Contemporary Country Guitarists Who Are Pushing the Boundaries of the Genre

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The sound of country music is forever evolving, and the guitarists who play it are pushing the boundaries like never before. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the trailblazing players who are bringing a new wave of contemporary country to the forefront. From the bluesy riffs of Gary Clark Jr. to the acoustic fingerpicking of Tommy Emmanuel, these guitarists are redefining the genre with their unique approaches and techniques. So grab your Stetson hat and saddle up for a ride through the latest and greatest in contemporary country guitar.

Musical Background

Musical Background
The musical journeys of contemporary country guitarists are diverse and often unconventional. Although they all share a love for country music, many of these guitarists come from a background of blues, rock, jazz, and even metal. They have taken inspiration from a wide range of artists, from the classic country legends to the modern rock icons. This, in turn, has shaped their playing styles and techniques, making them stand out in the country music scene. Let’s take a closer look at the musical backgrounds of the new wave of contemporary country guitarists.

Texas Flood: Gary Clark Jr.

When it comes to pushing boundaries in contemporary country guitar playing, it’s impossible not to mention the Texas-born sensation, Gary Clark Jr. With a musical background deeply rooted in blues and soul, Clark has managed to bring a fresh new sound to country guitar playing.

Clark’s playing style is heavily influenced by legendary blues musicians such as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Howlin’ Wolf. He also draws inspiration from rock icons like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. In fact, his rendition of Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” is a staple in his live performances.

Clark’s guitar playing is characterized by fast, fluid runs and soulful bends that make his solos stand out. He also incorporates a lot of dynamics in his playing, going from soft and delicate to loud and explosive in the blink of an eye.

One of Clark’s signature techniques is his use of both fingers and a pick, which allows him to play complex rhythms and lead lines simultaneously. He also experiments with different guitar effects, such as fuzz and distortion, to create a unique sound that blends blues, rock, and country.

Clark’s talent has earned him recognition not only in the country music scene but also in the wider music industry. He has performed with music legends such as B.B. King and The Rolling Stones and has even been praised by none other than President Barack Obama himself.

Clark is definitely one of the leading figures in the new wave of contemporary country guitarists, and his influence on the genre can already be felt. For those looking to learn from his style, it’s worth checking out his live performances or even investing in some of his music to get a feel for his sound.

Some other articles where you can find information on various playing techniques include:

From Metal to Country: John 5

John 5 is a contemporary country guitarist who has made a name for himself by bridging the gap between metal and country music. Born John William Lowery, he was initially known for his shredding skills as a guitarist for Marilyn Manson. However, he soon found a new home in the country music scene, where he has flourished with his unique style.

Musical Background:

Before making his name as a country guitarist, John 5 was a prominent figure in the metal scene. He began his career as a session musician, playing with a number of bands before joining Marilyn Manson as their lead guitarist. He played on two of their albums, Holy Wood and The Golden Age of Grotesque, before leaving the band in 2004 to pursue a solo career.

Guitar Techniques:

John 5 is known for his technical proficiency on the guitar, which he incorporates into his country music style. His playing combines intricate picking patterns, sweeping arpeggios, and complex chord progressions to create a sound that is both aggressive and melodic. He also often uses fingerpicking techniques to add a delicate touch to his more introspective tracks.


John 5’s influences are wide-ranging and diverse, ranging from traditional country artists like Chet Atkins and Merle Travis to metal bands like Iron Maiden and Slayer. He has also cited jazz guitarists like Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery as influences, and his music often incorporates elements of these styles.

The Future of Country Guitar:

John 5’s unique style and ability to combine different genres have made him a trailblazer in the country music scene. He has shown that country guitar can be both technically proficient and emotionally resonant, and his influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary country guitarists. As the country music scene continues to evolve, it will be exciting to see how guitarists like John 5 will continue to push the boundaries of the genre.

Musical Background John 5 played with Marilyn Manson before joining country music scene.
Guitar Techniques John 5 uses intricate picking patterns, sweeping arpeggios, complex chord progressions, and fingerpicking techniques in his playing.
Influences His influences include traditional country artists, metal bands, and jazz guitarists.
The Future of Country Guitar John 5’s influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary country guitarists and he will continue to push the boundaries of the genre.

Blues and Jazz Influences: Robben Ford

Robben Ford is a contemporary country guitarist who has made his mark on the music scene with his unique blend of blues and jazz influences. Born in 1951, he has been active in the music industry for over four decades and continues to push the boundaries of the genre.

One of the keys to Robben Ford’s sound is his intricate use of chords and scales. He often incorporates unusual chord progressions and dissonant notes in his playing, which gives his music a distinctly modern feel. This can be seen in his song “Help the Poor,” where he uses a combination of major and minor chords to create a complex and dynamic sound.

Another technique that sets Robben Ford apart is his use of wah-wah pedals. He uses the pedal in a subtle and nuanced way, creating a wide range of expressive tones. This can be heard in his solo on “Talk to Your Daughter,” where he uses the wah-wah pedal to add a touch of attitude to his playing.

Robben Ford’s jazz influences can also be seen in his use of extended chords and intricate chord progressions. He drew inspiration from jazz legends such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, and incorporated their unique approach to melody and harmony into his own playing. This is particularly evident in his song “Chevrolet,” where he uses a combination of major, minor, and dominant seventh chords to create a complex and harmonically rich sound.

Robben Ford’s blues and jazz influences have allowed him to carve out a unique niche in the contemporary country music scene. His intricate use of chords, his subtle use of the wah-wah pedal, and his incorporation of jazz harmony and melody into his playing all contribute to his distinctive sound. Robben Ford is truly a guitarist who is pushing the boundaries of country music and taking the genre in exciting new directions.

Key Techniques Use of unusual chord progressions and dissonant notes Subtle and nuanced use of wah-wah pedals Incorporation of jazz harmony and melody
Songs to Check Out “Help the Poor” “Talk to Your Daughter” “Chevrolet”
Influences Charlie Parker John Coltrane

Rock and Roll Swagger: Vince Gill

Vince Gill is a country guitar virtuoso with unparalleled skill and a distinct style that incorporates elements of both country and rock music. He is known for his powerful, soulful playing, and his use of technical leads and runs that exemplify his rock and roll swagger.

Some notable highlights of Vince Gill’s guitar playing include:

  • A wide range of guitar styles: Vince Gill is known for his versatility on the guitar, switching effortlessly between fingerpicking, flatpicking, and hybrid picking. He employs techniques like bends, slides, and vibrato to create a unique sound that draws from both country and rock influences.
  • Emotional playing: Gill is a master of tapping into the emotional core of a song with his guitar playing. He often uses wide vibrato and intense, soaring leads to imbue his solos with raw, visceral emotion.
  • Creative use of dynamics: Vince Gill is a master of manipulating the volume and intensity of his guitar playing to great effect. He often begins solos with soft, delicate playing before building to a crescendo of searing, high-energy leads that leave his audiences spellbound.
  • Collaboration: Gill often collaborates with other musicians on his guitar parts, seamlessly blending his sound with other instruments to create a cohesive, satisfying sonic landscape.

In addition to his incredible guitar skills, Vince Gill is also a celebrated songwriter and vocalist, with numerous Grammy awards to his name. With his rock and roll swagger and undeniable talent, he has become one of the most beloved and influential figures in contemporary country music.

Guitar Techniques

Guitar Techniques
As contemporary country music continues to evolve, guitarists find new ways to push boundaries and expand the genre’s sound. These musicians bring a variety of techniques to their performances, incorporating everything from acoustic fingerpicking to electric tapping. In this section, we’ll explore some of the most innovative guitar techniques in contemporary country music, as pioneered by some of the genre’s most talented artists. Get ready to be amazed by the jaw-dropping skills and creativity of these guitarists!

Hybrid Picking and Slides: Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley is one of the most influential contemporary country guitarists known for his unique playing style that incorporates hybrid picking and slides. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, Paisley has released 11 studio albums and numerous hit singles that showcase his exceptional talent and innovative techniques.

Hybrid picking is a technique that involves using both the pick and fingers to pluck the strings. This allows the guitarist to play complex patterns and syncopated rhythms with ease. Brad Paisley is a master of hybrid picking and utilizes this technique in most of his songs. He often uses the pick to play the bass notes while his fingers pluck the higher strings, creating a fuller and more intricate sound.

Another technique that Paisley is known for is slides, particularly the use of slides in conjunction with hybrid picking. This technique allows the guitarist to move smoothly between notes and create expressive slides and bends. Paisley’s use of slides is particularly prominent in his solos, adding a unique touch to his sound.

To fully understand Paisley’s playing style, it’s important to analyze his songs and the specific techniques he uses. One great example is his hit single “Ticks,” which demonstrates his signature hybrid picking style. In the opening riff, Paisley uses the pick to play the low strings while his fingers pluck the higher strings in a fast and complex pattern. As the song progresses, he also incorporates slides and bends, showcasing his versatility as a guitarist.

Brad Paisley’s innovative use of hybrid picking and slides has influenced many contemporary country guitarists and has become a hallmark of his style. By incorporating these unique techniques, Paisley has pushed the boundaries of traditional country guitar playing and created a sound that is all his own.

Looping and Tapping: Kaki King

Kaki King is renowned for her innovative guitar playing techniques, particularly her mastery of looping and tapping. She employs an impressive range of guitar sounds, from intricate fingerpicking to percussive tapping, all while seamlessly layering loops upon loops to create complex and mesmerizing compositions.

One of Kaki King’s signature guitar techniques is tapping, which involves using both hands to play notes on the fretboard. She frequently uses this technique in combination with a loop pedal, which allows her to create a one-woman band effect by layering sounds on top of each other. This approach to guitar playing is a huge departure from more traditional country guitar styles that rely on strumming and picking patterns.

Kaki King is also known for her precision in using loop pedals. She often creates a base layer of music and then records subsequent layers on top of it, building a complete song from scratch in mere minutes. Her ability to perform in real-time recording and looping is simply mesmerizing to watch. The loops she creates harmonize perfectly to create a rich musical sound.

In addition to tapping and looping, Kaki King also uses percussive techniques to add unique sounds and rhythms to her songs. Her songs can sound like a full band or an orchestra, despite her playing solo. Her technique is so impressive, it has inspired other country guitarists to try to emulate her style.

Kaki King is an example of pushing boundaries in the country music genre with her innovative guitar techniques. She has shown that tapping, looping and using percussive sounds offer new possibilities for creating captivating, complex and unique country compositions. Her ability to masterfully weave together new techniques has won her legions of fans, and she will continue to be a trailblazer for country guitarists for years to come.

Acoustic Fingerpicking: Tommy Emmanuel

When it comes to acoustic fingerpicking, few guitarists can match the virtuosity of Tommy Emmanuel. Born in Australia, Emmanuel has spent over four decades perfecting his craft, earning the respect of audiences and fellow musicians around the world. Let’s take a closer look at some of the techniques and accomplishments that make Tommy Emmanuel one of the most exciting contemporary country guitarists:

Fingerstyle Mastery: Tommy Emmanuel is a master of fingerstyle guitar, using all ten fingers to play intricate melodies, basslines, and percussion on a single instrument. He employs a range of techniques, including harmonics, percussive slaps, and sweeping arpeggios, to create a rich and varied sound.
International Fame: Emmanuel’s fingerpicking prowess has earned him acclaim around the world, as he has toured extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. He has shared the stage with greats like Eric Clapton and Chet Atkins, and has won multiple awards for his guitar work.
Musical Collaborations: Emmanuel has collaborated with a diverse range of musicians from different genres, including jazz pianist Michel Legrand, bluegrass guitarist David Grisman, and Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly. He is known for his ability to adapt to different styles and bring his own unique flavor to a musical project.
Passing on the Torch: Emmanuel is not content with simply being a great guitarist himself – he is also committed to passing on his skills to a new generation of players. He has released instructional materials and performed at guitar workshops and festivals around the world, inspiring others to take up the art of acoustic fingerpicking.

Tommy Emmanuel embodies the spirit of pushing boundaries in contemporary country guitar. With his innovative fingerstyle techniques, worldwide fame, diverse collaborations, and dedication to passing on his knowledge, Emmanuel is both a master and a mentor in the world of acoustic fingerpicking.


As every musician knows, their style is a product of their influences. And for the new wave of contemporary country guitarists, it’s no different. But who are their inspirations? Who do they draw from to push the boundaries of country music? Let’s take a closer look at some of the influential figures that have helped shape the sound of modern country guitar, and how they’ve inspired a new era of musicians to keep evolving the genre.

The Hendrix Factor: Keith Urban

Keith Urban is a seasoned country guitarist who draws inspiration from various musical genres. One of his greatest influences is the legendary Jimi Hendrix, who redefined the possibilities of the guitar in the 1960s. Urban has been vocal about this connection, stating that Hendrix was his “gateway drug” to exploring music and guitar.

Urban’s incorporation of Hendrix’s techniques has helped him carve out his unique sound and style, which can be heard in songs like “Sweet Thing” and “Long Hot Summer.” One of the most notable Hendrix-influenced techniques that Urban implements in his playing is the use of the wah-wah pedal, which he skillfully manipulates to create soulful and engaging solos.

However, Urban’s playing goes beyond just imitating his influences. He infuses his performances with passion and skill that are uniquely his own, and his ability to combine different musical elements makes him stand out as one of the most innovative country guitarists of today. He incorporates a range of techniques into his playing, including fingerpicking, sliding, and bending notes, all of which are showcased in his hit song “Blue Ain’t Your Color.”

Urban’s ongoing success and relevance in the country music scene demonstrate that the relationship between classic rock and country music is alive and well. Through his “Hendrix factor” and his own creative approach to the guitar, Urban has pushed the boundaries of the genre and continues to inspire the next generation of country guitarists.

Country Legends and Reviving Tradition: Margo Price

Margo Price is a contemporary country singer and songwriter who has been widely recognized for her efforts to revive and honor traditional country music. She has been inspired by many country legends and has incorporated their style into her own unique sound. Here are some of the influences that shaped Margo Price’s music:

Merle Haggard: Margo Price has expressed her deep admiration for Merle Haggard, who was one of the pioneers of the Bakersfield sound, a style of country music that emerged in California in the 1950s and 60s. Haggard’s songs were known for their raw honesty and emotional depth, and Margo Price has emulated his approach in her own songwriting.

Loretta Lynn: Margo Price has also been influenced by Loretta Lynn, who is often called the “Queen of Country Music.” Lynn’s music was characterized by its outspokenness and its focus on the experiences of working-class women. Margo Price has embraced this same spirit of independence and has become a powerful voice for women in country music.

Waylon Jennings: Waylon Jennings was another artist who helped shape Margo Price’s musical style. Jennings was part of the outlaw country movement, which rejected the polished sound of mainstream country music in favor of a rawer, more rebellious sound. Margo Price has continued this tradition, using her music to address social and political issues that are often ignored by mainstream country.

Through her music, Margo Price has helped to revive the classic country sound, while making it her own. Her unique voice and songwriting, combined with her deep respect for the traditions of country music, have made her one of the most compelling artists in the contemporary country scene.

Going Beyond Nashville Sound: Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson is a name that has been making waves in the country music industry lately, and for good reason. The Kentucky-born singer and guitarist has been praised for his ability to bridge the gap between traditional country music and modern rock, resulting in a sound that is both unique and refreshing. Simpson has been known to experiment with different genres and styles, not content with sticking to the typical “Nashville sound.”

One of the ways in which Simpson has gone beyond the Nashville sound is through his use of lyrics. He’s not afraid to speak his mind and tackle taboo subjects, earning him a reputation as a controversial figure in the industry. In his song “Turtles All The Way Down,” Simpson sings about drugs and hallucinations, defying the conservative norms of country music.

But it’s not just his lyrics that set him apart. Simpson’s guitar playing is equally impressive. He seamlessly blends country twang with psychedelic rock, resulting in a sound that is both unique and captivating. He is also known for his use of effects pedals, which add an extra layer of depth and richness to his playing.

Simpson’s influences are just as varied as his sound. He’s been known to draw inspiration from classic country artists like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, as well as modern rock icons like Kurt Cobain and Jack White. His ability to incorporate such diverse influences into his music is a testament to his skill as a musician and songwriter.

Another way in which Simpson is breaking away from the Nashville sound is through his production choices. He’s known for recording in analog, eschewing the digital recording methods that many of his peers rely on. This gives his music a warm, vintage feel that harkens back to the days of classic country.

Sturgill Simpson is a prime example of the new wave of contemporary country guitarists who are pushing the boundaries of what we think of as “country music.” His willingness to experiment with different genres, use controversial lyrics, and incorporate unique production choices all contribute to his distinct sound. Simpson is proof that there is room for innovation and creativity in the country music industry, and we can’t wait to see where he takes us next.

Table: Sturgill Simpson’s Unique Qualities

Unique Quality Description
Lyrics Addresses taboo subjects and defies conservative norms.
Guitar playing Blends country twang with psychedelic rock and uses effects pedals.
Influences Draws from classic country artists and modern rock icons.
Production choices Records in analog, giving his music a warm, vintage feel.

The Future of Country Guitar

As we move into the future, the evolution of country guitar is expected to continue, with contemporary country artists pushing the boundaries and taking the genre to new heights.

One potential direction for the future of country guitar is the continued incorporation of diverse musical influences into the genre. As seen with artists like Robben Ford and Margo Price, blues, jazz, and rock inspirations can meld with country to create fresh and dynamic sounds. This fusion of genres can help attract a wider audience, as well as inspire new players to take up the guitar and explore its possibilities.

Another potential development on the horizon is the integration of technology into country guitar. Kaki King’s use of looping and tapping techniques, for example, are made possible with the aid of technology. As music technology continues to advance, we may see more and more guitarists utilizing these tools to create new sounds and push the limits of what’s possible on the instrument.

There is also the possibility of the emergence of new guitar techniques and styles that haven’t even been created yet. With every passing year, there is potential for innovation and experimentation to blur the lines between genres and create something completely new and fresh.

Regardless of where country guitar goes in the future, one thing is certain: the artists and players who continue to push the boundaries and explore the possibilities of the instrument will leave an indelible mark on the genre and inspire future generations of musicians to take up the guitar and continue the evolution of country music.


In conclusion, we can’t deny the fact that the new wave of contemporary country guitarists is pushing boundaries and shaking up the traditional sound of country music. Through their diverse musical backgrounds, unique guitar techniques, and influences from various genres, these guitarists have been able to create a fresh and exciting sound that appeals to both traditional and modern country music fans.

The use of hybrid picking and slides by Brad Paisley, looping and tapping by Kaki King, and acoustic fingerpicking by Tommy Emmanuel are just some of the innovative guitar techniques that have been introduced by these trailblazing guitarists.

Moreover, the influences of legendary guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and the revival of traditional country sound by artists like Margo Price and Sturgill Simpson continue to play a significant role in shaping the future of country music.

It’s exciting to think about where country guitar music is headed next. Will we see more experimentation and cross-genre collaborations? Or will traditional country sounds make a comeback in a big way? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure, with the immense talent and creativity of these new wave guitarists, the future of country guitar music is in good hands.

As fans, we can only sit back and enjoy the ride and continue to support these artists and their contributions to the ever-evolving world of country music. The future is bright, and it’s thrilling to see where these boundary-pushing guitarists will take us next.

Frequently Asked Questions

What distinguishes contemporary country guitar from traditional country guitar?

Contemporary country guitar emphasizes a wider range of musical influences and incorporates techniques from other genres, such as rock, blues, and jazz. It also often uses more advanced technical skills.

What is hybrid picking?

Hybrid picking involves using both a pick and your fingers to pluck the strings. This allows for greater speed and precision, as well as more complex rhythms.

What is looping?

Looping is a technique that allows guitarists to record and play back sections of their playing in real time, creating multiple layers of sound. This can add depth and complexity to a performance.

Who was Jimi Hendrix and why is he important to contemporary country guitar?

Jimi Hendrix was a legendary guitarist who revolutionized rock music in the 1960s. His innovative techniques and use of effects pedals influenced many contemporary country guitarists and helped to expand the boundaries of the genre.

Who are some of the most important contemporary country guitarists?

Some of the most important contemporary country guitarists include Gary Clark Jr., John 5, Robben Ford, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, Kaki King, and Tommy Emmanuel, among others.

What is tapping?

Tapping involves using the fingers of the fretting hand to create notes, rather than plucking the strings with the other hand. This technique can create unique and complex sounds.

What is acoustic fingerpicking?

Acoustic fingerpicking is a technique that involves using the fingers instead of a pick to play the strings of an acoustic guitar. It is often used in folk and country music.

Who are some influential country music legends?

Some influential country music legends include Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard, among others.

What is the Nashville sound?

The Nashville sound refers to a studio production style that emerged in Nashville in the 1950s and 1960s. It was characterized by lush arrangements and orchestration, and was used to create a more polished and commercial sound in country music.

What does the future of country guitar look like?

The future of country guitar is likely to continue to incorporate a wider range of musical influences and technical skills, pushing the boundaries of the genre even further. There may also be more experimentation with effects pedals and electronic music production techniques.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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