“Many young guitarists get discouraged because the comments sections on all platforms are somehow even more toxic than they were five or 10 years ago”: Slowly emerging from a hiatus, Sarah Longfield's ever-impressive playing is “more chill now”

Sarah Longfield plays one of her signature Strandberg Boden Metal NX 8 guitars
(Image credit: Derek Sampson)

Sarah Longfield has come a long way. After starting as an unintentional YouTuber in 2007 – when social media was far from being a breeding ground for young guitarists – she oscillates today between sharing stages with John 5 and Nita Strauss (in 2021 and 2023, respectively) and getting name-checked by Steve Vai after teaching at his Vai Academy 7.0.

“I was surprised and grateful to be invited to the Vai Academy this year,” Longfield tells Guitar Player. “Steve is an incredible player who has so much wisdom to share on guitars, as well as the music industry overall. I left feeling incredibly inspired. It was so much fun to hang out with the other great guitarists and witness their unique style and approaches.”

As for wisdom and style, Longfield has both in spades. After reeling off three impressive albums – Collapse//Expand (2017), Disparity (2018), and SUM (2019) – and several EPs, she found herself cast in the “fiercest shredder in the world” category.

Since making the jump from YouTube to the self-produced, upper-echelon indie-metal pool, she’s become known for her two-handed tapping style and extensive use of her multicolored signature Strandberg Boden NX 8 eight-string, leading to tours with Marty Friedman, Angel Vivaldi, and Polyphia.

Interestingly, though, since taking time away to pursue her college degree, Longfield’s approach to instrumental music has changed. “I’ve chilled out,“ she says.

“Don’t get me wrong – I still love shredding, playing fast and challenging music, and that’s not totally going away, but this new set of songs I’m working on isn’t really that now. I’ve realized that I don’t actually love listening to most instrumental guitar music, so I’ve been trying to find a middle ground between stuff that is both fun to play and easy to listen to.“

As for what’s next for Longfield, she has a yet-to-be-named – and apparently very different-sounding – record written, recorded, and in the mixing stage. It’s her first new solo music in four years and her first new music since she and Eric Collier released the single Glimpse of the Finale, under the name Chrome Coda, last November. 

Longfield punts when asked when the record will drop, although she’s excited, even if she doesn’t entirely understand where she’s pulling inspiration from. 

“It’s so hard. I’m honestly not sure where it comes from,” she admits. “I believe that my songs come from a subconscious place where all my experiences, interests and influences merge. For me, songs tend to happen all at once. I don’t ever really sit on riffs for too long, and I don’t like to overthink my parts. If I make something that sucks, I just try and make something that doesn’t suck the next day.”

What inspired you to pick up guitar, and what keeps you inspired? 

“It was kind of an accident. I played violin in the school orchestra but quit when my favorite teacher moved away. A few years later, I got a guitar for my birthday and didn’t really like it until someone showed me a few Slayer riffs. That sold me! 

“As for what keeps me inspired, it’s the constant stream of amazing new art and music that I get to see and listen to every day. I’m very grateful to be alive at a time when all of it is easily accessible.”

Sarah Longfield with her Strandberg Boden Metal NX 8 signature guitar

Sarah Longfield with her Strandberg Boden Metal NX 8 signature edition guitar (Image credit: Derek Sampson)

YouTube was critical for you at a time when social media wasn’t as popular a way to discover young guitarists. 

“It’s funny, because I never really planned on doing YouTube. I’d made a couple of metal covers when I was 13 or 14, and then decided I was over it and spent most of my high school years focused on drawing. I tried and failed to get into college right out of high school – even the music colleges I applied to [laughs].” 

How did it grow to the level it did?

“When all my friends left for school, I got back into music, searching for friends and community. I started a band, and my drummer suggested getting back into making videos to help our visibility, so I did, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Then I met Rob Scallon, a great dude. He inspired me to take YouTube more seriously. 

“Our collaborations boosted my channel and introduced me to so many other creators. The community is wonderful, really. It’s so unlike the rest of the music industry. People are genuine and eager to collaborate.”

How do you view the rise of TikTok and Instagram for finding young guitarists? 

“TikTok and Instagram can be wonderful tools for exposure and community. But digital communities are so different from a solid, in-person network of people. I’m fortunate to have been a part of things before TikTok and Instagram Reels took off. Many young artists get discouraged because the comments sections on all platforms are somehow even more toxic than they were on social media five or 10 years ago.”

Social media aside, do you have a solo or riff that you go back to when your inspiration well runs dry?

“My all-time favorite solo comes from a song called White Walls by Between the Buried and Me. Paul Waggoner’s playing has always been – and continues to be – very important to me. Paul is one of my biggest influences. He’s so melodic and a joy to watch, so that solo is always super fun for me to play.”

Of the solos you’ve written, which are you most proud of?

“I would say that my favorite is from a song of mine called Illuminate, which comes from my album Collapse//Expand. I like it because it’s long and challenging to play. It’s the type of solo where I need to focus to nail it. Even though I’ve been playing it live for six years, that level of focus never goes away.”

To your point, that solo is from six years ago. So is it most indicative of the player you are today?

“True. All the songs I’ve yet to release are the ones most indicative of the player I am today. I’ve spent the last few years taking a step back from music to go to college – not for music, though – and I’ve been focusing on loving life entirely outside of the metal, prog, and guitar scenes. Doing that changed my writing and playing style in such a complete way. I’m more chill now. 

I think all art, especially music, is self-indulgent, but not in a bad way. You should be making and playing music for yourself, right? But then again, if the goal of that self-indulgence is to get people to like you, to show off or to be famous, you’ll never be fulfilled

“So, this new material I’m working on will be much more laid back. It won’t be constant shredding or even instrumental. I hope to play it live in the summer of ’24, so we’ll see how that goes over. [laughs]”

With that chilled-out mindset, how do you view the at times explosive and self-indulgent guitar music we hear today?

“I think they still have their place. I do miss when pop songs had solos, not only guitar but on any instrument. I will always love hearing instruments get their spotlight. I think all art, especially music, is self-indulgent, but not in a bad way. You should be making and playing music for yourself, right? But then again, if the goal of that self-indulgence is to get people to like you, to show off or to be famous, you’ll never be fulfilled. 

“Music is about communicating and sharing your inner experience with the world. Whether it resonates with anyone, though, isn’t up to the artist.”

What gear are you leaning on to aid in your exploration of new sounds?

“I picked up a Neural DSP Quad Cortex for my live shows, and it’s been great so far. I love a handful of pedals for recording, but plug-ins have gotten to be so good in the past decade that they’ve become my go-to for recording. As for amps, I still have my Engl Powerball II, but amp modelers and plugins are so immediate and much easier on my back!”

When you do spring for analog gear, where do you go hunting?

“It has been quite a while since I picked up any new gear. Being in school full-time has put me on a tight budget both financially and with how much free time I have. That said, the Sweetwater Gear Exchange is awesome and a great resource for new stuff.”

What’s next for you in the short and long term?

“In the short term, I aim to finish my degree and return to the grind with music. I’ve got a new record done, and it’s being mixed as we speak. So I hope to drop it and tour as soon as it’s done. And once that happens, I’d love to return to Europe and the U.K. again. As for the long term, honestly, I want to be able to keep making stuff, be it art, music, chaos – whatever.”