The 10 best guitar riffs of 2022

[L-R] Mark Tremonti, Craig “Goonzi” Gowans, Tim Henson and Dave Mustaine
(Image credit: Getty Images/Neural DSP/Fishman)

It is that time of year when the people have spoken, the votes have been counted, independently audited by GW’s stats team, and the sounds of wailing and the gnashing of teeth can be heard above the din of the top 10 riffs being played concurrently when, all of a sudden, Metallica releases a single.

You would think that, as metal’s highest-grossing band, seasoned pros and regulars on the network TV late show circuit, that Metallica would have pushed Lux Æterna a month or so earlier so it at least could have made the cut. Which is to say, up front, that when it comes to year-end lists there are always omissions, and that instances such as Hetfield/Hammett declaring after the race is run is just part of the process.


EDITOR'S PICK: Drive-By Truckers – Welcome 2 Club XIII
A delightful spin through Drive-By Truckers’ early days sweating it out in dingy clubs, Welcome 2 Club XIII is yet another addition to this Southern rock institution’s already-enviable library of cold-hard-classic riffs. Channeling the band’s Muscle Shoals, Alabama heritage, Mike Cooley makes this one to remember with sweet ‘n’ sour slides that bring the song’s ne’er do well characters to life just as vividly as Patterson Hood's lyrics. – Jackson Maxwell


EDITOR'S PICK: Soccer Mommy – Shotgun
Soccer Mommy has already masterminded a mountain of earworms, but her 2022 record Sometimes, Forever featured one of her catchiest yet. Boasting a boatload of fretboard flip-flopping and moody turnarounds to keep us on our seat edge, Shotgun subscribes to the Golden Rules of Riffage: reel listeners in from the get-go, maintain their attention throughout and have them on tenterhooks waiting for the riff’s reprise further down the line. Shotgun is a great song without the hook, but with it, it’s one of 2022’s finest riff-driven offerings. – Matt Owen


EDITOR’S PICK: Willow – ur a stranger
Willow Smith has made no secret of her love for Deftones and Crowbar, but her heaviest influences really came to the fore this year with this chug-laden monster of a riff. The harmonic touches nod to Smashing Pumpkins, but the potent combination of metal touchstones is also the sound of an artist finding her own voice after dabbling with pop-punk at the start of her guitar journey. We can’t wait to see where Willow goes next – especially if, as she suggests, it’s likely to involve two-hand tapping… – Michael Astley-Brown


EDITOR'S PICK: Shinedown – Planet Zero
We’ll let you in on a little secret – Shinedown’s Planet Zero narrowly missed out on a spot in this list, just votes away from securing the number 10 spot. But like so many of you, we thought it was easily one of the top heavy riffs of the year, so we’re employing our hallowed editors’ powers to slot it right back in. Lead single and title track from one of the biggest hard rock albums of the year, Planet Zero sure as hell makes a statement, owing mostly to its gargantuan main riff, which, with its drop-tuned, gut-punching descending flurry of notes, bears the mass of the celestial object it describes.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.