Herman Li Explains What Guitarists Often Get Wrong, Says That Machine Gun Kelly Is a Good Player

DragonForce guitarist Herman Li reflected on the general guitar-playing population and what they often tend to overlook.

Although Herman is well-known as one of the go-to “shredders” in metal music, he’s been exploring a lot more aspects of the instruments in recent years. Sure, he’s still the creative leader of one of the most famous power metal bands. But this doesn’t mean that he’s not allowed to try new things and praise some other and somewhat unexpected musical styles and musicians.

While speaking to Ultimate Guitar recently, the metal guitar maestro said that guitar players sometimes get so focused on the details of lead parts in songs that they tend to miss the point. Before you say anything, he also admits that he was guilty of this.

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“I think sometimes guitar players get a bit obsessive about notes,” Li explained. “They get so into it.”

“And I was like that at one point in my life, when I was learning to play the guitar. I would not listen to any music that hasn’t got guitar solos, because we’re just big nerds and we want to do this, and there’s nothing out there except this.”

We can’t say that we don’t relate to Herman’s statements, at least to some extent. Almost every guitarist had that phase where they got too focused on the flashy technical side while forgetting how to feel and enjoy music.

Although he admits falling into this trap, Li also says that he started exploring other aspects of music as well. He continued:

“And as you play more guitar, you learn about more things. It’s just beyond the notes. Some people get so into it, they went in a jazz direction and go full on that way. And that’s cool, I have a lot of friends that ended up going to Music Institute, guitar tech schools, and they go all jazzy and fusion.”

“But I think the way I look at it is now, you look at the guitar, the ‘multiple dimensional’ kind of thing,” he added. “There is you playing the notes, and there is the projection out there. You’ve got to look at it from a third-person point of view, and how you’re playing.”

“And so many players out there, look, they’re not doing stuff that Tim Henson or Steve Vai or Tosin Abasi are doing, you know? But man, they catch the audience.”

One of the examples that he shared was Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora. He added:

“You go to a Bon Jovi concert, and I remember when Richie Sambora was in Bon Jovi, those notes, those solos, everyone was singing in the stadium. They’re *singing the solos*, man. Richie Sambora is actually one of the guitar players that got me into wanting to play solos, because they’re so melodic, and it’s got so much great feeling on it.”

Herman Li, Tosin Abasi, Tim Henson - Through the Fire and Flames Live (Razer Con Part 4/4)

But there’s more. Although a power metal shredder, Herman Li admires Kurt Cobain’s work, adding:

“And then at the same time, these other players like Kurt Cobain, they project the song, what they’re doing really inspires people and a whole generation of players. So, it’s not just about those single notes and ‘Is it sitting on that key? Or is that that?’ It is really beyond that. So, you learn, and I learned more about that.”

But if you’re here for one very controversial opinion, Li also praises none other than Machine Gun Kelly. The rapper-turned-pop-punker has gotten a lot of flak from rock fans, especially after releasing that razorblade-style signature guitar with Schecter. Despite this, Herman feels like MGK knows what he’s doing.

DragonForce - Through The Fire And Flames (Live)

“Look, Machine Gun Kelly got so much sh*t,” he continued. “But I’ll tell you, he can connect with people in a certain way, that if I do a fast guitar solo, I cannot do.”

That’s a fairly down to earth and humble approach from someone like Herman Li. Interestingly enough, in another recent interview, he discussed how there should always be a balance between the “shred” and “feel” aspects of musicianship. Li explained:

“Like all the great young shredders, many new players have a certain mindset because shredding is so much fun. But sometimes, you can forget about the fine art of string-bending. And what happens is you overplay. Finding a balance between shredding and keeping the subtle nuances apparent is always a challenge.”

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Photo: Michael Stollmann (Herman Li – Dragonforce – Foto by Michael Stollmann – fotoglut), Bennyasheldon (Machine Gun Kelly at a Concert)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.