The Future of Guitar: 15 progressive guitarists pushing boundaries

Moving beyond simply “shredding,” these guitarists all embody a taste of a future music landscape — one filled with new tonality, time signatures, and techniques unheard. Each guitarist below has mastered the instrument but has also made it their own. Many times collaborating with other guitarists to propel their expertise, these artists push the boundaries of how a guitar looks, sounds, and feels.


Javier Reyes & Tosin Abasi

Animals As Leaders

Frontman Tosin Abasi grabs his guitar and speaks for the first time in the set. He says thank you to the audience for coming to a show with no lead singer; to an entire concert bill with no singers. In 2018 in Columbus, OH, Animals As Leaders sold out Park Street Saloon, a mid-size room, along with most of the shows on their North American tour. The band built a movement in instrumental progressive music, developing a new scene across the world and bringing on supporting acts like Plini and Intervals into the light. Once labeled “djent,” this music metal-influenced-jazz has found its home in an ever-growing community.

Animals As Leaders is composed of two eight-string guitars and one drum kit. Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes split rhythm and lead duties throughout the songs, and together they coined the technique called “thumping” with their debut 2009 self-titled album. Abasi is a self-taught guitarist, and Reyes draws Latin influences, showcased in his solo project Mestís.

Pushing the boundaries of their music with each album, their self-titled album was extremely technical and speed-playing, The Joy of Motion (2014) brought catchy melodies with unique time signatures, The Madness of Many (2016) expanded to experimental jazz, and most recently Parrhesia (2022) combines the previous efforts to create an ethereal and dense tone.

Recommended Tracks: “Conflict Cartography,” “Another Year,” “The Woven Web,” and “CAFO”


Phoebe Bridgers

(Phoebe Bridgers, boygenius)

Phoebe Bridgers is an indie gem exploding onto the scene. Vibrant yet dark in her approach to songwriting, she is detail-oriented down to the backing tracks. Bridgers — who also hosts her own monthly SiriusXM show — composes all music alongside ex-boyfriend drummer Marshall Vore. While most know her iconic sound from her voice, her guitar is also distinctly unique in its smoothness. Any of her songs could be stripped down to an acoustic session, which marks quality songwriting. Bridgers rose to fame with her hit single “Motion Sickness” off her album Stranger in the Alps (2017). Soon after, the supergroup Boygenius formed for a single EP, co-starring Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus (2018).

While some artists on this list may be more technical, Bridgers solidifies her place as one of the best current singer-songwriter guitarists. Bridgers plays unique guitar patterns and shapes while performing vocals live. She solidified herself as a force on the scene when she had widespread success on her record Punisher (2020). The record showed how she could bring ’00s alt-rock energy to modern-day music, especially with the song “Kyoto,” which expanded her acoustic style to show dynamic songwriting tenacity.

Recommended Tracks: “Souvenir,” “Nothing Else Matters” (Metallica Cover), “Kyoto,” “Motion Sickness”


Mike Stringer

Spiritbox

Heart-pounding, yet melodic. Powerful riffs, yet angelic. Mike Stringer of Spiritbox is no novice to the scene. Hailing from Victoria, Stringer and vocalist (and wife) Courtney LaPlante formed Spiritbox in 2017 with their self-titled EP pushing the quality of their engineering and songwriting.

Stringer knows when he needs to shred, when he needs to bend, and, most importantly, when he needs to let LaPlante take over the song. Stringer’s tonality is unmatched in the industry, and he has truly mastered the modern breakdown.

In only five short years since their first release, Spiritbox has shaken the metal and rock genres by pushing the boundaries of dark melodic metalcore. Mike Stringer produced all of the records alongside veteran Dan Braunstein, paving a standard for engineering proficient guitarists in the current age. With technology advancements, Stringer doesn’t need a studio to create breathtaking riffs. Spiritbox rose to fame in the metal community by catching wind with singles like “Holy Roller” (Liquid Metal premiere) and “Constance.” Their first LP Eternal Blue (2021) explored the depths with deep and personal meanings.

Listen to Spiritbox on Liquid Metal, and catch their live performance from the Next Wave Virtual Concert Series above.

Recommended Tracks: “Everything’s Eventual,” “Belcarra,” “Eternal Blue,” “Holy Roller,” “Circle With Me,” and “Silk In The Strings”


Yvette Young

(Covet, Yvette Young)

Yvette Young is a multi-faceted musician, classically trained in violin and an angelic singer. Her combination of two-hand tapping and odd time signatures allows her playing to be fluid in motion while leaving room for vocals. Yvette Young’s boundless musicianship shines holistically in her solo work, but her true guitar ability comes out in the three-piece instrumental outfit Covet. In Covet and her solo projects, Young uses uncommon tunings with the addition of a capo. Self-defined as “math rock,” Covet takes jazz and classical influences, while Yvette Young carries the melody on her custom hand-painted seven-string guitar.

Yvette Young shows her unrepeatable craft in “A Map, a String, a Light” off of her first EP Acoustics (2014). With just a seven-string and her voice, the entire spectrum of sound is filled from bass to treble, producing an ethereal sound unlike any you’ve ever heard.

In Covet, Young is not afraid to get heavy and experimental. Off the bat, Covet’s first EP, Currents Sea Dragon, is a progressive journey that tells stories without words. Ares comes in with intense finger-tapping while still maintaining a pulse with David Adamiak’s bassline. Falkor and shubuya (feat. San Holo) are based on singable guitar riffs sure to get caught in your head all day. This shows how well Young can adapt to other band members and push her limits even further.

Recommended Tracks: “Ares,” “A Map, a String, a Light,” “Sea Dragon,” “falkor,” and “parachute”


Beabadoobee

At only 21 years old, Beabadoobee is the youngest guitarist on this list — but rightfully so. Naturally a trained violinist, Beabadoobee brings depth to traditional alternative singer-songwriter styles with her double-tracking harmonies on guitars and radio-ready voice. Her attention to detail can be attributed to being a self-taught guitarist, as well as her ’90s inspirations. Naturally, her playing has a novel sound because she learned from an array of musicians versus isolating herself to one particular style. Beabadoobee has noted Sonic Youth, Alanis Morissette, and Simon & Garfunkel for shaping her musical influences.

You can hear the essence of her extensive inspirations on “Cologne,” which bursts with sounds of early Death Cab For Cutie mixed with Sonic Youth. Her recent single “Talk” echos early Silversun Pickups and Metric, utilizing the guitar to develop a distorted synthesizer tone.

Beabadoobee broke through mainstream success when Canadian artist Powfu used a sample of her song “Coffee” on his TikTok trending song “Death Bed.” Over four million users have used the song to create a video, and the song peaked at No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. Beabadoobee shows how TikTok can get your music in the ears of millions.

Recommended Tracks: “Talk,” “Cologne,” “She Plays Bass,” “Coffee,” “The Moon Song”
Stream SiriusXM TikTok Radio


Charlie Robbins

(Artificial Language & Syncatto)

Charlie Robbins hits the soft spots for guitar perfectionists, groove lovers, and music theory enthusiasts. Lead guitarist for the progressive rock band Artificial Language, Robbins draws inspiration from bands like Haken and Leprous.

Syncatto, Robbins’ solo project, features vastly different advancements on each album and pushes Robbins creatively. Being a drummer by trade has given his songwriting perfect synchronization across all instruments. Robbins composes all music and is not afraid to lean into multiple styles, guitars, and riffs in one song — all while breaking traditional standards of “verse-pre-chorus-chorus” songwriting. Like Carlos Santana, Robbins has the same intonation of “singing with his fingers.”

A Place To Breathe (2021, LP) carries heavy Spanish influences, while Lost Inside (2021, EP) test-drove more electronic sounds. Robbins’ latest single “King” bears many metal overtones while still having the “Charlie Robbins Slide” groove.

Robbins creates YouTube content on his channel, garnering over 6.28M views. He continues to push new boundaries with innovative content, creating playthroughs, original music, his “Does This Song Sound Better” series, and tutorials. Robbins’ signature tones are available as Artist Presets on Neural DSPs lines of guitar plug-ins, including Archetype: Gojira.

Recommended Tracks: “Up & Down,” “Let Us Dance,” “Red Velvet,” “Unself Portrait,” “Endless Naught”


Will Swan

(Dance Gavin Dance, Sianvar, Royal Coda, Secret Band)

Will Swan has been in the post-hardcore scene for over two decades and is not letting up. A core member of Dance Gavin Dance, Swan’s cult-following named his play-style “Swancore” for its elegant yet hardcore nature. Swan has the ability to write two completely different melodies on the left and right guitar tracks that seamlessly blend. He can effortlessly take a song from ballad to heavy to groovy to angry. Some of the most progressive songwriting and structure come from oftentimes standard tuned instruments, with Swan leading this movement.

In addition to selling out headlining tours with DGD, Swan plays in multiple side projects, including Secret Band, where he lets loose his epic writing capabilities in the hardcore scene, bringing gnarly breakdowns, dual guitars, and heavy riffs. Secret Band is Swan’s heavy outlet, but he experiments even further with work on post-hardcore supergroups Sianvar and Royal Coda.

If his overcommitment to writing unique music wasn’t enough, Will Swan also founded Blue Swan Records, an independent label building post-hardcore musicians like Eidola, Hail The Sun, Royal Coda, and Adventurer.

Recommended Tracks: “Blue Dream,” “Omniphobia,” “Becoming The Memory,” “Projectile Comet”


Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen, Mark Holcomb

(Periphery, Haunted Shores, The Helix Nebula)

Guitar Magazine named Misha Mansoor one of the Top 20 Best Guitarists of the 2010. Alongside Periphery’s Mark Holcomb and Jake Howsam Lowe, they received a  GRAMMY nomination for 2017 Best Metal Performance (“The Price Is Wrong”). Together, the three forces collided to pioneer the djent sound in modern metal music. Mansoor co-founded music software company GetGood Drums as well as his own label and studio. 3DOT Recordings works with artists from record deals to recording and has a total of six bands on the roster, including Periphery, which all three guitarists work on together.

Periphery’s technical playing is never overshadowed by their innate ability to compose. Take the opening track of Periphery IV; “Reptile” clocks in over 16 minutes long and features everything from orchestral symphonies to breakdowns. Periphery has also perfected the balance of shredding versus and letting a song breathe. They are not afraid to play eighth notes over the choruses because they know they will use an odd-time signature immediately following.

Mansoor & Holcomb released their solo project Haunted Shores’ second album Void, an instrumental death metal voyage. Their track “Nocturnal Hours” explores more traditional routes of black and death metal while still innovating, with Jørgen Munkeby playing a sweet saxophone solo to end the record.

Jake Bowen ventured into new territories in 2011 with his single “Relic,” primarily an electronic track but still containing an array of guitar melodies. His LP Isometric (2015) featured “Mare Tranquillitatis,” which brought feelings of a progressive video game soundtrack filled with lofi distortion and tight drum samples. “Omnitopia” off of the same record features his distinct solo project’s rounded guitar smoothness that fills the mix. His most recent album The Daily Sun (2021, 3DOT Recordings) features Elliot Coleman (Good Tiger, Ex-Tesseract) on “I Am Error.” Bowen produced the track and progressively builds the soundscape using acoustic guitars, sequencers, and quality dark and snappy samples. Bowen builds a deep bass sound of a futuristic cyberspace, echoed in his remix of Good Tiger’s “Float On.”

Recommended Tracks: “Scarlet,” “Make Total Destroy,” “Sentient Glows,” “Nocturnal Hours” “The Daily Sun,” “I Am Error”


Sarah Longfield

(The Fine Constant)

Sarah Longfield gained a notable following on YouTube for her covers, guitar playthroughs, and original music. Longfield uses a stylized tapping technique and blends electronic music on her eight-string guitar to bring a completely reimagined version of what a guitar should sound like. Electronic elements, vocals, and additional production make Longfield an innovative force in the world of guitar and songwriting. While experimenting with digital sounds, Longfield still remains true to her guitar technique, consistently pushing innovative tracks.

Longfield’s most popular song, “Quiescent” by The Fine Constant, shows how she can differentiate her style of tapping. Longfield knows when to simplify her playing and when to go all out, adding ferocious punch to her songs. She partnered with Skillshare to create guitar tutorials and continues to put out guitar-focused YouTube content, gaining over 19 million views and over 250,000 followers. Longfield toured with Megadeth’s Marty Friedman in 2017 and continues to collaborate with YouTube music creator Rob Scallon.

Recommended Tracks: “Quiescent,” “Cataclysm,” “Call me out,” and “The Salient Voyage”


Motoko “Motifour” Kida & Ikumi “Ikkyu” Nakajima

Tricot

Tricot blends pop, jazz, and alternative genres, layered with beautiful, unique chord structures and rhythms. Motoko “Motifour” Kida (guitar, vocals). Montifour & Ikkyu founded Tricot in 2010 and have exploded in the Japanese rock and alternative scene with six genre-defining albums. Ikkyu knows when to sing and let Montifour take the guitar. Then she knows when to come back into play and to riff with Monifour.

The balance between two guitars seamlessly ebbing and flowing is tough to beat. Tricot is a four-piece band, but they sound like an entire orchestra. “いない” off Tricot’s latest album Jodeki (2021) showcases tempo changes, key changes, intense soloing, and imaginative guitar effect, all with a powerful Japanese pop chorus. Their most popular song “potage” explores sweet licks of jazz and is backed by punchy bass, rhythmic drums, and a tonal shift near the end of the song.

Tricot’s music has been featured in television shows, such as their dark, bass-heavy track “INAI” in the Japanese drama Curse of Spring (2021). Tricot pushed the boundaries further on performance and experimental stage art. In a 2021 show, the band required all attendees to stay silent throughout the whole duration of the show. No cheering or clapping was allowed, while the band members performed never-heard special renditions of their songs. The show was a special one, with pricier tickets and a forewarning.

Recommended Tracks: “いない,” “INAI,” “potage,” “Dogs & Ducks,” “E”


Diamond Rowe

(Tetrarch)

Diamond Rowe carries the energy of the crowd when she steps on stage. Reviving — yet expanding — the Nu Metal wave into a new era, Rowe leads metal band Tetrarch into a new territory of rock and metal. Out of the gate, Tetrarch’s second single “Freak” showed how heavy Rowe could play. Capturing the energy of bands like Korn, Slipknot, and Linkin Park, Rowe knows exactly how to carry a groove through the entire song. Even heavier, Tetrarch followed up with their second album Unstable (2021), bringing the hit “I’m Not Right.” On the album, Rowe explores more explosive playing, like on “Negative Noise,” featuring a technical breakdown in the pre-chorus.

Rowe and her Tetrarch bandmates have been longtime rockers, saying in her chat with Jose Mangin, “We started at our local talent show, to the local scenes, and it pays off.” Rowe talked about the journey of building a fanbase where they were sleeping in Walmart parking lots. Her advice to younger artists? “Stick it out, and enjoy these times.”

Recommended Tracks: “I’m Not Right,” “Negative Noise,” “Freak,” and “Stitch Me Up”

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