The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century

The greatest guitar songs of the 21st century – 2019

Dylan Thomas – Better Oblivion Community Center

A song this strong might not need a guitar solo, but the spring reverb-soaked eruption here is a total joy.

Talking Heads – Black Midi

Black Midi show the guitar’s continued potential for innovation. Casual listeners might not realise how many of these sounds are guitars.

Bulletproof – Samantha Fish

The swampy fuzz heard on the Kansas City star’s latest recordings is as infectious as we’ve grown to expect, with some compelling slide work on her cigar box.

The Borders – Sam Fender

The chiming clean arpeggios are delivered on Sam's, er, Fender American Pro Jazzmaster. Some light chorus and a dash of compression will get you close to his tone.

Distortion – Babymetal

Confounding those who call them a novelty act with unexpectedly great songs, this is the world’s heaviest J-pop.

People – The 1975

Famed synth-pop stadium fillers The 1975 have demonstrated their genre-hopping abilities right from their early days. Still, we’re not sure anyone saw last year’s scuzzy industrial glam-punker People coming, complete with distorted, dissonant guitars and filthy bassline. 

Hailing the track as the band’s “first proper rock song”, guitarist Adam Hann has been mighty clever with the riff, chopping away on the notes of an E7#9 chord – aka the Hendrix chord! 

What’s so clever? Well, he deliberately avoids the E root note, targeting G#, D and G (technically F double-sharp, but let’s just gloss over that curious point of theory!) and bringing out the natural dissonance of the b5th interval between the first two. Ross MacDonald’s bass outlines the root notes for the harmony. 

Live, Hann generally opts to use a P-90-equipped Gibson Les Paul Junior, though a Fender Telecaster or other single-coil equipped guitar may also suffice. 

For the distortion tone, we recommend using a fuzz pedal (Adam likely uses his Z.Vex Fuzz Factory) into the drive channel of your amp.  Aim for just a little bit of sizzle from your amp and use the fuzz pedal to generate the gritty tone. A splash of spring reverb is the icing on the cake.

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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.