Packing more twists and turns than a Quentin Tarantino movie binge, 2023 will be remembered for many reasons – some good, some surprising and some utterly heartbreaking.
There was the return of the mighty Metallica, and while many of us were impressed by 72 Seasons, as you’ll read below, others weren’t so taken with the new material.
The recently reunited Pantera – with Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante joining Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown – embarked on their first tour since the initial handful of Latin American dates at the end of last year, with the general consensus being this is a celebration very much worth witnessing.
There also was a fair amount of controversy, starting with an acrimonious split between Mick Mars and the remaining members of Mötley Crüe, which got very public and very legal after it was announced they’d hired John 5 to take the longtime guitarist’s place on the road and for future recordings.
Other bizarre headlines included the discovery of Mary Ford’s 1961 Gibson Les Paul SG Custom on Facebook Marketplace, which was quickly snapped up by Gibson and brought to the Vault at their Garage in Nashville, and Roger Waters deciding to re-record Pink Floyd’s best-selling album.
The year also witnessed some big-name comebacks, from rock ’n’ roll originals the Rolling Stones to pop-punk idols Blink-182, as well as the long-awaited live return of AC/DC at the inaugural Power Trip festival in October, while in stark contrast veterans such as Buddy Guy and Aerosmith announced they would soon be retiring from the world’s stages.
And then, of course, there are those we lost along the way – starting with the death of arguably the most inventive and deeply admired guitar player of all time only a few days into the new year. Almost a year on from Jeff Beck’s unexpected passing, we’re still struggling to comprehend the huge sense of loss.
So, without further ado, here’s a look at some of the biggest guitar moments of 2023.
RIP Jeff Beck
Nothing that happened over the course of 2023 can compete with the sizeable hole left by Jeff Beck.
He was the definition of what all of us strive to be – a musician who was deeply connected and in tune with whatever guitar he happened to be holding, someone who was unafraid to experiment in front of people and surprise all of us, himself included, with the results.
Geoffrey Arnold Beck died from a bacterial meningitis infection at age 78 on January 10, and our world hasn’t felt quite the same since. We’ll never hear his fingers snake their way through Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers, Led Boots or Brush with the Blues again – and our lives are infinitely poorer for it.
Perhaps it was his one-time bandmate in the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page, who best captured the mood of the guitar community: “The six stringed Warrior is no longer here for us to admire the spell he could weave around our mortal emotions. Jeff could channel music from the ethereal. His technique unique. His imaginations apparently limitless. Jeff, I will miss you along with your millions of fans.”
Slash, Wolfgang, Jerry Cantrell and… Barbie?!
It should come as no surprise that the Barbie movie, a Hollywood blockbuster starring superstars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, ended up being the most talked-about film of the year.
But given all its nostalgic bubblegum imagery and mainstream hype, one thing none of us would have banked on was Slash and Wolfgang Van Halen collaborating for the very first time on its soundtrack, joining forces specifically on I’m Just Ken. And that’s not the only rock ’n’ roll connection, either.
In one of the scenes, Ken serenades Barbie with an ebony Gibson acoustic adorned with stickers spelling out his name in the Metallica font.
On closer inspection, it soon became apparent that the guitar in question was in fact a Jerry Cantrell Fire Devil Songwriter, with distinguishable features such as the “Firefly” pickguard and telltale “Jerry Cantrell” truss rod cover.
Unassuming guitar teacher goes viral
It is not a common occurrence to see America’s Got Talent judge Simon Cowell openly applaud loud, shredding guitars – but this is yet another of the surprises 2023 had in store for us.
The 59-year-old contestant who performed Queen’s We Will Rock You as a fret-burning instrumental was John Wines, a guitar teacher based in England who boasts more than 1.5 million online followers under the alias Old Grey Guitarist.
“I was not expecting that,” said Cowell, as an excited crowd started screaming “We want more!” at the top of their lungs. Though he ended up getting knocked out in the semi-finals, it was an undeniable moment of victory for guitar enthusiasts around the world.
RIP Bernie Marsden
We heard in August the sad news of British guitar legend Bernie Marsden passing away at age 72.
He’d performed in groups such as Paice Ashton Lord, Alaska and the Moody Marsden Band, and embarked on a lengthy solo career, though was arguably best known for his work in Whitesnake from 1978 to 1982, with writing credits to songs like Fool for Your Loving, Lovehunter, Trouble and, most famously, Here I Go Again.
In what would sadly be his final GW interview, the man who famously played a 1959 Les Paul Standard he referred to as “The Beast” helped us pay tribute to George Harrison for the September 2021 cover story.
“To put it simply: no Beatles, no George, no me,” Marsden said. “I’m proud to have gotten to know him when I was in Whitesnake in the 1970s. He invited me to his home, where he showed me his guitars, and we listened to and played music in his studio. I still feel very privileged to have gotten to call him a friend, but that’s another story.”
Kirk Hammett laughs in the face of critics
In the Metallica cover story that coincided with the release of the band’s 11th full-length, 72 Seasons, we noted how “this is the sound of Metallica showing us they’re the masters of their own destiny” and praised the quartet for seeming “more pissed off, defiant and inventive than they have in a long time.” But not everyone agreed.
“The new Metallica song is great, but I thought the solo was pretty underwhelming, so here’s something a bit spicier!” said YouTuber Bradley Hall in a video in which he wrote and performed his own solo in place of Hammett’s Lux Æterna fretwork.
When confronted about said criticism, the Metallica guitarist remained remarkably indifferent.
“I was just laughing the whole time,” he told Total Guitar. “I could string together, like, six or seven three-octave arpeggios in 16th notes, sit there every day and practice it and go, ‘Hey, look what I can do!’ but where am I gonna put it? It sounds like an exercise. I don’t want to listen to exercises and warm-ups every time I hear a song.”
Myles Kennedy gets his first PRS signature model
It’d be fair to say Myles Kennedy is a pretty big deal these days. When he’s not conquering arenas with Alter Bridge, the man who almost ended up replacing Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin tours the world with Slash and the Conspirators, and let’s not forget he also has two dazzling solo albums to his name.
Given the success of Mark Tremonti’s PRS range, it was only a matter of time until the velvet-lunged singer/guitarist was awarded his own signature guitar.
Looking at Kennedy’s PRS – with a swamp ash body, 22 frets, 25.5” scale length and overall T-style shape – there can be no confusion over where he’s drawing inspiration from.
The pair of PRS Narrowfield MK pickups were carefully voiced “to capture the courage of humbuckers and the spank of single coils,” thanks to a five-way blade switch and push/pull tone control that acts as a preset tone roll-off for the treble position.
Nuno Bettencourt burns frets and melts minds
15 years after their last studio album, Extreme returned in 2023 with their most ambitious offering ever. And it was the solo from Rise – the lead single from new album Six – that got the guitar community talking more than anything else this year.
In doing so, Nuno Bettencourt demonstrated just why he’s one of the most virtuosic and tasteful shredders in the game using a smorgasbord of furious alternate picking, divebombs, D minor pentatonic blues and, of course, those head-twisting muted hammer-ons for the big finale.
Marshall is sold to a Swedish speaker company
Having played a substantial role in developing overdriven sounds, with notable users including everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Joe Bonamassa and Tool and a rich heritage that dates back to 1962, amplifier brands simply don’t come much more iconic than Marshall. This year brought an end to its family ownership, as the brand was acquired by Swedish firm Zound Industries for an undisclosed amount of dough.
It wasn’t completely out of the blue; the company had partnered with Marshall 13 years prior to produce their lifestyle products, including headphones and speaker systems. In a press release, Terry Marshall, son of deceased founder Jim, said,
“Since my father and I created the original Marshall amp back in 1962, we have always looked for ways to deliver the pioneering Marshall sound to music lovers of all backgrounds and music tastes across the world,” adding that he was confident that the newly formed Marshall Group umbrella company “will elevate this mission and spur the love for the brand.”
Other big Marshall news included the rebirth of four classic pedals and the launch of the Studio JTM models.
Matteo Mancuso releases his debut album
While there’s clearly no shortage of new names emerging as future guitar stars, few have come as hotly tipped as 26-year-old fingerstyle virtuoso Matteo Mancuso, with world-beating talents like Joe Bonamassa, Steve Vai and Tosin Abasi all singing his praises.
Released back in July by Mascot Label Group, the Sicilian’s debut album, The Journey, certainly delivered on all that promise and then some, with tracks like Silkroad, Samba Party and Drop D nodding to jazz fusion greats like Guthrie Govan and Pat Metheny and ultimately demonstrating just how brilliantly well-rounded he is as a player. With stars burning this bright, there can be no doubt the future of guitar is in safe hands.
Mick Mars vs. Mötley Crüe
As the sole guitar player in the band and co-writer for era-defining tracks like Girls, Girls, Girls, Dr. Feelgood and Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.), Mick Mars’ contributions to Mötley Crüe cannot be overstated.
And despite the age difference between him and the other members, as well as the health complications he’s endured for the majority of his adult life, it was shocking to see how things played out for the glam metal quartet in 2023.
As well as accusing the group of using backing tracks live, Mars was adamant that he was being maneuvered out of the group he helped put on the musical map.
“Now they’re trying to take my legacy away, my part of Mötley Crüe, my ownership of the name, the brand,” he told Rolling Stone.
“How can you fire Mr. Heinz from Heinz ketchup? He owns it. Frank Sinatra’s or Jimi Hendrix’s legacy goes on forever, and their heirs continue to profit from it. They’re trying to take that away from me. I’m not going to let them.”
Mary Ford’s ’61 Gibson ends up on Facebook Marketplace
It would be fair to compare Facebook Marketplace to an online flea market; you never quite know what you might find and whether to take the listings on (pardon the pun) face value. But when Gibson Director of Brand Experience Mark Agnesi was sent the link to an ad for Mary Ford’s 1961 Gibson Les Paul SG Custom in Westerly, Rhode Island, he knew he had to act fast.
Not only was the highly collectible triple humbucker double-cut in great condition for a 62-year-old instrument, but it also came with a piece of a handwritten setlist taped to its back, adding even more weight to its grand sense of history.
The famous instrument once seen on the cover of Les Paul & Mary Ford’s 1962 album Warm and Wonderful was carefully transported to the Vault in the Nashville Gibson Garage, which opened its doors in 2021.
Yamaha acquires Guild, announces Kim Thayil signature model
In February it was announced that Yamaha had bought Córdoba Music Group, the company that owned Guild, DeArmond pickups, Córdoba Guitars, HumiCase and two string companies – Savarez and Aquila.
And that’s not the only big announcement concerning Guild; in September it was revealed that one of their most recognizable endorsees, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, would finally be getting his own S-100 Polara signature models, which, all things considered, looks set to be the best-selling artist model in Yamaha history.
Nita Strauss rejoins Alice Cooper, releases star-studded album
One of last year’s biggest stories was Nita Strauss leaving the Alice Cooper band to head out on tour with Demi Lovato.
At the time she maintained no doors had been closed, however, she was simply trying out new things – and those words rang true earlier in March when it was announced she would be returning to Cooper’s notoriously horror-themed rock ’n’ roll circus.
She also unveiled her second solo album, The Call of the Void, which featured guests as esteemed as Marty Friedman, Alissa White-Gluz, Lzzy Hale and even Coop himself. And as for her own guitar pyrotechnics, she revealed she’d used time off during the pandemic to work on her alternate picking.
“There’s a fast lick in that first verse that I probably lifted from his parts in Racer X’s Technical Difficulties,” she told me. “There were definitely a lot of Paul Gilbert exercises happening in my house over quarantine.”
Sunn amps return – with a little help from Fender
In August it was announced that Fender and Mission Engineering were teaming up to revive cult amp brand Sunn Amplifiers, famously used and abused by high-decibel rock masters like Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend and stoner/doom dealers such as Boris, Melvins and Sunn O))) – the latter of whom loved the amps so much they named their band after them.
It’s been a long time coming, considering Fender bought the company back in the mid-’80s. Expect “historic reproductions of classic Sunn designs” and “new products that incorporate modern technology” ranging from $499 to $3,299.
“We’re proud to partner with Mission Engineering to uphold the legacy of the Sunn Amplifier brand and look forward to introducing modern players to the raw power that these classic amplifiers are capable of,” said Richard Bussey, Fender VP of Accessories, Lifestyle and Licensing.
Roger Waters re-records The Dark Side of the Moon
Vintage rock releases don’t come much more universally admired than Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece, The Dark Side of the Moon, which many regard to be a perfect album from start to finish.
Which is why news of Roger Waters re-recording its 10 tracks as The Dark Side of the Moon Redux was met by bewilderment and dismay, especially following the release of first single Money – in which Waters replaced David Gilmour’s legendary solo with a spoken-word poem set in a metaphorical boxing ring.
“The new recording is more reflective, I think, and it’s more indicative of what the concept of the record was,” Waters said. Interesting…
Wolfgang unveils second Mammoth WVH album
Anyone who heard the Mammoth WVH debut will have known to expect great things from its follow-up, which was released in August.
Once again Wolfgang Van Halen committed to performing everything himself and dazzling us with a perfect package of fine-tuned songwriting, arena-worthy chorus hooks and scintillating two-handed techniques.
As well as nodding to his father’s legendary solo on Panama (“Yeah, that G-string bend and tap was very much one of my dad’s moves!”), Take a Bow was also notable for the equipment used to record it.
“The Frankenstein was what I used on that solo,” he told this writer. “I had it plugged into my dad’s original Marshall head and cabinet… so it was exactly what he used for the early Van Halen stuff. I think you can hear it’s that tone.”
Other legendary guitarists who passed away over the course of the year include David Crosby, who made rock history in the mid-’60s as an original member of the Byrds and later became one quarter of folk supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; he died only a week after Jeff Beck.
Two months later, it was announced that David Lindley – the multi-instrumentalist who had played in Crosby & Nash, as well as with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Rod Stewart, Dolly Parton and Ry Cooder – had died from chronic kidney damage following Long Covid.
Les Paul devotee Gary Rossington, the longest-surviving founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, passed away in March, leaving behind a Southern rock legacy like no other.
Other notable losses include Robbie Robertson (Bob Dylan/the Band), Guy Bailey (the Quireboys), Tim Bachman (Bachman-Turner Overdrive/Brave Belt), Ryan Siew (Polaris), Jack Sonni (Dire Straits), George Tickner (Journey) and Chris Overland (FM).
Sophie Lloyd releases long-awaited solo debut
It was a big year for Sophie Lloyd, who continued to perform on arena stages around the world in her new session gig with Machine Gun Kelly and even landed her first-ever GW cover interview.
She also released her debut solo album, Imposter Syndrome, in November – which, as well as showcasing her impressive talents as a writer and arranger, included some high-profile guests such as Trivium’s Matt Heafy, Halestorm singer/guitarist Lzzy Hale and Steel Panther frontman Michael Starr.
And there’s more, the Sophie Lloyd Signature Series was launched by Kiesel back in May, radically allowing players to customize and spec out the double-cutaway models as they see fit.
Josh Homme fights cancer and returns all guns blazing
On top of the well-documented child custody struggles with ex-wife Brody Dalle, Queens of the Stone Age singer/guitarist Josh Homme also revealed that he’d been treated for cancer in 2022.
Though he remained understandably tight-lipped over the experience, he referred to the health struggles as “just the cherry on top of an interesting time period.”
It very much seems as if he took all of that emotional baggage and churned it into a new album, In Times New Roman… which was released in June. Led by singles such as Emotion Sickness, Carnavoyeur and Paper Machete – which were notably more atmospheric and moody than those of its disco-laced Villains predecessor – QOTSA’s eighth full-length witnessed Homme and co-guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen delivering an absolute masterclass in vintage-leaning, life-affirming rock ’n’ roll.
Mark Tremonti reveals he’s launching a pedal company
As every GW reader will know, famous guitar players wanting to start their own gear companies is nothing revolutionary; some of the more successful ventures include Tosin’s Abasi Concepts, the Ola Englund-run Solar Guitars, Zakk’s Wylde Audio and Kirk Hammett’s high-gain pedal specialists KHDK.
But that’s clearly not stopping Mark Tremonti from trying his luck as well. He disclosed he would be launching his own pedal brand in an interview focusing on his live rig.
“I’m trying to develop a whole line of pedals,” he said after being quizzed about an unbranded prototype Uni-Vibe clone. He then went on to say he’s still thinking of a name for the company and has three units in mind for the big launch – the aforementioned vibe, a tremolo and an overdrive (“Of course I’m going after the Klon… Everybody’s going after the Klon,” he said).
Neural DSP keep adding big names to their Archetype range
Digital amp and effects specialists Neural DSP have really come a long way over the last five or so years. As well as releasing one of the most advanced units of its kind in the Quad Cortex, there’s been a whole host of signature Archetype plug-ins for guitar heroes like Cory Wong, Tim Henson, Plini and even one for Dream Theater mastermind John Petrucci.
In October it was announced that Brazilian session maestro and Suhr endorsee Mateus Asato would also be getting his own Archetype, packing all of his favorite heads and cabinets – plus effects like compression, overdrive, fuzz, tremolo, chorus and vibrato – into one tidy interface for $119.
Given his profile as one of the most expressive and respected six-stringers to launch a career via the Internet, with even John Mayer citing him as “one of the best guitar players around,” there’s been plenty of buzz.
The Boss accidentally hits tech with Tele
If you’re Bruce Springsteen’s tech, you’ve probably seen it all a million times. But no matter how prepared you might be, as we all know, sometimes things just don’t quite go according to plan.
While performing in Atlanta at the beginning of February, the Boss launched his sunburst Telecaster at long-serving assistant Kevin Buell as he’s done many times in the past. And though he had his hands in the air and eyes on the prize, Buell miscalculated the trajectory of the missile and ended up taking a hit to the head, consequently ending up on the floor.
After Springsteen quickly walked over to help his colleague and make sure there were no serious injuries, the show went on without any further hiccups.
Marty Friedman back on stage with Megadeth
Megadeth have had some truly world-class lead players in their ranks over the years, though most of us would agree it was the pairing of Dave Mustaine with Marty Friedman over the course of the ’90s that produced a lot of their finest work.
It all came to a head in 2000, and both Mustaine and Friedman have been moving in different circles ever since – until February 27, 2023, that is, when the metal titans were performing at the Budokan arena in Tokyo. Friedman, who moved to Japan in 2003, joined the band for three classic songs from the albums he played on – Countdown to Extinction, Tornado of Souls and Symphony of Destruction.
European fans were also lucky to witness thrash history in the making when Friedman joined Megadeth once again at German festival Wacken Open Air, performing Trust, Tornado of Souls, Symphony of Destruction and Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.
In other Megadeth news, Wintersun’s Teemu Mäntysaari was hired to fill in on parts of their world tour while Kiko Loureiro tended to a family emergency – and has since been offered the position for the foreseeable future.