Tone Tips

The Defining Guitarists and Gear of ‘90s Hardcore Punk

From Tonie Joy to Sarah Kirsch, these are the sounds of '90s hardcore and the gear that made it happen.

The term "‘90s hardcore" is one of those nebulous classifications that group together a range of different scenes and communities and define them by a common aesthetic and purpose, despite what the participants may have actually felt about each other.

Even the small number of bands on this list are wildly different from each other. But still, for many people who like their guitar music loud and aggressive, the term evokes certain stylistic cues.

It conjures up memories and impressions of a time when the foundations made by American hardcore punk bands in the ‘80s were expanded upon, throwing open the gates to a myriad set of wider influences. A time where bands simultaneously got faster and slower, heavier and softer, and DIY ethics were embraced wholeheartedly by so many young punks.

‘90s hardcore in all of its forms—from basketball singlet-clad, vegan, straight-edge mosh to pensive, brooding emo—is having something of a resurgence in popularity of late. Either new generations of kids are discovering the work of some amazing artists, or those of us old enough to have taken part are finally wresting control of the coffee table book and online think-piece industry.

Either way, it’s a great time to showcase some of the decade’s most iconic players, their sounds, and their rigs.

A note on inclusivity: Despite the progressive politics of much of the scene, it was overwhelmingly white, male, and based in the U.S., and this is reflected in the players we are focusing on today. This is not to discount amazing music made by women, people of color, and international punks during this time. The constraints of space meant we had to pick who were, in our opinion, some of the standouts of the era. Let us know in the comments who else should be mentioned.

Tonie Joy


Starting in the latter half of the ‘80s with Maryland experimental punk outfit Moss Icon, Tonie Joy cut a swath of innovative, near-psychedelic, post-punk-inflected guitar through to the following decade.

Joy filled the sole guitar slot in genre-defining outfits like Lava, Universal Order of Armageddon (UOA), The Great Unraveling, and The Convocation Of…, while still finding time to also pick up a bass for the final lineup of agit-punks Born Against.

Moss Icon’s own discography ran the gamut from fast punk to contemplative epics—like the 11-minute "Lyburnum Wit’s End Liberation Fly"—and their impact on ‘90s punk music is undeniable. But because they broke up in ’91, we’ll focus on Joy’s next two projects, the equally influential Universal Order of Armageddon and the criminally underrated The Great Unraveling. Currently, Joy plays with Rogue Conjurer.


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