The 25 Greatest Indie Rock Guitarists


By Daniel Margolis

Playing guitar in an indie rock band is a unique challenge. On the one hand, the principles that make for fundamentally sound, exciting guitar playing are basically set in stone – it’s a job role that rewards ego and skill. On the other hand, the entire sound of the genre dictates not audibly trying too hard – tapping is not going to work. Meanwhile, the contrarian nature of the entire enterprise demands some level of innovation, and detuning your guitar and strumming it on the headstock or behind the bridge isn’t enough. Furthermore, if you get too professional-sounding you’ll end up signed to a major, screw up your whole sound and alienate your fan base. It’s a balance, and not an easy one. So here we salute the 25 best indie rock guitarists ever.

Click to start the list

  • Matt

    the top 3 is fucking solid

  • DM

    I stand by the article as correctly referring to all debut or second albums. I just searched the Word file for the words “debut” or “second” to confirm this. Perhaps you’re referring to instances where EPs cloud the situation.

  • DM

    Steve Albini is on the list. H.R. is mainly a lead singer. And why suggest Brian Baker and not Lyle Preslar?

  • DM

    Albert Hammond, Jr. Seriously. All five of the Strokes albums are on RCA.

  • DM

    Duane Denison is on the list, at number three, with his last name spelled correctly.

  • DM

    I love Nirvana and Kurt Cobain embodied a lot of what was best about indie rock but they put out one album on an indie label and thereafter were firmly major label. Admittedly that was just two more albums but all the posthumous stuff except for the Bleach reissue has been on majors.

  • DM

    I do wish I’d thought of him. Not sure he would have made the cut though.

  • DM

    Dead Moon is cool.

  • Nikolay Kostin

    where’s fuckin’ Arto Lindsay?

  • Marcus Sexauer

    Pig Champion! Gotta agree…

  • Brandonio Granger

    Come on everyone knows that Star Crunch is a guitar god.There is literally hundreds if not thousands of bands all over the world that has borrowed his signature sound..Star Crunch #1

  • Robert Nolan

    Bob Stinson you numbnutses

  • p9k

    Wata of Boris?

  • EB

    Mascis is Barlow’s “former employer”? Did Dino break up again?

  • VickieC

    The female guitarists on this list are pretty much “token add-ons”. In a list of 25 great indie guitarists, 2 are women? Hmmm. What happened to Poison Ivy, (the Cramps), Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), Kelley Deal, (Breeders) Jennifer Taylor (Vexers), Bilinda Butcher (MBV), and if you’re going to expand it to major with Jack White, why not also include Leta Ford & Joan Jett (the Runaways)? Or do women get their own list like the “kid’s table” at Thanksgiving?

  • Jenn

    Um… Deniz Tek, Fred “Sonic” Smith, Captain Sensible, Ron Asheton, Ward Dotson, Billy Zoom, East Bay Ray, Poison Ivy? Sorry – Your list is horseshit. And where are Jon Spencer and Neal Hagerty?

  • Adrian Edwards

    Ask Kevin Shields(where the hell was he?), Thurston Moore, Greg Ginn, Steve Albini and a host of others who is the most glaring omission from this list & they’ll tell you emphatically: Rowland S Howard. All of the above guys would humbly admit to not being worthy to tie his boot-laces in the Indie Guitar world. Rowland was from another planet sonically, was a phenomenally creative (see Birthday Party’s “The Friend Catcher”), sympathetic (see Autoluminescent or Ave Maria) guitarist & and a fantastic songwriter (see any of his solo albums, These Immortal Souls, he wrote Shivers when he was fucking 16!)

    Judah Bauer, Jon Spencer, Bob Mould and many others cite Kim Salmon as a massive influence and rightly so. Judah once said, “I hope one day I can play guitar as well as Kim Salmon” when JSBX were on Australian Music show Rage. His works traverse so many genres, but have been consistently inventive and interesting. He was behind The Scientists, and played in The Beasts of Bourbon, The Surrealists, The Darling Downs and many more great projects- He should have been high on this list too.

    I understand you cant include everyone in a list of 25, and I think some of your inclusions are inspired (Dean Ween, Neal Hagerty, Judah, Frank Black & Joey Santiago) but expand your horizons a little more than just the US of A, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find. Indie Rock lives everywhere, after all.

  • Mukari Wall

    where’s kevin shlieds…. and kirkwood is # 1

  • Guest


  • Mukari Wall

    forgot johnny ramone too

  • Miguel Torres

    predictable..pretty much a joke..indie primer for pitchfork under
    30 acolytes… go do your homework children

  • John Varga

    Great to see Bob Mould, Judah Bauer, J Mascis, Black Francis & Joey Santiago, Thurston Moore & Lee Ranaldo in the list. I’d like to think Matthew Sweet and Kim Salmon would make the list if it was stretched to 30. I was lucky enough to see Bob Mould twice and JSBX within 4 nights recently. Good times.

  • Kevin Crud

    What about Johnny Thunders, Jeffery Lee Pierce, Dave Alvin, or Billy Zoom. I’m sick that Thurston Moore was even considered let alone actually on the this list over someone like Johnny Thunders!

  • sst

    why in the hell buzzo isn’t #1 is redickuless to me.. and j. mascis..? should be in the top three… G. ginn.. I’ll give you that one for sure. ..D. Boone should have had his own list. polvo, archers of loaf and sonic youth should have been way way higher… this list is questionable.

  • sst

    by the way… where in the hell is joe strummer on this questionable list?

  • sst

    thurston should be on there.. but your so right about johnny thunders and jeffery lee pierce

  • sst

    solid rant… where the fuck are they.. poison Ivy should be in the top ten.

  • lauraelise

    i might be a little bit in love with you.

  • lauraelise

    you took the words right out of my head

  • JPR

    Greg Ginn number 1, you’re fucking kidding me. What a cop out. Too afraid to alienate any of the indie gods, so you take a powder. Pussy.

  • blamp

    Robin Guthrie you cocksucker

  • Aditya

    I was expecting Johnny Marr to top the list… he wasn’t on it.

  • Guest

    Fucking hipsters…

  • Gustavo

    Fucking Hipsters…

  • mermaidlove

    Wow I’m glad you included Brian Causey! He’s amazing.

  • MP

    Gotta have Doug Martsch!!