10 Rock Guitarists Of The 21st Century You Must Hear

Danielle Haim (Haim)

Photo:Danielle Haim By Bene Riobó [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan. These men are considered some of the best guitarists of all time. They are groundbreaking legends of the genre who, it’s fair to say, are responsible for much of what we know “rock music” to be. Although they are perhaps not likely to be stealing the crown from the above giants of music anytime soon, the guitarists on this list are among the most capable and exciting musicians this generation of rock has to offer.

It’s not enough to be a technically good player. The guitarists on this list, as with the greats, all manage to transcend somehow the song they are playing, stealing attention away from the frontman of the band and getting lost – along with the crowd – in hypnotic paroxysms of sick chords and riffs. It is as though they manage to become one with the music and dare the listener to do the same.

Although the musicians on this list would likely never claim to be as good as the gods of guitar, there can be no doubt that they are the best guitarists the 21st century has to offer. It would be a mistake to ignore their considerable musical talent.

# 10 – Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys)

The singer and frontman of The Black Keys, Ohio-born Dan Auerbach, is as excellent as the band’s combination of rock, blues, and soul would have you believe. There’s something somehow effortless about the way Auerbach produces riffs, which all make you feel like you’re living in a Tarantino movie trailer. He can flit between the slinky and stripped back sound of songs like “Never Gonna Give You Up”, the rough, fuzzy old school chords of “Gold on the Ceiling”, and the head bobbing anthemic elements of “Next Girl”. Dan Auerbach is a unique guitarist, making the blues cool for a new generation.

# 9 – Frank Turner

Despite an impressive number of albums under his wing, Frank Turner is still not a household name. It was, therefore, a surprise when he was chosen to commence the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony with a rousing rendition of ”I Still Believe.” The organizers knew exactly what they were doing, as Turner enthralled viewers worldwide with his acoustic sound.

It’s hard to pin Frank Turner down to an exact genre, straddling the line, as he does, between folk and punk. But the fact that he’s a solo artist yet manages to captivate crowds ultimately should tell you something about Turner’s skills as a guitarist (and singer). It’s not even that he’s particularly unique in his style, there’s just something magnetic him when he’s performing. There can be no doubt that many young guitarists in the 21st century have been inspired by Frank Turner.

# 8 – Danielle Haim (Haim)

While it’s the “bass face” that her sister makes while strumming away that often distracts her during Haim shows; you’d do well to pay closer attention to Danielle’s guitar work instead. From her chirpily strummed chords on “Falling” to the brooding and foreboding bending on tracks like “My Song 5”, this Gibson SG-toting woman means business.

The unusual blend of pop, rock (and even some slight dance) elements of Haim’s music should be enough to get you to pay attention to this band, but if not, then watching Danielle do her thing live is sure to turn you. It’s a pleasure to see her, alongside her sisters, command the stage with the confidence and glamor of a pop diva and the impressive musical talent of any number of icons.

# 7 – Sergio Pizzorno (Kasabian)

When a guitarist is better known than their lead singer, you can be sure you’re dealing with something special. And “Special” is the perfect way to describe Sergio Pizzorno. Though he’ll often keep himself to himself on stage – brooding quietly – without fail, he’ll deliver immense, twanging riffs that hit you like a ton of bricks. Along with his band, Pizzorno is a force of nature, whipping crowds up into a frenzy with the irresistible chord progression evidenced on stadium-fillers like “Shoot the Runner” and “Fire.” Kasabian is easily one of Britain’s biggest rock bands, and it’s impossible to discuss them without mentioning the sheer guitar might of Serge Pizzorno.

# 6 – Annie Clarke (St Vincent)

Although it’s not quite correct to pigeonhole her as a rock artist, Annie Clarke, better known by her stage name St Vincent, is easily one of the most distinctive guitarists of the 21st century. She’s even created a guitar ergonomically designed for women’s bodies. While she definitely delivers a different musical style to other musicians on this list, the synth tones and chord stabs of St Vincent are something to behold. The fuzzy guitar solo on “Rattlesnake” will make your hair stand on end as you’re happily grooving to the esoteric art rock of one of music’s most interesting sonic auteurs.

# 5 – Jamie Cook (The Arctic Monkeys)

From the euphoria of I Bet the You Look Good on the Dancefloor, the dark menace of Do I Wanna Know, and the urgent progression of Teddy Picker, Jamie Cook (and lead singer/rhythm guitarist Alex Turner) are responsible for some of modern rock’s best and most recognizable riffs. Cook, famously the most outspoken of the band, seems to channel his confident, bullish energy into his music, creating brash and impossible-to-resist guitar-forged earworms that will stay with you for a long, long while.

# 4 – Derek Edward Miller (Sleigh Bells)

Sleigh Bells are one of those bands whose lyrics take second place to their guitar riffs, and this isn’t just because of the distortion effects applied to the vocals. The guitar output of Derek Edward Miller is like miniature – extremely aggressive – pop songs. They’re so immediate, catchy, and fully formed that you’ll quickly get obsessed with a single chord, thinking it must be the absolute pinnacle of all music. That is until the next one begins and hits you like a slap. Miller’s guitar-playing talent has helped Sleigh Bells create a distinctive sound that is crunchy, DIY, danceable, and, above all, unique.

# 3 – Laurie Vincent (Slaves)

In the hands of Slaves Laurie Vincent, the guitar becomes a weapon. That is, of course, a metaphor. There is no doubt the violence that underlines the sound that Vincent and his bandmate create, as you would expect from a punk band. The guitar hook of The Hunter has to be one of the best riffs of recent years; it’s dangerous, dark and brilliant. These adjectives could be applied to a Slaves concert, although interestingly, perhaps not to Vincent himself, who is comparatively chilled out compared to his punk contemporaries.

# 2 – Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders)

It’s hard to capture just how impressive Tosin Abasi is in writing; he needs to be listened to or seen to be believed. The speed and agility with which Abasi plays his music are genuinely extraordinary. Not to mention that he plays an 8-string guitar. The fact that the vast majority of Animals as Leaders’ work is entirely instrumental – and yet they’re still hugely popular – should go some way to display the crazy talent on offer here. The soundscapes created by Abasi and Co are genuinely magical, wrapping you up in a world of shredding madness that is hard to escape.

# 1 – Matt Bellamy (Muse)

Very much the elder statesman of 21st-century rock, Matt Bellamy has been delivering devastating guitar work since the band debuted in the 90s, and he keeps getting better and better. The defining Plug in Baby remains his highest point, although new songs like MK Ultra and Psycho (which echoes some of the band’s best work)are up there with the greats. Bellamy has also shown immense versatility, helming the Queen-esque United States of Eurasia and Supermassive Black Hole, which seems to be influenced by a Britney Spears song. Since he’s been in the business for so long and is still making mind-melting great riffs, it seems only fair to crown Matt Bellamy as the best rock guitarist of the 21st century.

UPDATED DECEMBER 13, 2023

Photo Credits

Black Keys By Jason Persse (Flickr: Black Keys) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Frank Turner by By Henry W. Laurisch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Danielle Haim By Bene Riobó [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sergio Pizzorno By Stuart Sevastos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/stusev/6825193212/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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