The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century

The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century – 2009

Check My Brain – Alice In Chains

14 years since AIC’s previous release and with vocalist William DuVall replacing the late Layne Staley, Cantrell’s sludgy bends set out the band's stall for a new era.

Islands – The XX

This entirely guitar-based pop song has the sweetest clean arpeggios and palm-muted 3rds, and not a single strummed chord.

Mind Eraser, No Chaser – Them Crooked Vultures

Pet project or supergroup? Either way, Homme’s angular guitar work set against the powerhouse rhythm section of John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl is genius-like.

The Ballad Of John Henry – Joe Bonamassa

Following 2007’s career-defining Sloe Gin, the pressure was on for JoBo. But he sure delivered, starting with this homage to an African American legend.

Just Breathe – Pearl Jam

For Pearl Jam’s most iconic songs, you have to look to the band’s '90s material, but Vedder’s fingerpicked ballad marked a return to form.

Rano Pano – Mogwai

Rano Pano's cyclical sledgehammer riff, played by three guitarists each wielding different flavours of filthy fuzz, is a brutal yet hypnotic assault on the senses from the Scottish post-rock stalwarts.

That Golden Rule – Biffy Clyro

The follow-up album to the commercial juggernaut that was 2007’s Puzzle, Only Revolutions is the light to the former’s darkness. And while the lyrics and rock fury could hint at sadness and depression, there’s a ‘living life with no regrets’ sensibility to That Golden Rule.

Simon Neil’s opening riff is based around a simple sliding octave shape on the fourth and sixth strings. The song’s drop C tuning (CGCFAD) means the octave notes are played at the same fret – simply slide from the 8th fret to the 12th. 

The remainder of that epic intro is powerchord-based, this time on the three bass strings, and you’ll be moving around the 12th, 14th, 10th, 8th, 7th and 5th frets, pivoting around the open strings.

Back in 2009, Simon Neil told TG he plugged his Squier Strat into a Boss MT-2 Metal Zone distortion pedal, driving Peavey Classic and Marshall Super Lead amps combined with a Fender DeVille as a constant (fairly) clean sound. 

Multi-fx pedals such as Line 6’s HX Stomp or the Kemper Profiler allow you to set up a dual-amp rig, so pair a cranked Marshall model with a cleaner Fender.

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Total Guitar editors

Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.