11 Legendary Guitarists With Bad or Weird Technique

Is mind-boggling technique really that important?

Ultimate Guitar

The technique vs. soul discussion has been around guitar aficionados for almost as long as the modern axe. One side likes their heroes skilled in all forms of guitar shredding, while others only care for the soul aspect. But ultimately, it all comes down to basic music preferences. So right now we'll check out some of the less skilled guitarists icons who still managed to reach superstardom. We'll also add some top-notch technical axemen with great skills who found their way to guitar proficiency using the most peculiar, you might say weird techniques. Anyhow, join us for the rundown below.

Robert Johnson

It's always fitting to kick off lists with early greats or proto-rock icons, and what better example than legendary Robert Johnson. By today's standards, Mr. Johnson's skills were bare minimal, but back in the day they were enough to spark the story about Robert selling his soul to the devil in exchange for out-of-this-world guitar skills. His technique didn't prevent him from delivering a solid set of true blues standards either.

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Bob Dylan

The fact that he wasn't much skilled in neither guitar playing or singing didn't stop Bob Dylan on his road to superstardom. He firmly stands as one of the ultimate music icons, but his skills were far from advanced nevertheless.

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Keith Richards

The Rolling Stones axeman Keith Richards comes from the time when advanced guitar technique was an entirely different term. So by today's standards, Richard's technique comes as mediocre at best. However, pretty much the same can also be said about The Beatles and their playing.

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Kurt Cobain

Late great Kurt Cobain irreversibly changed the music world with Nirvana, that's just a fact, but his guitar skills weren't exactly masterful. Cobain is often bashed as an amateur-skilled guitarist and a sloppy player, which takes things a bit too far, but the fact remains that playing technique just wasn't his strongest point.

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Noel Gallagher

At one point of their career, Oasis were at the top of the world, selling out arenas and dominating the music industry. Having a guitarist with merely average technique didn't slow them down and in all fairness, Noel Gallagher's technique can only be described as such.

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C.C. DeVille

With his frequently-bashed live guitar solo off "Swallow This Live" record, Poison axeman C.C. DeVille earned his spot on the list. Often described as amateur shredding, the solo even earned C.C. a No. 1 spot on Guitar World's list of "100 Worst Guitar Solos."

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Billie Joe Armstrong

When you think of bad musicians in terms of playing technique, punk is likely to pop up to your mind first. And one of the guys who took the pop punk genre to somewhat of a new level is Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. He delivered numerous hit numbers despite not being too skilled on the axe in the first place, deserving nothing but kudos.

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Johnny Ramone

Another punk rock great. You probably know Johnny as the axe-wielding Ramone holding a guitar way down, almost on his knees while playing and jamming away in a manner your guitar teacher specifically told you not to, but the guy still made the big league and achieved superstardom in his own manner.

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"Honorable" mention: Jimmy Page

This one's a bit of an iffy matter, but Jimmy Page is occasionally mentioned as a poor player in terms of guitar technique. There's no doubt that Mr. Page is perhaps the greatest of the greats, but several examples of his sloppy playing do exist, even on Led Zeppelin's studio recordings. Just check out "Heartbreaker" solo off "Led Zeppelin II" (around 2:00 in the clip below) - the sloppiness is truly undeniable. You might have come across people defending the song's middle section as "raw" or "recorded on the go" and therefore not technically sloppy, but in all fairness, most just seem childish and simply denying the obvious.

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Weird Technique

Now that we've covered the low-technique domain, we'll focus on the peculiar players. These guys are all virtuosos in their own right, but just seem to have discovered their own ways of properly wielding the six-string.

Marty Friedman

The man who delivered some of the finest solos in the history of metal, Megadeth's Marty Friedman, has a really weird way of holding the guitar. It comes as strikingly obvious at the very first sight, as Marty curves his hand in a strange manner, but still never fails in delivering some monster chops.

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Jeff Hanneman

The late Slayer mastermind Jeff Hanneman looks like a guy who stood up against every guitar teacher's advice to loosen up his arm while playing and just went for the stiffest possible approach when it comes to the right hand. But at the end of the day, Jeff managed to include some of the fastest riffs of all time to his rich opus.

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Michael Angelo Batio

How can Michael Angelo Batio deliver super-speed shredding while anchoring his right hand ever so firmly remains an unsolvable mystery to this very day.

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Can you think of any other big-name guitarists with weird or plain bad technique? Let us know in the comments.

156 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Tosin Abasi's right thumb gives me nightmares.
    As I felt Jimmy always had a "sloppy" characteristic in some of his playing. But is also impossible to deny that he could have cleaned it up if he wanted to(heartbreaker).
    i like to think that page has one of the most wonderfully "dirty" and semi pseudo sloppy styles of playing and soloing. and as far as the 70s rock goes its a really cool and attractive thing to hear in my opinion
    If by 'sloppy,' you mean ripping off classic blues licks and claiming them as your own, then sure. But, no, really. Page isn't all he's cracked up to be. He's a good player, don't get me wrong, but that's about it. Zeppelin is just so highly regarded for being the most amazing band in the universe, that Page is penned as the greatest guitarist in the universe. There are better and more original players.
    Robert Johnson's skills "were bare minimal"? Yeah right. Good luck trying to nail his style and chord voicings. It's much easier said than done.
    Eddie Van Halen has a really weird way of holding his pick.
    Insanity ninja
    As does Mr Hetfield
    Hetfield also uses very little alternate picking, only when he absolutely has to really, he's still one of the top 3 rhythm guitarists alive.
    Once again, UG, being a good guitarist is about creativity and variety, not technical ability. Calling Keith Richards and most of the others in the first list "unskilled" doesn't make any sense.
    Actually, it does, if you read the article. Also, let's be honest. Richards never was that great of player, even in the '60s, when technique wasn't as advanced as it is now.
    "comes from the time when advanced guitar technique was an entirely different term. So by today's standards, Richard's technique comes as mediocre at best." How are you not getting this?
    Jimmy Page's guitar solo in Heartbreaker is quite sloppy, yes, but it's on the spot and immensely raw which makes it one of my favorite solos of all time.
    You just parroted almost exactly what the article said defenders say, and I laughed when I read this.
    Exactly what Alpha_Wolf said, you just made yourself look a right dumbass hahaha
    Not really. The guy who wrote the article thinks that it isn't a valid statement, but that doesn't mean it isn't actually valid. Considering the other solos Page has written and played, I'm pretty certain he played that solo exactly how he wanted to.
    Exactly! what's the point in making a perfectly great sounding solo if it comes out poor or bad tasted? Page's solos (at least the studio ones) always "speak".
    So, basically none of them have bad technique, but are on this list because they're not capable of playing sweeps and Arpeggios from Hell? I wonder how often people go 'Bob Dylan? Can't listen to him, he only plays Beatles chords. I only listen to solo outtakes by Jeff Loomis.'
    I would disagree that the Heartbreaker solo was sloppy, or raw for that matter, but I guess that goes back to the technical vs. soulful debate. I was also upset that Hendrix was not mentioned, having about the most unconventional style in the history of electrics.
    Dear lord, are you people ****ing retarded? The article clearly states, several times, that the people in the first half of the list BY TODAY'S STANDARD would be considered mediocre. Nowhere does it say that they are bad guitarists. It's just a matter of advancement in music over the past few decades have caused those techniques to become so simple. Think of it this way, if half of these guitarists were playing the same things today, most people would say that they have a long way to go before mastering the guitar. Also, has anybody seen Eddie Van Halen's weird picking style?
    "So right now we'll check out some of the less skilled guitarists icons who still managed to reach superstardom." Where does it say that? Did YOU even read the article? Also, I have no idea how anyone can listen to the Jimmy Page solo and not think that it's sloppy. It's ****ing terrible. It doesn't matter if it's raw or on the fly, it's still awful.
    What the hell is this article? I thought this was going to be about Clapton using his thumb and the like, not just "this guy was considered good at the time, but he's not that good, funny huh?" for almost every single one. EDIT: OK, you did kind of tackle that with the weird technique bit, but most of the article is utterly inane. How is Billy Joe Armstrong bad? Actually explain why.
    How is he good? Explain that.
    I have heard (from a fairly reliable source) that every guitar track on Dookie was done in a single take. While there is nothing overly complex on the album, it is still a huge achievement to be able to do that. It shows at least some level of skill to be able to play cleanly and in time enough to do an albums worth of songs in one try each. Also, if you listen to some of his stuff outside Green Day, or live stuff, he is much better than he comes across. Not saying he is some fantastic guitarist, but lots of people thing he is not as good as he actually is.
    Insanity ninja
    What about J Mascis? Incredible guitarist, but he plays guitars with action nearly as high as him.
    Hah yeah. He said he prefers it that way to actually stop his playing sounding too clean, I think. And about Kurt Cobain: I'm sure he was a lot better than he came across - part of the grunge sound is just that way, perhaps as part of the rebellion against the super polished/produced stuff of the 80s (to put it simply, there's more to it than that I'm sure). The Nirvana track Mr Moustache definitely takes at least some skill to play the riff consistently at that speed (still, not crazy amounts of skill, but just an example), he wasn't as amateur as the article seems to say.
    Yeah, Kurt Cobain was actually a pretty tight guitarist from what I've heard, he apparently used to practice along to a drum machine, when it came to playing live, especially towards the end of Nirvana's career, he just didn't care so much. Personally I rate him more as a songwriter than a guitarist.
    Stuff like that is just a matter of preference, he probably finds it more comfortable to play like that, but his actual technique isn't unusual or that bad by any means.
    Next week's article '600 guitarists you've never heard of who played for a while then gave up because their weird technique stopped them from progressing'.
    This whole thing is hilarious.. Jimmy Page.. sloppy..? OK? Maybe when he tries to shred....? But.. his rhythm guitar technique is absolutely one of the best in the world.. that's just one example...
    So this shows that technique isn't everything.Almost all of the guitarists mentioned above have made some of the best music in human history.
    The first half of the list won't even be remembered in a few hundred years, so much for "best music in human history".
    Article is materially correct, gave props where they were due but told the truth technique-wise. Haters gonna hate.
    You gave about as many specifics as the writer of the article, so yeah, i'm going to "hate"
    As a responsible consumer of UG articles, I'd like to take the time to formally apologize for your distress. We've decided that in order to alleviate your concerns, we're going to have the author drawn and quartered, remove the article from the website, shut down UG, physically destroy all the servers and fire the staff. Will that be sufficient? Or maybe you could recognize that it's not my job to do your research. If you disagree with what I, or anyone else, has said, perhaps it's your responsibility to provide support for your disagreement, lest you find yourself in a pot-kettle situation regarding specifics... Have a nice day.
    Ever watch the Zep videos that are out there really closely? Mr. Page avoids using that pinky like it was the plague.
    Batio's technique seems pretty solid to me. Anchoring is VERY common. Many great guitarists use it, for instance I'm pretty sure Petrucci does. I think if you do it the right way like Batio does it can give you great control over the strings. If you notice he barely moves his hand when alternate picking.
    You don't need extravagant or alien-like technique to play guitar, achieve fame or be a great musician. Music ain't about who was the fastest picking technique, or who does the fastest and most technical shredding, or boring 30 minutes solos! Music is about feeling good, sending a message, having some havok created by fans and bands, having some nice sound which makes your head spin, heart pump and adrenaline flushing to all your body. I can list you tons of punk guitarists that are far better than Jimmy Page, Yngwie Malmsteen and Satriani, but they choose not to make hours-long solos. I personally am a bassist and ocassional guitarist and I can truly say that I hate 4 minutes long solos and I feel better when I hear a damn good punk, metal or rock'n'roll riff that makes me wanna jump and consume energy, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks like this!
    Second Rate
    Yet you didn't list them, and do you know why? Because that statement is bullshit. "I can play like (insert random virtuoso here), I just choose not to" is a statement that is regurgitated over and over again by lazy musicians with an inferiority complex. If they could play at a virtuoso's level, they would be playing at a virtuoso's level. Nobody spends that much time refining their tools, just to leave them in the box. I'm not saying one has to be a virtuoso to make effective music, but own up to the fact that you're not a virtuoso rather than peddling this tired old rhetorical diarrhea
    Dude, Tom Morello is the guy's case in point. None of his riffs in RATM are overly complex or hard to play, same with Audioslave, although he is a more than capable guitarist, as has been evidenced in his solo work. People think he uses a lot of effects, which is also false. If I remember correctly he uses about 7 effects.
    Hey, more power to you if you get off on punk more than shred; I do too. But no, you couldn't list tons of punk guitarists who are better technicians, and it's just flat out stupid to make that claim. Different strokes for different strokes. Nowhere in your rambling, feel good message did take into consideration that people listen to music for lots of different reasons. Arrogant, really.
    Robert Johnson was quite a talented guitarist Keith Richards has a great groove Dylan actually played some good guitar parts Noel is a great player IMO Since when is guitar playing an institution? Who decides if technique is bad if it still sounds good to the listener?
    Everyone in Led Zeppelin was a little sloppy (except maybe JPJ). Even on the records you can hear John Bonham going out of time every once in awhile and not keeping a steady tempo. Does that mean they aren't arguably the greatest band of all time? Definitely not.
    About half of The Clash songs speed up. I think a rocking song SHOULD speed up. It kinda pulls you into it as the energy increases.
    I don't really agree with the hate going on in the comments. He wasn't saying the people who wrote great music suck and aren't worth the listen or consideration. He was pointing out how these people weren't all John Petrucci's. He has the best of both technique and soul (or so I'm led to believe by fans). They had unorthodox technique or it is considered average by today's standards. I mean, the amount of people that can cover like Van Halen songs is an indication of that. (going to get torn down for that statement. It's not his opinion of shred vs sound. Just some people are doing it the way every music teacher tells you not to
    i dont think whoever wrote this article did too much research before writing this. if you actually go through green day, led zeppelin, rolling stones' (and countless others i'm sure) catalogue, you'd find some amazing guitar work/solos
    That's not what the article is about. It's about guitarists who have poor guitar technique - i.e. do not hold the guitar properly, do not pick properly, etc. They aren't denying these bands have great guitar work, but they are saying these are players that don't play the guitar "properly" and are still legendary.
    That's what the second half of the list is about, but the first half basically just consists of things like "this guy used to be seen as a really great guitarist, but he's really not that good" (which is blatantly untrue for most of the guitarists listed).
    Well, if that's the case, then both Hendrix and Frusciante should be mentioned. Though they are both amazing guitarists (imo), from what I know, using your fretting hands thumb is a big no no for tecqnique fixated players.
    for some chords it is necessary, i use it on all my bar chords based off the E string and i consider my self to be pretty good at guitar
    Um...what? What kind of dummy would claim you can't use your thumb? Hendrix had hands the size of a basketball players. If he wanted to fret the F chord with his thumb, who cares? Technically, while not advanced, Hendrix was solid.
    I did have a few jazz teachers say the thought Paige's technique was very sloppy.
    Terrible article. You may as well take all the guitarists that play less complex music and say that they are bad. Because guitarists are only limited to one style right?
    Marc Holcomb - Periphery. How he can stretch and play those riffs with the thumb all up is a mystery!
    I've always preferred guitarists who don't play so technical but more with feeling. Being a musician shouldn't be based on ability but whether you can produce something that sounds good to some people and screw it; whatever something sounds good to you.
    Basically, you no longer need to be really good at your instrument to be successful. There are tons of other distractions nowadays and most players probably don't spend the hours that the 70's 80's rock stars did. There was a whole lot less to do back then and equipment was much more expensive so it was probably taken a lot more seriously. I guess you have to take it serious enough to be in a band though, haha.
    I will never figure out how Mary Friedman's picking hand works. While on the topic of Megadeth Axmen, let's talk about Chris Poland's left hand index finger.
    wheres beck on these lists? not sure if he was good on guitar but i know he had a very weird technique
    Victor Escobar
    The first half of this is terrible. All it's saying is "These guys cant shred but theyre famous!"
    Robert Johnson? Really? ...and you aren't even going to go into specifics... what a wasted read... and CC DeVille is classically trained and a REALLY good guitar player... your ears/eyes SUCK... Also, notice that you always critique the right hand, when most of your sound and tone comes from the hand that is applying pressure to the fretboard? Yeah, you need to go tune your skills a little bit
    Sleaze Disease
    Actually, as a hair metal fan myself, even I have to admit that CC is kind of a shitty guitar player; if nothing else, he's definitely the worst of the big-name guys from that scene (unless you count Vinnie Vincent).
    What's with all the dislikes? Butthurt fans, I guess. Well, I thought it was an interesting article.