Music

9 guitarists defining the new wave of classic rock

For old-school classic rock fans, you know the deal: the genre is filled with expressive vocals, thunderous drums, pounding bass and, most importantly – explosive guitars.

Many of us grew up listening to leaders like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, KISS and Heart via FM radio and at times it could get a little stale and admittedly repetitive. And so, when the new wave of classic rock was heralded over the last decade, many were perhaps a little skeptical.
It didn’t take long for nostalgia to come face to face with the volcanic creativity seething from the pores of newcomers like Greta Van Fleet, Thunderpussy and Dirty Honey. What’s more – and much to the surprise of many – these budding all-stars not only met the expectations of their forefathers, but in many cases exceeded them.

We can say a lot about the new wave of classic rock, but let’s let the guitarists who have shaped the era so far do the heavy lifting. What follows are nine guitarists defining the new wave of classic rock.

9. Griffin Tucker of Classless Act

Griffin Tucker from Classless Act. Image: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

Listen to: Welcome to the show

As newcomers to the new wave of the classic rock scene, Classless Act took a big step forward in 2022. First, the LA-based outfit released their debut, the aptly titled, Welcome to the show, and then the young rockers became the fan as opening times for 2022’s world-beating Stadium Tour. Classless Act does many things well, but its guitar-based heroics are where this band shines. Driven by Griffin Tucker’s searing leads and ear-imploding power chords, it’s not hard to imagine Tucker making it to the top of the proverbial pile in 2023.

8. Hannah Findlay of Stonefield

Hannah Findlay of Stonefield performs on stage at the Pyramid Rock Festival on December 30, 2012 in Melbourne Australia.
Hannah Findlay of Stonefield. Image: Martin Philbey / Redferns

Listen to: Shut down

Along with her skin-pounding sister, Amy, Hannah Findlay of Australian rock outfit Stonefield takes her guitar heroics to new heights. Findlay is a sublime blend of hard rock with psychological freakouts not seen in some time. Findlay is a rare breed in a sometimes stagnant era. Known for having a mix of Gibson Les Pauls and SGs, Findlay’s obscure exploits across Stonefield’s record belong to the throwback beauty of the late ’60s.

7. Jake Kiszka from Greta Van Fleet

Jake Kiszka from Greta Van Fleet
Jake Kiszka from Greta Van Fleet. Image: Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Listen to: Highway song

Loved by some and mocked by just as many, there’s no doubt that Michigan’s Greta Van Fleet helped usher in the new wave of classic rock. Sure, they wear their influence on their collective sleeves (hello, Led Zeppelin), but that doesn’t minimize the band’s accomplishments, especially when it comes to their lead guitarist, Jake Kiszka. As the sidekick to Greta Van Fleet’s font man (and Jake’s brother), Josh Kiszka, Jake has managed to remind fans of the magic of 70s classic rock, and for that we will always be grateful.

6. Tyler Bryant by Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown

Tyler Bryant

Listen to: Ghostrider

Hailing from Paris, Texas, and wielding a signature pink Stratocaster, Tyler Bryant has combined blues and hard rock music in ways not often seen since Clapton’s days with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. And with Brad Whitford’s son, Graham, handling rhythm duties for Shakedown these days, now more than ever, Bryant has the space and freedom to howl at the moon with energy. Aside from inherent skill, what makes Bryant unique is the guttural soul he brings to his playing, allowing him to converse with listeners through a unique musical language.

5. Blake Allard by Joyous Wolf

Blake Allard of Joyous Wolf performs during the Las Rageous Music Festival at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center on April 21, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Blake Allard of Joyous Wolf. Image: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Listen to: Fearless

With a Les Paul in hand, Orange County native Blake Allard returns to the classic rock era through his unique vintage aesthetic and cataclysmic riff-driven style. Truly humble, yet consummately talented, Allard’s solos circle across the listener’s speakers with breakneck intensity, culminating in sudden, blues-driven choruses imbued with graceful splendor. Some players have the “it” factor, and to be sure, Joyous Wolf’s young guitarist has “it” in spades.

4. Tristan Thomas of Florence Black

(embed)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH7Gw-823zY(/embed)

Listen to: Can you feel it?

Tristan Thomas of Welsh three-piece Florence Black makes his Les Paul howl with emotion and screen with agony, and he does it with a mile-wide grin creeping across his bearded face. If you’ve heard the uber-heavy music of Florence Black, then you’ve witnessed Thomas’ unique blend of 70s meets 80s meets 90s style that is as unique as it is familiar. There is something about Thomas’ playing that digs into the souls of unsuspecting listeners on a molecular level. For that reason, this once-in-a-generation talent remains one to watch.

3. Jared James Nichols

Jared James Nichols
Photo: David McClister

Listen to: Hard Wired

Nichols has probably been on most listeners’ radar for some time now, and for good reason, as his bluesy, Les Paul-accented riffs and solos are vital cogs in the new wave of classic rock’s wheels. Having recorded some of the genre’s more notable music over the past decade, Nichols’ influence on young guitarists and the genre’s viability is set in stone. Furthermore, his ability to carefully balance his ability to shred against the need to maintain listenability is just one of his many calling cards that Nichols has painstakingly honed over the past decade.

2. Whitney Petty by Thunderpussy

Whitney Petty of Thunderpussy performs during the 2018 Voodoo Music & Arts Experience on October 28, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Whitney Petty from Thunderpussy. Image: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Listen to: Velvet loop

During classic rock’s heyday in the 60s and 70s, the scene was unfairly lacking in female heroes. But as long as bone-crushing guitar heroes like Thunderpussy’s Whitney Petty exist, the future looks a lot brighter towards the end. A beacon of light for young women looking to pick up the guitar, Petty has aided the resurgence of classic rock in the modern era through heavy riffs, tasteful yet mind-altering solos and a gift for catchy songwriting. Few guitarists on the scene today swagger across the stage like Petty, and for that reason, Thunderpussy and Petty’s applause is well-deserved, along with dozens of others.

1. John Notto from Dirty Honey

John Notto of Dirty Honey poses backstage at Day 3 of Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta Central Park on May 1, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.
John Notto from Dirty Honey. Image: Scott Legato/Getty Images

Listen to: Year

Dirty Honey have become darlings of the new wave of classic rock, and to be fair, it’s not hard to see why. The band is excellent overall, but with a guitarist like John Notto from Massachusetts on board, success was almost predetermined. With a late ’50s Les Paul Burst in hand and a god-given ability to unleash the Kraken through chugging riffs, seismic rhythms and unholy solos, Notto is the poster child for all things classic rock in the modern era . Few guitarists are worth the price of admission, but in the case of John Notto, we actually have one of those rare breeds.

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