Punk Rock's 10 Mightiest Guitar Gods

The history of electric guitar is full of antiheroes but that archetype really came to the fore when punk rock plunged its greasy fingers into rock and roll's supper.

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The history of electric guitar is full of antiheroes, starting with Pat Hare and Link Wray, but that archetype really came to the fore when punk rock plunged its greasy fingers into rock and roll's supper. Punk thrived on six-stringed upstarts in motorcycle jackets and ripped jeans, or - in downtown Manhattan - thrift shore sports jackets and drag. Here's a list of the 10 baddest: 01. Lou Reed
This quintessential hard-boiled New York rocker climbed out of punk's primordial ooze back when punk was just primordial ooze. As the founder and main songwriter of the Velvet Underground, Reed made the die punk would be cast from with his acerbic attitude, daring themes plucked from the demimonde (like heroin, homosexuality, and cross-dressing), and his snarling guitar attack - a buzzing, aggressive style that used sheer noise to reinforce his hard-bitten tales. The Underground were a controversial outfit during their 1964 to '73 reign, more spurned than accepted by the mainstream. But the foresight of Reed's approach has sustained him through a long solo career and won the Velvets their place in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Prime cut: "Sister Ray," from the Velvet Underground's 1968 White Light/White Heat. 02. Johnny Thunders
His transition from Manhattan leather shop clerk to scuzz-rock icon occurred when David Johannsen and Sylvain Sylvain joined his band Actress in 1971, transforming the glam shambles into the New York Dolls. The Dolls were the link between the Velvet Underground and what was to come - edgy and energetic, but with all the subtlety of a plane crash. They lacked the Velvet's intellectualism. However, their sardonic flair was fortified by a rat's-eye view of the city's bohemian culture. And Thunders emerged as the group's legendary guitar foil to Johannsen, slinging his TV Yellow Les Paul Junior with a raucous authority - and a self-destructive desire for substances. Thunders died in 1991 in New Orleans at age 38, with both drugs and foul play suspected of playing a role. Prime cut: "Personality Crisis" from New York Doll's 1973 New York Dolls. 03. Lenny Kaye
This Queens Strat-slinger is a rock historian who also made history as punk high priestess Patti Smith's guitar foil since 1971, when they began performing poetry and music together. He went on to play lead guitar on the Patti Smith Group's classic albums, combining pure amped-up snarl with exploratory playing in the tradition of the MC5. He's also a '60s-music connoisseur. He has authored Grammy winning liner notes and also curated the first Nuggets compilation in 1972. Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era later became the Rosetta Stone of the early '80s garage rock revival. As a producer, he's worked with Soul Asylum, Suzanne Vega, and others. Prime cut: "Radio Ethiopia" from the Patti Smith Group's 1976 Radio Ethiopia. 04. Johnny Ramone
Queens street kid John William Cummings grew up to be the architect of the classic punk rock guitar sound: all chords, no leads, no bull. All it took was $54 for a used Mosrite, then considerably more for a Marshall, and meeting fellow early rock and roll hound Jeffrey Hyman, who would become Joey Ramone in this band of faux brothers. From then on, it was history. After two years of struggling to get a toe-hole in U.S. clubs, the Ramones made a brief tour of England in 1976 and a series of new British bands, including the Sex Pistols and the Clash, sprang up in their wake. Although their influence was indelible, the Ramones never received the fame that was their due. Johnny hung up his guitar after Joey's death in 2001. Three years later he died after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. Prime cut: "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," from 1977's Rocket To Russia. 05. Steve Jones Today Jones is a DJ and only occasionally a guitarist, and looks more like a friendly pub keeper than Johnny Rotten's bandmate. But back in 1977 Jones was the musical core of the Sex Pistols, a classic rock guitarist who was the sole member of the group who could competently play. And with a Les Paul hanging just above his knees, Jones helped detonate the cultural bomb the Ramones had merely assembled with the snotty, crass, elegantly rude Never Mind The Bullocks, Here's The Sex Pistols. His mad-dog Marshall/Gibson sound backing Rotten's nasal whine in "Anarchy in the U.K." truly changed the landscape of the musical world. Prime cut: "God Save The Queen" from the Sex Pistols' 1977 Never Mind The Bullocks, Here's The Sex Pistols. 06. Mick Jones
Following that famed Ramones tour, Jones, Paul Simonon, and Joe Strummer formed the core of the Clash, the most important band of the punk revolution. Important not only for their hell-bent playing, but for their politics and their ability to evolve, quickly moving from punk's signature three-chord grind to a more elaborate vision of the music that incorporated dub, reggae, rockabilly, African and Eastern sounds, and even the echoes of London's dance clubs. They eventually overturned punk's anti-corporate apple cart by becoming large enough to tour arenas. And until his dismissal from the band in 1983, Jones' mix of brashness and focus made him the Clash's musical heart. He's gone on to other groups, including Big Audio Dynamite and Carbon/Silicon. Prime cut: "I'm So Bored With The U.S.A" from the Clash's 1977 The Clash. 07. Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd Both have gone on to distinguished careers as guitarists and solo artists, but from 1973 until 1978 - during Television's original run - Verlaine and Lloyd were punk's answer to Duane Allman and Dickey Betts (or Miles Davis and John Coltrane). Their entwined style of soloing created an elaborate sonic architecture, turning their albums Marquee Moon and Adventure into breathtaking rock and roll thrill rides. Subsequent regroupings haven't quite captured their original fire, but for sheer ensemble playing the only challenger to Television in punk's original wave was the Patti Smith Group. Prime cut: "Marquee Moon" from Television's 1977 Marquee Moon. 08. Robert Quine
Nobody else played like Quine, a disciple of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground who developed a knack for breaking the backs of melodies, shaking strings like a hyper-caffeinated B.B. King, and spewing out some of the most angular, jittery guitar lines ever laid on tape. From his debut on Richard Hell & the Voidoid's classic first album to his later work with Tom Waits, Brian Eno, Marianne Faithfull, Lloyd Cole, Matthew Sweet, and eventually his hero Reed, the seemingly unflappable, Ray Ban-ed Quine pursued his singular vision. It was a shock to his fans - but not necessarily to his friends, who knew he was depressed following the death of his wife - when Quine committed suicide in 2004. Prime cut: "Blank Generation" from Richard Hell & the Voidoids' 1977 Blank Generation. 09. Ricky Wilson
The original guitarist of the B-52's exemplified punk's anything goes attitude. With no musical training Wilson developed his own tuning, using only four or five strings - tuned in fifths - on his old Mosrite as he taught himself to play. And so his style, based on heavy, muted strokes, sonic bombs, and other colorful effects largely accomplished by his eccentric picking, was unique almost by default. It also allowed Wilson to cover the low end of the bass-less outfit from Athens, Georgia. Although the B-52's debut album is a classic from the era when punk rock began its transition to new wave pop, Wilson did not live to see the group's peak of popularity. He died in 1985, one of rock and roll's first acknowledged victims of AIDS. Prime cut: "Rock Lobster" from the B-52's 1979 The B-52's. 10. Billy Zoom
"I want a huge open tone that sounds as live and reckless as possible," says the X guitar slinger, whose pompadour, sparkle-finished Gretsch guitars, and broad smile are as much his trademark as his grinding, powerful chordal attack. Zoom's style traces back to Steve Jones and Johnny Ramone, and much further to Link Wray, Eddie Cochran, and Western swing. But the zeal he has for whacking out open-stringed barre chords with deadly speed, accuracy, and unflappable cool is entirely his own. Prime cut: "The Hungry Wolf" from X's 1982 Under The Big Black Sun. Read the entire Ted Drozdowski's article at Gibson.com.

204 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Idioteque5150
    DOYLE FROM THE MISFITS! I don't even care for punk that much, but for God's sake Metallica's main influence was The Misfits. jeesh.
    metal Lover
    How in the hell is East Bay Ray not here? He was the first person I thought of when I read the title.
    mbbmalcolm
    Johnny-go-go wrote: They should have done newer bands Dave from Sum 41 El Hefe from NOFX (hardly "new") Chris Flippin or Shawn Dewey from Lagwagon
    Well first of all those guitarists weren't really very innovative or even that good compared to most of these guitarists, and second of all, those bands aren't punk, theyr'e pop punk. But then again, the B-52s are new wave and the Velvet Underground isn't really punk either.
    Randompzycho
    i have nothing but pure hate for those advocating modern "punk"'s guitarists, they don't understand the idea of punk the philosophies behind it this article is for actual punk music not contemporary pop-punk garbage and yeah East Bay Ray should be there
    ChurchNSkate
    Yawn. Let's talk more about guitarists who could only play three or four power chords, and used shitty gear. Wow. Scintillating.
    dieloony2
    The guy who played guitar for dead kennedys was pretty damn good. Cool article tho, its nice to see these guys get some recognition
    slashzsystem
    pfffft this article is bassed on old bands... if we really were talking about punk gods.. why arnt bands like rancid in ther
    Kegan
    ierostyle wrote: Kegan wrote: ierostyle wrote: de-fexxx666 wrote: shoka1234 wrote: Yea well no one likes "older Punk" unless they're over 50 years old so who cares. Eric Melvin is good and Jake Kiley of Strung Out is better than all of these bums First off, "old punk" is the only punk. Punk is dead. Second, I'm 17 and old punk is almost all I listen to. Third off, those shit bands you listen to couldn't even name off a punk band if their life depended on it. Hello? Have these people ever even heard of East Bay Ray, Dr. Know or Greg Ginn? People need to grow the f**k up you know. Like this guy needs to. Punk rock is all about wanting to make a differance and about being true, I dare him to name anyone and call him more punk than Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, the politically fuled rock that green day thrash out is what punk rock is all about, he encapsulates what it is, there aren't enough people out there today doing that. bands like Sum 41 and most of Blink 182 stuff really isn't punk pop-punk is something different. and I agree with Gregg Ginn being on the list though for sure. actually, wanting to make a difference and being "true," is just a theme, not the whole punk genre. And if anyone's a punk musician, it's certainly not Billie Joe Armstrong, who's performed on American Idol, MTV, and one hundred other commercialized media sources, as decommercialization is one of the many themes which is consistent with most punk artists. oh dear you naive You do realise that performing to these comercial audiences is a real neccesity to make a real differance, whats the point about singing about wanting to make a difference just to people who agree with you you need to make an impact he makes that impact, you dont get it do you, Green Day has played those shows for good reasons, and you know what they are reaching out to spanning generations because of this, I know older and younger people who recognise and love green day
    any band can 'span generations.' People like music so they listen to it; why should it matter what generation is listening? As far as Green Day being "punk," you're passing up what punk actually is. You can like Green Day all you want, throw as many "you don't get it's" or "you're just naive's" at me as you want, and rephrase your sentences as many times as you want, but that won't change the fact that Green Day is about the opposite of what Punk Actually is, you just can't look past your own interest in the band. Feel free to see things the way you want to, but keep the personal insults to yourself. And I do see where you're going with the "it's about making a change and reaching people" thing, but you could do that in any genre. Fuck, that's what a good 1/3 of music is all about. Musicians from Country to Rap to Metal have made songs about changing the world, but what would make that kind of band punk would be breaking a few musical rules now and then to get their artistic statements across. Green Day has yet to do that sort of thing.
    organic remains
    Lrn2play wrote: punk died when the dead kennedys broke up every band after is just pop
    Check out the Jesus Lizard dude, your head will ****ing explode!
    priestfan76
    Jett Diamond wrote: No, they're not forgetting Melvin or El Hefe. Every guitarist on that list is far more innovative, influential, and competent than NOFX. That's one of the few articles I've read and agreed with, and while perhaps "guitar god" isn't the right verbiage, they at least get the point across that punk has some amazing, and underrated, players.
    OH yes.Johnny is SO much better than Hefe.I love the ramones, but lets see him play either the decline, green corn solo, or the Shower Days riff.Johnny was innovative sure, but not a god
    priestfan76
    Kartman wrote: It's missing some key guitarists: 1. Ron Asheton of the Stooges 2. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat/Fugazi
    MacKaye was the singer, not the guitarist for Minor threat
    Fouxdafafa
    boomtank wrote: oh yeah, I forgot, where the F is Joe Strummer?
    + 121897419814 Mind you, (and it's probably been said above) a Gibson article is hardly going to say how great a bloke who's trademark guitar is a Tele was.
    tanguyen
    How about Van Halen? Or Malmsteen? Satriani? Lol.. every single article discussion turns into a genre argument.
    JRowe3388
    shoka1234 wrote: Yea well no one likes "older Punk" unless they're over 50 years old so who cares. Eric Melvin is good and Jake Kiley of Strung Out is better than all of these bums
    Yeah... 50 Year olds and people who actually like good music.
    Lrn2play
    punk died when the dead kennedys broke up every band after is just pop
    korn2601
    Lin wrote: there are no guitar gods in punk
    tell me about it oh and QUEEN!! guitar gods are like slash , izzy, kirk hammet and so forth
    dannyisokay
    replica_ wrote: dannyisokay wrote: replica_ wrote: no glenn danzig?!....mmmmf**k you!! lol you have to play the guitar to make the list. and +1 to the already mentioned East Bay Ray. Very unique style for his time. And kinda now too. yea i suppose ...but then danzig did write most (if not all) of misfit's music back in the day on the original line up. at least johnny ramone from the ramones...marky ramone was the drummer for the ramones and he was associated with the misfits in some way!! lol haha
    ah, I feared you were going with the songwriting angle. He didn't actually play guitar with them, but he was the key songwriter. You win
    GuitaPlaya
    Primus12 wrote: Aren't they forgetting eric melvin and el hefe ?
    Uh, no, they're not. However, the ARE missing Duane Denison (the Jesus Lizard), East Bay Ray (Dead Kennedys), and Paul Leary (Butthole Surfers). I suppose that's no surprise though. And one more thing: quit saying praising J Mascis, he's sloppy as hell, and not in a good way.
    the_hoople
    Would have definitely liked to have seen Dr. Know near the top of the list, or even on the list at all. Whatever, I don't think anybody ever agrees with these lists entirely. Something about to each his own and all that nonsense.
    GodbowstoMath
    Hmm... Well, I guess that's a good list when you've never heard punk outside the usual (MTV/VH1 friendly) suspects. Greg Ginn, Gary Miller aka Dr. Know, East Bay Ray, D. Boon, Joe Baiza, Greg Hetson, Frank Agnew, Bob Mould, Curt Kirkwood, J. Mascis among many others were actually really innovative, tight and skilled players. That being said, these guys aren't bad, but they knew how to play instruments then learned punk, most of the true punks guitar greats did it the other way around and some of them actually ended up being pretty damn impressive. Especially when you consider that they didn't have the money to dress up the records and played on small ass stages with fans moshing into them. But, whatever... thanks GIBSON. Why can't UG at least get Fender to provide some of these lists? Balance of power man...
    GodbowstoMath
    TDKshorty wrote: Kartman wrote: It's missing some key guitarists: 1. Ron Asheton of the Stooges 2. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat/Fugazi I can see where you would say Ian MacKaye but Fugazi wasn't really all that punk
    Says who? Punk isn't a sound, it's an idea and an attitude. Fugazi is punk as ****. Everything is in house still. Long Live Discourse, one of a very few punk labels to survive time, greed and corporate buyouts... oh yeah, greed.
    recliner33
    I would have added Ron Asheton and Greg Ginn to the list, they always get under appreciated even though they were in some of the most influencal bands ever.
    recliner33
    GodbowstoMath wrote: TDKshorty wrote: Kartman wrote: It's missing some key guitarists: 1. Ron Asheton of the Stooges 2. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat/Fugazi I can see where you would say Ian MacKaye but Fugazi wasn't really all that punk Says who? Punk isn't a sound, it's an idea and an attitude. Fugazi is punk as ****. Everything is in house still. Long Live Discourse, one of a very few punk labels to survive time, greed and corporate buyouts... oh yeah, greed.
    Yeah but before Fugazi, Ian Mackeye was in the band minor threat which was one of the best hardcore punk bands ever. It would be like saying that Greg Ginn wasn't a punk guitarist because he released a few jazz albums even though he was in the band black flag as well.
    MTVget0FFtheAIR
    woot! i'm glad to see Billy Zoom up there. representing the LA punk. there are some others i would have liked to see in there, but w/e.
    smalRaptor
    Also, being a "Guitar god" doesn't necassarily mean you have to be able to shred, or whatever the **** is your idea of being a good guitarist, these guys were ****ing brilliant with the music they came up with.
    HorkHorkOyOy
    Uhhhh... BOB MOULD , Gregg Ginn, D. Boone, Curt Kirkwood, J. Mascis, Joey Santiago, Black Francis, Steve Turner, King Buzzo, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo? They may not be old, but they're punk as hell (and not full of shit like the blink 182's and the greenday's of the world).
    _TheWorst wrote: Haha, being a Punk Guitar God is a small step up from just being good at Guitar Hero.
    Also, the relationship between punk and guitar is far more complex than all that. Guitar hero is the antithesis of punk and all it still stands for, and I'd like to see any of these crap-infused nu metal shredders wring as much emotion and pure ****ing power from a six string as these "untechnical" punks do.
    Kroach
    But the zeal he has for whacking out open-stringed barre chords
    How do you play open-stringed barre chords =s?
    eazy-c
    shoka1234 wrote: Yea well no one likes "older Punk" unless they're over 50 years old so who cares.
    Possiby the least true statement ever...
    Ironpriest
    Yea well no one likes "older Punk" unless they're over 50 years old so who cares.
    I'm sorry, thats the worst thing i ever heard. these "older punk" bands throw the new ones out of the water. NOFX and Pennywise etc have the worst vocals, plus their lyrics reel of 'lets make an anti american song thats cool' back then (1970) the world had something to be angry about. Im 17, give me these "older punk" bands over new american trash punk anyday...
    dgme92
    White_Fly_U2 wrote: where the **** is Joe Strummer?
    plus eleventy billion
    GNR'n'A7X
    The_Seventh_Sin wrote: first. As much as i love punk, "punk" and "guitar god" can't be used together.
    I totally agree
    DroptheBomb
    Killer_bacon wrote: no greg ginn? i'm sorry this article is terrible
    exacrtly weat i was thinkin BLACK FLAG FOREVER! sry i accidentily quoted the wrong 1 on the above post lol
    ierostyle
    Kegan wrote: ierostyle wrote: de-fexxx666 wrote: shoka1234 wrote: Yea well no one likes "older Punk" unless they're over 50 years old so who cares. Eric Melvin is good and Jake Kiley of Strung Out is better than all of these bums First off, "old punk" is the only punk. Punk is dead. Second, I'm 17 and old punk is almost all I listen to. Third off, those shit bands you listen to couldn't even name off a punk band if their life depended on it. Hello? Have these people ever even heard of East Bay Ray, Dr. Know or Greg Ginn? People need to grow the f**k up you know. Like this guy needs to. Punk rock is all about wanting to make a differance and about being true, I dare him to name anyone and call him more punk than Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, the politically fuled rock that green day thrash out is what punk rock is all about, he encapsulates what it is, there aren't enough people out there today doing that. bands like Sum 41 and most of Blink 182 stuff really isn't punk pop-punk is something different. and I agree with Gregg Ginn being on the list though for sure. actually, wanting to make a difference and being "true," is just a theme, not the whole punk genre. And if anyone's a punk musician, it's certainly not Billie Joe Armstrong, who's performed on American Idol, MTV, and one hundred other commercialized media sources, as decommercialization is one of the many themes which is consistent with most punk artists.
    oh dear you naive You do realise that performing to these comercial audiences is a real neccesity to make a real differance, whats the point about singing about wanting to make a difference just to people who agree with you you need to make an impact he makes that impact, you dont get it do you, Green Day has played those shows for good reasons, and you know what they are reaching out to spanning generations because of this, I know older and younger people who recognise and love green day
    ierostyle
    trashbeast wrote: gopherthegreat wrote: To the morons saying "Where's Joe Strummer?", Mick Jones played lead. so you have to play lead to be a guitar god? lol, noobs
    You have a point why does no one have any respect for the rhythm guitarists. Rhythm doesn't mean your crap!
    DroptheBomb
    Primus12 wrote: Aren't they forgetting eric melvin and el hefe ?
    exactly wat im thinkin BLACK FLAG FOREVER