What defines a guitar hero in 2012?
In an era when the term “guitar hero” is more likely to inspire images of a video game with brightly colored buttons than an actual musician slinging a six-stringed axe, it’s a good question. With DJs and dance music producers poised as the new rock stars, it would be easy for old-fashioned guitar players to find themselves relegated to second-class status.
Thankfully, there has been a resurgence of genuine, guitar-powered rock in the glittering spectrum of pop culture, with new-school axe-slingers like Jack White, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and Matt Bellamy of Muse reminding the world of the unadulterated power that lies within a Gibson Les Paul or Fender Stratocaster when placed in the right hands.
Narrowing the field of guitar stars down to what we believe is the essential 25 ax-men of the alt-rock era, it’s your votes that will choose who rank among the the Top Eleven Guitar Gods of Alt-Rock.
Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day) Punk’s reigning prince remains an underrated guitarist, despite a seemingly endless bag of riffs and the ability to rip out a blistering solo when necessary.
Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) This bluesman from Ohio cranks out a rhythmic, reverb-heavy sound to match drummer Patrick Carney’s primal beats.
Matt Bellamy (Muse) Representing Great Britain, Bellamy’s grandiose licks and lyrical melodies keep the spirit of prog-rock alive.
Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains) One of the grunge pioneers, Cantrell’s woozy solos and bottom-heavy riffs helped define the early ‘90s.
Stephen Carpenter (Deftones) The metal-inspired hardcore hero crafts moody but brutal dissonance on seven and sometimes eight-string guitars.
Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) The late rock legend had an innate sense of melody, creating unforgettable guitar lines out of chaotic punk riffs.
Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins/Zwan) The cantankerous Chicago native is from the classic rock tradition, alternating between arena-filling power chords to mind-bending guitar solos.
Brad Delson (Linkin Park) Known for wearing a pair of huge headphones while playing, Delson strives to make the guitar more a part of the overall mix, like a keyboard, but has veered more towards shred territory on recent releases.
The Edge (U2) The alt-rock legend inspired a million guitarists with his minimal, linear style of playing and creative use of effects like delay.
Mike Einziger (Incubus)This wildly inventive guitarists makes the most of his effects units, which he pairs with a studied musicality and good, old-fashioned chops.
John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers) Inventive and eclectic, Frusciante’s wild blend of playing styles and emotive phrasing has made him of the alt-rock’s most respected and beloved ax-slingers.
Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) Along with fellow guitarist Ed O’Brien, Greenwood takes an often radical approach to his guitars, creating atmosphere and textures to drive the band’s artistic sound home.
Tom DeLonge (Blink-182/Angels & Airwaves) DeLonge’s catchy, pop-punk riffs power Blink-182’s high-energy tunes, while he explores his more grandiose, arena rock side with the band Angels & Airwaves.
Adam Jones (TOOL) Complex and intricate, Jones’s seemingly chaotic guitar style covers a wide sonic range that only adds to Tool’s dark-lit and inimitable alt-metal sound.
Daron Malakian (System of a Down/Scars on Broadway) Existing somewhere between metal, progressive rock and alternative, SOAD’s unique sound is ignited by Malakian’s nimble dexterity and neck-snapping arrangements.
Johnny Marr (the Smiths) Marr’s legend and massive influence is built on the back of his rich, chiming guitar tones and stellar songwriting abilities, which have carried him from the Smiths’ ‘80s peak until today.
J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.) There are few guitarists in the alt-rock world who can blaze through a rock guitar solo with the power and finesse of Mascis, who channels classic rockers like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin when he plugs into his Marshall amp stacks.
Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) Heavily influenced by blues masters and metal mavens alike, McCready’s blistering technique fits perfectly with fellow six-stringer Stone Gossard’s rhythmic attack.
Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) Few guitarists in alternative rock have pushed and often shattered the boundaries of six strings as much as this long-standing innovator and his legendary NYC outfit.
Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave/Nightwatchman) Combining classic metal inspirations with the profound influence of old-school hip-hop, Morello’s style ranges from flashy shredding to making his ax sound like turntables-scratching or even a charging elephant.
Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers) Inspired by new wave guitarists like Daniel Ash of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets, Navarro crafted his own linear approach to guitar playing that emphasizes tone and atmosphere over sheer technique.
Mike Ness (Social Distortion) With as much of a rockabilly-roots influence as OC punk, Ness has developed a rich, muscular tone to motor the life-affirming anthems of Social D.
Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) One of the premiere architects of the ‘90s grunge sound with the band’s famous “dropped” tunings, Thayil’s nuanced playing veered from traditional riffing to more tonal, atmospheric sounds.
Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (Mars Volta/At the Drive-In) The prog-rock prodigy is a six-string technician, incorporating a plethora of tones and complex time signatures to the heady, art-rock stew of both Mars Volta and ATDI.
Jack White (White Stripes/Dead Weather/Raconteurs/solo) In the tradition of classic blues men like B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn, White’s heavy emphasis on feeling has helped him create an individual and immediately recognizable sound big enough to power football stadiums.
This your chance to spread the word to like-minded rockers to propel your favorite axe-wielding guitar hero to the top of the heap. Vote for your 3 favorite guitar players. The top 11 will be revealed on Monday, September 24, so get crackin’!
–Scott T. Sterling. CBS Local