Top Five Punk Rock Guitarists

By: Nicholas Pell

Somewhere along the line, punk rock's amateurish enthusiasm became conflated with a dearth of talent.

That's OK — anything to keep the squares out — but it's not entirely accurate.
Indeed, it was hard paring this list down to just five. 
While you might complain that your favorite isn't on here, it's hard to dispute that these are five titans in the world of punk rock guitar.


The Heartbreakers

5. Johnny Thunders

New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers and Others

There's a gold standard for rock and roll guitar and its name is Johnny Thunders. Thunders took bloozy, Keith Richards-style guitar swagger and updated it for the punk sound. His fills and leads cut through a mix like a chainsaw, giving every wanna-be junkie rocker from New York to Los Angeles a raison d'être. The intro riff to “Jet Boy” off of the New York Dolls' self-titled album is the “Gimme Shelter” intro reinvented for the age of platform boots and glitter. The Heartbreakers debut L.A.M.F. shows him as a man capable of learning from those he influenced, progressing while never ditching the old formula of Chuck Berry played at deafening volumes.

Black Flag

4. Greg Ginn

Black Flag

Greg Ginn is the world heavyweight champion of self-taught guitar players. Literally within months of getting his first guitar he was bashing out post-Ramones white noise tinged with influences ranging from free jazz to his beloved Grateful Dead and Black Oak Arkansas. Early Black Flag efforts feature fills and riffs showcasing Ginn's budding talent and seriousness. As the band progresses, his love of microtonal dissonance moves to the fore. By the time Slip It In came out, Ginn rarely stopped playing to let anyone else get a word on.


3. Chris Hannah


Even on Propagandhi's early efforts like the Where Quality Is Job #1 EP, Propagandhi front man Chris Hannah is clearly more than just another pop punk guitarist. By the time Supporting Caste came out, Hannah revealed himself as perhaps the greatest Canadian guitarist this side of Voivod's Piggy. It's difficult to decide which is harder for Hannah — the physical act of playing such intricate riffs or the mental act of remembering them. Propagandhi are a very different band from the one they were 15 years ago, a fact that not many punk rock bands can boast.



1. Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine (Tie)


It's impossible to separate Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine. Allegedly, they were lead and rhythm guitarists, respectively, however the band rendered such differentiations totally meaningless. On “Marquee Moon,” arguably the band's signature track, both guitarists get time in the spotlight, but it's not necessarily the solo that matters; The rhythm tracks are just as interesting and nearly as intricate as the jazz-tinged soloing. And while we're on the subject, how many punk rock guitarists can boast that they play “jazz-tinged” punk with a straight face? In Television, the emphasis is on the jazz, with just a touch of nervy punk energy and pop hooks thrown in for good measure.

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