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

  • NerdyDillinger

    +1 For King Buzzo being the first image. The Melvins are definitely one of the sickest bands ever.

  • Katjang

    I’m really missing Dylan Carlson (Earth) here. He manages to play the exactly right notes at the exactly right moment, in the exactly right sound.

  • AlessioP

    you forgot Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher from My Bloody Valentine

  • Jeremy Jensen

    This list is horrible. No Doug Martsch. No Kevin Shields. No one from Sleater Kinney, but Mary Timony? I love Helium, but c’mon!

  • Ricardo GonzálezDíaz

    King Buzzo Rock`s!!

    It`s a riff machine!

  • John

    The duo of Nick Valensi & Albert Hammond Jr. needs a mention

  • Zeek McGeek

    I thought it was a pretty decent list, but there was no Johnny Marr, no Kevin Sheilds, no PJ Harvey, no Carrie Brownstein, no Dylan Carlson, no Sam Prekop, no Ian MacKaye, no Geoff Farina, no Blixa Bargeld. And I have to LOL at “guitar god” Eric Johnson in the place of Archers Of Loaf Eric Johnson.

  • Tom

    Roland S Howard, Nels Cline and Kevin Shields are missing….

  • chris

    Kevin Shields??? Guy Picciotto???? East Bay Ray???? Pat Fucking Smear??? but no you put guided by voices and jack fucking white????? and seriously FUCK SONIC YOUTH!

  • chris


  • Guest


  • Ian Schultz


  • Brian Guinane

    John Squire, Johnny Marr and Graham Coxon piss all over this lot

  • sss

    Jack White? Seriously? He’s a fucking blues guitar player. What about Kevin Shields, Terry Bickers,William Reid and the like? They’ve done much more for “indie” rock than that shitty millionaire “bluesman” Sheesh.

  • Jeremy

    When Pavement toured in 2010, Malkmus used a Jazzmaster and his Strat, not his Les Paul as you incorrectly claimed.

    Also, Archers of Loaf had the reissues of their albums come out on Merge; Originally they came out on Alias.

    At least you had Polvo on this list!

  • guest

    too many penises, not enough kristin hersh

  • batmayne


  • Thom Graney

    J Mascis should have been #1 or #2. Doug Martsch should have been in top 5. As well as Matthew Sweet. I’m not really a fan of Jack White but he deserves to be top 10. Easy.

  • Mac

    An unbelievably American selection……….

  • bawlsarehard

    isaac brock.

  • Emily

    Ira Kaplan, for goodness sake.

  • StewyStan

    Malkmus probably changes guitars between songs a lot because he uses a bunch of alternate tunings. If he tuned the same guitar before every song, the audience would probably get a little antsy.

  • StewyStan

    I would actually pick Mary Timony over Brownstein and Tucker. They’re good guitar players, but I think Mary’s style of playing is a lot more original. I do agree that the omission of Doug Martsch is a little weird though.

  • Blaxter

    What about Steve Albini, Brian Baker or H.R?

  • Clive Warren

    Both Johnny Marr and John Squire deserves a mention.

  • Aaron Goldberg


  • Kiel West

    Dude, good list but DOUG MARTSCH!

  • s.hersh

    Doug Martsch,, Built to Spill…. c’mon

  • Alan H

    Lists are what they are. But any Greatest Indie Rock Guitarist list that omits Billy Zoom and Sylvia Juncosa is just inept, and Greg Ginn will be the first to tell you. That said, Buzz O adds some credibility.

  • PTY

    Terrible list! No Johnny Marr, Alex Turner (underrated), Albert Hammond Jr? Just a bunch of dudes from American indie bands the rest of the World has never heard of. This list reeks of wannabe pitchfork! haha

  • Julian Waddell

    You just said Dinosaur Jr released their first three albums on SST. Their first album, Dinosaur, was released on Homestead records, not SST.

  • JOe

    No Bob Stinson = Your list is invalid.

  • Brian Furlong

    King Buzzo should be #1. Ian McKay and Aaron Turner should be in there…also the guys from shels* and Light Bearer.

  • insectpolitics

    great list, I think adam jones of tool, and east bay ray would have fit in nice, I totally agree on duane Denison, that guy rocks

  • Chris

    Not terrible, but you missed a few, and you omitted someone who should be in the top 5. Paul Leary – Butthole Surfers. And I would put D. Boon higher. Johnny Marr and Mick Harvey should have been there.

  • Chris

    Paul Leary, Billy Zoom, Mick Harvey, Johnny Marr. Glad you had D. Boon. He should be at the top. Paul Leary and Billy Zoom should be in top 5.

  • Chris

    and East Bay Ray.

  • Chris

    and Robert Quine. Thats all from me.

  • Marcus Sexauer

    In my opinion Duane Denison or J. Mascis should be #1…just from the 25 represented…..

  • Jen

    Glenn Branca. Need I say more?

  • Jen

    And the venerable John Reis. Where would we be without Jehu?

  • Dudley

    This list is worthless without Duane Dennison.. insane.

  • mad hatter
  • Ramone

    come on! I thought for sure Kurt Cobain! Not even in the comment section they mention him! I agree though Greg Ginn #1

  • Miguel Arenas Alvarado

    Paul Leary from Butthole Surfers ???

  • Max

    John Dietrich and Chris Cohen (Deerhoof, Cryptacize, Natural Dreamers, Gorge Trio…)

  • Baron Nefarious

    This is rife with historical inaccuracies. Most of the albums listed as a band’s “debut” or “second” album are actually the 3rd or 4th. Do some more research before you provide bios, otherwise I, mostly, agree with the choices, if not always the order.

  • Baron Nefarious

    I have to represent Portland, Oregon for a second here and state that Dead Moon’s Fred Cole (so indie that 50+ years into his career, he still presses his own vinyl), Poison Idea’s Pig Champion (rest in peace brother), and The Wipers’ Greg Sage (the man generally agreed to be the Godfather of Grunge) deserve a place on this list. I would also add Seattle-based Gits guitarist (and P.I. alum) Joe Spleen to the list. At the expense of some of the ones (who I won’t name) that I don’t feel belong here.

  • Todd Vandale

    Ya, not including Doug Martsch is pretty dog.
    Here is the best Built To Spill live video on the YT…..Proving ol Todd’s point

  • Kurt

    I am calling BS on this list for three very major reasons: 1) Bob Mould is LAST?, 2) Bobby Stinson and Paul Westerberg are omitted in favor of a bunch of hacks I’ve never even heard of and finally, how the HELL could you not put Johnny Marr in there?

  • 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!!

  • Garrett Wilson

    I saw them in 2010 and he used a Les Paul.

  • Garrett Wilson

    Their first album isn’t bad.

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