Top 10 Grunge Guitarists


Grunge (sometimes referred to as the Seattle Sound) emerged during the mid-1980s in the state of Washington, particularly in the Seattle area. Inspired by hardcore punk, heavy metal and indie rock, grunge is generally characterized by heavily distorted electric guitars, contrasting song dynamics, and apathetic or angst-filled lyrics. Here are the top 10 grunge guitarists that help define this music genre.

10. Roger Osborne of the Melvins

Being one of the first grunge bands, the Melvins guitarist has to be on the list because of his influence on such guitarists as Mark Arm and Kurt Cobain. At first listen you can hear that the music is metal, but the guitar is starting a steady lean towards grugedom. From the screaming solos to the moaning power cords, Osbourne paved the streets of the 90’s with his guitar.

9. Vernon Reid of Living Colour

Although not so much grunge and more in the range of funk metal, Reid cannot be exactly categorized. From his crisp funk solos of Love Rears It’s Ugly Head to the famous guitar riffs of Cult of Personality Vernon Reid is an amazing, influential guitarist to all forms of hardcore rock, including grunge.

8. Mike McCready of Pearl Jam

Raised in the punk ridden 70’s McCready is unfluenced by both Kiss and SRV. Behind his lightning fast licks there is a blues influence that makes his music so enjoyable to listen to. Even some of his epic solos suck as the one in Black have blues influence. My only reason for not making him #1 was because of his lack of influence on modern music.

7. Pat Smear of Foo Fighters/Nirvana

In Nirvana’s early work Kurt couldn’t do all of the guitar by himself, so he had Pat Smear help him with it. Smear, unknown to many people, helped Nirvana in many of their hits such as Heart Shaped Box and Polly. He is responsible for the sliding guitar riffs in Scentless Apprentice, and helped with many of their live shows. Later on Dave Grohl invited his to play with the Foo Fighters, which he did, and was a major role in their live performances.

6. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins

Inspired by Pink Floyds acid filled guitar odysseys, Corgan was the arena rock genius of the 90’s. As if his ego wasn’t enough, Corgan pioneered several guitar tequniques including open E string in 1979 and Cherub Rock. Even in the song Geek USA his crazy guitar solo and riffs told grunge bands that their guitarists don’t have to be sloppy just to sound rebellious.

5. Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains

Fast paced metal riffs, soaring solos, this guy was the foundation of the emo rock era. Every note was hit to a metronomic beat which other grunge bands had ignored, a tequnique that made Cantrell’s music so different from all other grunge artist’s music.

4. Kim Thayil of Soundgarden

Thayil is the ultimate grunge guitarist; he was the influence for nearly all of the bands of the 90’s. His untuned guitar and offbeat riffs paired with Chris Cornell’s projected voice made the ghouly effect of Soundgarden which inspired a generation of music.

3. Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead

Let me be frank with you: there would be no indie rock without Greenwood. Even though his grunge side was only brought out in three out of Radiohead’s eight albums, they changed the minds of the major contemporary musicians of today such as Coldplay and Muse. Greenwood wasn’t even the band’s guitarist (he was their keyboardist), which was a huge part in why his guitar riff were so “odd”.

2. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana

Lets face it people, Kurt is god. From his tortured guitar riffs in Aero Zeppelin and Heartbreaker (live) to the all famous Smells Like Teen Spirit lyrical mimicking solo, Kurt was the epiphany of modern rock as we know it. Nobody could do what he did, and what he did was bring out the inner emotion of grunge by thrashing and bashing the noised produced by guitar into the 90’s.

1. Neil Young

Cinnamon Girl, My My, Hey Hey (Into the Black), and Rockin’ in the Free World were the foundation of what the Melvins paved through for the invention of grunge. His elastic guitar solos influenced Mike McCready, his sloppily strummed chords were Kurt Cobain’s favorite technique, and his violent swinging of his guitar was copied by Johnny Greenwood. Without Neil Young, there would be no Grunge.

submitted by Sam Doych

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  1. Mudhoney fan on

    Steve Turner/Mark Arm or Tad Doyle at no. 1 for me. Just as I Tad and Mudhoney truly defined that sound in the late 80’s I think before messing about with it and moving further into a garage-rock/psych/punk direction in Mudhoney’s case and a hugely heavy metal-punk hybrid in Tad’s case. (Then Brothers of the Sonic Cloth veer into Sludge/Doom territory)
    King Buzzo should also be higher. The Melvins took the slowed down punk of “My war”-later era Black Flag to the next level. As for godfather of grunge; surely Ron Asheton? Groundhogs Tony McPhee also has some insanely dirty grungy riffs, (Neil Young with Crazy Horse has some pretty intense grungy moments right enough but Neil Young as an artist was a chameleon- (maybe not to the same extent as someone like David Bowie) but he played around with folk, acoustic balladry, jazz inspired improvisations, rock n’ roll, country and hard rock…even a brief electro phase. His first band Buffalo Springfield are just something else, too. The dreamlike “Expecting to Fly” is like heaven, musically as far as I’m concerned)
    Sometimes I feel the problem with the supposed genre (media creation or otherwise), “grunge”, is what exactly constitutes “grunge”? Is it a guitar sound/ recording aesthetic/ what? Much of the records associated with grunge are actually quite polished records. Bands like Kyuss have a much grungier sound than the early 90’s “big 4” (much as I very much like those bands) Their churning, gutsy sound, both in terms of the guitar sound and recordings, are like the equivalent of what Blue Cheer could sound like if they started in the 90s.
    Just my two quid… cents.. or whatever the GBP/USD conversion rate is these days(!)

  2. Jimmy Scott on

    Whoever wrote this or was the so-called editor did an amazing job eh? No I’m not being sarcastic at all. Couldn’t spot one single spelling mistake or grammatical error. Pure genius.