The 10 best guitar riffs of 2020

[L-R] Mark Tremonti, Stephen Carpenter, Matt Heafy and Daron Malakian
(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Sergione Infuso/Frank Hoensch/Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)

This year in riffs has been declared. We have a winner by popular vote, and a Top 10 to share with the world, and once more we, on behalf of the electric guitar, would like to thank riffs for giving us a place in this world.

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[L-R] Joe Satriani, Plini, Gus G and Kiko Loureiro

(Image credit: Xavi Torrent/Miikka Skaffari/Brigitte Engl/Lauren James/Getty Images)

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STAFF PICK: Kaki King - Can't Touch This or That or You or My Face

One of the highlights of her superb new album, Modern Yesterdays, this airy, gorgeous tune opens with a spell-binding head-fake of a riff. Percussive, foreboding and futuristic, it's a brilliant display of how King – who could put anyone to shame in a contest of pure technical acoustic skill if need be – is skilled enough to floor you with even the simplest figures. – Jackson Maxwell


STAFF PICK: Code Orange - Swallowing The Rabbit Whole

Vast swathes of territory in the metal world go yet unexplored, and Code Orange remain steeled to lead the expedition. With their latest album, Underneath, the Pittsburgh troupe come prepared with an arsenal of tectonic riffs and electronically influenced arrangements, dealing audial blunt-force trauma that’s as clever as it is destructive. Case in point: Swallowing the Rabbit Whole’s main riff bears enough mass for its own gravitational pull, but its expertly placed natural harmonic flurries remain perfectly in keeping with the record’s digital theme. – Sam Roche


STAFF PICK: Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou - Ancestral Recall

2020 has been full of surprise collaborations – William Shatner and Ritchie Blackmore, anyone? – but none were quite so successful as the teaming of Emma Ruth Rundle's ethereal baritone stylings with Thou's sludge-metal assault. Their collaborative masterpiece, May Our Chambers Be Full, is brimming with impossibly heavy riffs, but lead-off single Ancestral Recall takes the crown for the absolute sledgehammer that lands at 58 seconds in – a chromatic gut-punch that's up there with the most punishing drop-tuned riffs of the past decade. What's more, Thou's Andy Gibbs taught us how to play it as part of this year's Sick Riffs series. Learn it. Now. – Michael Astley-Brown

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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.