SPIN’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time
SPIN doesn't worship "guitar gods" — we like our axe-wielders to be flawed, resourceful, egalitarian, and human
70. Jerry Harrison
Harrison is a Harvard grad who started out laying power-pop brick alongside Jonathan Richman in Modern Lovers before finding his way into Talking Heads, New York post-punk pioneers who managed to take rhythmic genre-pureeing experiments to breathtaking pop heights. Harrison in particular, though, developed a spasmodic, spidery brand of guitar minimalism that would serve as indie (bed)rock for decades to come, inspiring the likes of Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend, and TV on the Radio.
Most Heroic Moment: The agitated fever-funk riff of 1977’s “New Feeling” D.B.
69. Eugene Chadbourne
The Groucho Marx of the guitar, skronkabilly alien Eugene Chadbourne deals solely in slapstickery, sly punchlines, and exaggerated eccentricities. As if his implode-on-a-dime freakouts weren’t enough, he’s perhaps the quickest guitarist alive to exploit the parts of the instrument beyond the fretboard and beyond sanity, pounding, tweaking, scraping, and hammering away — not to mention playing a rake like the world’s meanest axe.
Most Heroic Moment: Shockabilly’s 1983 cover of the Doors’ “People Are Strange,” where the track keeps wiping out into finger-shredding piles of barbed wire. C.W.
68. Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan)
Onstage, mathcore metalheads Dillinger Escape Plan whirl around and crash into each other, pulling off acrobatic, instrument-twirling, speaker-diving feats that most circus performers wouldn’t consider without a net (and, yes, they’ve gotten hurt doing it). Sole original member Weinman, with his attention-deficit guitar playing, is the ringmaster, wearing out drummers (they’re on their third) and guiding his bandmates through abrupt tempo changes, freak-jazz meltdowns, and even poppy Faith No More–like ditties with assured ease.
Most Heroic Moment: The syncopated glory and dizzying jazz breakdowns of Dillinger’s 1999 classic “43% Burnt.” K.G.
67. Kim Thayil (Soundgarden)
“Big Dumb Sex” wasn’t just the title of one of Soundgarden’s early jams — it was practically Kim Thayil’s approach to the guitar. His sweaty, sinewy riffs corkscrewed around the soaring pipes of singer Chris Cornell, forming a tantric wall of sound that was equal parts Black Sabbath and blue movie.
Most Heroic Moment: 1989’s “Hands All Over” prefigures every Pearl Jam riff ever in one soaring song. A.B.
66. Rowland S. Howard and Mick Harvey (the Birthday Party)
Nick Cave’s original grindermen, Howard and Harvey churned out the Birthday Party’s seedy, atmospheric noise and discordant melodies, augmenting Cave’s woeful tales. Scruffy-haired and wild-eyed, Howard was the avant-garde Keith Richards to the multi-instrumental, Brian Jones–like approach of guitarist and organist Harvey. The pair’s squawks and drones still resound in the works of groups like My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star, and the Horrors.
Most Heroic Moment: The meandering, lounge-y chords and noisy squelches that dueling with Cave’s howling vocals on 1982’s “She’s Hit.” K.G.
65. Mick Ronson (David Bowie, Morrissey)
The secret weapon for Ziggy-era Bowie and Lou Reed circa Transformer, Ronson helped define ’70s glam by overplaying his songwriters’ simple riffs and underplaying his own bluesy solos (one exception being the eye-popping closer to Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”). No wonder Kurt Cobain chose to play Ronson’s part (over Bowie’s acoustic) on “The Man Who Sold the World” for Nirvana’s Unplugged.
Most Heroic Moment: Ronson’s playing on “Suffragette City” was so good in concert that a be-mulleted Bowie once fell to his knees and simulated fellatio on Ronson’s instrument. K.G.
From his name to his bellowing caveman vocals and, especially, his lumbering Sasquatch-on-Quaaludes power-chording, Scott “Wino” Weinrich (the Obsessed, St. Vitus, Hidden Hand, various other evil outfits) is a comic-book version of a doom-metal guitarist — just ask fanatic Dave Grohl, who recruited him for his Probot project. The immediate aggressiveness of Wino’s playing is the sound of someone for whom over-the-top is never enough, and everyone from High on Fire to Mastodon are currently attempting to reach his peaks.
Most Heroic Moment: The transition from blues-wailing lead lines to stuttering funk to Beelzebub boogie on the Obsessed’s 1991 beast “Bardo” — all of which happens in the span of about ten seconds. D.M.
63. Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins)
In the flannel-flying ’90s, while every upstart grunge act struggled to achieve Nirvana, Billy Corgan stood out by aping ELO, Queen, and My Bloody Valentine. Pumpkins epics were riff-saturated and mile-thick, and Corgan’s penchant for micromanaging every note earned him a reputation as a tyrant. It also earned him four platinum albums and a legion of followers, including Muse and Silversun Pickups.
Most Heroic Moment: Exactly 3:10 into “Cherub Rock” when you’re ejected from the womblike wall of guitars into a squealing, transcendent solo. A.B.
62. Tony Maiden (Rufus)
The R&B ramrod that was Rufus didn’t truly kick into gear until Maiden joined the fold in 1974. Replacing Al Ciner, Maiden became Rufus’s de facto bandleader, hooked up with Chaka Khan (becoming Ike to her Tina), and applied his supreme funkiness (and perfectionist work ethic) to tracks like “Tell Me Something Good,” “You Got the Love,” and “Sweet Thing.” He’s remains a deep-pocket guitarist with a flair for both melodic solos and perhaps injudicious use of the talk box.
Most Heroic Moment: “You Got the Love,” the impossibly funky opening groove from the 1985 live album Stompin’ at the Savoy. R.G.
61. Shuggie Otis
That this onetime wunderkind could record three gorgeously airy albums of guitar-driven psych-soul in the late ’60s and early ’70s, then basically disappear for three decades, and still be revered by the likes of David Byrne, speaks volumes about his entrancing genius. Shuggie’s fluttery style fills the sonic spaces between gentle Jimi, OutKast, and Tame Impala.
Most Heroic Moment: The kaleidoscopic outro to 1971’s “Strawberry Letter 23.” D.M.