Marcus Paus, for example, is treated like some sort of virtuoso shredder, when in fact he just glissandoed across the fretboard in a slide. When asked to alternate pick a few lines, he couldn't even make it through two octaves at 140bpm.
People are talking about how 13-15 notes per second is not insane and how they can do that on a 'good day.' In all truth, the fastest guitar player plays at his fastest in extended runs around 14-16bpm with the occassional short burst of 18-19bpm ((we're talking like 8-9 notes played at that speed in the mmiddle of another run)) Notice how I am speaking of this person as a hypothetical entity because I have not heard anyone that plays 16bpm consistently in time with capability of short bursts beyond even that.
Malmsteen, Angelo, and company top out at around 220 bpm, with little tiny bursts of 240-250 bpm. Perhaps George Bellas and a few others are a hair faster than this speed, but not by much.
Now, here comes the other point--people claiming that even they can play at these speeds. ((sixteenths)) I doubt that most people here can go beyond maybe 5-6 notes at 200 bpm, let alone are capable of the extended 5-second excursions of the aforementioned players at this tempo.
In truth, you are knocking at Virtuosity's door if you can play 180+ bpm sixteenths sustained for about 40 notes or so. Keep in mind that you don't count if you cannot do this cleanly, cannot do it on cue, or are inconsistent in your timing. ((Many a guitarist thinks they are playing an even liquid line when in fact they are speeding up at the last note of a string and slowing down on the first note of the string))
How do I know this? I have studied at Berklee for the last 2.5 years. I know what I am talking about, and I have listened to, deconstructed, and emulated many of these famous performers oft talked about.
Their virtuosity comes from a combination of high speed, stamina, and even tone during the fast lines. Any player that has these three in combination is guarenteed some noteriety. Before you bombard me with 'I/my friend can easily do that and no one bats an eyelash' read:
One explanation, unlikely, is that your friend has not gotten enough exposure. The second explanation, far more likely, is simply that your friend is not in possession of those three attributes with regard to their high speed playing.
A lot of time the apparent speed of some players is magnified by the listener's ear. When the notes blur together, it can seem like the player is blazing away far faster than normal. This can be achieved/manipulated in the studio by very short-cycled delays and the like.
Perhaps you feel I am wrong, and that the speeds are faster than this, or maybe, just to show me up, you will say that you can even play as fast as this. Fine. That is fair enough!
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Back In Black isn't a song. It's a divine call that gets channeled through five righteous dudes every thousand years or so. That's why dragons and sea monsters don't exist anymore.