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Guitar Heroes: Marty Friedman

Nearly every guitar player has their own opinion on the best song, a superior band or the best tone. However, nearly every guitar player can agree on one thing - the best guitar solo ever written was that of ‘Tornado of Souls’ by Megadeth, released in 1990. Marty Friedman was responsible for that particular work of art, and helped cement his place in the upper echelons of guitar greats. Here is a link to that song:

Originally hailing from Washington DC, Marty now resides in Tokyo, having left Megadeth in the early 2000s. Despite having some formal lessons in his early years, it is reported that Friedman is largely self-taught - I figure this to be in the sense that he forged his own path, rather than simply figuring things out at random. 

(Jun Sato / Getty Images)

Career Highlights


Megadeth is one of those bands that has an ever revolving line-up, and this has allowed for some interesting changes over the years. My personal favorite iteration of this band was first released upon the world in the 1990 album ‘Rust in Peace’ - the very album ‘Tornado of Souls’ was featured on. It is the same line-up that produced the first Megadeth album I ever purchased, 1994’s ‘Youthansia’. That team was Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson, Marty Friedman and Nick Menza. 

There are countless hordes of supremely talented ‘lead’ guitarists, but the list of those that can also hold down an excellent rhythm section is a minute one. Though Mustaine was generally the main riff lord in the band, Friedman could definitely hold his own in that department. This is especially true with some of the groove based offering such as the title track from the ‘Youthansia’ album, linked below:


Any guitarist that has a good knowledge of the history of rock and metal, and guitar technique as a whole, will know who Jason Becker is. Becker was the foremost technical maestro in the 1980s and 1990s, though unfortunately has suffered with ALS for many years. When he was 16 years old he was signed to Shrapnel records, and in  the mid 1980s started the band Cacophony with his friend, none other than Mr Marty Friedman. 

Cacophony is synonymous with outstanding technical ability, and a relentless onslaught of notes. What really made their two albums special for me was the use of exotic sounding scales - no simple minor pentatonic scales for these guys! You can find plenty of examples of these scales, but to date I have not heard anything that does so in such a musical way.

Solo Material

The album ‘Dragon’s Kiss’ is an album that I hold in equal regard with Guthrie Govan’s ‘Erotic Cakes’ and Paul Gilbert’s ‘Technical Difficulties’. Despite being instrumental, there is always something to hold your attention, be that in one’s capacity as a guitar admiring the talent on show, or the average listener being captivated by the music as a whole. 

This album uses technical prowess as a vehicle for bringing across the message and does not seem to be present just for the sake of it, at least it appears that way to me. The uses of tonal centers not being in a minor key, various textures and the addition of clean guitars make it a must listen album. For those that like to read, Dave Mustaine wrote in his book that, upon hearing Marty was interested in auditioning for the band, was sold within two minutes of playing ‘Dragon’s Kiss’ - he couldn’t believe someone like that wanted to play for him!

There have been many solo releases, I suggest any music fan check all of them out! Here is a link to listen to ‘Dragon’s Kiss’ - released in 1988.

Japan Heritage Ambassador 

Since moving to Japan 20 years ago, Friedman has become a television mainstay in the country. In fact, my Japanese language teacher knew who he was from that alone, and didn’t realize that he had an illustrious career as a musician before moving here. Through a series of events, Marty was announced as the Japan Heritage Ambassador, no mean feat for native, let alone someone that wasn’t born in the country. 

As a result of this, Marty wrote and recorded a theme song that I have linked below. A beautiful tune that encompasses many traditional aspects of Japanese music, and the visuals in the music video are simply beautiful. Marty told me himself that the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and some of Japan’s greatest session musicians helped record this track - you can tell by the impact the tune has. I have linked the music video below:

What I Have Learned

Despite my hardest efforts, I still cannot utilize many of the exotic sounding scales effectively… maybe one day! However, there are many numerous lessons that I have learned from Marty-san, and I will share some of them here.

Chord Progressions

Marty opened my eyes to many strands of Japanese music that tend to feature longer chord progressions compared to popular music in the West. There is nothing wrong with having three or four chords in a song, but you have the opportunity to say so much more otherwise. 


I have spoken many times about my feelings regarding string bending, stemming from my start with playing lots of blues music. I think that Marty uses bending in the conventional way with a supreme level of mastery, though what really captivates me is bending from unexpected places. For example, he might choose to bend to a note that is perfectly acceptable by normal standards, though he will bend from a note that is not related to the key in any way. It is this that allows me to impart a slightly exotic flavor without straying too far from what I am comfortable with. 

Using a Major Tonality

Much like Devin Townsend, Friedman is no stranger to using a major key center in some of his songs. This can be slightly jarring to the typical metalhead gatekeeper - I don’t ever recall seeing that a metal song must be in a minor key?


With some of the solo songs Marty has released, you can almost feel what he is feeling within the song. I will not lie, I have no words to explain this. Perhaps it is that he has such a connection with what he is playing, or his playing connects with me in a particular way. Since listening to a large proportion of his music, I feel inspired to create music with the same level of emotion - I want the listener to feel like I did in the moment. 

Favorite Songs

Marty Friedman - Meathook

This song is divisive, even amongst his biggest fans. ‘Meathook’ features some severely dissonant saxophone, coupled with some great detuned riffs and some excellent trading with the sax player Jørgen Munkeby. 

This one is not for the faint of heart!

Megadeth - She-Wolf

This song is one that I frequently use to push my students, or at least those interested in metal guitar, to the very edge of their right-hand technique. The pattern is taxing on the right arm, and the chord changes are close but quick and you really need to be on your A game. Part of the reason for this is how the rhythm is mirrored by the bass and the drums - this means that if you slip up at all, the mistake will be extremely obvious. 

Also, the guitar harmonies are simply to die for!

Marty Friedman - Tornado of Souls

I have already mentioned this song, though this solo version deserves its only mention. I am a big fan of masterfully performed arrangements of tunes, and this one is brilliant. The core of the song remains true, but there are many artistic changes that take the song in another direction. One of them is that it is much heavier, and the main riffs have been flipped on their head - check it out!

Final Thoughts

Creating a name for yourself in an alien culture is impressive on its own, and I cannot help but admire him for it. One silly thing I appreciate is how vocal he is about breakfast cereal changing in modern times - I agree with this wholeheartedly! For readers in the UK, you might share my feelings with how Sugar Puffs have really gone downhill since the early 2000s!

To those who have met me personally, you will understand my feelings when I say that Marty Friedman has the best taste in hair. 



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