to new heights, with wild and high tempo harmonised melodies and elements of counterpoint in the compositions.
Like Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker was strongly influenced by the great violin players of old, in particular, Nicolo Paganini (the original “sell your soul to the devil” virtuoso musician).
At the young age of 20, Becker started to feel the effects of ALS – nuerons that controlled his muscles started to die.
Eventually, the only thing Becker could move was his eyes, but, being the inspirational bad ass that he is, he still composes music to this day.
Jason Becker is a musical hero.
I remember when I first started looking into the shred guitar genre when I was a young guitar player at high school and discovering Impelliteri – I was blown away by his playing and his song writing. It’s hard not to be impressed when you listen to his music.
Ranking as the 2nd fastest shredder of all time (behind Michael Angelo Batio and infront of Yngwie Malmsteen), Chris Impelliteri has some serious chops.
With 11 studio albums behind him, Chris has consistently pumped out some seriously high level guitar playing.
My favourite song has got to be Kingdom of the Light, from Screaming Symphony, just listen to this:
Arguably the only player on this list whose fame rivals that of Yngwie Malmsteen, Marty Friedman started off with Jason Becker in the aforementioned neoclassical shred group, Cacophany (formed in 1986).
After Cacophony, Marty Friedman went on to be the lead guitar player for Megadeth for 9 years, while also releasing solo albums.
After that, Marty moved to to Japan, married a Japanese cellist, and in what seems to have been a deft career move, has since appeared on many Japanese TV shows and collaborated with a lot of Japanese groups.
Having now released 15 solo albums, Marty Friedman has long secured his name in the world of neoclassical shred guitar.
More of an underground player than the previous guitarists mentioned, George Bellas is a complete beast on the guitar, as a player and a writer.
Starting at the young age of 7, what makes George unique is that he not only played guitar and practised from a young age, but he also took an aggressive approach to learning as much theory as he possible could, to use in his own compositions.
In fact, he checked out every music book from his local library so that he could learn everything that he possible could!
Eventually, it paid off, and George signed to Shrapnel records, and has since released 21 albums of music.
You can check out George’s song “Machine Man” here:
Who’s your favourite neoclassical guitar player? Is there anyone who should be on the list that I missed? Comment below and let me know!
4 thoughts on “5 Awesome Neoclassical Guitar Players”
Paul Gilbert racer x
Good point Cary! I do love Racer X, but I see them more as the pop side of shred rather than being neoclassical. I’ll be doing some posts in the near future about Racer X for sure – they ewre a huge influence on me growing up.
Very nice list! Thank you! Friedman is my favourite from it. I have to search Bellas – new name for me, I like his music video you included.
I also like Buckethead. Would he fit as a neoclassical player? (i’m not good with genres)
Thanks Julia! Bellas is awesome! I’m glad you liked his track, he has a ton of awesome stuff. I have to confess… I haven’t really listened to much Buckethead! I don’t know enough of his stuff to be able to say what genre he is – but I suspect he probably fits into neoclassical!