Joe Satriani Names Neil Young Solo That He Considers to Be ’Shred’: ’It’s Not the Quantity That Defines the Shred’

According to Joe Satriani, there’s one lead guitar part by Neil Young that he considers to be “shred.”

Defining what “shred” is might be a little tricky. But in its general sense, it’s about virtuosic and skilled performance that incorporates advanced techniques and musical concepts. On the other hand, it’s often used in many ways, sometimes partially derogatory for those players who just play fast for the sake of playing fast.

But interestingly enough, Joe Satriani, who’s often considered to be one of the “shred” pioneers, has a different look on the matter. Appearing in a recent edition of the Talking Shred podcast, Satch was asked to define shred, but his answer wasn’t that straightforward.

“Part of the performance has to challenge the norm,” he argued. “That’s what I think is important. That’s why I remember when hearing Neil Young play the solo for ‘Cinnamon Girl.’ It’s just one note, and then he just keeps playing it. But it’s a shred because of the attitude that he puts into it.”

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“And the fact that he probably thought, ‘Oh, you’re probably expecting Carl Perkins, or something that sounds like Jimmy Page or something?’ And he goes, ‘No, I’m just gonna play this one note [laughs] on two strings, and you’re gonna love it.’ You know, and I think that is that embodies the attitude of shred.”

Of course, Joe also recognizes the more “conventional” definition of shred, which often comes down to the demonstration of someone’s skills. And he sees nothing wrong with that, saying that it has its place in music as well. He continued:

“Certainly not what Charles Caswell was doing [laughs] or Jason Richardson, but I think that if they don’t put that into their shredding, then it’s just a demonstration.”

“And that is kind of a sin of performance because I think the audience knows if you’re just demonstrating what you’ve rehearsed, or are you connecting with them saying, ‘Check this out, I’m going to do something that is going to blow your mind. And yeah, it’s a bit edgy, and maybe I should have done something else, but I’m going to do this instead.'”

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Cinnamon Girl ( live 1991 ) in real HD

“I think that’s really important, and you’ve got to do it well,” Joe added. At the same time, he still stands by his words that the aforementioned Neil Young solo also falls into the “shred” category, one way or the other. He added:

“So Neil Young did that one-note solo really well, so players who just fill it up with a lot more notes, it still has to be done well. It’s not the quantity that defines the shred.”

The thing here is that music, at least the way we experience it in modern day, isn’t exactly pure meritocracy. Sure, you can easily find countless guitar players all over the globe who could play cleaner and faster than Neil Young. But, at the end of the day, it’s what the guitar playing in a song causes you to feel and that in itself can be a form of virtuosity.

With that in mind, Joe also said that “context is really important” and then further explained:

“I was talking to the audience this afternoon about the context where a lot of times players who play alone, they’re in their bedroom, and they’re shredding, and they think they’re really great. They’re just one person, and they’re not really understanding the context of the solo.”

This will also include other elements. But it doesn’t come down to flashy techniques but rather a clever choice of notes against a chord progression, all while knowing what emotions you’re trying to convey. Satriani added:

“So that means that it’s a solo, but what are the chords behind the solo? What are the base notes? What’s the groove behind the solo? How is that all fitting in and then being this foundation for the solo? And if you don’t take that into account, then you’re just demonstrating. That’s the difference.”

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To prove his point, Satch also mentioned another example:

“So, Tom Morello, in that context of Rage Against the Machine, that’s total shredding. And again, he could have played Neil Young or he could have played Jimmy Page or Slash, but he went, ‘No, I’m gonna play this and you’re gonna like it.’ [Laughs]”

Photos: Joe Satriani/ Eduardo Peña Dolhun, Tore Sætre (Neil Young Stavernfestivalen 2016 (220929))

  • 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, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.