Chris Cheney with his signature Gretsch White Falcon live at the San Diego House of Blues

Chris Cheney with his signature Gretsch White Falcon live at the San Diego House of Blues

Photo credit: Lauren Wilson

Punk's not dead, and it's not going anywhere if the guitarists have anything to do with it. While many may see punk rock as a loud anti-establishment noise using only 4 chords max, punk music has bred some of the best and well-known guitarists since it's a reception back in the 1970s. Here's a list of what we think are some of the best guitarists to come out of the punk rock scene. 

13. Kenneth William (White Lung)

One of the more modern guitarists on the list, Kenneth William of White Lung from Canada is an amazing display of utilizing the entire fretboard. Being the only guitarist, he has a lot   His finger’s bounce along the board more spritely than most guitarists in the genre and he does it with such ease.

12. Marissa Paternoster (Screaming Females)

Arguably one of the more adventurous guitarists, Marissa Paternoster of the Screaming Females really showcases more melodic riffs and flashy solos. Though not as hardcore as maybe some of the others on the list, she really drives home a more radio-friendly sound that is still as fast and loose as the heavy hitting punk artists.

11. Mick Jones (The Clash)

While Joe Strummer gets most of the praise, like The Clash’s lead vocalist and lyricist, Mick Jones deserves his time in the spotlight. The Clash effortlessly walked the line of appealing to both die-hard punk fans and the casual music listener, creating arguably the first arena selling punk band. With Mick Jones at the lead guitar, the band's riffs stand out on their own and have even found themselves being sampled in pop songs decades later. 

10. Steve Jones (Sex Pistols)

Like many on this list, technicality may take a backseat to lasting impact. Though the Sex Pistols only lasted as a band for two years, they obviously made quite an impact. Guitarist Steve Jones helped set up the genre for years to come, brandishing the simplicity of a couple of heavy hitting power chords mixed in with some palm muting, just to mix things up.

9. Dr. Know (Bad Brains)

Considered one of the most influential punk bands, Bad Brains’ guitarist Dr. Know has even influenced some of the biggest names outside of the genre. The mixing of funk, punk, and metal paved way for the success of their album I Against I, a heavy yet somehow modern album, 30 years ago. Dr. Know is also so punk rock, that he survived a near-fatal heart attack/organ failure and was playing in a supergroup the next year.  

8. Ron Asheton (The Stooges)

Though eyes may have been on the theatrics of frontman Iggy Pop, its Ron Asheton of the Stooges who provides the soundtrack that gives the band life. His raw sound would become what defined punk rock. Asheton's sound is primal but he plays with an untouched passion. As the band was in its infancy, that very sound was defined as a "brutal sonic assault."

7. Patti Smith

Patti Smith was punk before punk was punk. The “Godmother of Punk” beautifully combines her poetry with crunching punk chords and an attitude that embodies the punk anti-establishment message. Patti Smith has held her Godmother status for decades now and still sells out massive venues to this day.  

6. Brian Baker (Bad Religion, Dag Nasty, Minor Threat)

Brian Baker has been a part of the hardcore Minor Threat, the more melodic Dag Nasty, and the more widely known Bad Religion. With these bands on his resume, Baker may be one of the more well-rounded performers on this list, combining those early punk rock and classic rock sounds.

5. Johnny Thunders – (New York Dolls, Heartbreakers)

Though he passed at a fairly young age, Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls, and later the Heartbreakers, makes punk sound angry and almost violent. With the volume cranked to eleven, giving his sound a heavy amount of distortion, Thunders’ mix of trashy guitar, bluesy leads and ‘no shits given’ attitude was what made him a stand out guitarist.

4. East Bay Ray (Dead Kennedys)

East Bay Ray was a powerhouse guitarist for the Dead Kennedys, and considering the fast-paced high energy of the band’s live performances, Ray was the man for the job of keeping up. His sound involves a whirlwind of various influences, from Pink Floyd to Ennio Morricone scores, from surf rock to rockabilly, swirling around in a performance that is uniquely his own.

3. Chris Cheney (The Living End)

Chris Cheney may not be a well-known name in the United States, but this Australian lead man for The Living End is one of the most technical punk guitarists today. Though the sound of the Living End has changed over the years, Cheney still maintains his roots in mixing crunchy punk guitar and rockabilly swing. Live, Cheney can be found soloing on his White Falcon using a full beer bottle as a slide or being a key player in the White Album Concert series, a collection of performances of the Beatles’ White Album put together by some of Australia’s biggest artists.

2. Greg Ginn (Black Flag)

Similarly to Cheney, where Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn shines is with his technicality. Sure, the crunchy and loud rhythm guitar is electrifying, but the second the guitar solo rolls around, Ginn seems to swing towards a free jazz influence, in which his solo’s almost seem improvised, breaking all musical convention (breaking tempo and swinging through a variety of notes) while still maintaining the cohesion of the song.

1. Johnny Ramone – The Ramones

It’s no real surprise that Johnny Ramone of The Ramones is number one on this list (or any other list for that matter.) As far as technical prowess, he’s not on the same level as the greatest guitarists of all time, but this is punk rock. And punk doesn’t follow the rules.  

The Ramone formula was based in simplicity, 1/8 barre chords played for each 2-minute song for thousands of shows. But punk rock was never about the flashy, was never about solos. This formula set the foundation for punk rock music for generations to come and because of that, Johnny Ramone will always be the number one punk rock guitarist.