Today's Guitar Legends and Future Icons
Published on 24 June 2022
Guitar heroes. Legends of the six-string. It’s all part of the glamour and mythology of music. Everybody loves the image of the otherworldly guitar superstar striding across the stage, unleashing torrents of beauteous guitar noise whilst looking ineffably charismatic whilst they do so.
Most of the time, though, it’s the old classics we hear about. It’s the usual round-robin of Hendrix/Page/Blackmore/Malmsteen/Van Halen/Knopfler/Clapton etc etc. All of these players are firmly in the pantheon of the gods, don’t get us wrong, but there’s much more to the story than that! Recent years have seen some entirely new giants of the guitar emerge, and we felt like it was time to throw some light on them.
We’ve divided today’s blog into two main sections. The first is a group of players who have already made a huge dent into the global music scene. These are bonafide contemporary legends who’ll likely be spoken about for decades to come, just as we still namecheck Beck/Kossoff/Green/Prince and so on.
The second part, however, is about the players who are inspiring YOU right now! Yes indeed, we actually put this one out onto our social channels recently, because we wanted to know just who was actually rocking your world right now, outside the realms of gigantic fame. None of the results surprised us, since we already understand you all to be of impeccable taste, but it was interesting to see the styles of players that kept popping up again and again.
As you’ll see, guitar playing is very much the focus, as is technique, but the emphasis is on a different type of technique, or a different angle on the instrument. This is relative to each player, so we’ll take a little look at each one as we move through our list.
First then, today’s guitar legends!
Jack White is a pretty safe bet for ‘modern guitar hero’ status. Willfully eccentric, showy and yet accessible, White has blazed a very guitar-centric trail through a career that has seen him front The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and a solo career.
We love how he is always experimenting with technology within his sound (always in a self-consciously retro way, though: no Strandbergs and Kempers for him!), we appreciate how he dyes his hair to match his guitar choices, and we doubly appreciate him for putting fuzz-drenched guitars at the forefront of music that sells millions. Good work, that man!
Casually stepping through genres (and mastering them) with each successive album, Annie ‘St Vincent’ Clark is a chameleonic guitar icon through and through. This Grammy-winner has acted, written a screenplay, collaborated with David Byrne, directed videos and designed what is one of the most original signature guitars we’ve seen in years.
Through all of this, St Vincent has remained quite the enigma, and the mystery in place is perhaps part of her appeal. Like Jack White, she understands the strength of a powerful visual presence, and also the potency of keeping one’s message direct and accessible.
John Mayer is today’s equivalent of Eric Clapton, more or less. He has straddled that tricky proposition of being both a guitar player’s guitar player and an artist with huge mainstream reach. He’s a clean-cut posterboy for blues rock music and he has added some serious value to his CV by standing in as a sometime member of The Grateful Dead, which brings him across to a whole other audience.
His playing is the epitome of tasteful and he’s just flash enough for the guitar fans without alienating a more casual audience. Is this a recurring theme for today’s best-loved players? It seems so. Mayer has also ‘designed’ (let’s call it that) a well-known signature guitar too, the very strat-like PRS Silver Sky, which is proving to be extremely popular (and not a little controversial) in guitar circles right now.
Muse are a gigantic rock band who definitely aren’t afraid to be massive. Everything about them, from their symphonic music to their galactic live show, seems to be focussed on an ever-increasing sense of scale, which is fine in our book! Muse know how to put on a show, and frontman Matt Bellamy is the eye of the storm for sure.
He’s easily one of the most recognised and celebrated players of recent years, and he’s done it precisely by following his own path and pushing against the grain. He plays a neo-classical style (or at least, he used to) that is baroque and dramatic but nothing like Yngwie Malmsteen. He uses technology and effects to transform his guitar sound beyond recognition, and he has swerved the usual instrument designs in favour of custom made Manson guitars with built-in effects, sustainiacs and x/y MIDI pads. Simply, nobody else was doing this stuff before him, and he quickly put it all to legitimate artistic use.
He also bought Manson Guitarworks and has released an affordable series of Manson Meta MBM signature guitars, too.
So, those are today’s established legends. Do you agree with us so far? Next up are a handful of artists you’ve told us that you love! These are the people you’re listening to and taking inspiration from. In no particular order, here are your Future icons…
More than perhaps any other single artist, Polyphia’s Tim Henson was suggested for inclusion on our social media accounts. We can easily understand why, too! His elliptical, dextrous and melodic playing is dazzling, but in a way that’s fun and inclusive, rather than grandstanding and egocentric. Polyphia are making music similar to what we’ve heard before, but not quite the same, and the freshness is exhilarating.
Yvette Young’s style is similarly melodic and fun, and dances a fine tightrope between groove and interaction with her Covet bandmates. Her infectious compositions have seen her become a star of increasing luminescence, with influential companies like Ibanez lining up to collaborate with her on a signature model, the YY20.
In her own words, Young calls her music ‘melodic healing through a whole spectrum of colours’ and we couldn’t put it any better than that! Go further with our exclusive Yvette Young interview too!
Brazilian guitarist Mateus Asato has enjoyed quite the journey during his colourful career! Named ‘one of the best players around’ by none other than John Mayer, Asato initially found fame on Instagram, where his soulful playing earned him millions of views. This led to high-profile sideman gigs with the likes of Jessie J and Bruno Mars. Nowadays, Asato is a Suhr endorsee with his own signature model! Talk about trajectory?
Tash Sultana is a looping powerhouse. The Australian multi-instrumentalist is like a one-person whirlwind of psychedelic music and activity. Starting as a busker on the streets of Melbourne, Sultana used looping devices to layer up her mostly instrumental music. Now far beyond the mere tag of ‘sensation’, Sultana is an influential worldwide name and even has a signature Fender Stratocaster.
Metal fans have been very vocal in their support for Loathe, the boundary-pushing heavy-hitters from Liverpool. Loathe blend modern metal with elements of industrial and shoegaze to bring an exciting, expansive sound for today. Their lead guitarist is Erik Bickerstaffe, and we can hear elements of nu-metal (particularly the Deftones) in his style, which is fine by us! Erik seems to be a fan of baritone guitars (and lots of effects) in order to get his ethereal yet crushing tone, so consider that if you’re looking to follow his lead!
Well, there you have it: our pick of not only those who have shifted the earth off it’s axis, but a selection of those who are threatening to do so! Thanks to everyone who answered our summons and made suggestions for your favourite players. Did your choices make the final cut? If not, who would you have on here?
Thanks for reading!