Top 10 Best Punk Guitarists of All Time

Published on 15 September 2022

Who comes to mind when you think of punk's greatest guitarist? 

With today marking the 18th anniversary of the tragic death of Johnny Ramone. It got us thinking about some of the best punk guitarists of all time. Spanning almost every guitar model in the book, guitarists within the punk genre have maintained a firm but creative style of playing for almost half a century. That being said, some of these guitarists have stood the test of time with their influence. Today, we're going to look at the best guitarists from the broad range of genres that make up punk as we know it, so let's dive in! 

Guy Picchotio (Fugazi / Rites of Spring) 

Picchotio's plethora of skills and techniques can be seen from the get-go when looking at Fugazi's presence in the 80s and early 90s. Picchotio's songwriting showcased great promise for the future of punk, especially from the presepctive of the early 90s listener. In terms of gear, Picchotio found his sound in the classics, switching between a Rickenbacker 330 and 370 through an MXR distortion pedal, you'd think it was a Fugazi if you couldn't see it for yourself! 

This live version of Shut the Door demonstrates Picchotio's ability to work with his bandmates in creating both a unique and hard hitting sound that defined Fugazi's prime. 


Dr. Know (Bad Brains) 

Bad Brains assisted in building the very foundation that hardcore was built upon alongside Black Flag. Unlike Dr. No going to Jamaica to destroy the US space Programme, Bad Brains' Dr. Know's playing integrated reggae into the US hardcore punk scene. It’s fair to say that Dr. Know’s playing has influenced an entire genre of music, and we’ve got a Positive Mental Attitude knowing that his legacy as one of the pioneers of hardcore guitar playing will live on forever. In the fashion of a bond-era superweapon, Dr. Know's primary axe is an ESP partcaster and Di Marzio humbuckers, a true weapon of mass destruction in his hands. Dr Know's writing creates an intricate blend of fast and disordered punk, before seamlessly transitioning into smooth reggae as if both genres were long lost twins seperated at birth.

Despite being avid lovers of reggae, Bad Brains still rank highly as one of the most energetic punk bands ever.

Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day)

A perfect example of punk influence with a timeless image that is still loved today. Billie Joe Armstrong is one of the most iconic guitarists in the pop punk game, with Green Day ruling the genre before it even existed. Billie Joe's playing created an enthusiastic and purpose driven tone that suited his own vocal style perfectly. Billy Joe's classic HSS strat-style Fernandes helped to shape the band's earliest sound, which was later replaced by his equally iconic Gibson Les Paul Junior as his writing style changed for the release of American Idiot. Whilst Green Day's music changed over time, it's clear that Billy Joe's influence as one of punk's greatest guitarists has not. 

Greg Ginn (Black Flag)

Greg Ginn's playing gave a fearsome edge to Black Flag's sound, with enough pent up anger to give any listener a Nervous Breakdown. The euphonious intensity of Ginn's introducing riff in 'Rise Above' creates the tone for this energetic and politically driven track, which is best devoured through live footage from their prime. Greg Ginn's tone is the result of his brave use of bulky solid state amplifiers which gave him a high enough output to fire out everything from his dissonant chord progressions to each melodic lead with a ferocious enthusiasm. 

Black Flag's music has stood the test of time as a major player in punk history, and as the primary songwriter and only continuous member of the band. With that in mind, Greg Ginn's place in this list is well deserved.


Steve Jones (Sex Pistols) 

Steve Jones broke what seemed to be punk tradition at the time with his Les Paul. In the early days of punk, the genre took pride in cheap equipment and rejecting the cliches of 70s rock at all costs. However Steve’s arctic white turned ciggarette stained yellow Gibson gave the Sex Pistols that notably fat guitar tone that drove their sound. Steve Jones' playing - and more importantly attitute - created a standard of violent and aggressive guitar work that paved the way for guitarists to come, whilst maintaining an authenticity that's stayed unmatched since their debut album in 1977. It is worth pointing out though that Steve's Les Paul was stolen... Does it get more punk than that?


Bret Gurwitz (Bad Religion)

King of pick slides and owner of Epitaph Records, Bret Gurwitz is a hero for all ages in the punk community. His utilisation of provocative guitar chords created an atmosphere that inspires revolution, and Bad Religion were certainly inspirational to a contemporary audience. Writing such animalistic punk songs alongside Bad Religion's vocalist Greg Graffin makes a lot more sense when you find out Graffin holds a PHD in Zoology! 

Joan Jett (Joan Jett and The Black Hearts, The Runaways) 

Joan Jett's role as the guitarist and vocalist in the Black Hearts was key in providing urgent and power chord driven guitar parts behind tracks like Bad Reputation which in itself deserves signficant praise. Not only does Joan Jett create an intensity within the parts she writes but she does so in a way that removes any need for a lead guitarist in the band. Fast, catchy and to the point. Joan Jett inspired a generation of women to pick up guitars and get involved with punk music, which in it's own right is worthy of its place on this list. 

Kim Shattuck (The Muffs)

The Muff's guitarist perfect rock infused punk progressions tailored to complement that signature pop punk angst. Shattuck ties each song together with melodic and catchy leads that were essential in paving the way for what punk music was becoming in the early 90s. Shattuck was a driving power behind the LA punk scene in the 90s and was certainly essential in building the popularity behind the growth of punk in mainstream culture at the time. Blasting away on a 70s Gretsch BST-1000 or otherwise referred to as The Beast, Shattuck's playing proves the point that any guitar can be used within the genre if used right. 

Johnny Ramone (The Ramones) 

With the strongest wrists in the game, Johnny Ramone was certainly not just an onlooker in shaping punk as we know it. In fact, his signature down-strumming technique creating the very basis of punk and its adjacent genres! Without Johnny's influence, hugely successful artists such as James Hetfield or Kurt Cobain may have not have written the music that they did. With attitude being half the battle with punk, Johnny Ramone provides the foundation for the punk characteristics in both his playing and his personality on stage. 

Mick Jones (The Clash) 

The Clash were known for doing punk differently to their counterparts, and this is evident through the playing of their own Mick Jones, picking apart the foundations of what made punk at the time and reshaping it into their own design with well placed leads and staccato guitar parts as heard in "London Calling". The individuality that Jones had in his playing was groundbreaking for the time.

Despite often being tied to the same genre as the other guitarists on this list, Mick Jones' playing is significant in showcasing the versatility of what punk was and remains to be. The Clash's sound showed that fast progressions, punchy leads and extraordinary energy can be manifested in a variety of ways, and still remain true to what punk really is.

So there we have it! That's our picks for the top 10 best punk guitarists of all time! Who did we miss? Let us know! 

Here are some similar articles you might like