Jack White is this generation's guitar great.
He's widely considered so by guitar fans and was called as much in the 2008 documentary “It Might Get Loud.” The film featured interviews with White, The Edge of U2 and Jimmy Page, and closed with a jam session between the three.
When music fans talk about the greatest rock guitarist, they bring up players such as Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page. Both are amazing and very influential guitarists, but one has been dead for decades and the other hasn't produced much new music in years.
So we decided to list the best guitar players who are still creating — making and performing new music on a regular basis.
Jack White made the list, but we also picked some guitarists you may not be quite as familiar with, but who are guitar greats in their own right.
We're not here to name the best guitarists of all time. If you want that, go read Rolling Stone. For our list, we wanted the 10 best living, breathing, creating, playing guitarists.
So, here's our criteria:
» The person must still be living.
» They must actually play a guitar (unlike dubstep artist Skrillex, who Spin magazine put on its list and doesn't play the instrument).
» They must actively create and play new music. (This one may be controversial. It's why you won't see Keith Richards or B.B. King — both guitarists we really love — on our list.)
10. Eddie Van Halen
From 1978's “Van Halen” to this year's “A Different Kind of Truth,” Eddie Van Halen has been shredding his way through rock riffs as the lead guitarist for his eponymous hard rock band. Even if you don't like his style of music, you have to give him credit for popularizing guitar techniques such as two-handed tapping, harmonics, picking styles and volume swells (turning the volume knob while playing). These techniques have influenced nearly every guitarist since, including others on this list.
9. Jack White
Jack White's intensity and passion are what help make him a guitar genius. In duo The White Stripes, Meg White kept the beat and Jack provided the passion through screaming riffs on “Fell in Love with a Girl” and “Icky Thump.” The way he continues riffing with songs such as “Sixteen Saltines” will keep him on this list for a long time.
8. The Edge
The stocking-capped guitarist for U2 is more of a scientist than your average rock guitarist. Where others might have a few effects pedals, The Edge has a cabinet full of effects and electronics. You might see Bono as the iconic rock band's leader, but it's The Edge who shapes the sound of songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
7. Angus Young
The AC/DC lead guitarist takes the riffs his older brother Malcolm plays and makes them soar with wild solo runs. Hard rock bands all over the world have copied that style whether they know it or not. It's no surprise, considering every guitar student learning rock songs inevitably learns “Highway to Hell,” “Back in Black” and “Shook Me All Night Long.” Young's stage antics — duckwalking, punk swagger and that schoolboy outfit — make it even more amazing that he can play like that.
6. Kirk Hammett
Is Kirk Hammett the best metal guitarist? We're willing to say he is. The lead guitarist for Metallica grew up on Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and continues to educate himself on jazz, blues and classical guitar, all of which feed into his lightning-fast, melodic playing. One of his riffs, that of “Enter Sandman,” is one of the most famous rock melodies ever. Hammett continues to thrash wonderfully on “Death Magnetic” and we can't wait to hear what comes from the band's to-be-released 10th studio album.
5. Neil Young
Neil Young's guitar work is rather idiosyncratic, but what sounds rather ragged is also beautifully melodic. Much of Young's guitar work has traditional structure, but when he flies into feedback-laden solos and experiments with a guitar's ocean of sound, the result is beautiful. Even on “Americana,” his latest album with Crazy Horse, Young burns through gritty, harrowing rock renditions of songs such as “Oh Susannah” and “Gallows Pole.”
4. Jonny Greenwood
Whether it's the aggressive guitar on “Creep” or the sonic landscapes of “King of Limbs,” Jonny Greenwood is largely responsible for the sound of Radiohead. It was Greenwood's guitar playing that pushed albums “The Bends” and “OK Computer” and his work continues to stretch the sound of the group's more expansive recent albums, “In Rainbows” and “King of Limbs.” It's also worth mentioning that he plays about a dozen instruments and even writes software the band uses to record and make sounds.
You may think of him as the pop singer behind “Purple Rain” — and he is that, for sure — but he's also the magician playing and producing every single piece of his own music. That includes the hooks and solos from songs such as, yes, “Purple Rain” and Madonna's “Like a Prayer.” The breadth of his ability, from pop to jazz to rock, is simply staggering and the sheer amount of material he's released is incredible. If you still need proof, watch Prince play “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's tribute to George Harrison. Whoa.
2. Tom Morello
There isn't a modern guitarist with a sound as distinct as Tom Morello, who combines funk guitar, hip-hip sounds, feedback and wild picking styles. It's practically alien. Rage Against the Machine's “Bulls on Parade” might be the most hard-hitting example, but you'll find Morello's six-string attack at the forefront of rock band Audioslave and rap-rock band Street Sweeper Social Club as well as in his solo efforts as The Nightwatchman. To our knowledge, no one has been able to replicate his sound effectively, which is why he's often tapped to play guitar on movie soundtracks such as “The A-Team” and “Iron Man 2.”
1. Nels Cline
Wilco started as Jeff Tweedy's alt-country band. When Nels Cline officially joined in 2004, he expanded the group's sound and pulled it in a new direction. Cline has helped expand the band's music, especially in concert, where he leads the guitar jams. While Wilco may be Cline's most visible project, in his years as a musician, he has appeared on more than 150 albums. Cline also holds down jazz and improv group the Nels Cline Singers. Wilco is probably the best place to get a good dose of Cline's guitar. Listen to the opening melody to “Impossible Germany,” the guitar notes over the staccato piano of “Bull Black Nova” or the ultimate Wilco jam-out song, “Spiders,” and try not to fall in love with his melodies. Trust us, it will be hard.
Slash — The eighth notes in “Sweet Child O' Mine” are so simple, but so right.
Mike McCready — McCready's responsible for some of the most enduring riffs of the grunge era. He's still doing it, and he's doing it well.
Derek Trucks — At 33, Trucks seems like a grizzled blues veteran considering how long he's been playing. He's also probably the best young blues guitarist around.
Brad Paisley — In addition to being a mega-popular country singer, Paisley might be the best country guitarist alive.
John Mayer — Hate his pop songs? Fine, but it's hard to hate his stellar guitar work.
Johnny Marr — From The Smiths to Modest Mouse to The Cribs, Marr keeps churning out excellent work.