5 Great Guitar Rock Heroes Since Van Halen

By Amanda Wicks

Singer Johnny Van Zant and guitarist Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd sat down with MetalXS recently, and their interview turned to the state of music today; specifically, they bemoaned absence of true “guitar heroes.”

Van Zant said, “A wise man told me that there’s no guitar heroes in the last 20 years or 10 years, and that’s probably the God’s honest truth.”

Rickey Medlocke agreed, “If you really stop to think about it, the last really big guitar hero was Eddie Van Halen, and that was back in the ’80s — early ’80s, you know what I mean? That’s a long time ago.”

Related: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington Thanks Fans for Support

Guitar based rock music has surely had its ups and downs in the past three plus decades since Van Halen hit the scene with their 1978 self-titled debut. Still, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There have been plenty of fantastic guitarists since the 1980s. Here’s our list of five guitarists, in no particular order, who could easily challenge Lynyrd Skynyrd’s statement.

Jack White

White started out on the drums (he’s also the drummer in the Dead Weather) before segueing to guitar, but it’s clear his first instrument’s rhythmic influences defined his melodic creativity. Tinged with a gritty garage rock feel, White’s guitar prowess rose to national attention with The White Stripes, but he’s an adept solo musician as well. His playing doesn’t stay within the confines of rock, either. He bleeds and blurs the lines between rock, country and blues, building in heavier gutter punk sounds for a new take on “rock guitar hero.”

Carrie Brownstein 

Brownstein picked up the guitar at 15 and would eventually influence the riot grrrl movement with her first band, Excuse 17. However, she’s most famous for punk-indie band Sleater-Kinney, and the raw guitar licks she builds into their gritty songs. Brownstein proves that being a great rock guitarist isn’t always about cranking it up to 11; instead, they know when to quiet it down in order to kick it back up again. (She’s also the co-star of the IFC series Portlandia.)

The Edge

After the release of U2’s debut album, 1980’s Boy (which featured “I Will Follow”), The Edge became one of rock’s most iconic and recognizable guitarists. Between his penchant for experimentation, and his willingness to play around with guitar effects, The Edge developed a distinct sound that quickly defined U2’s music. Even when U2’s music took a more electronic turn int he ’90s, his playing was still front and center in songs like “The Fly” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me.”

Gary Clark Jr.

By 2010, it seemed like the blues guitar hero was firmly a thing of the past. Enter: Gary Clark Jr. Clark picked up the guitar at age twelve, and began experimenting with numerous American musical genres, including blues and soul; he was heavily influenced by Austin’s own Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan (both of whom also debuted after Van Halen, by the way). In a relatively short amount of time since releasing his major label debut EP in 2011, he’s jammed with Clapton and the Stones, performed for the President and guested on a Foo Fighters album.

Tom Morello

Where The Edge used sustained effects and feedback to build a more lush guitar sound, Morello experimented with similar techniques to create an entirely wild, hard rock sound that comes across in every single Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave riff. His predilection for classic rock and heavy metal emerge in the way his sounds fuse together to create some truly beastly guitar solos. But he’s also got pretty great range: he’s guested on a number of hip-hop tracks over the years, has toured extensively as a solo acoustic act, spent about a year in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band (and contributed guitar to Springsteen’s last two albums) and recently did a gig as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitar player (in fact, Morello’s son Rhoads, was named after Ozzy’s first guitarist).

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