The days of showing up on stage with a cranked Marshall half-stack are sadly over. Guitarists that focused solely on their stage presence and pentatonic shreds are past their prime. So, what does that mean for the future of guitar players?
Well, as it happens, the instrument isn’t entirely left to the wayside. In fact, it’s as popular as it was back in its heyday. The only difference is whose fingers line up on the fretboard.
Not only are these guitarists breathing new life into the instrument, but they’re also keeping the chain going by inspiring a new generation of younger guitar players. And if you’re burned out on the same old playing habits and tone, they could even inject you with a little bit of hopeful inspiration.
With all that taken into consideration, we’ll be listing down seven of these young bloods to show up on the scene. This will give you a foothold into what’s hot these days in the world of guitar. Perhaps it’ll even help launch your own playing off in unique ways.
Mateus Asato is a hard one to pin down. He’s a Brazilian guitar player that saw fame on social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube. He hailed from the initial wave of Instagram guitarists and is arguably the most notable of the bunch.
All it takes is one listen to get the point across that Mateus Asato is a truly unique player. Everything from his tone to his note delivery, inflections, and phrasing paint a stunning picture. It’s hard to deny his signature sound once you hear it, and from there, it becomes nearly impossible to recreate it.
The best thing about Mateus is that he’s not doing anything too technical or extraordinary. When you break it down, his playing is rooted in the same pentatonic boxes that every guitar player defaults to when soloing. The only difference here is that he’s able to use it in a sparing way that takes advantage of the wide intervals.
That’s what makes Mateus such an inspiration to those searching for something new. His signature fingerstyle method, Jazz phrasing, atmospheric layering, and emotion-filled solos help express himself to his true artistic potential. He’s not radically redefining anything; he’s using the tools available to best define himself.
You can find his music in the form of short Instagram posts and YouTube videos ranging anywhere from a couple of seconds to 3-4 minutes. However, the bulk of his artistry shines through many of his collaborations with artists and singers on various singles.
Aaron Marshall is a Canadian guitarist who launched himself up off Djent music’s growing surge in the early 2010s. Since then, he’s been able to carve out his own little niche in music with his band Intervals. And he uses both his past and present to shape his musical style.
His early works were reminiscent of the many progressive metal bands out there. They’ve included things like playing 7 or 8 string guitars, use dropped tunings, chugging along to metal riffs, and more. All this was impressive in its own right, but it was a far cry from what kind of player Aaron is today.
A short while later, Aaron would take up a more musical approach with his band Intervals. This stylistic change would make him go back to basics with a 6-string guitar tuned to E standard. Within these self-imposed limitations, he crafted a new sound that fed on textures and tone colours rather than needless fretboard gymnastics.
Aaron Marshall’s current style is somewhere between a mixture of math rock, progressive metal, jazz, and pop music. Using his extensive Djent knowledge, he’s able to build technical riffs that are also melodic in nature.
You still hear the energy of the metal genre in Aaron’s music but without all the dreary and sad undertones that go with it. Instead, it hits the ear like a happy-go-lucky sugar-feuled rush that adds a spring into your step.
Aaron Marshall’s playstyle can be an excellent place to start if you want to see prog-metal stereotypes being broken in a practical yet musical way. But beyond that, it’s also a helpful example of how you can musically express yourself using some bog-standard tools.
You can listen to his modern playing in action in the post-2015 Intervals era. That means you have great albums like The Shape of Colour, The Way Forward, and Circadian left to tickle your ear.
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Nick Johnston is the embodiment of the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” philosophy. The only difference is, he does it on his own terms. This Canadian guitarist follows the same basic shell of every traditional guitarist to deck the halls of rock’n’roll fame. But when he does it to make music, it just hits different.
Nick uses a very basic setup for most of his songs. It’s just him, his super Strat, and a high gain amp. That’s it. This makes for a simple series of building blocks for his sound that is reminiscent of classic rock guitarists.
But instead of using his gear choices to deliver old reliable tones, he combines it with nuanced techniques like hybrid picking, bridge pulling, short bends, trills, and grace note slides. He is then able to find a place for this sound in his uniquely orchestral guitar instrumentals.
When someone like Nick uses their inflections as a mode of differentiation, it ends up being a real treat for the ears. You might not be able to recognise his tone, but you can definitely hear his delicate touch on the instrument.
It’s worth keeping an ear out for Nick Johnston solely on how minimalistic his approach is. Whether it’s expansive arrangements or cheeky comic book movie style tracks, he’s always aware of his musical context. His pick attack and volume control will reflect this. He’ll even go as far as to flick his pickup selector in mid-phrase just to get variations of tone out.
Outside of that, you can always learn a thing or two about how to finetune your control of the instrument. Not everyone is comfortable having their playing blasted through hot pickups and cranked amps. But for Nick, it’s just another way to delicately balance his notes.
For your listening homework, you can always start with each of his four studio albums. Each album has a theme and approach associated with it. It makes for a journeying experience where you can track his subtle but grand shift towards a larger sound.
Tosin Abasi is the modern-day equivalent of a shredding virtuoso. He represents his band Animals as Leaders as well as his very own guitar company. But on an MP3, he represents the kind of skills that can leave you shaking in your boots.
Abasi plays in a technically driven style. Having been inspired by the likes of Meshuggah, he sought comfort in the world of extended range guitars and chugged strings. This was, however, only a launch pad for things to come.
As one of the two resident guitarists in AAL, he started showing his prowess on the instrument. His skills were based both on concept and practicality. This allowed him to do things like execute advanced rhythmic concepts, develop unique picking styles, and play complex musical ideas.
His signature techniques include double thumping his strings with his thumb and playing cascading chord clusters. On the record, these techniques are fused with advanced music theory to deliver a unique futuristic sound that’s not found elsewhere.
Tosin’s playing style is unique because it’s one of the few that sounds so unachievable. You can sit there for hours trying to decode what you’re hearing but still come up short. In the end, you’re forced to accept the person behind that guitar sound is either extraterrestrial or just too mechanical to be human.
Regardless of the conclusion you arrive at, it can be refreshing to listen to some off the wall playing. And it definitely sets a good benchmark of how far one can go with their inhuman guitar skills. You can feast on this impossible playing style in any of Animals As Leader’s four studio albums.
Mark Holcomb makes one-fifth of the band Periphery. He made his foray into the band’s progressive metal sound. As it happens, it was only a short while before his personal stylistic influences crept through. It’s what he’s recognised for today.
Mark has a very dynamic approach to the guitar. For one, he’s not very fond of basing his riffs off of scales, modes, or just familiar patterns. Instead, he focuses on outlining extended chords with his riffs. This makes for a more organic method of riff writing that takes advantage of the emotional progression of chordal tones.
And when he’s not using riffs to communicate chords, he’ll outright play them on a distorted guitar. It instantly becomes clear where the depth in his chords comes from when a power chord is more than just a root, fifth, and eighth.
The playing style splits the difference with his expressive side to add emotional depth to the more metal side of his playing. This is achieved thanks to his open string vocabulary, far-reaching slides, and spacious intervals. He’s able to craft a sonic broth that’s billowing with tonal flavours that both excite and soothe the ear.
If you’re in the mood for some progressive metal that’s a bit more than just riffs and chugs, Holcomb’s playing might just be for you. And you can get a full sense of it on any of Periphery’s albums past the Icarus EP or even on Mark’s previous band, Haunted Shores.
Tim Henson is the resident representative of Gen Z in the guitar world. With his group, Polyphia, he managed to redefine what it meant to be popular playing the guitar in the modern age.
Listening to Tim’s tracks, you can get a sense of metal shredding past straight away. He plays beefy bottom strings, sometimes on 8-stringed guitars, to add that quintessential Djent rattle in his playing. It’s featured alongside other metal-isms like sweep picking, pinch harmonics, and dive bombs.
The balance comes when it’s complemented with thin tones, pop-inspired melodic motifs, tapping, and arpeggiated chords. All this happens when it’s playing behind a programmed 808 trap beat and sub-bass.
It’s a playing style that’s capable of turning a lot of heads around—using this kind of technicality on its own thing. But using it to approximate the sounds of synths, phasers, and flangers is genuinely out there.
By and large, it’s not a style that’s supposed to make sense yet somehow manages just fine. You can get the gears in your head, turning just by thinking about the possibilities this approach can have. Anything in Polyphia’s discography past its EP is the right place to start with this equally absurd and endearing playing style.
Coming in at just 22 years old, Melanie Faye happens to be the youngest on this list. But thanks to her distinctive way around the fretboard, she’s on the verge of being the next biggest hit.
Melanie started her journey into fame when a competition video of her playing went viral. Her nuanced R&B style of playing was something that had not yet been heard by many. It invoked key influences like Michael Jackson, Eric Gale, and Jimi Hendrix.
Her style of playing can best be described as a soul choir living on her strings. She’s able to move entire chords around her fretboard in melodic and harmonic ways. And when that’s not enough, she’ll mimic the inflections of the human voice by adding trills, phasing vibratos, double stops, micro-bends, and stewing bass lines.
Few players in the guitar world can claim to bottle human emotions into their playing. And yet, Melanie Faye has done just that. Although she hasn’t quite reached solo artist levels, you can find her playing on her YouTube channel or alongside collaborations with other R&B artists.
Musicians are always defined by their generation, and guitar is no exception. You can admire the guitar greats of yesteryear, but sometimes it also pays to keep your eye on what new players can do with the instrument. If you’ve been reading so far, you might’ve gotten a couple of useful suggestions about where to start. Now all that’s left is to explore and find out what else can be done with a piece of wood with metal stretched over it.