The term ‘shred’ is related to the virtuous execution of instruments which requires a high level of technique and complexity. This term has also been associated with rock music and its by-products such as metal, but this kind of execution can be found in other music forms like blues, jazz, and country. So we can say that rock music doesn’t hold a monopoly on this specific thing, it just made it visible and popular in the scene.
Danny Cedrone is one of the very first guitar players that performed using shred guitar arrangements in order to impress the audience with this (by them) unusual but interesting method in the song ‘Rock around the clock’ by Bill Haley and his comets in 1954, combining high speed with blues and jazz elements, it was with no doubt the highlight of the track. Cedrone’s influences were Jimmy Bryant a country guitarist which speed at the execution was accredited as legendary.
But after a lot of experimentation, in the first decade of the ’60s, the guitar in rock music parted ways from its jazz roots and got closer to the Blues. Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck would be later the greatest exponents of this context in rock music taking this technique even further and they basically build their careers over this highly complex execution. They also made a huge contribution to the tones and different textures of the electric guitar. Towards the end of this decade, a new generation of guitarists was rising, Alvin Lee’s performance in the 1969 Woodstock Festival was a herald of the future technical evolution that shred guitar would have. His solo for ‘I’m going home’ established a new record in matters of speed and intensity; as a consequence of the diffusion of this festival in movie theaters this style became even more popular.
One decade after, John McLaughlin, Robert Fripp, Al di Meola, and others were experimenting with a new fusion putting jazz back in the equation alongside with rock and world music. This would require a very virtuoso skill with the instrument to be able to play the jazz complex metric with the particular style of foreign music. These musicians mentioned above are still recognized by their skilled execution.
Later, in 1978 a young Eddie Van Halem emerged with a method created by Vittorio Camaderse, a method that would be later used also by Steve Hackett and Brian May: the tapping, based on the fusion of Holdsworth elements, hard rock from the ’70s and classical music, this mixture is represented in ‘Eruption’ an instrumental track. Still, jazz was a strong influence in rock music and it never stopped being driven by guitar players trough rock music history.
In 1980 the new standard set by Van Halem led a lot of musicians to follow his steps. Randy Rhoads, Jason Becker, Richie Kotzen even incorporated pieces of baroque music; they took excerpts from Johan Sebastian Bach’s music and even from the always controversial Niccolo Paganini.
Today rock music remains in an underground scene since its moment of glory lasted about 4 or 5 decades, and pop music and synthesizers started taking its place gradually ‘til this day. However, rock music has managed to survive without necessarily getting into the mainstream market and this legacy remains intact; it has also evolved to allow other music forms mixtures and fusions, rock influences are highly common in country and jazz music, it also has a place in the rigorous academic music. Guitar shreds on the other hand may not be that common now, since in order to stay alive the “aggressive” element had to be softened so it could still sell and be suitable for a bigger audience.