How to pimp your axe for maximum speed

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Creating the ultimate shred machine

Years ago, I thought that any skilled guitar player should be able to play fast on any guitar. Even though I loved playing on a guitar that had all the qualities that I'm going to discuss in this article, I still did nothing to make my own instrument more playable. "Playing on an impossible instrument will just harden me and make me better in the end" I thought. but I missed the point. I had forgotten about the reason why I was playing in the first place. It was supposed to be fun! I got lost in stories about tone and being "better than" instead of having fun. And as a result, I stopped playing for several years. I took the fun out of it, and lost the urge to play.

Tone or playability?

Almost all the things that will make your guitar easier to play, will have an effect on the tone of your instrument as well. The thicker the strings, the more sound they make. The higher the action (Distance from the fretboard to the string) the more space they have to vibrate, and the more sound you'll get out of them. But alas, this will also make it harder to play the instrument. Playability is number one for me, tone is second. Tone is extremely important to me but I won't turn my attention to it, until I have an instrument that is really great to play.

Do you have a stone in your shoe?

The key word here is "resistance" If it feels like your instrument is working against you, you might want to take a look at some of the elements described in this article. Even the quest for greater tone is all about creating a better experience for my self, so for me it is obvious what to focus on first. When you have a very playable instrument, and you've also found the sound and tone you like, then your in heaven when you play. If one of these elements aren't there, it's like having a stone in your shoe on a beautiful walk. Learning alternate picking is hard enough in itself. And in my experience , there's no amount of "good tone" that can make it up for the pleasure of playing an instrument that helps you play, instead of it working against you.

Finding an excellent compromise

There are so many different elements involved in producing the sound of your instrument, so many other things that you can tweak and experiment with. So I clearly advise you to focus on setting up your guitar so that you love to play it. Then focus on other things like, your pickups, your amp and your effects, to create the sound you want. Then you can return back to your guitar set up and modify it, if necessary. Here's how to adjust your guitar so it gives you the least amount of resistance when you play:

Choose the right strings

Make sure you use soft strings. Nickel plated steel strings are some of the most easy to bend and therefore also the easiest to press down towards the fretboard. Also the thinner the strings the softer they are. Make sure you use a light gauge of 0.8 or 0.9. I use 0.9 but that's because I like to bee able to see my high e-string and not mistake it for a hair.

Can you take the action?

Make sure that your strings are set very low. Take your strings down as far as they can come towards the fretboard. When your strings reach the minimum height of action, they'll start to make a buzzing sound when you play them. You can minimize this by adjusting your truss rod properly (The metal bar inside your neck). There are very good tutorials showing you how to do this on

It might also be necessary to level out your frets. If one fret is a tiny bit higher than the others, it will create buzz. Take your guitar to an expert and have him level them out so that you can attain the lowest action possible.

Tuning down to Eb

There's another method that you can use to make your guitar more playable: Tune it down one half step.  This "trick" was made popular by Yngwie Malmsteen who always uses this tuning. He has one advantage though:  He makes and plays his own music and it isn't hard for him to demand that both the keyboard and the bass player tunes down one half step as well. If you play in a band with a lot of musicians, you probably have to get used playing everything a half step higher than every one else! So if everyone plays a song in A you would have to play it in A# in order to play the right notes, and that might give you a lot of funny fretboard positions to work with. A few years ago, I decided to try out this tuning, just for fun. But it, very quickly, became a habit to play with, and I'll rather play in the keys of Bb, Ab and D# than I will give up my tuning. This trick has two other distinct advantages:

1. It makes it unbelievably easy to bend your strings.

And you can bend them very far! It's no effort to bend a string from a B to an E (That's a minor third) which will make you do it more often.

2. It allows you to set the string action a little higher than you would without it.

This gives the strings more room to vibrate and that provides you with more sustain and tone.

Ibanez VS Fender

One of Ibanez's big selling points is that their instruments are easy to play. Ibanez generally takes care of all the things discussed in this article before the instrument leaves the factory. If you pull an Ibanez RG of the wall in a music store, it's very likely that you will find it very easy to play. Fender, on the other hand, doesn't give very much attention to this issue - so you'll have to take the instrument home and make all the necessary adjustments your self. Or have the store do them for you, before you buy it!

Fiercely Agressive Alternate Picking Lick

This is an excellent example of what alternate picking can do for your sound. It's very hard to produce this kind agressiveness with any other technique. Practice it while staying in one position before you move on to shifting positions.

Fast necks really help you play fast

The thinner the neck, the "faster" it is in general. A thin neck is often referred to as a "C-shape" neck where as a thick neck is referred to as a "V-shape" neck. The letters "C" and "V" are used to describe the profile of the neck. Ibanez and other guitars that have the same qualities, shape some of their necks from a C-shape to  a "[-shape" (That's not a letter but a shape I found on my keyboard). They sand down the highest point of the "C" in order to make it even thinner and more "flat". These types of necks are really a blast to play, so go check them out. The thinner the neck, the more freedom your fingers have. Try grabbing a tennis ball and hold it  tightly, then see how much you can move your fingers. Then try with a basket ball! It can take a while to get used to this freedom if you have played with a thick neck for some time, but a little patience will take care of that challenge.

What's your choice of pick sir?

Don't use picks that bend. Those are for strumming the old western guitar. Use a totally stiff pick instead, - and those are often also rather thick. When you play with a soft pick that bends when it comes into contact with the string - the pick is going to bend first and then sound the note second. In other words: You have to wait a little before the pick leaves the string, where as a stiff pick, picks the note when you do! Your brain doesn't need more challenges than it already has, and having to take that little delay into consideration is just one more unneccesary thing it has to cope with.

Even the tip of your pick can really make a big difference

I recommend that you use a pick with a nice rounded tip so that the string will easily glide off of it when you pick. Picks with tips that have hard edges, gives you more high end in your sound, but they can be a little harder to control. Try out the Dunlop, Delrin 500 series and go for a 1.5 mm in thickness or even a 2 mm if you want to take full advantage of this effect. Picks doesn't cost a lot, so buy a few and experiment with them. Find the one that makes life the easiest for you.

Building your guitar skills to a high level is a delicate process - and the key to achieving great results in this area is to get results fast, so that you want to go for more. Making your guitar as playable as possible will make you get results faster.  Help yourself create successful experiences and have more fun playing. Go pimp your axe and create the ultimate shredding machine, it's well worth the effort!