Guitarists of the year: the players who left their mark on 2022

Eric Gales, Wolfgang Van Halen, Steve Vai, Nita Strauss, John Frusciante
(Image credit: Getty Images / Press)

Well, folks, it’s about time we wrapped 2022 up in a bow and sent it off into the wild. It’s been fun. But we can’t do that without giving thanks and praise to the players who have rocked our world.

Here, the GW brains trust has pooled the gray matter and crunched the numbers in our own arcane internal voting system, to profile the players who made this year matter, from the electric guitar mavericks who have torn the instrument a new f-hole to those who found themselves not content with one neck, not two necks, but three.

In no particular order, we begin with the welcome return of one of the instrument’s all-time greats…

1. John Frusciante

John Frusciante

(Image credit: Jonathan Weiner/Future)

In a year filled with guitar news, perhaps nothing matched the impact of John Frusciante’s long-awaited return to Red Hot Chili Peppers and their release of two albums: Unlimited Love and Return of the Dream Canteen. Unlimited Love became their first Number 1 album since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium and took the band on their first U.S. stadium tour.

After 16 years away, Frusciante was ready to return, for personal and professional reasons. He told Total Guitar, “I really wanted that challenge of trying to work in a democratic band with people that I respect and people that I have a chemistry with.

“I felt that to move forward as a soul and as a human being, I had to accept that challenge. I felt that it would be good for me to try to work harmoniously with them, and not have my ego be the thing that was driving me forward, but to have love and respect for them. That was the thing: to try to be a part of a whole.”

Equally inspiring, he said, is the opportunity to bring old and new material to life in front of fans. “It really does feel good to play the old songs again,” he told TG. “There’s been a magic feeling for all of us going back to that material. And, you know, I like improvising on stage. So I look forward to the jamming parts of it, and making up new solos every night.

I look forward to playing under that pressure, and letting go, and letting whatever spirits are with us that night come through me, and trying to match that feeling that gets generated between the band and an audience

John Frusciante

“[There’s] that reciprocal thing that happens with an audience, where their energy and the pressure of playing in front of them and not being able to rewind the tape and go backwards, it brings something out of you as a musician that there’s no way to recreate as a guitar player sitting in a studio, recording your music by yourself, as I have in the past.

“I look forward to playing under that pressure, and letting go, and letting whatever spirits are with us that night come through me, and trying to match that feeling that gets generated between the band and an audience. You know, I haven’t really played in front of an audience in about 12 years. So it’s as new to me as writing rock music was when I rejoined.”

2. Wolfgang Van Halen

A year and a half into its release, Wolfgang Van Halen’s solo debut (and band), Mammoth WVH, shows no signs of slowing down. The album produced two Number 1 Active Rock singles, Don’t Back Down and Distance, which received a Best Rock Song Grammy nomination, and a “digital deluxe edition” was released in November. The momentum continued through U.S. tours, and – of course – when he made heads spin worldwide at two tribute concerts for Taylor Hawkins.

“It was a very powerful and unforgettable experience that I’ll never forget,” he says. “Just taking the performances on face value, I played with three musicians I’ve been idolizing my entire life. I saw Josh Freese play with Nine Inch Nails many times. [The Darkness’s] Permission to Land, with Justin Hawkins, was my favorite album in high school. Foo Fighters are the backbone of my musical interests. If you look at my album, of course Dave Grohl has inspired me. 

“So just playing with those people – unforgettable. Then you add the context of why we are there, and everything that has happened in the past few years, and it’s impossible to shake how powerful the moment was. Getting to know Shane, Taylor’s son – what a wonderful kid and phenomenal drummer he is. It was an incredible thing to be part of, and I’m honored I was even asked to take part in it.” 

3. Nita Strauss

Nita Strauss

(Image credit: Ana Massard)

When Nita Strauss announced she was taking leave from her longtime gig with Alice Cooper to join Demi Lovato, she never expected the ensuing kerfuffle over her career decision.

“I knew it was going to make waves, but I didn’t know it would create a tsunami,” she says. “I think the guitar community cares a lot about its own and wants to make sure the future of guitar-based music is safe and sound. I see that and I appreciate it. So, regardless of people’s positive or negative opinions on the matter, I think it got guitar playing out in the forefront of the conversation, and that’s what we want to do all along.”

In addition to touring with Lovato, Strauss has been busy recording a new solo album, scheduled for early 2023 release. The project – recorded at her home studio and in Nashville – will be half instrumental and half with guest vocalists. 

She offered previews of both with Dead Inside, a collaboration with Disturbed frontman David Draiman, and Summer Storm, an instrumental, plus The Wolf You Feed, featuring Arch Enemy vocalist Alissa White-Gluz.

“I’m so proud of this album and so ready to get it out into the world,” she says. “It’s been a long process of creating these songs, and I’m looking forward to putting it out there, touring with my solo band and keeping on keeping on. I’m sure my year is going to be very full. I’m excited to keep playing, creating and touring.” 

4. Steve Vai 

Steve Vai spent 2022 making headlines. First was the postponement of his U.S. tour due to mandatory surgery. Then came a summer video clip from Barcelona, where he handed his guitar to a teenage fan to play encore song Fire Garden Suite IVTaurus Bulba. His blistering contribution to Polyphia’s Ego Death landed the three musicians cover interviews in Guitar World, no less.

Vai partnered with Ibanez for his latest PIA3761C signature guitar, and with DiMarzio for a set of Blue Powder UtoPIA electric guitar pickups. He performed with Living Colour at Rock In Rio and with Yvette Young at his Vai Academy 6.0. He released a new album, Inviolate, and debuted the surreal, triple-neck, over-the-top bells-and-whistles Ibanez creation known as The Hydra

Finally, there was the online release of Steve Vai: His First 30 Years, an authorized 75-minute documentary.

“As an artist, I try to relish the joy of marching forward with my creative intentions,” Vai told GW. “I always want to go somewhere new. At the same time, the ego comes in and I want people to like it. It’s like the two thoughts are in my head, and I’m always trying to reconcile them.”

5. Eric Gales

While he is no stranger to coverage from guitar media, many would argue that Eric Gales has never quite gotten his due on “best of” lists. Clearly that is changing, especially as he is doing more than turning heads with his guitar playing on his new album, Crown

Guitar players are certainly his core audience, but more than his mastery of the instrument, the message he’s bringing is expanding his territory and reaching beyond musicians in the crowd.

“It’s inspirational to watch actually, to see the tears come in people’s eyes when I’m playing and singing these lyrics,” Gales told Guitarist. “Predominantly, a lot of people come to the shows to see the guitar playing, but at the end of it they are moved by the things that I have to say. It’s a one-two punch, doing everything that I can to try to help change the world.”

Joe Bonamassa (left) and Eric Gales

(Image credit: Jeff Fasano/Future)

6. Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa

(Image credit: Future)

Joe Bonamassa is recognized by GW’s editors in 2022 for his own musical contributions and his ongoing efforts to champion other guitar players – Larry McCray, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Eric Gales among them. 

That’s in addition to his Keeping the Blues Alive foundation, which doubles as a record label and 501 c(3) nonprofit organization that funds music education through numerous projects, resources, and scholarships, and helps musicians in need.

Bonamassa’s latest album is Time Clocks [2021], which he calls his “New York record” in both location and theme. “Songwriting is the last frontier for me,” he told GW.
“You can do your best to recreate your favorite sounds, and recreate a vibe, but far more important is pushing yourself to write better songs. The more you push on the front part of the record, the more joyous it is to record the actual record itself.” 

7. Andrew Watt

Andrew Watt’s resume as a musician and producer reaches across all genres. Among his latest projects, he produced and appears on Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album, Patient Number 9, and joined Osbourne onstage at the Los Angeles Rams NFL season opener performance in September. 

Earlier this year, Watt was on tour with Eddie Vedder, and he will produce the next Pearl Jam record. In fall, he partnered with Guitar Center for their “Greatest Guitar Sale on Earth,” which featured him in television spots and video interviews.

“I’m constantly finding new people to work with who take how I play guitar and other instruments and put it all together in a new way and add a different kind of flair,” Watt recently told Guitar Player. “For me, collaboration is key to evolution.”

8. Tosin Abasi 

Tosin Abasi

(Image credit: Future / Jen Rosenstein)

In addition to the new album, Abasi has been busy designing guitars. He collaborated with Ernie Ball Music Man on the seven-string Kaizen, which debuted at the 2022 NAMM show. Six-string aficionados can look forward to their version in the first quarter of the new year. 

Abasi Concepts, launched in 2019, made its presence known at NAMM with the Emi, an extended-range, double-cut model available in three different designs. In development is the nylon seven-string guitar, the Larada, the latest in that series.

Earlier this year, Abasi joined Lzzy Hale, Gavin Rossdale, Bishop Briggs and Alice Cooper as judges of a new music reality television show, No Cover, where unsigned bands perform original songs while vying for a record deal.

Ernie Ball Music Man Kaizen

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

It had been six years since Animals As Leaders released The Madness of Many, but 2022’s Parrhesia was worth the wait, as it overflows with the instrumental pyrotechnics and head-spinning guitar work that fans have come to expect.

“There’s kind of an iconoclastic element to what we do that cuts against the grain, but it’s true to us,” Abasi told GW. “Considering the cultural discourse right now, there’s so much being said, and I think just the idea of being centered on truth and being committed to that has always been a compass we’ve used to direct how we write music.”

9. Dave Grohl 

Dave Grohl performs onstage during the 37th Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Microsoft Theater on November 05, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

(Image credit: Kevin Kane/Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Dave Grohl’s year began with the release of a Foo Fighters horror movie, Studio 666, and his long-awaited accompanying metal album under the banner Dream Widow, on which he handled vocals, guitar, bass, and drums. 

He collaborated on Liam Gallagher on Everything’s Electric, from Gallagher’s new solo album, performed at Joe Walsh’s VetsAid 2022 fundraiser for veterans and joined Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen onstage at Glastonbury. He also tackled Seals & Crofts’ hit Summer Breeze with Beck Greg Kurstin, Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D, and actor John C. Reilly during Judd Apatow’s Victims First LA show to benefit victims of mass casualty crime.

But tragedy was to follow on March 25, as he lost his longtime friend and bandmate Taylor Hawkins. Two memorial concert tributes featuring all-star lineups united colleagues and fans worldwide and offered hours of memories and music filled with exuberance, camaraderie, and stellar performances, where Grohl seemed to be everywhere at once. Still, it’s impossible to watch even a short clip without experiencing the emotional undercurrent surrounding the events.

10. Dave Mustaine 

Dave Mustaine holds his new Gibson signature Ebony VOS Flying V

(Image credit: Gibson)

All that Dave Mustaine has endured during 40 years in the music industry – including substance abuse, band upheavals, a near career-ending arm injury, and a recent battle with cancer that required extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments – is enough to undo the strongest of spirits. 

Instead, he remains pragmatic, never self-pitying, guided by faith, family, and a passion to make loud, aggressive, honest music, as evidenced on Megadeth’s latest album, The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead! As he once remarked, “I have integrity and can sleep at night knowing I’m not a bullshit artist.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a record to be totally brutal,” Mustaine told GW about the new release. “I don’t think this record is all hateful. I think people that like this band will find it a fun listen.”

11. Jack White 

Much can be said about Jack White’s accomplishments as a guitarist and innovator. He first turned heads with the White Stripes, whom many regarded as a harkening back to punk ethos with a modern twist. With the Raconteurs he explored his roots, sometimes bringing in guests like bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs to add mandolin while White played acoustic.

If someone asked me, ‘What’s a good example of your guitar playing?’ I would give them Fear of the Dawn over anything else

Jack White

His collection of guitars, from a 1964 Montgomery Ward Airline to his customized EVH Wolfgang, allows him to create the walls of sound that define his work, including his latest releases, the electric guitar charged Fear of the Dawn and acoustic-leaning release Entering Heaven Alive.

“I recently told somebody that, on this record, I’m probably the proudest I’ve been in my life of my guitar playing and performing,” he told GW.

“If someone asked me, ‘What’s a good example of your guitar playing?’ I would give them Fear of the Dawn over anything else. There are places I’ve never gone before, and there are new techniques I thought I wasn’t capable of doing. I think I was finally able to tap into 30 years of experimenting and failing, trying to get a certain tone and not really getting there.” 

12. Joe Satriani 

Joe Satriani’s 2022 album, The Elephants of Mars, was recorded at home, working remotely with his band and using a SansAmp plugin. The release was followed by a long-awaited tour. He also spent the year pursued by rumors of a Van Halen tribute tour, eventually confirming that talks had taken place before the idea was put on hold.

The Elephants of Mars opened new and unexpected creative doors for all involved. “This album was different because I was doing all the guitar at home,” Satriani told GW. “It was a different kind of a record to put together logistically, and that really helped because there was no rush. We would send stuff to each other via email and we’d get stuff back without speaking to each other and we’d sit there and just listen to it, and it wouldn’t be any on-the-spot judgment that was necessary. 

Joe Satriani

(Image credit: Eduardo Peña Dolhun)

“There were great accidents that happened along the way. And I have to say everybody maintained this level of spontaneity that you’d think would never happen if there was all this time and everybody was by themselves. 

“But in fact, everyone kind of got the idea that they needed to record really spontaneous, interesting performances. And it was not about charting everything out the way that the arrangers or the artist demanded.”

13. Steve Morse

Steve Morse

(Image credit: Future / Olly Curtis)

The newer generation of guitar players might associate Steve Morse with Kansas and, most recently, Deep Purple, whom he joined in 1994 and from whom he retired this year due to personal/family reasons. Longtime fans, however, have followed his career for decades, dating all the way back to the Dixie Dregs. 

Morse’s diversity as a musician and composer earned him the title of Best Overall Guitarist in Guitar Player for five consecutive years and a position in its Hall of Fame. “My style is what it is,” he told GP (opens in new tab), commenting on the Dixie Dregs’ ongoing impact. “I’ll go along for a few bars, but then I’ll veer off into jazz guitar or classical. It kept us off the charts, but it won us fans who stayed with us.”

14. Sophie Lloyd 

London-based guitarist Sophie Lloyd is among the new school of guitarists who have proven that the Internet can become a path to success. The BIMM Institute honors graduate is closing in on two million subscribers who watch her versatile online performances and learn from her skills. Earlier this year, Lloyd landed a mega-gig with Machine Gun Kelly on his Mainstream Sellout tour.

An accomplished musician, songwriter, and performer, Lloyd is aware of the power of social media. “The internet is amazing,” she told GuitarWorld.com (opens in new tab). “It got me where I am today. I am a glorified bedroom player in a way. All of my videos have been online, and that is definitely where I have become well known in the guitar world. And I think that is really, really cool.”

15. Jim Root 

Jim Root

(Image credit: Charvel)

It was a busy year for Slipknot and lead guitarist Jim Root. A new album, a new signature Charvel – the Strat-style Jim Root Signature Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 HH FR – and new directions in songs and sounds. The End, So Far is a soundscape unlike their previous works, the product of lockdowns, mental health challenges, and uncertainty. 

“Mostly, I helped shape and structure songs in the studio. But I didn’t write and bring in stuff the way I did before,” Root told GW. “Guitars were depressing me. Everything was depressing me. It’s weird how the wires in your brain will cross up and whereas previously the guitar was an outlet for me to escape stuff, this time when I looked at it, it just reminded me of all the things that I wasn’t able to do because of Covid. So, this positive force in my life turned into this negative thing, which would’ve been absolutely fucking horrifying if I hadn’t been able to pull myself out of it. 

“Now I pick up a guitar and I’m like, ‘What would I do without this?’ But back then, I was so far from that place. I was losing any sense of positivity. I had zero purpose at all. And I thought, ‘What difference does it make if I’m here or if I’m not here? What good is my existence? I’ve pretty much accomplished everything in life that I’ve set out to accomplish. How do I set new goals and why should I bother?’ That’s what was going through my head and it was scary.”

16. Matt Bellamy 

Matt Bellamy

(Image credit: Future / Kevin Nixon)

Muse guitarist Matt Bellamy had a busy year with the band’s new album, Will of the People, their first since Simulation Theory in 2018. Described as addressing “the increasing uncertainty and instability in the world,” Bellamy remarked about the new project, “A pandemic, new wars in Europe, massive protests and riots, an attempted insurrection, Western democracy wavering, rising authoritarianism, wildfires and natural disasters and the destabilization of the global order all informed Will of the People.”

In addition to his work with Muse, Bellamy is a majority shareholder in Manson Guitar Works, a position he has held since 2019. This year, they announced two signature models, the MB and the DL, and a signature fuzz pedal.

“I’m in the process of developing a fuzz pedal that has a few features I’ve always made use of, all built into the pedal,” Bellamy told Total Guitar. “It will have an EQ curve that you can slide from left to right or invert to create more of a scoop. I usually find most fuzz pedals to be a little bit too full-range. Especially in how they sit in relation to the bass, drums and vocals.” 

17. Slash

If you’ve spent an hour watching network TV this year, you’ve probably had an overload of Slash “auditioning” in a Capital One ad that seems to air during every commercial break. If you’re keeping up with Slash news, you also know he’s been busy, as always, with a number of projects.

Foremost, perhaps, is the simply but aptly titled book The Collection: Slash, published by Gibson. As the name implies, it’s a 300-page collection of interviews with the artist and photographs and illustrations of his guitars. 

I don’t buy guitars just to have guitars. It has to be something I’ll actually use

Slash

Earlier this year came the release of another simply but effectively titled album, 4. Featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators, accompanied by global livestreams and a virtual reality concert in partnership with Soundscape VR. 

There was, of course, a Guns N’ Roses tour to keep him busy through the end of 2022. And we certainly cannot forget an afternoon spent guitar shopping at Norman’s Rare Guitars in Tarzana, California, with GW for our April cover story.

Which brings us full circle to the man and the collection. “I don’t buy guitars just to have guitars,” he told GW. “It has to be something I’ll actually use. I do have a couple guitars that are outside of my normal thing that you’re used to seeing me with, but I find that they only interest me for a second, because they sound like ‘that.’ Whatever it is they are, that’s what they sound like. Which is not really what I’m going for. I’m trying to sound like me. So I end up not buying anything too crazy.”

18. Polyphia's Tim Henson and Scott LePage

An endorsement from Steve Vai is enough to confirm your credibility; a guest appearance on one of your new tracks (Ego Death) removes all doubt. Polyphia – Tim Henson and Scott LePage – are in a league of their own with Remember That You Will Die. The pair launched the long-awaited project, their first in four years, with Playing God, serving up a gumbo of sounds and giving a hip new vibe to nylon-string guitars.

“I wouldn’t call what we do ‘shred,’” Henson told GW. “It’s more like ‘a lot of notes.’ You’ll notice one or two motifs in each song, and then it expands to a lot of notes before going back to the main motif.” 

“I’m dancing around the word ‘shred’ myself,” LePage added. “It wasn’t in my head when we were making the record, but on certain songs I thought, ‘What would any crazy guitar player do here?’ It’s not shred for the sake of playing a lot of notes; it’s playing the right notes to complement the music – but in a faster way.”  

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Alison Richter is a seasoned journalist who interviews musicians, producers, engineers, and other industry professionals, and covers mental health issues for GuitarWorld.com. Writing credits include a wide range of publications, including GuitarWorld.com, MusicRadar.com, Bass Player, TNAG Connoisseur, Reverb, Music Industry News, Acoustic, Drummer, Guitar.com, Gearphoria, She Shreds, Guitar Girl, and Collectible Guitar.

With contributions from