10 contemporary guitar virtuosos you need to hear

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With the shred guitar back in production and ready to be received by young legends in the making, we list 10 talented players you should be listening to right now...

Plini

Plini Roessler-Holgate is a 26-year-old Australian guitarist who creates instrumental music that leans heavily towards prog metal. Favouring uniquely shaped Strandberg guitars with Fractal and Atomic devices for his clean and heavily distorted guitar tones, he can be both emotive with singing sustained notes and highly virtuosic with blazingly precise syncopated phrasing. 

To create colour in his music, he favours odd time signatures and lots of space (he knows how effective reverb and silence can be!) to contrast with pounding drum beats and symphonic-like lead lines. With a second album due (his first was Handmade Cities) and an ever-growing fanbase, he’s definitely one to watch.

Mateus Asato

The 24-year-old LA-based Brazilian guitarist is part of the developing neo-soul movement that favours clean guitar tones and sophisticated chord vocabulary, which is as much inspired by jazzers such as pianist Bill Evans or guitarist Joe Pass as by soul icons like Stevie Wonder. Championed by John Mayer and session-guitar legend Tim Pierce, Mateus’ fame has been cultivated from his videos on social media that have impressed many. 

A Suhr artist, his Strat/Tele flavouring provides plenty of great single-coil tones as he glides and blazes with a largely fingerpicking style. His broad vocabulary makes him a hot prospect - he’s Tori Kelly’s guitarist at present but he could easily enhance the music of soul singer D’Angelo or Steely Dan.

Lari Basilio

Like Mateus, Lari is also an LA-based Brazilian guitarist with a rhythmic fingerpicking/ chord based style as well as being an impressive pick-wielding rock soloist. The 30-year-old released The Sound Of My Room in 2015, an all-instrumental album that showed her impressive chops and broad compositional skills. There’s plenty of footage on social media of her playing various guitars (often Suhr). 

A particular skill of Basilio’s is her slippery soul/blues phrasing that, when using fingerpicking, involves melodic string jumps that many other guitarists don’t or can’t do. For many of the new virtuoso guitarists arising via social media, chops, taste and harmony savvy are all part of the required terrain and Lari excels at them all.

Nick Johnston

Schecter-endorsee Nick Johnson, born in 1987, is a big fan of single coils - he has three in his signature S-type, not even opting for the humbucker found in the bridge position of many Super S-types. 

The pay-off is obvious - the Canadian prog-rocker favours a moderately driven amp tone (Mesa/ Boogie these days) that positions him in the SRV/ John Mayer camp where playing articulations are super-responsive to light fretting hand slurs or heavy picking. Nick has played with numerous musicians including Paul Gilbert, Guthrie Govan and Animals As Leaders, which has helped grow his fanbase. 

As one of the bluesiest guitarists in this list, Nick can be as energetic as, say, Phillip Sayce but with plenty of modern rock licks involving extensive legato slurring and sweep picked and tapped phrases. It’s a heady mix and performed with seemingly little effort. As for his actual music (he’s released four albums, the last of which was 2016’s Remarkably Human), he’s pleasingly unique with melody-based compositions that equal his chops.

Daniele Gottardo

The Italian shredder Daniele Gottardo, born 1983, is Steve Vai’s favourite modern guitarist. When you see or hear Daniele, it’s easy to see why, as he’s highly virtuosic with several unique aspects to his Fender (scalloped) Super Strat wielding style. The first impression is how well developed his tapping skills are - very precise and varied with all four picking-hand fingers strong on the fretboard. 

The second impression is his soloing isn’t drenched in typical blues rock tropes, but rather modern sounding (often astoundingly fast) lines that are as much modal as widely intervallic. Then there are his compositions that lean heavily towards modern classical (think Stravinsky or Mahler rather than Mozart or Bach) creating grandiose symphonic statements that are enhanced by orchestral arrangements and rock rhythms. With sidelines that involve rock, jazz and punk fusion bands, he’s a very colourful guitarist.

Ant Law

UK guitarist Ant Law, 34, has had a varied musical life from having a Berklee College Of Music education to being a West End/sideman guitarist to performing with pianist Jason Rebello in Tim Garland’s Lighthouse. His present band is Trio HLK, which has toured and recorded with percussionist Evelyn Glennie. His previous album, Zero Sum World (2015) featured 11 stimulating compositions and plenty of confident guitar work. 

While Ant favours a humbucker-based jazz tone on a guitar tuned in 4ths (like Stanley Jordan and Tom Quayle), he also plays an eight-string guitar in Trio HLK (sometimes with overdrive). He’s a seasoned musician with very broad abilities allowing him to blaze as a rocker (good tapper!).

His advanced rhythmic abilities are also impressive - he’s savvy to the South-Indian spoken percussion approach, konnakol and the typical rhythms favoured in South American music. And unlike many of the guitarists highlighted here, he’s so busy playing and touring that there’s more footage of his playing uploaded by others than himself!

Daniel Donato

A few months ago, Nashville-based Daniel, born 1995, was nominated for Americana Honours and Awards Instrumentalist Of The Year (results due in September). As former lead guitarist with The Don Kelly Band (Brent Mason was one of many guitarists who played with Don), it’s easy to see Daniel on stage and then see the reason why he made the shortlist.

As a fan of Danny Gatton, Mike Bloomfield, JD Simo and Johnny Hiland, he has a wealth of licks and blazing chops that stun audiences and students alike. With a rich country/ blues palette, his 2017 album, Cosmic Country is brimming with Fender Telecaster hybrid-picking, doublestops, fast runs and clipped chord comping that skilfully covers all the fretboard. Head to YouTube to see him soloing with intensity for several minutes - it really is something to behold!

Jason Richardson

The world of prog metal and djent is filled with musicians who are super precise, spurred on by bands such as Dream Theater and Animals As Leaders. A Music Man endorsee, Jason Richardson, 26, displays many of the typical genre requirements using a thick distortion as provided by Friedman, Engl and PRS amps alongside Fractal units and a Toneforge amp plug-in. In a post-Gilbert/Petrucci/Govan world of technical virtuosity, it seems there are still new levels of speed and stamina to achieve and Jason is proud to pursue them. 

While he stunned in the bands Born Of Osiris and Chelsea Grin, his debut album I (2016) is an avalanche of power, which brims with some of the tightest seven-string metal riffing and fastest alternate and sweep picking to be found in heavy music.

As a guest instructor at John Petrucci’s Guitar Universe 2017 (catch the next one during August 2018), he stood alongside virtuosos such as Tony MacAlpine, Rusty Cooley and Andy James to inspire student shredders to even loftier heights. Jason will leave you breathless!

Andreas Varady

With Quincy Jones serving as exec producer on his latest album, Andreas certainly has one of the best endorsements possible! Despite his youth (he’s the youngest in this list, born in July 1997), Andreas has been around for quite a while, blending gypsy jazz with a modern jazz vocabulary to create an exciting sound that nods as much to Django as to Wes Montgomery and George Benson. 

Starting out as busker in Ireland, he studied in the States and has played with musicians such as Andreas Oberg, Louis Stewart and Tommy Emmanuel. His debut Come Together (2014) was produced by the legendary David Foster (Celine Dion, Seal, Earth Wind & Fire) and Quincy, while The Quest (2018) had Andreas himself as producer. Armed with a Benedetto guitar, Andreas’ tone is rich and articulate with plenty of colour and chops to please fans of virtuosity.

Jason Kui

This Hong Kong guitarist has had an impressively colourful playing career, starting off by backing numerous HK and Chinese artists in the studio and on tour from the age of 23, before going solo. Signing with Prosthetic Records (Marty Friedman, etc) he released his debut, Absence Of Words last year. The seven tracks show plenty of diversity with a focus on melodic and burning overdriven lines and feature a guest solo from Josh Smith on Now! You! Know!. 

Due to influences such as Andy Timmons and John Petrucci and the versatility required as a sideman, Jason’s style includes funky clean chord rhythms, blues-rock licks, effected guitar melodies and lots of cascading shred lines. While using various 24 fret guitars for his music, he tends to favour Tom Anderson guitars and Mesa/Boogie amps.

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