The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century

The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century – 2011

Pressure And Time – Rival Sons

Could they be the most exciting classic rock band of the modern age? Guitarist Scott Holiday certainly has a magic touch like the legends of old.

You're Blessed – Iceage

Effortlessly shambolic but full of cathartic emotion, the Danish four-piece continue to lead the post-punk revival to this day.

You And I – Lady Gaga & Brian May

Considering her stage name, it’s no surprise Lady Gaga fell “to the floor crying and laughing” upon hearing May was on board for this genre-crossing single.

The A Team – Ed Sheeran

Ed’s mega-selling debut uses his trademark fusion of cowboy chords and percussive delivery.

Somebody That I Used To Know – Gotye

Ever wondered why guitars are part of the rhythm section? Check out the percussive chord part in this ‘Marmite’ single.

Lonely Boy – The Black Keys

Every time we hear this track from the Ohio garage rock duo, we’re transported straight back to 2011 and many hours spent scratching our heads trying to figure out how the hell to dial in a sound for those pitch-drops in the opening riff. 

Is it a DigiTech Whammy pedal? Is it a pitch-shifter controlled by an expression pedal? Turns out it’s neither, and guitarist Dan Auerbach’s method is much easier. 

The secret behind the sound is the use of a Boss PS-5 Super Shifter pedal. Essentially, this pedal removes the inaccuracies inherent in trying to accurately control a real-time treadle-operated pitch shifter. 

Just tell it how far to downtune and how long it should take to do so and it’ll perform the pitch change for you while you stand on the footswitch. Lift your foot off and you’re straight back to standard pitch. Without doubt one of the coolest riffs of the past decade!

Cruel – St Vincent

Citing a diverse mixture of influences that include David Bowie, Talking Heads, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix and Tool’s Adam Jones, plus classic metal bands Metallica, Slayer and Pantera, it’s perhaps little surprise that Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is something of an enigma in guitar circles. 

Spending three years at Berklee College Of Music before ultimately dropping out, Annie has developed a mastery of theory and harmony, but you’ll rarely hear a shred run or jazz chord emanating from her considerable collection of guitars, taking a sonically experimental art-pop direction instead. 

Clark has described her riff from 2011’s Cruel as “kind of Ali Farka Touré lite” – with its gentle hint of African tonalities and blues in the double-picked lick, but that tonal experimentalism is also on display. 

We can’t say for sure, but we’d bet our plectrums that a Z.Vex Mastrotron is responsible for the unruly fuzz tone, likely coupled with an Eventide PitchFactor for some octave-down fatness.

And that fuzz solo? Well, the Z.Vex goes solo here, with the Eventide switched out of the mix, and the gradual pitch shifts are dealt with by a Boss PS-5 Super Shifter – just like Dan Auerbach used for Lonely Boy. Maybe Boss had a sale on...

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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.