Best Funk Guitarists


By Raffy ChanSubmitted On October 28, 2010. Compared to other music genres, funk perhaps downplays their guitarists the most, as the distinct sound of funk focuses more on rhythm and repetition rather than long, drawn-out solos.

But that does not in any way undermine the importance of the funk guitar to define funk music. Rather, it simply means that funk bands play as just that--a band, instead of a group of soloists.The following paragraphs feature a few of the greatest funk guitarists of all time; names that any funk fan would be familiar with and artists that have influenced, not only funk music, but many other genres as well.

There is no other guitarist more deserving of this top spot than Jimmy Nolen, the guitar player for one of the pioneers of the genre, James Brown. It is said that it is he who redefined the role of the guitar for real funk music. His most distinguished legacy is that of the "chicken scratch" sound, which is a notable style of picking where the guitar strings are pressed lightly against the fingerboard and then quickly released--just enough to get a muted scratching sound.

Nile Rodgers

This guitar style greatly influenced a large number of guitarists and other funk groups, including Tower of Power, George Clinton, and Chic. Lead guitarist for Parliament-Funkadelic, Eddie Hazel can be considered a legend for the way he handled and played his funk guitar. He is actually an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was even ranked 43rd in Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list.

His most celebrated claim to fame is his rare ten-minute guitar solo in the song "Maggot Brain", which was released as the lead single of Funkadelic's third album of the same name.

This solo has been greatly lauded by fans, music critics, and fellow artists. Curtis Mayfield. A true pioneer of funk music, Curtis Mayfield is highly deserving of praise, not only for his guitar prowess but also for bringing about social awareness through his music.

As a guitarist, he created his own unique style of tuning his guitar against the black keys of a piano, which generated a choppy, muted style that revolutionized rhythm playing in the funk genre. But as an artist and social activist, he created some of the most influential albums in history that openly criticized the state of affairs of African-Americans and their rights during his time.

Jimmy Nolan

There can be no funk music without the guitarists that provide the strong riffs and extended chords that characterize the genre so well. The artists mentioned above really transformed funk and the music industry with their skillful playing of the funk guitar.

Raffy Chan is a funk music enthusiast and an expert in the field of Website Design-Creation and Making Money Online. Article Source:

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Tony Maiden

APA Style Citation: Chan, R. (2010, October 28). Funk Guitar - Best Funk Guitarists of All Time. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from­Guitar-­-­-­Best-­Funk-­Guitarists-­of-­All-­Time&id=5282723.

Chicago Style Citation: Chan, Raffy "Funk Guitar - Best Funk Guitarists of All Time." Funk Guitar - Best Funk Guitarists of All Funk is much more than a style ofmusic that evolved from R&B in the1960s—it’s a way of life.

Or, as the lategreat James Brown said in “(Get up I FeelLike Being A) Sex Machine, Pt. 1,” “Yougot ta have the feelin’.” It’s the sound ofa tight ensemble powered by a relentlessgroove. It’s sweat, soul, and everybodyplaying in the pocket.

It’s subservience tothe first beat of every bar. Groove is themonarch of the genre.But funk is also about hip, interlockingguitar parts that make the song pop.In funk, the song always comes first,and the best funk guitar parts are minicompositions within the song.


Creatingthese mini compositions requires masteringa variety of techniques, each ofwhich is inevitably and indelibly seasonedby each player’s ethnic, regional,and musical backgrounds. That’s whyveteran 6-string funksters like LeoNocentelli (The Meters), David Williams(Michael Jackson, Madonna), Johnny“Guitar” Watson, Paul Jackson Jr.

(TheTemptations), Phelps “Catfish” Collins(Parliament, Funkadelic), George Johnson(The Brothers Johnson), and Gary Shider(Parliament, Funkadelic) all have uniquelyfunky styles that don’t just rely on stereotypicalwaka-waka wah hackery.But the roots of funk reach back evenfurther than the aforementioned mastersto five greats—Jimmy Nolen, FreddieStone, Tony Maiden, Nile Rodgers, andAl McKay.

Eddie Hazel

Each guitarist played thefunkiest stuff on the planet with individuality,soul, and joie de vivre. They foundtheir distinctive voices within the guitartechniques available to us all, and madegreat songs groove harder by adding feel,knowledge, and imagination.

Jimmy NolenEveryone knows James Brown essentially createdfunk. And if Brown was the Godfather ofSoul, then the late Jimmy Nolen was the groovin’don’s 6-string consigliere. Nolen played withBrown from 1965 to 1970, took a two-yearbreak, and then joined forces with him againfrom 1972 until his death in 1983. Beforehooking up with Brown, Nolen paid his duesplaying blues on the Chitlin’ Circuit and beingthe house guitarist for traveling acts comingthrough Oklahoma, Arizona, and California.Gear-wise, Nolen used a variety of toolsduring his career.

Freddie Stone

The guitars he was mostoften spotted with included Gibson ES-175and ES-5 Switchmaster hollowbodies, aJapanese-made Stratocaster copy called aFresher Straighter, and a Gibson Les PaulRecording Model with single-coils. To achievehis signature sound, he ran the guitarsthrough a Fender Twin Reverb with the treblecranked. As any live version of “I Got theFeeling” proves, Nolen’s tone was clean andfull, and despite playing in such a large band,you can hear every note.Nolen first played with Brown in 1965,and the stylistic elements he brought fromblues, jazz, and R&B helped make JamesBrown one of the most successful soulacts of all time.

His first session with theGodfather was for the race-barrier-breakinghit “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” On it hepioneered the use of hip jazz voicings, 16thnotestrumming, and alternating single-notelines with funky 9th chords. But that wasonly the beginning.

Leo Nocentelli

On songs like “I GotYou (I Feel Good),” “There Was a Time,”“Cold Sweat,” and “Mother Popcorn,” Nolenlaid the foundation for funk guitarists ofthe future with muted string scratching,dominant-9th-to-13th hammer-ons, and asense of time that was both hypnotic andinfectiously grooving.

The combination wasso compelling that it became the blueprintfor every funk guitarist to follow. In fact,whether they know it or not, anyone whoplays funk today either purposely or inadvertentlygives props to Jimmy Nolen.Freddie StoneDespite playing in one of the most popularfunk bands of all time, Freddie Stone mightjust be one of the most underrated purveyorsof funkitude ever.

Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner

He and brother Sly Stonecofounded Sly & the Family Stone in 1967,and within that context Freddie set a new standardfor integrating the guitar into a large bandsetting without sonic redundancy. His chickenscratchin’,choppy-grooved licks, and bluesyR&B lines (played initially on big, hollowbodyguitars like Gibson L-4s, then later on FenderTelecasters) always popped out of the mix inthe right places and added a “gut-bucket” feelto the band’s prominent horn section.Although his heyday was nearly fourdecades ago, Freddie had an influence thatlooms large to this day.

It can be heard in thestyles of other influential 6-string funkateerssuch as Ernie Isley (The Isley Brothers), EddieHazel (Funkadelic), John Frusciante (RedHot Chili Peppers), and Prince. Check outtunes like “Thank You (Falettinme Be MiceElf Agin)” to see how Freddie integrates singlelines on the lower strings with sliding dominant-9th chords on “Sing a Simple Song.” It’sa riff so irresistible Jimi Hendrix borrowedit for his album Band of Gypsys.