American Rock Guitarists

American rocker; © Viorel Sima | Dreamstime.com

Rock and roll was invented in the United States, so of course there is a long list of influential American rock guitarists. Making a complete list of important rock guitarists from America would be an entire book. There are, however, some who stand out. Learning about these guitar players - who they are and how they play - can help you forge your own style of guitar playing out of their influence.

Noteworthy American Rock Guitar Players

From the beginnings of rock music, the guitar has been integral to the sound of this style, and this continues into the new millennium.

  • Ike Turner: Ike Turner is one of many players who claimed to have invented rock and roll, and his claim isn't an entirely misleading one. He penned the early hard R&B hit Rocket 88 under a pen name. He is perhaps better known for his time as bandleader for Ike and Tina Turner. This band spanned the gamut from rhythm and blues to soul and funk.
  • Chuck Berry: Mr. Berry is a man acknowledged as the "Real King of Rock and Roll" by contemporaries such as Jerry Lee Lewis. His guitar style has been "borrowed" by such titans of rock as The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones. His style is simple to learn, but easy to modify, and this makes it ideal for the novice guitar player.
  • Dick Dale: Known as the "King of Surf Guitar," Dick Dale is perhaps best known for his song "Miserlou" from the film Pulp Fiction. His guitar playing is influenced by such disparate influences as rockabilly, Tejano, and Middle Eastern traditional music.
  • Frank Zappa: Frank Zappa is more than just a guitar player, he's a legend. Starting off in the freaky psychedelic band The Mothers of Invention, Zappa later occupied a place in rock music analogous to Miles Davis in jazz. Guitar players such as Steve Vai got their start in Zappa's band. Zappa was influenced not just by previous rock guitarists but also the avant-garde of jazz.
  • Lou Reed: The Velvet Underground are arguably the first punk rock band, making Lou Reed arguably the first punk rock guitarist. His simple riffs are punctuated by blazing solos influenced by free jazz saxophonists such as Ornette Coleman. Reed also pioneered experimental and industrial music on Metal Machine Music.
  • Nancy Wilson: The Wilson sisters showed that ladies can rock just as hard as men in their influential '70s rock band Heart. This band influenced a generation of female rockers, as well as men, in genres from mainstream rock to heavy metal.
  • Emmylou Harris: Ms. Harris is one of the figures who influenced the alternative country and Americana scenes in the United States. She is known both for being an accomplished country-rock guitarist as well as a vocalist.
  • Johnny Thunders: Starting off in The New York Dolls before forming his own band The Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders fused the intensity of punk rock with the classic rock and roll sound of Chuck Berry and Keith Richards. Simple, but versatile, Johnny Thunders' riffs are something that the novice can learn, while more advanced guitar players can still experiment with the style.
  • Joan Jett: Whether with The Runaways or The Blackhearts, Joan Jett carved out a niche for herself as the toughest lady in rock and roll. Both her guitar and her vocals pioneered sounds that would be emulated by female rock bands in the years to come. Joan Jett is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
  • Poison Ivy: As the guitar player for early New York City punk rock band The Cramps, Poison Ivy brought rockabilly, surf and psychedelic sounds to straight-forward punk. Cutting a striking on-stage presence, Ivy is more than just a pretty face, driving the development of her band with long-time husband Lux Interior.
  • East Bay Ray: Guitar player of Dead Kennedys, East Bay Ray was more influenced by surf music than previous punk rock guitar players. For fans of surf and spy guitar, East Bay Ray shows a way to integrate these forms into other styles of rock without losing their distinctive flavor.
  • J Mascis: J Mascis has been called the Jimmy Page of alternative rock. Getting his start in hardcore punk band Deep Wound, he later moved on to the more straight-forward rock band Dinosaur Jr. His blazing leads and solos set the bar for technical prowess in alternative rock.
  • Slash: The mononym Slash fueled the guitar sound of Guns and Roses. His influence in rock cannot be overstated. At a time when most people thought that the limits of rock guitar had been reached, Slash blazed new trails. He has a mastery not only of scales and technique, but also had great timing.
  • Liz Phair: Phair's Exile in Guyville is one of the most popular and influential indie rock records of the 1990s. She used a lo-fi guitar sound in her early records, moving on to more polished sounds in the new millennium.
  • Jack White: Infamously named the "17th Greatest Guitarist of All Time" by Rolling Stone magazine, Jack White is a member of many bands, most notably The White Stripes. Influenced by '70s arena rock, '60s blues rock, and the original blues sounds of Muddy Waters, Jack White is a guitar purist.

Learning Rock Guitar

Formal guitar lessons can help you learn how to play rock guitar, but they aren't necessary. Once you have learned a few chords and one or more scales, you can start playing along with your favorite records. Looking to the aforementioned guitar players and other luminaries of rock guitar, you can start cribbing the parts of their style that you like and ignore the parts that don't interest you. This is likely how many of the people on this list learned how to play guitar.

American Rock Guitarists