12 Best Punk Guitarists of All Time


Green Day image

Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstong is one of Audio Ink Radio’s best punk guitarists of all time – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Ken Schles

Audio Ink Radio presents its rundown of the 12 best punk guitarists of all time

Punk guitarists are often unsung heroes. After all, heavy metal is known for its incredible guitar players, with sky-high solos and expert precision. Aside from metal, other genres are also lauded for their talented guitar players, from jazz to hard rock to blues. But, punk guitarists, although often considered simple players, can be incredibly talented, too. In fact, the best punk guitarists of all time can often play circles around their peers.

Musically, early punk rock, starting in the 1970s, was more stripped-down than many of the other musical genres at the time. Guitars were fast and furious, but not too complex. Punk rock was, and is, more about feeling and communication than showing off crazy musical chops. Hence, it’s a more accessible genre for both its players and listeners.

To pay homage to those early punk rock heroes, Audio Ink Radio presents its rundown of the 12 greatest punk guitarists of all time. Reach out to us with your favorite punk rock guitarists on Facebook here.

12. Mike Ness, Social Distortion

Punk rock is cool on its own, but if you add sounds such as blues and rockabilly to the mix, then it’s extra awesome. Mike Ness did just that with Social Distortion, presenting a punk sound with a dollop of too-cool-for-school rockabilly. He’s a talented player and also full with creativity, which makes him a sure bet for this list.

11. East Bay Ray, Dead Kennedys

Dead Kennedys are one of the most important punk rock bands of all time. Without Raymond John Pepperell, known as East Bay Ray, they wouldn’t be that power peg. Through the years, he’s been the only consistent member of the band. He’s also maintained Dead Kennedys’ true, pure punk sound with his meat-and-potatoes guitar playing and raw musical approach.

10. Billie Joe Armstrong, Green Day

We know that the punk diehards dislike, to say it nicely, seeing Green Day on any best-of punk lists. But, Green Day started out as a pure, punk DIY act, and they just happened to crossover into the mainstream and put the genre on the worldwide map. That said, Green Day vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong should be appreciated for what he’s done for the punk genre. His super-catchy pop-punk chords and melodies struck a chord, so to speak, with disgruntled teen rockers everywhere, and that make punk cool with the mainstream.

9. Poison Ivy, The Cramps

During a time when women were a rarity in the punk, rock and metal worlds, Poison Ivy showed that you didn’t have to be a guy to rock hard. As the lead guitarist of the Cramps, Poison Ivy crafted dark, fundamental riffs and melodies. Her onstage power was also a force that made her stand out amongst her male counterparts.

8. Brian Baker, Bad Religion, Dag Nasty, Minor Threat

Brian Baker was the hero of the hardcore punk guitar. During his time in Bad Religion, Dag Nasty and Minor Threat, he became a guitar icon for the underground. Not only was Baker incredible with the hardcore riffing, but he also threw some great melodies into his guitar lines.

7. Steve Jones, Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols are of the most celebrated punk rock bands of all time. Even though they were only together two and a half short years, the band made a huge impact on punk and pop culture in the 1970s. Steve Jones was a steward of punk rock guitar, with his manic riffing and high-energy performances. He helped make the Sex Pistols legends.

6. Dr. Know, Bad Brains

Dr. Know, actually named Gary Miller, laid down guitar lines for one of the most important punk bands of the early era: Bad Brains. With Bad Brains, he crafted fast, aggressive punk with music with a dash of hardcore and, yes, even funk. He was also known for his incredible live show.

5. Johnny Thunders, New York Dolls, Heartbreakers

Johnny Thunders is often considered one of the founding fathers of punk rock, alongside Iggy Pop, Johnny Ramone and a few others. His guitar playing provided a much-needed consistency and footing for New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers. Thunders is an iconic guitarist, one with powerful three-chord riffing and some of the most emotive playing in the punk rock genre.

4. Greg Ginn, Black Flag

Greg Ginn created the standard for hardcore punk. As the leader and main songwriter for Black Flag, Ginn stood out by making his guitar playing a bit more intricate and complex than many of his peers. Moreover, with a background in jazz and improvisation, Ginn brought something new and novel to hardcore punk.

3. Ron Asheton, The Stooges

Iggy Pop, of course, is who people think of when they think of the Stooges. After all, collectively, they’re called Iggy Pop and the Stooges. But, the late, great Ron Asheton was a major part of the Stooges’ sound and success. He formed the Stooges with his brother, Scott, and Pop, and collectively, they played some of the most violent, raging shows in punk rock history. He had talent, passion and heart, and that came through in his guitar playing.

2. Mick Jones, The Clash

The Clash’s “London Calling” is one of the most iconic rock albums of all time, even outside of punk. Therefore, the Clash are simply a symbol of all things punk. With the Clash, Mick Jones became one of the most important guitarists of his era. He was a crucial part of the band’s sound and presence. What made Jones’ guitar writing and playing unique was that it appeased the underground, while still sounding mainstream enough to be commercial.

1. Johnny Ramone, Ramones

Ramones were the blueprint of punk music, in general. That said, it makes sense that Johnny Ramone tops our list of the best punk guitarists of all time. Sure, they changed fashion, with their super-cool leather jackets and torn up jeans. But, musically, Johnny Ramone was at the head of the punk movement. His three-chord songs were infectious, and his live performances were rowdy and vicious, in the best way. There will never be another Johnny Ramone, and he’s one of the greatest punk guitarists.

Find Audio Ink Radio’s feature on the best punk drummers of all time here.

Have a comment or feature suggestion for Audio Ink Radio? Reach out to managing editor Anne Erickson at anne@audioinkradio.com.



Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Music, Rock, Rock News