10 Great Young Rock Guitarists
Rock Guitar Is in Capable Hands With These Contemporary Guitar Slingers
These days, many young “shredder” guitarists are blazing through the rock and roll scene, hoping to be the best of the bunch, if not the best ever. At any rate, these young guns, if you will, are destined to replace vintage axemen, such as Clapton, Page, Van Halen, and Beck, as they retire or pass on to the Promised Land. Judging from what I’ve seen and heard of these young pluckers, there’s hope for the future of rock and roll guitar.
Please note, this list is in no particular order and doesn’t necessarily represent all the great young rock guitarists, because I certainly could have missed one or two. Let me know if I did. Incidentally, no guitarist on this list is over 40.
1. Carmen Vandenberg (25)
Carmen Vandenberg’s musical origins were academic; that is, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree (with honors) in guitar from London’s Academy of Contemporary Music. Then she developed a love for the bluesy guitar chops of Buddy Guy. Soon, Vandenberg joined up with fellow Brit, Rosie Bones, playing lead guitar on such hits as “Girls Can’t Play Guitar.” Eventually Vandenberg and Rosie Bones joined rock virtuoso Jeff Beck, producing the album Loud Hailer, on which Vandenberg played much of the rhythm guitar, as well as some lead riffs using Beck’s Strat. Vandenberg also toured with Beck on the Loud Hailer tour in 2016. And, also appearing on the bill was Buddy Guy. Who else?
2. Mac DeMarco (29)
Born in British Columbia, Canada, Mac DeMarco, guitarist, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, plays music that’s hard to describe; it’s been called blue wave, slacker rock, indie rock, psychedelic rock, jangle or off-kilter pop, or, as he labels it, “jizz jazz.” Go figure! Just listen to his tune “Ode to Viceroy” and see what you’d call it. The chords DeMarco plays in this song seem to be from another planet! But a more down to earth description relating to his music would pin his vocal style to John Lennon or Damon Albarn of Gorillaz. DeMarco’s first studio album is Rock and Roll Nightclub (2012); and recently, Another Day (2015) and This Old Dog (2017).
3. Davy Knowles (32)
A blues guitarist from the Isle of Man, Davy Knowles began performing with the band Back Door Slam in 2006; their first studio album was Roll Away (2007). A lead guitarist, singer and songwriter, Knowles has drawn inspiration from such artists as Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Dire Straights, Robert Cray, Rory Gallagher, Eric Clapton and Joe Satriani. Knowles also claims to be influenced by Celtic music, as shown in the song “Roll Away.” Interestingly, in 2009, Joe Satriani said Knowles is his “new favorite modern bluesman.” After becoming the obvious headliner with Back Door Slam, Knowles began a solo career, releasing such albums as Three Miles from Avalon (2016) and 1932 (2017). It seems safe to write that with great players such as Knowles around, the blues will never go out of style!
4. Synyster Gates (38)
Brian Haner Jr., alias Synyster Gates or Syn is another heavy metal rocker who plays faster than a speeding electron, and is also included on the previously mentioned list of the 50 Fastest Guitarists of All Time. At the age of 18, Synyster became the lead guitarist for Avenged Sevenfold in 1999. Syn has also worked with the avant-garde assemblage, Pinkly Smooth. By the by, the year 2006 was a very good one for Synyster; he won the Metal Hammer “Young Shredder” award, as well as the Total Guitar magazine “Guitarist of the Year” award. On stage, Syn’s sartorial splendor evokes punk rockers, Axl Rose and Gothic theatricality. On the Internet, you can even buy Syn’s garish garb.
5. Abigail Zachko (16)
Presently doing gigs in NYC, Abigail “Abby” Zachko plays jazz-fusion as if she invented it. A phenom, Zachko was runner up for Music Radar’s "Young Guitarist of the Year Award" in 2018. Zachko generally plays slowly but suddenly erupts with runs that would make many older guitarists grin with envy. Influenced by legendary artist Jimi Hendrix, Zachko is particularly fond of his signature riffs in “Spanish Castle Magic.” She began performing with the band Lunatic Fringe and now leads a power trio whose new album, This Was Planned, spawned the song “Seafoam,” which has impressed many folks who must wonder, How can she be so good while still just a fledgling? It seems youth has no bounds!
6. Jonny Lang (38)
Another blues axeman with a viral vibrato is Jonny Lang. And as good as Jonny strokes the guitar, he may be an even better songwriter and singer, his voice being likened to that of an aging bluesman, perhaps the legendary Buddy Guy, with whom Jonny has toured and jammed. Out of Fargo, North Dakota, Jonny began playing guitar at 12. Another prodigy in the making, Jonny formed his own band, Kid Jonny Lang and the Big Bang, which produced its first album, Smokin’, when Jonny was just 15. From 1998 to 2003, Johnny dealt with “substance” issues but came out of the episode with an improved perspective, as the album, Turn Around (2006), may confirm. Jonny’s guest appearances over the years seem to show he’s played with just about everybody; and if he hasn’t yet, he’ll soon get around to ‘em!
7. Orianthi Panagaris (33)
Some people think Orianthi Panagaris is the fastest lady gun in the West. Coming from Australia, this talented gal can play like a guy, if you will, and she sings like a young Pat Benatar. Orianthi began playing guitar at six and started performing in bands at 14, and was soon jamming with rock luminaries such as Steve Vai and Carlos Santana. Interestingly, the late Michael Jackson picked Orianthi to be his lead guitarist in his ill-fated tour, This Is It. The pretty Aussie sealed the deal when she played Michael the guitar solo in “Beat It.” In recent years, Orianthi has launched a solo career, pumping out singles and albums and appearing as a featured guitarist whenever called upon. Incidentally, Orianthi made the list of the 12 Greatest Female Electric Guitarists. Who says girls can’t play lead guitar?
8. Jake Pitts (33)
Jake Pitts is a lead guitarist, songwriter, producer and engineer, who currently slings guitar with the metal band, Black Veil Brides, a decidedly glam metal (or hair metal) assemblage. Pitts began shredding the axe when he was about 13, after having heard the haunting power chords of Metallica. His mother, a classical composer, taught Jake musical theory. Pitts has also been influenced by other heavy metal artists such as Van Halen, Scorpions, Black Sabbath, Avenged Sevenfold, Mötley Crüe and Buckethead. Incidentally, Jake Pitts has won awards for being an exceptional young rock guitarist.
9. Jared James Nichols (26)
Based in Los Angeles, singer/songwriter/guitarist Jared Nichols got his first guitar at 14 and began hitting the stage almost immediately. While still a teenager, Nichols performed with such blues legends as Buddy Guy, “Honeyboy” Edwards and “Big Jim” Johnson. Soon, Nichols was playing 12 hours per day, eventually opening with such stellar guitarists as Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Derek Trucks. By the age of 21, Nichols had performed in hundreds of gigs and had won many accolades and awards for his guitar prowess. In 2012, Nichols released his debut EP, Live at the Viper Room, highlights of which were the tunes “Let It Go” and “Blackfoot.” Moreover, Nichols likes to play songs by Mountain, thereby emulating the work of legendary guitarist Leslie West. Also, along the way, Nichols has gained the attention of such illustrious slicks as Guitar World and Guitar Player.
Jared James Nichols
10. Naia Izumi (34)
Per her Facebook account, Izumi calls herself as a singer/multi-instrumentalist, whose musical emphasis is the guitar. She describes her musical style as “elegant, intricate, bizarre, soulful, sensual and rhythmic, sometimes focused on etheric and ambient soundscapes.” Izumi claims she began her musical ways at the age of 5, playing a small keyboard. Izumi works as a solo artist, producer, stage musician and session player. She has also released many self-produced singles, including "Natural Disaster," "Don’t Ask Me," "Soft Spoken Woman" and "Ambient Improvisation," a Zen-like, acid trippy, excursion through space-time, while dancing with a flower between one’s teeth–or something like that. Anyway, Naia certainly has a lot going on in her mind and fingers!
© 2010 Kelley Marks