Every “Greatest Guitarists of All Time” list we’ve ever read is depressingly predictable. Eric Clapton, blah, blah, Jack White, blah, blah, blah. They all name great artists, of course, but they tend to be repetitive run-downs of guys who were canonized before a lot of us were born. Now, we could type all day about the amendments and additions we’d like to see made to other lists (Throat clearing noises. Carrie Brownstein. Throat clearing noises.) but what would be the point? This isn’t the History Channel.
Instead of nit-picking, we decided to make our own list of the ten greatest guitarists of the next generation. They come from all over the world and each is truly raising the bar for their instrument, some of them in unexpected ways. Guitar heroes are not what they used to be and we are more than fine with that.
Though many of the musicians on this list are in their twenties, we are not merely celebrating youthful prodigies. Consider this a measure of how much the players themselves have exploded the definition of a guitar god(ess) since Jimi Hendrix transformed “The Star Spangled Banner.” That’s worth celebrating, along with the signs that the guitar is not retiring anytime soon. Despite wondrous electronic advances like the Ableton, lots of kids still want to to make music using a primitive electrical device that will make their fingers bleed.
To those of you out there who fit that description: We salute you! You are our heroes for sure, but especially if you are on this list.
1. Tosin Abasi
Tosin Abasi tops our list for his ridiculous overkill approach to technical face meltery. Other guitar players watch his YouTube videos because they kind of enjoy the way it makes them sick.
He’s best known for leading US progressive metal outfit Animals as Leaders. We believe this video for their song “CAFO” illustrates our point quite well. Skip to 2:30 if pressed for time.
Tokyo’s Miyavi started out playing in visual kei band Dué le Quartz, working in a genre better known for big hair and elaborate costumes than for musical complexity.
But as a solo artist he has become revered for both his skill and the hybrid guitar style he developed, which combines elements of the blues and hip-hop, among other things.
Watch this one-name megastar go in our exclusive video.
3. Marissa Paternoster
Rock fact: The frontwoman of New Jersey power trio Screaming Females always wears her hair in her face when she’s playing because she is a considerate person who is trying to shield you. Never make eye contact with Marissa Paternoster when she does a solo. It will make you pregnant.
Were serious about this. Look at this video. She even wails on a pretend guitar.
A Tuareg guitarist from Niger, Omara “Bombino” Moctar is a rising star in the desert blues scene. His album Agadez emerged in 2011 to international critical acclaim.
Though he’s spent much of his life in exile or joining in his nomadic people’s rebellions against government repression, his swirling riffs and hypnotic grooves impart a deep sense of peace.
This one’s for the ladies:
5. Dustin Wong
For our money, US experimental guitarist Dustin Wong is the quintessential poster dude for a new kind of guitar hero. He’s not big on showy pyrotechnics, but if you listen closely as he weaves his intricate sonic tapestries, your mind will be blown all the same.
Check out his licks in this appropriately mesmerizing music video:
6. Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero
Since their group Rodrigo y Gabriela consists of Rodrigo Sánchez (lead) and Gabriela Quintero (rhythm) locked in an eternal, highly rhythmic duet, we figure the duo won’t mind sharing a place on our list.
Though their classical and folk influences are more prominent, they met playing in a thrash metal band in Mexico City. We think it shows, particularly in this video for “Hanuman.”
They might play acoustic guitars, but their performances are always electrifying.
Another one-name beast from the land of the rising sun, Wata of experimental metal band Boris is not content to shred on a guitar. She’s out to shred your mind. Like many great players, she got her start playing in hardcore bands before getting involved with the genre-annihilating evil that is her current venue.
See Boris live and you’ll understand that only a project as mercurial and frankly insane as it is could ever contain her soul warping leads.
The trio has been dabbling in pop lately, so “Statement” here might be a better introduction:
8. Özüm İtez
After self-releasing CD-Rs for year Turkish psych rock band Hayvanlar Alemi found an international audience when Sublime Frequencies released their album Guarana Superpower in 2010. Though they’ve played such high profile gigs as All Tomorrow’s Parties, we still think they aren’t quite getting the attention they deserve.
Guitarist Özüm İtez bends time and space while blending east and west with his six string. More people need to listen up and freak the eff out right now.
9. Raphaelle Standell-Preston
The guitarist for Canadian shoegazing darlings Braids proves that arty, ethereal jangle can can be just as epic as screeching solos.
Braids is often compared with Animal Collective for their abstract, painterly soundscapes. Rapaelle Standell-Preston creates a sound somewhere between dream pop and a babbling brook. It’s not a big sound, but sometimes less really is more.
Reviewers rightly make much of Standell-Preston’s distinctive vocals. We just happen to be partial to the inventive way she handles her other instrument as well.
10. Rory Friers
Belfast, Northern Ireland houses a fearsome post-rock monster known to the world as And So I Watch You From Afar.
The band name might not sound very aggressive, but Rory Friers’s guitar is as formidable as it is articulate. On songs like “Gang (starting never stopping)” he displays an ability to speak with out words that is especially welcome considering ASIWYFA is an all instrumental band.
Admittedly, we don’t have any idea what he’s talking about, but you have to love the way he says it.