Nancy Wilson on the important difference between “having a conversation” and “just w**king off” when you’re shredding

“You could shred ‘til kingdom come, but it doesn’t stick until there’s a conversation going on,” says the Heart guitarist.

Nancy Wilson performing onstage

Credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

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Sure, shredding a thousand notes a minute is impressive, but there’s a growing sentiment in the guitar community that lead playing should be more rooted in emotion, or serving the song, rather than just an exercise to showcase chops alone.

And in an interview in the new issue of Total Guitar, Heart’s Nancy Wilson echoes the sentiment, offering her insight on the topic and citing 17-year-old Nashville-based guitarist Grace Bowers as an example of someone who plays in a “conversational” manner.

“There’s a whole difference in my mind between just shredding, like wanking-off, as opposed to melodically conversational-type shredding,” she says.

“That’s what the great players do, like I think Grace Bowers is already at 17. She has a significant voice. I would pick her out in a crowd of shredders, like, “Oh, I know who that is,’ like David Gilmour. You could shred ‘til kingdom come, but it doesn’t stick until there’s a conversation going on.”

While many budding guitarists begin their journey aspiring to play ultra-fast licks and dazzle their peers, many of the industry’s top players have shifted away from shredding as a goal.

In March, former Mötley Crüe guitarist Mick Mars explained why shredding was never his thing, saying: “My hands just didn’t want to go that fast. Melody and tone were, to me, more fitting.”

And last year, former Megadeth lead guitarist Marty Friedman – a man known for his sheer technical ability – gave his thoughts on shredding over music-making: “It looks cool on the fingers, but it doesn’t sound cool.”

“When I was growing up, there was always some kid in somebody’s basement who practised 10 hours a day,” he said. “And they played so incredibly fast, and accurate, and tricky, and all that stuff. But, to be honest with you, I never thought it sounded very good.”

“But it looked amazing. You look at those fingers, and it looks so exciting, like, ‘Wow, this guy’s so good,’ but if you close your eyes and listen, it’s like, ‘What this guy’s playing will never ever be in a song.’ It could never be something that could become popular.”

To view a list of Heart’s upcoming 2024 tour dates, head to their official website.

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