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Everyone Cheats At Downpicking, It's Fine

Yes, even James Hetfield.


It's not very often that you get three masters of their craft together to talk shop, but thanks to Zoom and the good fortune of Anthrax, Black Label Society, and Exodus tearing up the States this winter, Guitar World was fortunate enough to have a chat with three Gary Holt (Exodus), Scott Ian (Anthrax), and Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society, Ozzy Osbourne)

Guitar World asked how the three have evolved over the years, specifically their mastering of the down picking technique. Wylde has always had the benefit of sludge and doom to play with, but since the new Pantera shows, let's just say his right arm has been getting a workout. Jokingly, Wylde told GW "It's okay to take a nice little breather!" when it comes to the arduous tasks of relentless downpicking.

But Holt came clean, sharing how every guitarist has their own little hacks they use to lighten the load a tad "Everybody cheats," said Holt. "Even [Metallica's] James Hetfield cheats now… I've seen it enough times! If he's doing a savage downpick section and then he throws in a ‘brrrp' [motions descending slide], then that ‘brrrp' is there for a reason. It allows you to lose a couple of notes…"

"It's become really hard for me after battling this chronic tennis elbow in both arms," Holt said. "Towards the end of Slayer, I was getting so many cortisone injections I couldn't even count them. It turns your tendons into mush! 

"I have a friend who is a San Francisco Giants hand surgeon and he saw my MRI and said I might need Tommy John Surgery. I couldn't play anymore. I'd play for 10 minutes and my arms would lock up. I've been through therapy and don't have any injections any more, so I'm good now, but downpicking is harder than it used to be. Age catches up! But I'm grateful I'm still playing every day and playing injection-free. I need my sound to be really good and then I can ride. If I have to cheat a little more on downpicking because of it, so be it."

Ian also made the good point that, "If you've got a good up, it's not even cheating, because it sounds just as good as the down!” To which Holt confirmed, "Yeah, I'll do the down, down, down, up – throwing in that little one. Usually that's all I need! And you mentioned 'Verbal Razors' [from Exodus' Fabulous Disaster, 1989]. Damn, when I listen to that shit now, I think I must have been out of my mind! There's so much downpicking, but then you've got to jump from the E string into all this riffage. That one is a challenge these days!"

So there you have it – don't go breaking your arm trying to play "Caught In A Mosh."

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