The guitarist may be the most prototypical figure in all of rock & roll. Can you imagine Zeppelin without Jimmy Page, the Stones without Keith Richards or Guns N’ Roses sans Slash? Those guitar heroes may be lofty signposts, but it just goes to show that a guitarist has the ability to make their band's music innovative and memorable. With that in mind, SoundDiego highlights 12 current guitarists who are continuing San Diego’s proud riff heritage (listed in alphabetical order).
Pat Beers: The high-flying garage-rock frontman for the Schizophonics sure knows his way around the fretboard -- even if he's usually playing with one hand behind his back. Imagine what he'd do with both!
Jeff Berkley: A long-time favorite on stages across San Diego, check out this San Diego Music Award-winner's excellent 2017 solo album, his stellar work in Berkley Hart, or the tons of other records he's produced for notable locals for a master lesson in brilliant guitar work.
Will Castro: The San Diego punk scene owes a debt of gratitude to Western Setting's Castro (and his label La Escalera Records) for all he does year in and year out. Dude's also a killer, imaginative player in a genre often passed over in regards to next-level musicianship. Check out the band's latest album here.
Daniel Cervantes: What can't this guy play? From crooning his own acoustic songs as Dude Cervantes or handling guitar and/or vocal duties in Creature and the Woods (who just won a Switchfoot Bro-Am opening slot), Howlin' Rain, and "The Last Waltz"-tackling Mrs. Henry, this guy oozes rock & roll swagger and few use it better.
Laura Chavez: If recognition from Guitar Player and Blues Blast Magazine (with her own cover no less) isn't proof enough, let us just say that Chavez is inarguably one of the best guitarists in San Diego -- or anywhere for that matter. After backing Candye Kane (Rest In Peace) for years, she now plays with blues powerhouse Nikki Hill and San Diego Music Award-winner Casey Hensley. See her in concert and get blown away.
Justin Cota: Delivering the schralp for multiple bands (Deep Sea Thunderbeast, Gloomsday, Dream Burglar, Bosswitch) across several genres, Cota is more than worthy of being on this list. A gearhead's hero, he's got different rigs for each project, an unrivaled ear for tone -- and the chops to dish it out. While he might bristle at this recognition, he deserves it.
Ruby Haynes: In a doom metal genre long dominated by men, Beira's vocalist/guitarist is a hefty breath of fresh air. Haynes' riffs are unyieldingly crushing and more ingenious than most. Check out the trio's 2018 album "Vol. II" and prepare to get obliterated. We are not worthy.
Veronica May: Winner of Best Pop at the 2019 San Diego Music Awards, May might not be the flashiest guitarist around but her consistently tasteful work is proof that "feel" and "serving the song" are qualities that only a select few make an effort to master. We're always inspired after hearing her play.
Andrew McKeag: This list wouldn't be complete without this guitarist (Uncle Joe's Big Ol'Driver, the Presidents of the United States of America, Dirty Sweet). Fronting his own band these days, McKeag slings both wicked rock riffs and six-string solos like they're goin' out of style.
Isaiah Mitchell: Few could disagree that Earthless' guitarist should be included here. Mitchell's incomparable style has played a pivotal role in cementing his band as one of the most important and celebrated bands in psych/prog-rock. He's also a guitar instructor, hit him up for lessons.
Ian Owen: A long-time local fave, Owen handles ax duties for bands like Oh, Spirit and nearly every Redwoods Records band (the Midnight Pine, Birdy Bardot, Cardinal Moon, etc). Owen more than knows his way around a melody and while he's technically proficient too, he's never over the top or showy with it. Rather, his endless pursuit of the ultimate tone results in constant ear candy for discerning listeners.
"Swami" John Reis: Who knows what the state of San Diego music would be without Swami's continual guitar-based contributions. Whether it's with Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes, the Night Marchers or a myriad other bands, he's one of -- if not the -- ultimate guitar hero for our fair city. All hail Swami!