11 Guitarists to Inspire Your Rhythm and Technique
Rhythms and techniques don’t have much appeal or meaning in and of themselves. It’s when you hear guitarists use rhythms and techniques in musical and expressive ways that your interest is piqued and you get inspired.
Chet Atkins C.G.P. (1924–2001)
This country gentleman is for serious fingerpickers only. Chet is one of the most respected musicians in the history of country music, and highly regarded among guitar players specifically for his complex, finger‐style technique. Influenced early on by the alternating bass‐note patterns of Merle Travis, Chet took to a thumbpick and fingers approach to playing that featured chords, melody, bass lines, and influences from classical, flamenco, folk, bluegrass, country, and blues styles.
B.B. King (1925– )
With one of the most recognizable styles in guitardom, B.B. King’s string bending and vibrato has influenced nearly every blues guitarist who has followed him, along with many rock, jazz, and country players as well. Not known for using chords or playing rhythm guitar, King prefers to stick in tight positions that feature a mixture of major and minor intervals, and chromatic steps. B.B. manages to squeeze a lot of licks out of only a handful of notes by varying his tone, attack, bending, vibrato, and phrasing.
Bob Dylan (1941– )
If you want to develop basic strumming skills with a little finger picking thrown in, look no further than Bob Dylan. From the simple strum patterns of “The Times They Are A‐Changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” to fingerpicking selections like “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and “One Too Many Mornings,” Dylan provides everything you need to sharpen your acoustic folk skills.
Jeff Beck (1944– )
Jeff Beck started out playing electric guitar in a conventional manner, but by the 1980s, he had completely abandoned the flatpick and made the use of his fingers and a tremolo system the defining characteristics of his sound and style. He likes to pluck the strings with his thumb while his fingers rest on the trem arm, which he keeps situated parallel to the strings. In this position, he can access the bar to perform dives, dips, and trills, all in midflight.
Tony Iommi (1948– )
Widely considered the godfather of heavy metal, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath is a prolific pentatonic power‐chord player considered by many to be the ultimate riff master. His solos are like a Lead Guitar 101 class, being primarily based in minor pentatonic patterns, featuring classic use of hammer‐ons, pull‐offs, slides, and bends, much in the same way as Kiss’s Ace Frehley and AC/DC’s Angus Young.
James Taylor (1948– )
You’ll never see James Taylor strumming a guitar in the conventional manner. Instead, he uses strictly his thumb and fingers to pluck everything he plays. He doesn’t play in a chord melody fashion like Martin Taylor (no relation) and Chet Atkins, but rather in a traditional folk finger‐style manner that serves the purpose of supporting his vocals.
For this reason, he’s good listening for any singer/songwriter interested in taking a fingerpicking approach to guitar and accompaniment. One thing JT does well is chordal riffing, where standard open‐position chords are embellished with added chord tones and extensions through the use of hammer‐ons and pull‐offs.
Mark Knopfler (1949– )
Lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the rock band Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler is a finger‐style guitarist with a twist. He doesn’t approach the guitar in a typical acoustic/fingerpicking/chord‐melody manner; instead, he plays rock‐ and blues‐flavored music on an electric guitar without using a pick. By plucking and popping the strings using primarily his index finger and thumb, Knopfler has a unique sound and feel that is best heard on his two biggest hits, “Sultans of Swing” and “Money for Nothing.”
Bonnie Raitt (1949– )
Raitt is an anomaly in that she excels at a technique and style dominated by male guitar players and put smoking slide guitar at the top of the mainstream radio charts. Raitt’s open tunings and bottleneck fills are the sugarcoating to many of her hit songs, including “Something to Talk About,” “Thing Called Love,” and “Love Sneakin’ Up on You.”
Nile Rodgers (1952– )
As a writer, producer, and guitarist, Rodgers has worked with Madonna, Duran Duran, David Bowie, The B52s, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Beck, Jimmie Vaughan, and Maroon 5, just to name a few.
Although Rodgers’s talents and skills are many, he makes the list because he is an incredible rhythm guitar player who, along with James Brown guitarist Jimmy Nolan, pioneered and popularized what is now called funk guitar. If you want to learn how to make a song really groove with tight, syncopated, soulful, clean guitar rhythms and jazz‐inflected chord voicings, look no further than classic disco songs like “Le Freak,” “Good Times,” “Dance, Dance, Dance,” and “Everybody Dance,” all by Rodgers’s debut band, Chic.
Eddie Van Halen (1955– )
King Eddie is a very well‐rounded musician who is equally skilled in lead guitar, rhythm guitar, harmony, and composition, but it’s his tapping and whammy‐bar techniques that made jaws drop and influenced the styles of so many guitarists that followed him like Randy Rhoads, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. Look no further than Van Halen’s instrumental guitar solo, “Eruption,” for a master class in dive bombs and tapped triads. He showcases his trademark tapping techniques on a nylon‐string, acoustic guitar in “Spanish Fly.”
Kirk Hammett (1962– )
Metallica’s lead guitarist, Kirk Hammett, has shredded a gazillion notes on most of those recordings. In fact, Hammett employs so much palm muting and fast, alternate picking that he tapes his picking hand in order to protect the skin from splitting and bleeding. If you’re a fan of heavy music that features a lot of metal riffing and intricate solos, then Hammett’s playing features material suitable for any master class on shredding.