Narrowing down the top ten most influential guitarists of the 2000s was no small task. While previous decades have been more easily definable, the 2000s have been slightly harder to put a finger on, particularly when it comes to the guitar.
The 1960s and 70s were the heydays of Rock and Roll and along with them came guitar gods and rock legend bands like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. The 80s saw the rise of metal and gave way to Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and a brand new punk scene.
Even the 90s had definable guitar icons, albeit in unconventional genres, to be found in the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But the 2000s? Sure, progressive and alternative rock has climbed the ladder over the past few years. But in truth, Generation Y has been more concerned with Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears than it has with any single guitarist. The number of young boys jumping around their bedrooms with a tennis racket lifted behind their head as they air-guitar along to their favorite axe-man would pale in comparison to the days of Pete Townshend and Jimmy Page.
That is not to say that the past ten years have been lost to guitarists altogether. No doubt the 2000s have birthed six-string sensations, and while their “influence” at this point may still be speculative, we at Guitar Planet have a feeling that these top ten are those who wear the heavy crown.
For those whose familiarity with Jack White is limited to the commercial success of The White Stripes, we’ll forgive you if you’ve momentarily huffed at our top pick. The truth is that White has been not only one of the best and most influential guitarists of the 2000s, but also one of the hardest working musicians overall. He’s released album after album (nine albums over ten years, to be precise) of sensational music featuring a new lease on rock music and how the guitar drives it.
Forget Meg White’s peppermint-painted drum set and the horrific aesthetics that The White Stripes crafted for the media’s – and, quite frankly, everyone else’s – sake, Jack White has earned his stripes (no pun intended) both on stage as well as fronting The Raconteurs. White’s unique blend of blues, garage rock, and sheer chaos has surely been burned into the hearts and minds of musicians and guitarists for years to come.
If you’re a guitarist and don’t know why Mayer is our second pick please take a moment to stop reading, take a deep breath, and hang your head in shame. Haunted by his early commercial success with hot, steamy garbage like “Your Body is a Wonderland”, Mayer is so much more than your average radio hit with an acoustic.
Since achieving initial stardom, he has honed and refined his skills to become one of the most technical and, dare we say, best guitarists of this generation. Whether it be his blues ensemble, the John Mayer Trio, or his usual lonesome self, Mayer has defined himself as one of the few guitar greats of our time and has surely inspired many to return to the roots of Rock and Roll, the blues, and the electric guitar.
In his live release Where The Light Is, Mayer summed it beautifully: “Let me first say how wonderful it feels that it’s 2007 and we just launched into a slow blues and 7,000 people in LA went nuts. All is not lost.”
The scope of Bellamy’s stardom has been considerably wide; extending beyond the success of Muse – the alternative rock band that he leads with guitar and vocals – and into sex icon history as he has been charged with the label of the world’s Sexiest Male on not one, not two, but three separate occasions.
But sex appeal isn’t the only badge Bellamy has earned for himself. He can be found among the ranks of Total Guitar’s “Top 100 Guitarists of All Time” on top of having created their 13th “Greatest Riff of All Time”. Bellamy can even be found in the Guinness Book of World Records for having smashed the most guitars in a single tour (140).
Having been named “the Hendrix of his generation”, it is no doubt that Matthew Bellamy takes rank among our most influential.
If you’re thinking that Frusciante’s glory days were all but over after the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded Californication in 1999, you’d be dead wrong. Frusciante has kept busier than ever over the last ten years and has explored new sounds and influences along the way.
On top of recording and touring as the lead guitarist of RCHP, Frusciante released six albums over six months in 2004, largely abandoning the melody-driven guitar hooks that had defined his sound with the Chili Peppers for experimental rock and ambient electronica.
Frusciante ranked 18th on Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and BBC poll named him best guitarist of the last 30 years. He continues to release solo albums and record with collaborators across various musical genres.
Radiohead’s success and fame was accomplished far more than ten years ago, but with the releases of Kid A, Amnesiac, and In Rainbows all since 2000 it’s impossible to have a list of influential guitarists – or musicians in general, for that matter – without Greenwood showing up on it.
And it shall be argued by us that Greenwood’s most influential work falls into this period, under which he abandoned a more traditional rock sound and used the guitar and other instruments to play into experimental variations of jazz, electronic, and classical music.
On top of Greenwood’s avant-garde musicianship with Radiohead, he has continued to release solo albums and compilations over the past decade and was even hired by the BBC as a composer to the BBC Concert Orchestra in 2004.
Not a conventional choice, and perhaps the least mainstream of our list, Stevens has earned the ranks of most influential the quiet way. Having started out in experimental electronic mixing, Stevens picked up a guitar (among many other instruments) to record the folk rock concept album Michigan in 2003 and immediately caught the attention of many with his haunting vocals and thoughtful song-writing.
Stevens followed suit in 2004 and recorded the all-acoustic Seven Swans, which, like Michigan, featured immaculate song-writing accompanied by soft guitar melodies that carried so much emotion that his music became almost overpowering. Illinois, his second state concept album, came a year later and showed that Stevens was no fluke; he had the talent and creativity on the guitar to match the most haunting of lyrics and vocals with seamless melodies. Illinois is widely named by critics as one of the top albums of the decade.
In 2010, Stevens proved his creativity again with The Age of Adz, showing that the scope of his ability is ever-expanding and taking both the guitar and himself into a whole new world of experimentation. It is no doubt that Steven’s influence has left its mark on acoustic song-writers.
The Black Keys guitarist and vocalist boasts a near-identical résumé to Jack White. Auerbach fronts a fast-paced blues-rock duo born out of garage rock revival. Both men list the blues greats as inspiration, including Son House and Robert Johnson, and both have achieved enormous success over the past ten years.
Auerbach has come up in a considerably less conspicuous manner than White, earning his fame and credibility slowly through good old-fashioned hard work rather than a media-friendly image and radio-friendly guitar hooks. But that has not stopped The Black Keys from having their music featured in seemingly every commercial, TV show, movie, and even video game produced in the last ten years.
Still less known and possibly a few years away from achieving the recognition that White has, Auerbach has some work to do. But, like White, he will definitely inspire many young guitarists to go out in the garage and turn up their amps.
Better known by his stage name, Iron & Wine, Samuel Beam is this generation’s Paul Simon, featuring technical and focused acoustic melodies that allow him to stand out among the singer/songwriters of today.
When The Creek Drank the Cradle dropped in 2002, Beam’s sound drew comparisons to Nick Drake, Simon and Garfunkel, and Neil Young. His music, though solely acoustic, had a profound depth and intimacy that remained even as Beam went back into studio on subsequent albums and added more band members. Beam’s second release, Our Endless Numbered Days, received huge acclaim and was ranked among the top albums of the decade.
When Heartbreaker was released in 2000, it was clear that Ryan Adams was going to be something special for music and for the guitar. Laden with country-rock riffs and guest vocalists like Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch, Adams was ready to leave an impact on the alt-country genre.
A year later Gold became a huge success and Adams would continue to produce five more solo albums and five albums with his band, The Cardinals over the following nine years.
His swinging electric sound and somber, drunken lyrics solidified him early on as an influential guitarist and a legendary songwriter for both country and rock music.
Everyone was a bit surprised when Damien Rice came into the music scene with his first album, O, because none of us had heard of him before. For many it was stumbling onto “The Blower’s Daughter” at the movie theatre when the trailer for Closer came on the screen.
Damien Rice might seem more influential as an artist than a guitarist, but while many can match his emotion vocally, few translate it through their instrument. Rice accomplished that feat with O in 2004 and then came back and did it all over again with 9 in 2006.
His quiet intensity and brutally honest songwriting and guitar-playing make Damien Rice one of the most influential; and we’re confident that his arrangements and progressions will turn up as the inspiration for guitarists in years to come.
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