The need for speed
Guitar shredder extraordinaire Randall Padilla teaches guitar lessons in Sacramento and hosts Modesto Advanced Guitar Instruction, or MAGI for short, a popular music-instruction YouTube series. Padilla once claimed the Guinness World Records' title for fastest guitar player in 2010, but decided against providing the required documentation needed for verification because, he says, the speed-picking stunt demonstrates very little musical ability. Guinness no longer recognizes that particular record, because it became too difficult to measure, as it was broken several times per year. No worries—Padilla says he did it just to get noticed. Still, as a deeply spiritual man, Padilla says he's turned down sponsorship deals from guitar-equipment companies that promote an irresponsible, party-hard lifestyle. Padilla recently put down his guitar long enough to talk to SN&R about technique, teaching and the song inside his heart.
Are you really the world’s fastest guitar player?
For the year 2010, yes. Each year, someone ends up breaking it. It's a very, very competitive global event.
How did you decide that you wanted to break the record for being the world’s fastest guitar player?
I'd seen [the 2008 YouTube video of] Tiago Della Vega's “Flight of the Bumblebee,” [which depicted Vega setting the world's fastest guitarist-playing record]. I did the math. … I was like, “Wait a minute that's only 21.3 notes per second. That's jogging speed.” I can hit 24 easy, on a good day. So, I did the video, submitted it [and] did the Guinness paperwork. I broke [the record] three times in 2010 [by playing] 22 notes per second. [Then,] 23.5, then 26.5.
Can the human ear even detect guitar playing that fast?
We can't accurately determine it; you need a computer. That's how I did mine, with a computer [running a digital-metronome software] in front of [Daniel Ferreira from the Modesto Symphony, who trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music].
Have you tried to break the latest record?
No. I just wanted the worldwide fame and acknowledgment to redirect [toward my music career]. As soon as I broke it the third time, I told them to abandon all three claims.
Why did you abandon all three claims?
Music is far, far more than playing fast. Fast is just a byproduct of proper study and technique.
What is your technique? Is it speed picking or speed fingering or both?
It's both, and it's really determined upon the [picking] hand. A lot of people who play guitar pick a string that's 0.010-of-an-inch thick, and they go a half-inch on the downstroke, but you still have to go a half-inch to get back to the string. I'm just trying to rub the string. Economy of motion, no wasted motion.
How did you start playing music?
I was a nerd. I wore high-water pants in the '80s. I had bad acne and a backpack. I thought, the only way to break out of that is to really be cool. In junior high, I thought, “This is my chance. I'm gonna go to the band room—I'm not playing sports. I'm going to play saxophone, because saxophone players are so hip, so cool, jazz cats,” and all that. I was a dork and dicked off, signed up late. Then, they handed me a violin. I played violin all through junior high and high school. I [switched] to guitar on September 11, 1997. I went through some old study materials and notes that I wrote on tab paper, and on the back of one, I wrote “Started playing at 4:20, September 11, 1997.” I would write [my accomplishments] down, like, “On this day, made it to 132 beats per minute.”
I grew up in the '80s, so I listened to Ratt, Quiet Riot, Def Leppard. Then, I heard Yngwie Malmsteen, and it was over. He took 19th-century romantic-classical music and mixed it with the bombast and power of heavy-metal chords and drums. There were extremely intricate classical passages and arpeggios.
Also, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Vai because he's the most completely insane electric-guitar player on the planet. Satriani because he's the most melodic.
What lessons do you teach students when they’re starting out?
My approach to teaching is that every person is born with a song inside that they want to share with the world. As an instructor, it's my job to help unlock that song the best possible way. Not fragment their theory, but teach them proper technique and form. It's the language of the soul; they should have fun doing it.
What is the song inside your heart?
A death-defying, canyon-jumping shred solo with my hair on fire! My song inside is the sound of one hand clapping, which is the quality of enlightenment in one note. I'm known for playing 26.5 notes per second, but, to me, it's the quality of enlightenment in just one note. Sometimes silence has more impact on the music than the actual notes that are played afterward.