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Jardine: Modestan's flying fingers shred Guinness world record

The world's fastest fingers are right here in Modesto.

Seriously.

They are attached to the left hand of guitarist Randall Padilla, a 42-year-old who discovered music as a child but didn't pick up a guitar in earnest until he was 29. Talk about someone making up for lost time.

In October, he set up a digital metronome — music's equivalent of a traffic cop's radar gun — in the bedroom of his Modesto home and had a friend videotape him playing riffs at various speeds.

Playing along at six notes per beat, he kept cranking up the metronome until he reached 23.5 notes per second.

He submitted the video to the Guinness World Records folks, who posted it on their Web site, even though they haven't certified him as the world's fastest guitarist. That title, for now, belongs to Tiago Della Vega of Brazil at 21.3 notes per second, playing four notes per beat.

Before they certify Padilla's claim, he'll send them another video of him playing even faster. Padilla broke his pending record when he played 24 notes per second during a videotaped interview with The Bee this week.

Next month, he'll invite musicians from the Modesto Symphony, California State University, Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College to watch him try for 26 notes per second. He'll use the metronome, along with a computer playing at that speed. "If I'm not keeping up, you'll be able to tell," he said.

Then, Padilla said, he'll start training for 30 notes per second. "Nobody would touch that for a long, long time," he said.

Better have a crew of paramedics on hand. He plays so fast you worry one of his digits could blow out like a tire and crash at any time.

Despite his obvious skills -- Padilla plays all kinds of music, writes his own and is recording his first album -- he is just beginning to make a name for himself on the music scene. His agent, for all practical purposes, is the Internet through his MySpace page, YouTube videos and the Guinness site.

He makes his living teaching guitar students at Langlois Music in that rock-n-roll hotbed also known as McHenry Village. He's videotaping a guitar instruction video. He plays for veterans and other groups to help them raise money, and on Sundays plays at his nondenominational church, The Well, on Claus Road.

He has long, bushy hair that he often pulls back into a pony tail when he plays.

He claims his heroes are flat-topped Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour and clean-cut Councilman Joe Muratore because they are trying hard to make the city a better place to live.

Although he's played at events such as the giant North American Music Merchants convention, Padilla never caught the road tour bug. He's married with a 13-year-old stepson. Modesto has been his home since he moved here in 2004.

Padilla grew up the youngest of seven children in a dysfunctional family in Sacramento. His mom was an alcoholic.

"I never met my dad," he said. "Child Protective Services took us when I was 3½. I grew up in foster homes and group homes."

He took his first music classes in junior high and at Foothill High School.

"I wanted to be the cool guy in school," Padilla said. "The hip cat. So I signed up for music and they said, 'Your violin is over there.' "

OK, so he didn't become big man on campus. But he did learn how to read music and gained an appreciation for the value of understanding its structure, both of which serve him well now.

After high school, Padilla did odd jobs, delivered pizza and worked in other food-related businesses over the years.

Padilla said he never tried to play a guitar until Sept. 11, 1997, a date he noted in his journal.

He progressed quickly.

"I knew how to read and write music," he said. "When I picked up the guitar, I already knew music theory and classical technique. I picked it up immediately. After six months, nobody could play at the level I played at. But it went to my head. I developed a huge, huge ego."

Then he read a book called "Zen Guitar" by Phillip Toshio Sudo. The author describes Zen guitar as "nothing more than playing the song we're all born with inside -- the one that makes us human. Any one of us can do it. The music is waiting there to be unlocked."

Sudo's philosophy resonated within Padilla.

"It humbled me," he said. "Music is a gift that should be respected. It changed my attitude. I spent 10 years of my life learning the guitar as a discipline."

That, and "I had too much time on my hands and not much parental supervision," he jokes.

As he improved, he found he liked high-speed guitar playing.

He knew he was getting pretty fast, but didn't know just how fast until one day in 2008 when he picked up a copy of Guitar World magazine that listed the world's 50 fastest guitar pickers.

"Most of 'em were like, at 18 notes per second," Padilla said. "That's jogging speed. Here I was trying to catch up to all of them and I'd already surpassed them."

That same year he visited a guitar store in Turlock. Stephen Key, a nationally known inventor who created the Hot Picks line of guitar picks, had followed that success by marketing a skull-shaped instrument nicknamed the "Monster Guitar." He wanted a guitarist's opinion of how it played and how it might sell. So Key brought his guitar to the store, where he met Padilla.

"He played it. The guy's awesome," Key said. "The guy could play."

Key invited Padilla to attend the music merchants convention is Los Angeles. Padilla said the trip and his conversations with Key opened his eyes about promoting himself as an artist.

"At that point, I didn't have a computer," Padilla said. "I didn't have e-mail, no YouTube, no MySpace. Nothing."

Key encouraged him to use all of those media. Now, information about Padilla and videos of him playing can be found all over the Internet, including the Guinness World Records Web site, simply by Googling "Padilla" and "Guinness."

"I'm doing it on my own with no budget," he said. "If you play right, people will notice."

During that same trip, Padilla met scores of guitarists and rockers, including Joe Satriani and Phil Collen of Def Leppard. He returned to demonstrate Kona Guitars at the 2009 show.

Back home, he's hosted a weekly guitar show on local cable -- like Wayne of "Wayne's World," except with talent.

Mostly, though, he teaches. Music is a passion he tries to pass on to his students. Padilla teaches about 25 students at Langlois and also gives lessons to people who work night shifts or otherwise can't make it during conventional hours. He teaches six days a week and plays in clubs or does volunteer gigs whenever possible. Sundays, he plays Christian contemporary music at church.

His instructional video in the works is titled "The Tao of Shred." Shred is a style of guitar playing that can encompass any form of music, including rock, classical, blues and jazz, but is done -- you guessed it -- at higher speeds.

The world's fastest fingers, it seems, can't help themselves.

On the Net: www.randallpadilla.com

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or jjardine@modbee.com

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