Top 10 Best Rock Trios

These ten bands only use drums, bass and guitar, but compose remarkable music standing the test of time. Who are they? Read on to find out.

Ultimate Guitar

The purest rock acts only need three instruments to make a big sound. That's why we asked UG readers to nominate and vote for their favorite rock trios of all time this week.

These ten bands only use drums, bass and guitar, but with those simple ingredients have composed some remarkable music which stands the test of time.

So which three-piece rock acts did UG readers vote as the best ever? Read on to find out.

10. Emerson, Lake & Palmer

These prog superstars drew from their favorite classical and jazz music to produce their own vision of rock music. Over their career, the compositions became more accessible which brought them to a wider audience, but the musicianship was always on another level.

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9. Primus

One of the quirkiest rock acts in history, Primus are best-known for writing the South Park theme tune but have been wowing rock audiences with their genuinely original brand of American rock since 1984. Check out this live set where they even cover Pink Floyd during the two-hour set.

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8. Cream

Eric Clapton ranks as one of the best guitarists of all time, and his Cream cohorts in Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were among the best in their field back in the 1960s too. Many see them as the first real supergroup, and they went on to sell millions which was particularly impressive in their era.

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7. The Police

The Police helped bring the New Wave movement to the mainstream, and became global stars thanks to songs like stalker-anthem "Every Breath You Take." They've got Grammy Awards falling off the mantlepiece, and were the world's highest earning band in 2008. Not bad for three people.

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6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Is it worth describing how godlike this band was? Simply the greatest psychedelic rock band ever, with Hendrix's iconic guitar stylings backed by bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. Groovy.

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5. Muse

They started as a unsuspecting teenage band in the deep English countryside, but became one of the most bombastic live acts ever. Everything from hard rock to opera and classical pour into their music, but if one thing is for sure, this rock trio know how to make a huge racket.

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4. Nirvana

Nirvana might have missed out on a spot in the top 3, but Nirvana are easily the most famous rock trio of all time. It's no surprise; their breed of dynamic grunge shook the entire music industry and inspired majors to invest in quality underground music through the 1990s.

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3. ZZ Top

Since 1969, ZZ Top have been pushing the boundaries of every genre they've put the touch of their long white beards to, whether it's blues rock, punk rock or synth-heavy dance.

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2. Motorhead

Lemmy is the only long-standing member of Motorhead, but his big warty face is like an icon for the band so that's fine. Their punk energy helped bring underground British rock back to the fore in the mid-70s, kicking and screaming like Motorhead fans in a mosh pit.

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1. Rush

Canada's best export is this renown rock trio from Toronto. Fueled by a diet of science fiction, philosophy and an eclectic music taste, Rush have produced some of the most widely-accepted progressive rock of all time. Apart from a relatively brief hiatus between 1997 and 2001, Rush have been going since 1968 and are still going strong after their long-overdue induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.

Congratulations Rush, you're the best rock trio of all time!

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That's the end of our roundup of the world's best rock trios, thanks to votes by UG readers.

How would you tweak the results? Who would you personally rank in your top three? Let us know in the comments.

337 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I could only imagine what the comment section would look like if The Prodigy took a place in this list.
    Glad that Green Day did not make the list.
    oh boo!!! boo!!! Quit downvoting the dude, yall were the ones that kept Green Day off the list
    But Green Day is terrible...
    I don't think they're TERRIBLE, but give me a break if you can't think of just 10 rock trios that are better than they are.
    Hate, Terrible, Biggest Mother****ing Piece of shit to ever walk this earth, all very strong words that generally do not describe music that is just generic and bland at best.
    am I the only one that read that post in the voice of Grounds Keeper Willie from The Simpsons???
    why does he have so many likes for agreeing with something I said that got a lot of dislikes for???
    He wasn't agreeing with you, he was saying that you were the only one who read that in Groundskeeper Willie's voice. Sounds more like a hillbilly redneck to me but there you go.
    "and they went on to sell millions which was particularly impressive in their era." Isn't that pretty impressive in any era?
    The Funkshake
    Gotta love that performance by Cream man, OK list but I'm amazed The Jimi Hendrix Experience is only 6
    unfortunately they are pretty underground, the same thing that Venom suffered from, if it isn't sold in a best buy or target it doesn't have much chance of making one of these lists.
    where the **** is TCV?
    TCV: - is a supergroup - either has Dave Grohl (as Nirvana)
    The Funkshake
    Cream were a supergroup, what's your point?
    One Dave Grohl per list.
    That's not a thing; if he's in more than one deserving band, he can be in as many times as necessary.
    Why do I get the feeling one of the next top 10s will be "Dave Grohl's top 10 projects" now we know the 1 Grohl per list rule doesn't count.
    Personally, out of those: 1)Jimi 2)Rush 3)Cream 4)ZZ Top 5)Nirvana 6)Motorhead 7)The Police 8)Muse 9)E,L & P 10)Primus Again, just my opinion.
    Just in my opinion, and people probably won't agree because they didn't have as big of following as these bands, but The Fall of Troy. Extremely talented for their age. Too bad they split up.
    - Says the bands use only drums, bass and guitar - First group listed is drums, bass, and keyboards :-O
    Woah. The Jimi Hendrix Experience at number 6 and Cream at number 8? Other than the fact that they should have been in at least the top 5, I liked the fact that ZZ Top, Motorhead and Rush were included.
    You can pretty much guarantee something Rush and something Motorhead will be on every fan UG list. Best folk artist? Motorhead! Best 60s group? Rush!
    "Best 60s group? Rush!" That may make UG's collective heads explode considering they'd be up against Led Zeppelin. It'd probably be a tie.
    Alright list I guess, some good bands. The Police, Muse and ELP all seem like strange choices to me, but I guess it adds some variety. Primus and Cream should have been higher, maybe I should have voted. Bah! One vote never made a difference.
    I don't know about you, but I regard ELP as the worst rock band ever... Or better to say it's not rock music... But that's just me...
    I too think they're extremely overrated, and I'm a huge prog fan. Lots of talent, but couldn't write a listenable song to save their lives.
    Greg Lake should've stayed with King Crimson.
    Actually he shouldn't have, because John Wetton is like 20x better.
    The only Wetton KC album I liked more than In the Court of the Crimson King was Larks' Tongues. But to each their own.. I love all eras of KC. And they could've had two bassists! Or three once Levin joined!
    I can definitely agree with that lol. I like ELP a little because they're very talented but like you said, pretty subpar songwriters.
    I think i should set this straight, muse are NOT better than the jimi hendrix experiance
    Sammy Mantis
    Wow, Primus finally acknowledged on this site? I never thought I'd see this day! A pleasant surprise to say the least.
    Primus should be in top three so much chemistry in that band, but i am astonished to even see them in this list
    Decent list. A few things i would change. Green Day should be on here.They might not be everyones cup of tea but they have done some very good material in their time. ZZ Top are too high.Come on theyre higher than Cream and The Police. Nirvana was my choice for number 1 but Rush deserve it.Incredible band.
    Google says the Police weren't even in the list of top earners in 2008. Source UG? It seems very unrealistic.
    The source? UG voted. It says that right at the start of the article.
    What??? Okay I'll repeat myself. They say the police were the top earners of 2008. I've found many reports that say otherwise. Where was that information found.
    Sorry, I suppose I didn't understand your comment. I thought you thought this article was ranking them by earnings. I now understand, and I apologize for coming off as an *****. You were right, and I now look like a dumbass. Cheers, my friend.
    Mediocre list. It's out of order. How is Nirvana and muse better than Cream and Hendrix?
    Holy generic list, Batman! Two words: Husker Du.
    Something I Learned Today: Husker Du deserves much props and this post deserves more upvotes. Seriously though, What's Going On? Any statement to the effect that Husker Du are not one of the greatest bands in existence is The Biggest Lie. Come on UG, recognise their greatness, or I'm Never Talking to You Again.
    I'm sorry but the Jimi Hendrix Experience deserves to be no lower than 2, maybe 3. And where's Triumph?
    I would agree, but it was more about Hendrix than the band. He really stood out as his own entity when he was on stage, not exactly what everyone thinks of when they think of the word 'trio'
    I think they were more of a trio than the Experience, in that sense, considering they played some Miles written songs and Miles had a solid portion of the vocal duties.
    I agree on Hendrix. Though I actually prefer Billy Cox on bass--but of course Noel was the bassist on the classic albums. Then again I think Band of Gypsys is Hendrix's best album, and I'd rank Band of Gypsys above the Experience.
    @iommi: Sorry, man, not everyone can be a bitter hipster who rejects appreciation of genuine talent as "generic". Better luck next time.
    Quoted from one of my comments, just a few posts above: "About the list: yea I know it was a poll and these listed are good bands" >"these are good bands" You may not reject the appreciation of genuine talent as generic, but you do reject the talent of reading 2 simple lines, don't ya?
    Why exactly would you expect a non-generic list?
    I dunno, perhaps to broaden UG's horizons a little. All lists are the same 10 bands over and over again. Not that they're not good, I enjoy most if not all of them (Rush, Cream, Motorhead etc), but come on, make way for some new blood too. For an example, it was good to see Primus on this list, since they hardly get mentioned around here. Anyway, like I've said before, these are polls, so it's unlikely to change anyways. Just ignore my butthurt, I'll just show myself the exit door. PS: Husker Du is still badass.
    Dude. You do know that there are more underground and genre specific blogs and forums on the net right? You're on Ultimate guitar where you can hardly find any of the obscure riffs you are jamming to
    You're missing Manic Street Preachers :O this site gives the amazig welsh lads no love :,(
    They were the first that came to mind when I saw the Wednesday Question, but since they had 4 members on the first albums, I prefered to not mention them. But hey, don't go mentioning unsung bands around here - you'll be labeled as "hipster", "arrogant", "pretentious" and other terms our beloved 6 y-o UGers just learned in Elementary.
    Yup, never heard of Robin's catchphrase "Holy _____, Batman?". About the list: yea I know it was a poll and these listed are good bands, I just wish a non-obvious and predictable list for once.
    i dont know why these batman phrases were down voted... like people are disagreeing robin used that phrase.... and i agree about generic as soon as i saw the link i though boy i bet rush isnt number one on this list golly gosh. these top ten lists are just a circle jerk of mainstream accepted bands
    You've got to remember 90% of people listen to mainstream music. I'm sure you do to, at least to some degree.
    i agree with you. The results of these contests are almost always known considering that the voting audience is a very homogeneous group. So if it makes you feel any better just look at it as entertainment and nothing serious. The great bands will be great no matter what any internet poll suggests.
    @sid_b Exactly, I've recognized that this is just a poll, so the results are expected. I'd love if I saw a couple of overlooked bands making it into these lists (like Primus here) though, hence my "overreaction". On a side note, people are still calling me a hipster despite the fact that I've explained my point more than once and love all bands on this list... SMH. Great to know that you can't read 5 lines, guys.
    I listen to bands that no one else knows about - I'm with ya, they're awesome. The problem is, no one else has heard of them, and so voting for them as the greatest anything is tricky.
    Oh you listen to bands that no one else knows about? You are such a hipster! You must be soo coool!
    Is 'Du' really a word? For that matter, is 'husker' a word beyond like...a corn husker?
    Husker Du means "Do you remember" although I forget what language it is. I think it might be Dutch, but the point is yes, Du is a real word, just like it's "you" in German too.
    Husker Donts? Cherry bombs, nipsy dazers, with or without the scooter stick... or one single whistling kitty-chaser?
    Where the hells Chevelle
    Who's that?
    we get it . . . your awesome for not knowing who Chevelle is
    "Chevelle is an American rock trio that formed in 1990 in Grayslake, Illinois. The band was originally composed of two brothers and a local friend: Pete Loeffler (lead vocals/guitar), Sam Loeffler (drums/percussion), and Matt Scott (bass/backing vocals)" its amazing how useful my google chrome dictionary extension is. It means i can find out what things are I've never heard of, without having to post in the comment section of ug. yay technology.
    They're waiting to another edition of coachella or any other hipster rock fest to play
    Green Day and Alkaline Trio...
    No Green Day? Wtf is this?
    I will never understand why Green Day is so loved but Nickelback is so hated here. God I can't stand Green Day.
    blood pressure rising with every post about how shitty Green Day is.
    Green Day's not terrible, but they're not that great either. And they haven't done anything worth half a damn since American Idiot.
    And American Idiot sucked. So figure that out...
    American idiot is in top 10 records of the 21st century. I don't give a **** what you think. It's an innovative, creative and well written record with a good story line, great lyrics and really catchy and simply great songs. I mean...just listen to Homecoming.
    im pretty sure if this list was made before American idiot came out (personally i think its a great album) but ya if it was made before american idiot Green day would be top 5
    Three words... MON....THE.....BIFF!!!
    Le Fantome
    Great band indeed, but not sure they have quite hit this level yet. Yet. Same with Chevelle, who I also love, but don't exactly think are great enough for this list. Then again, I also think Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix are wildly over-rated though, so feel free to discount my opinion.
    Technically Nirvana was no longer a power trio as they enlisted Pat Smear for the last few albums and tours.. just some food for thought, and Green day has a fourth now as well, although even as a power trio shouldnt be on the list.....
    Pat Smear was never a member; he was going to be before Cobain died, but until then he was a touring musician.
    Didn't they have a fourth member on Bleach? Kurt said that Nirvana was always meant to be a four piece band. That's what he said at the time they added Smear. I agree that they were definitely a 3 piece for many shows!
    I didn't know that McGiver played bass on The Police (It's a joke, I'm a fan of Sting and his work but I expect the downvotes anyway)
    The list's bands are ok, the order not so much. I would have replaced Muse as I still believe their real masterpiece is yet to come (when they seriously get over the verse-chorus-verse way of making music) and put King Crimson's Red lineup in there.
    cool list but I would've loved to see Sublime on that list, ****ing awesome that Primus is on this, Les and Ler have to be one of the most talented musicians, Brain is a beast of drummer too.
    seriously what's with the classic rock circlejerk? like i get that a lot of these artists should be credited for being innovative when they first started performing but surely rock trios have improved over the years, i don't get why this list is stuck in the past. almost all of these trios are at least 20-30 years old, and i get that guys like hendrix are good but come on, there's so much better