The 50 Greatest Rhythm Guitarists of All Time | VIDEO

March 23, 2015
 
It's pretty simple really: Whatever style of music you play if your rhythm stinks, you stink. And deserving or not, guitarists have a reputation for having less-than-perfect time.
 
But it’s not as if perfect meter makes you a perfect rhythm player. There’s something else. Something elusive. A swing, a feel, or a groove—you know it when you hear it, or feel it. Each player on this list has “it,” regardless of genre, and if there’s one lesson all of these players espouse it’s never take rhythm for granted. Ever. 
 
Deciding who made the list was not easy, however. In fact, at times it seemed downright impossible. What was eventually agreed upon was that the players included had to have a visceral impact on the music via their rhythm chops. Good riffs alone weren’t enough. An artist’s influence was also factored in, as many players on this list single-handedly changed the course of music with their guitar and a groove.
 
As this list proves, rhythm guitar encompasses a multitude of musical disciplines. There isn’t one “right” way to play rhythm, but there is one truism: If it feels good, it is good. — Darrin Fox
 
 
Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry changed the rhythmic landscape of popular music forever. And his unique sense of groove and pocket is much deeper than it may seem upon first listen, as sideman extraordinaire and all around badass player Rick Vito pointed out in GP: “On many of his tunes, such as ‘Carol,’ ‘Little Queenie,’ and ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ you’ll find Chuck playing a rhythm that is a cross between an eighth-note downstroke shuffle and a straight eighth-note rock feel. But he changed the accents of the shuffle so that it mixed those two feels and made the groove jump and swing more.” In the end, the boundless energy and utter timelessness of Berry’s music speaks for itself. As does the fact that without him there would be no Beatles, no Stones, and maybe no rock and roll. Hail! Hail! Rock and roll!
 
 
 
Lindsey Buckingham
“I want to make the big picture as interesting as possible,” says Buckingham, who has merged pop songcraft and stellar guitar like few ever have. In fact, Buckingham strives for making everything he plays absolutely essential to the tune. His unbelievably inventive rhythm approach combines a wickedly precise right hand, propulsive fingerstyle figures that are informed by banjo rolls, and an attention to groove detail that can’t be denied. His ability to make multiple, and different, rhythm guitar parts work seamlessly in a tune (like on all of Rumours), is as classy as classy gets. LB is an incredible stylist whose sense of time was honed on Chet Atkins and Merle Travis—i.e. never lazy.
 
 
 
Maybelle Carter
To call Carter’s patented “Carter Scratch” rhythm guitar is selling it short—her style not only provided melody, harmony, and rhythm to the music of the Carter Family, it also laid the blueprint for all of country and folk music to come. “I love Mother Maybelle’s playing,” Marty Stuart told GP. “I thought she had the most beautiful touch I have ever heard.” Equipped with her Gibson L-5, Carter would fill out the tunes by putting a melody on the bass strings with her thumb while alternating the chords on the treble strings with her index finger. Simple, yet beautifully effective.
 
 
 
Catfish Collins
As a member of the J.B.s, backing up James Brown, Collins’ work is featured on the classics “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine” and “Soul Power,” among many others. Also dig the killin’ instrumentals “The Grunt,” and “These Are the J.B.s.” Collins was with the Godfather of Soul for less than a year, eventually joining his brother Bootsy on Funkadelic’s 1972 album America Eats Its Young. He eventually played on a slew of Parliament albums (that’s Collins on the righteous funk anthem, “Flash Light.”) too. Sadly, Collins passed away in 2010, but he left a hell of a funky legacy with his classic, greasy take on funk guitar.
 
 
 
Steve Cropper
“A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t solo more,” said Steve Cropper in 1994. “All I could ever say was that, when I solo, I miss my rhythm too much.” Perhaps the ultimate team player, Cropper’s rhythm method displays a funkiness that transcends simple sixteenth-note chord chanks or overtly syncopated figures. Instead, Cropper’s weapon of choice is a sensei-like sense of when to strike with the perfect chord voicing, lick, or, well, nothing. “Otis Redding was a big influence on me,” said Cropper. “He made me think and play a lot more simply, so that different notes would really count dynamically—find a hole and plant something in there that means something.”
 
 
 
Bo Diddley
The only player on the list who actually has a rhythm named after him, Diddley— unlike a lot of guitarists—never worked as a sideman. “I always had my own group, he said. “I never played sideman for nobody.” With some of the funkiest tones known to man, Diddley relied on his mutated rumba, often chucking chord changes altogether and putting all of his chips down on the groove. Classic sides such as “I’m a Man” and “Hey Bo Diddley” sound as fresh now as the day they were cut. Tell me now, who do you love?
 
 
 
Lonnie Donegan
Many players on this list were instigators of a revolution, but it would be tough to find an artist who was on the ground floor of a bigger uprising than Donegan, as he inspired an entire generation of British kids to pick up a guitar and pound away on three chords. Arguably rhythm guitar playing in its purest form, Donegan popularized skiffle—a hopped up mixture of swing jazz, blues, and folk with a driving acoustic guitar serving as the engine to make it go. It’s not hard to imagine teenagers such as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Pete Townshend completely losing their minds upon hearing Donegan’s “Rock Island Line” for the very first time.
 
 
 
Cornell Dupree
“I’ll push my groove button and groove,” said the late, great Dupree, who passed away earlier this year. Dupree played with more people than he could even remember—from Streisand to Ringo and Midler to Miles—but he’s most famous for his work with Aretha Franklin (Live at the Fillmore, and Amazing Grace are particularly savory), Donny Hathaway’s Live, and Dupree’s personal fave, King Curtis’ Live at the Fillmore West. Dupree’s signature rhythmic style was supple, exhibiting equal parts gritty funkiness and understated elegance. Dupree’s ethos was “less is more.” If you have something to say, say it, and if you don’t, stay out of the way.
 
 
 
The Edge
Harmonic, rhythmic, and textural, The Edge is a triple threat of rhythm guitar goodness. On U2’s earlier records, such as Boy and War, he blew minds with his chimey echoes and efficient chord voicings, which packed an Ali-sized punch when combined with his huge sense of pocket and clockwork right hand. As the years wore on, his playing still exhibited the same elements, but on an even grander scale with The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. As the ’90s dawned, The Edge began hammering out distorted slabs of aggro power chording and getting funkier. “Rock and roll started out as dance music, but somewhere along the way it lost its hips.” He said to GP in 2000. “The emergence of hiphop and dance culture upped the ante in the rhythm department—and there’s no going back. Listeners aren’t going to accept lazy rhythms anymore.”
 
 
 
Don Everly
When Keith Richards name checks you as having a profound influence on his rhythm style, well, you’re pretty damn influential. The Everly Brothers’ breathtaking harmonies soared over a bed of ingenious guitar playing that was based around Don’s clever intros and driving rhythms. “I tried to make my guitar sound like a drum—a rock and roll instrument for rhythm and rhythm fills,” he said. Another arrow in the Everly quiver was open tunings. “I couldn’t figure out why Bo Diddley sounded the way he did,” said Everly. “Chet Atkins told me he thought he may be in open tuning, and he was right. So I began using open tunings like G, and that made us sound like three guitars instead of two.”
 

 
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