Here we are, folks, by democratic assent and the power of popular vote, we present to you the 50 best rhythm guitarists in the world… of all time.
And we are very happy to do so, especially because if there are notable omissions, they are all your responsibility. That’s right, because with lists like these, someone’s favorite player – the guitarist who changed their life – will always be left off the list.
If not, who could have made this shortlist? Leo Nocentelli? We could build a strong case for the Meters master of funk. Maybe people saw him as a main player. Maybe that was the case for Eddie Hazel as well.
Certainly, many of the players on this list have made significant contributions to heading and pace play, or even blurring the line between the two. Dick Dale is another player we could champion, along with Scotty Moore and boom-chicka-boom dad Luther Perkins.
And we could go down the rockabilly family tree to Poison Ivy, who refigured it for horror freaks, and Brian Setzer, who helped keep rockabilly long into the iPhone era. .
Looking at the rhythm guitar category, and what it exists for, guiding the song, bringing it to life, it’s always going to be a big church, and here we have players from all walks of guitar. There are acoustic folk singer-songwriters, punks, metal players, hard rockers, blues cats and more.
This is democracy in action, and it reminds us not to get too hung up on who isn’t on the list, it’s about getting the top three good, and no one can argue with our podium… Surely .
50. Carmen Vandenberg
Carmen Vandenberg’s playing leans towards pyrotechnics when the occasion calls for it to rip leads over an octave fuzz. But she was weaned on the blues, on the basics of rock guitar, and whether it’s with arch guitar wrangler Jeff Beck or with Bones UK, she always finds the place in a song or a jam to introduce an energy electric via his favorite medium, the Fender Telecaster and the riff.
49. Bob Marley
Bob Marley is in the pantheon as a songwriter, with a cultural imprint that goes far beyond his abilities as a rhythm guitarist. But make no mistake: they were crucial.
Staggered chord hits, single-note tracks playing pat-a-cake with the bassline, chords rendered like percussion, all helped popularize and establish guitar grammar and style. reggae rhythm, and this translated into both acoustic and electric guitar. Either way, the guitar moved to its rhythm. In time, the world would be too.
48. John Lee Hooker
The guitar alone was not enough to contain John Lee Hooker’s prodigious rhythmic appetite. The beat ran through him from head to toe, complementing his groundbreaking electric blues recordings with rhythm that gave him momentum.
Now evolved, the blues guitar can sometimes be lost for soloing – the instinctive way to know which phrase works best when playing over an A chord, vibrato, bends, and the various trappings of the lead guitar. But listen boogie chillin’for boom boomfor Down South Bluesand he takes the art form back to the beginning, to the roots, from which rock rhythm guitar would develop.
47. Joan Jett
Joan Jett is one of those rare players whose recorded work always sounds like it’s out of 10, no matter what the stereo dials are telling you. With the thundering melodies of the Runaways, and later the Wurlitzer gold of the Blackhearts, Jett helped shatter rock’s glass ceiling with a sound that couldn’t and wouldn’t be contained.
His was a Category 5 hurricane blowing out of a Music Man HD-130 2×12, every chord of his Gibson Melody Maker shaking the teeth of your head. But all the while, the hooks were there, the melodies full of challenge and feverish early summer energy.
46. Billie Joe Armstrong
There’s something pneumatic about Billie Joe Armstrong’s physiology, something mechanical about his right arm, and it helped Green Day’s goofy madnesses soar to the top of the charts, bringing punk out of the club and into the stadium.
We can, of course, seek another forum to approach his immaculate songwriting, but as a guitarist who understands the accumulating magic of a constant barrage of power chords and eighth notes, creating a swell over which the melody surfs, there is little better.
45. Jeff Hanneman
The Big Four’s macabre master and Slayer’s ace in the hole, the late Jeff Hanneman was one half of heavy metal’s fiercest and artistically successful guitar partnership.
Writing a memorable yet devilish piece of music at 202 bpm is no easy feat, but it was Hanneman’s gift, tracks like Angel of Death and war set his business card.
There was a touch of Wes Craven or John Carpenter about him, in the way tracks like south of paradise and Dead Skin Mask might be spine-chilling, an audio horror for the morbid, those who prefer box office thrash metal with the security turned off.
44. Joni Mitchell
There are few players, if any, who have taken the acoustic guitar and used open chords so creatively and effectively as a songwriting tool. It was as if Joni Mitchell had wired the instrument, finding complementary nuances and cadences that gave her additional colors to play with. And always the good ones.
This voice, such writing deserved nothing less. On tracks like Little Green she will use the fingerstyle, delicately assembling the melody and the rhythm, on others like Both sides nowshe would find a pocket of melody, a percussive rasp, and the sound was magical.
43. Johnny Ramone
Creator of a doo-wop speedball punk sound that gathered enough steam to drive a countercultural movement that transformed pop culture, John William Cummings, aka Johnny Ramone, was the epitome of the rhythm guitarist. No lead was needed to complete the relentless gunfire of candied, bittersweet anthems from the Forest Hills quartet.
The Ramones were a triumph of chaos and order – anarchy with dress code, haircut too – playing with an abandon that matched in kind with Ramone’s full but rhythmically honest strokes, sending powerchords and chords barred muffled over, launched from a 1965 Mosrite Ventures II.
42. Bo Diddley
There’s a reason Martin Scorsese often reaches for his Bo Diddley records when it comes time to score the film. Moving image, editing, these are all art forms governed by rhythm, and one of the great rock ‘n’ roll names of all time, Bo Diddley was imbued with it.
It had its own rhythm: the Bo Diddley beat, taking a hambone clave rhythm and electrifying it. Everything was on his records. And like his peers – the Little Richards and Chuck Berrys of this world – he had a three-dimensional charisma that gushed from the speaker cone. His guitars often had square edges but there was nothing square about him.
Joe Perry and Steven Tyler might carve out the lion’s share of the spotlight whenever Aerosmith takes the stage, but the Boston rock institution’s success hinges on the recognition that rock ‘n’ roll is a team sport.
By finding inventive, judicious and just-enough ways to complement Perry in the lead, acknowledging the authority of the snare hit and the sovereignty of the groove, Brad Whitford ensures no one drops the ball on an Aerosmith jam.
His studio is a legend to us. Weaned from the Beatles and the British invasion in general, he has a melodic sensibility that draws on a solid blues vocabulary.