5. Billy Strings

Born William Apostol, Billy Strings (a nickname given to him by his aunt because of his fluency on several instruments) sharpened his chops in bluegrass alongside his father in Michigan. But to play music with musicians closer to his age, he started shredding in bands inspired by death metal bands Cryptopsy and Cannibal Corpse. While the death-metal thing never stuck (he’s still a regular listener of the genre), the energy, string-splitting proficiency, and raw power trickled into his bluegrass performances. He and his stalwart bandmates logged over 200 shows for a handful of years before recording his 2017 debut Tinfoil and Turmoil, which has many pillars of bluegrass (acoustic instruments, no drums, lightning-fast picking, strong vocal harmonies), but also features the rowdiness of death metal, modern-day tales of drugs and debauchery, and hallucinating delays and reverbs that usher in progressive jams.

Months before his sophomore release, Home, hits the shelves, Billy Strings had the honor of headlining one of the Ryman’s Bluegrass Nights. And that’s where PG’s Perry Bean had the pleasure of spending some quality time with Strings to talk about the perfect acoustic guitar and why he uses pedals to break down bluegrass barriers while still paying reverence to the music’s forefathers like Doc Watson and Bill Monroe.

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4. Nita Strauss

Premier Guitar’s John Bohlinger met with Judas Priest founding bassist Ian Hill and guitarist Richie Faulkner for a walk-through their paint-peeling, mountain-crushing rigs.

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3. Sleep's Matt Pike

Matt Pike is much like his guitar playing—powerful, blunt, slightly pissed off, and occasionally out of tune. And he’s been playing guitar almost as long as he’s been talking. “My uncle and grandpa used to always play guitar and I just remember loving those times,” says Pike. “Ever since I could handle a guitar, I’ve been playing one.”

Pike’s headbanging lineage started in the ’90s with stoner-metal icons Sleep, and after that band’s initial burnout, continued with the ferocious High on Fire. Decades of playing have honed Pike’s perspective about his instrument and music: “Riffs are the conversation starter—that’s what brings people in, but you better have more to offer than just that,” he says. “I create with the guitar and the riff is my illustrative force.” For fans of Pike’s raging riffage, it should be no shock that the frontman/guitarist had enough to say by way of his guitar (and High on Fire lyrics) to populate two new albums: Electric Messiah from High on Fire and Sleep’s The Sciences.

Since the release of those two critically acclaimed albums in 2018, Pike’s vision has been validated by way of a Grammy for Best Metal Performance (Electric Messiah) and dozens of sold-out Sleep shows that have continued to send the doom trio around the world. While the tour that brought Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, and drummer Jason Roeder to town was delayed because Pike had one of his toes partially amputated due to diabetes, the pioneering guitarist couldn’t be sidelined for long. “The guitar is a spiritual instrument—it goes from heart, to head, to hands, out the speaker cabs, and into the universe. That directly impacts the people who listen to you—they know if you’re full of shit or not. I’ve always known I was meant to express myself through this 6-string tool. The only constant through addiction, hard times, juvenile delinquency, heartache, and life has been the guitar.”

Before the band’s show at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works, the bare-chested shredder threw on a shirt, strapped on a Les Paul Artisan, and explained to PG’s Chris Kies how Sleep’s aural expeditions are full of patient, spontaneous moments built on a bed of sustain and swirl.

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2. Jake E. Lee

Rock guitar icon Jake E. Lee takes Premier Guitar through his powerful rig before the Red Dragon Cartel’s soundcheck at Nashville’s Basement East.

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1. Tom Morello

During the unrivaled axeman’s solo tour supporting his 2018 album The Atlas Underground, PG’s Chris Kies stood amazed as Tom Morello revealed the tricks that fortified a legacy of riffs in Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave. Plus, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee member (yes, he knows that Iron Maiden needs to be inducted) breaks down how he’s still aiming to shoot the instrument into the future.

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