One guitar, or three?

Many fans of Rock music guitar playing consider the players who were the only guitarist in their band "the best": Jimi Hendrix (in The Experience), Eric Clapton (in Cream), Jeff Beck (post-Yardbirds), Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the clown in Black Sabbath, etc. etc.

I on the other hand have a love of not the classic 2-guitar line-up (The Beatles, Stones, Rockpile, etc.)---good as that can be---, but of 3-guitar bands: Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, Fleetwood Mac in their Peter Green/Danny Kirwin/Jeremy Spencer period, and The Flamin’ Groovies in the Shake Some Action album era.

Three guitars is even more musical than two, and far more so than one. All kinds of little song parts are possible with three musical instruments, and Springfield and The Grape really exploited the possibilities. One guitar is so, well, 1-dimensional. Sure, on recordings the single guitarist in a band can recorded multiple parts, but "lead" guitarists rarely think in "song part" terms, but instead in "guitar chops" terms. Know what I mean?

I bought the first two albums by both Cream and Hendrix when they were released, and saw both live twice in 1967 and ’68. But the music of both got old pretty quickly, I losing interest after those albums. You may disagree. ;-)

Now, one guitar is fine if you have other musical instruments (bass and drums can be played musically, but they aren’t "chordal" instruments), such as piano and/or organ. Two of Rock ’n’ Roll’s most musical ensembles had both piano and organ, and only one guitar: The Band and Procol Harum. Those bands also had great songs. Coincidence?

If anyone has other 3-guitar bands/groups to recommend, I’m all ears.


I can only recommend a two-guitar band -- the Seventies punk/new wave band Television. Alarmingly evocative twin lead guitar breaks from guitar players Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.. Alternately intertwining and at war. The album Marquee Moon has plenty of them. Saw them at the Whiskey. Still one of my favorite concerts ever.

@edcyn: LOVE the Marquee Moon album! I never managed to see Television live (damnit), but Verlaine's and Lloyd's 2-guitar interplay is a good as most trio of guitarists! It's funny they were lumped in with the other NYC bands who played at CBGB, whom they were nothing like. Just as Dire Straits were with the other late-70's UK bands.

Eagles, of course. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are other faves that come immediately to mind.

Having said that, I have a little trouble with the notion that “three is more musical than two”, or “two is more musical than one”. Depends on what you do with what you got. One great guitarist is far better than three average guitarists. I can name solo guitarists (never mind one guitar bands) who are far more musical than some bands with two or three guitars; in my book, anyway. Knowing that you are a proponent of the “less is more” kind of playing (me too), I’m a little surprised at this notion.

The Motown house band, The Funk Brothers, had Robert White, Joe Messina and Eddie Willis.

Emmylou Harris Hot Band, actually 3 guitars and a pedal steel.

Check out Wilco, with Nels Cline, doing “Impossible Germany” from this clip: Very tasty, with Cline shredding at one end of the stage while Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone are harmonizing at the other end.

@onhwy61: Yeah, many Soul bands---who commonly have great rhythm guitarists, a thing very different from a lead guitarist (John Lennon was a fair rhythm guitarist, Don Everly a great one)---and, especially, Country Bands---who commonly have at least one acoustic rhythm guitarist (in addition to the singer, if he plays) and another on electric, plus an electric lead player or two, and a pedal steel, dobro, mandolin, and fiddle player (no wonder I like good Country as much as I do ;-) never have only one guitarist.

But remember, I specified Rock music bands, where a single guitarist is much more common.

Singer/songwriters often hire as many musicians as they can afford. When I saw Lucinda Williams for the first time after her Car Wheels album sold a million (I had seen her playing around L.A. for years before the success of that album changed her life, one time in a pizza parlor to an audience of a half dozen people), she was playing acoustic rhythm herself, had Jim Lauderdale playing acoustic and singing harmony, two electric guitarists (one of them being Kenny Vaughan, now of course playing Telecaster in Marty Stuarts’ The Fabulous Superlatives, imo currently the best band in the world), plus a pretty expensive drummer, the great Jim Christie, who quit Dwight Yoakam’s band when Lucinda offered him a job. My gawd she and they sounded great that night!

For years Emmylou had the best band in the land---The Hot Band, featuring at various times James Burton, Albert Lee, Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, Tony Brown, Glen D. Hardin, Hank DeVito, Emory Gordy, and either John Ware or Ronnie Tutt on drums. They weren’t named The Hot Band for no reason! Emmylou, having great taste and surrounding herself with the best musicians in the world, now has Buddy Miller playing electric guitar and singing harmony with her, plus leading her band. He also leads the band at the annual Americana Awards Show. He’s a great record producer too!

While I agree that two is often better than one, for my tastes, a third is usually one too many. The degree of commitment required to listen carefully enough so as to stay out each-other's way is usually more than most guitarists can summon in such a situation. 

Never "grokked" Moby Grape.  

I did hear Emmylou with the Hot Band and they did fine, but you specified Rock, so nope. 

IMHO one of the best if not the best three lead guitar driven bands was the original Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan; their ability to seamlessly trade leads and riffs was unmatched... best live concerts I've ever had the privilege of attending with maybe a very close second Little Feat (two lead guitarists) fronted by Lowell George.

Snarky Puppy, Tom Petty and The Heartbreaker's. Blue Oyster Cult. Queens Of The Stone Age. Radiohead. Sonic Youth. The Allman Brothers. Velvet Underground, Aeroshit, Wishbone Ash. .............................

Where did I see Emmylou and the Hot Band? Hollywood Bowl? Greek Theater? The Palomino Club in North Hollywood? In any case, not as tight as I wanted them to be. But I still treasure their LPs, 30+ years on.

In any event, I gotta say that I do get a kick out of it when a poster gets a bit impatient when another poster doesn't address the thread's original question specifically enough. Shouldn't we consider the initial post a conversation starter and nothing more? The way I see it, hanging out at these sites is like hanging out at a party or a bar.

Impatient? Me? ;-) And I, of all people. Okay, fair enough; I regularly steer a thread in a direction different from the poster's stated topic or intent. Shouldn't object then, should I?

of all the three guitar lineups  mentioned i think moby grape was the most distinctive--jerry miller was a vg blues-based lead player, peter lewis played an elaborate fingerpicked folky style and skip spence played a pounding rhythm like the drummer he was. fantastic band.

of current acts the foo fighters would qualify, tho dave grohl is helluva lot better drummer than guitarist. surprised noone mentioned molly hatchet....

Seen plenty of multi-guitar outfits in my time, from the Rolling Stones to the Grateful Dead to original Allmans to Wishbone Ash to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Television etc etc, but these days, I care a lot more about the song than the guitars; heard my share of great rockers with NO guitars! 

Not  three guitars but very similar with many Bluegrass bands which have a Guitar, banjo, and mandolin. Then throw in the fiddle for good measure and you can hear lots of good music

Can and do, @artemus_5! Just my taste, but Bluegrass sounds much more musical than Rock ’n’ Roll to me these days. There are exceptions, mostly from the singer/songwriter crowd (Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, Iris DeMent---Bluegrass AND Singer/Songwriter, Lucinda Williams, Buddy & Julie Miller, etc.). For Rock ’n’ Roll it’s the likes of Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, the dearly-departed Tom Petty for some. Hey, TP & The Heartbreakers. There's a 3-guitar band!

And in the opinion of some but not all, Dylan is somehow remaining as relevant as ever. But at 80 years of age, it can’t be for much longer. The next few years are going to be brutal. Gee, this is cheery! Someone here asked me how I’m finding the Northwest, having fairly-recently moved here after spending more than 3-1/2 decades in sunny SoCal ;-) .

And for really deep listening, there’s still J.S. Bach. This will reduce me in the eyes of some, but most Jazz just doesn’t speak to me. Too urban.

Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia

Friday Night in San Francisco

Not rock and roll, but 3 of the best players in the world

IMHO of course

Not an everyday listen....but the boys get down

Give your system a little warm-up workout

Excellent nomination @valinar! In fact, five guitarists, but only one (Harrison) a lead player (Orbison, Dylan, Petty and---I think---Lynne rhythm only players). Acoustic guitars sound huge when double-tracked in recordings (an old trick); can you imagine four of them?!


I'm really curious about what you meant when you said you find Jazz is "too urban".

Care to elaborate further?



Yeah @stuartk, I thought using the term Urban might raise some eyebrows ;-) .

Though now commonly used as a synonym for black, I used the term more literally: city music, irrespective of the ethnicity of the people making the music. The sound of a bunch of horns squawking away---very common in Jazz music---reminds me of car horns blaring in a traffic jam. The sound of a piano playing chords with dissonant notes (also common in Jazz) evokes in me the sense of tension and danger I felt while living in New York City. I saw some sick, twisted people there, lots of them. Couldn’t wait to get out.

I like stringed instruments, more common in what I call "Rural" music. And harmony singing, very, very rare in Urban music. Bluegrass, Hillbilly, Hard Country, Rockabilly, Gospel (see, it’s not about ethnicity ;-), Blues (ditto), etc.

On the other hand, I love 50’s and 60’s Soul music, which many consider Urban. Not necessarily. Motown (which I also don’t care for) sounds Urban to me, but Stax and Atlantic (which I love) don’t. Motown was recorded in Detroit, Stax and Atlantic in Tennessee and Alabama. Urban vs. Rural.

And I think of the music from my youth---the Garage Bands of San Jose, CA---what Rock ’n’ Roll historian Greg Shaw called Ground Zero for that genre---as Suburban ;-) .


OK. . . but the sound of horns is not restricted to "squawking". There are folk singers whose off-key singing can be plenty dissonant. If you are asserting that Jazz is inherently dissonant or hectic, I can't agree, unless you're talking about Free Jazz, which is indeed, too "squawky" , "hectic" and dissonant for my taste. We all like what we like and I'd never suggest to anyone that their taste is "wrong". At the same time, your characterization of Jazz does seem inaccurate to me, based upon what I've heard over some 40 years of listening to it.





@stuartk: My original statement reads: "Most Jazz doesn’t speak to me". That was of course a generalization. Jazz music tends to not give me what I’m looking for musically, not as much as do other genres.

I listen for for and respond to first form: great chord progressions. melodies, harmonies, etc. The Jazz I don’t relate to is focused on other musical elements, predominantly the improvisational skills of the musicians. Yes, Bluegrass does too, but that is in addition to the other things I crave musically. Plus, as I said, Bluegrass instruments are more pleasing to me in terms of timbre than is most Jazz. Plus there are those vocal harmonies! A lot of Jazz lacks vocals; in a lot of my favorite music the instruments' primary contribution to the music is that of support for the vocals. Three is a lot of Jazz for which that is not the case.

Now, there is Jazz I like, names you would expect: Count Basie (man did his band swing!), Ellington, Mose Allison, Ray Charles, early Big Joe Turner, Cab Calloway. Composers including Irving Berlin, Bernstein, Gershwin, etc.

Early in The Stones career, Mick Jagger sang "It’s the singer, not the song". I very much disagree. Dylan once responded to a reporter’s demand that he define himself by facetiously characterizing himself as "A song and dance man". I’m not interested in dance, but am a song fanatic. Too much of Jazz treats the musical form as a mere excuse for the playing of instruments. Again, a broad generalization. The Jazz of which that is not true I like; that which is I don’t. I hope I succeeded in being more clear this time ;-) .


When it comes to Bluegrass I am definitely of two minds.I don't listen to Bluegrass very much when I crank up the stereo but I do actually play a lot of it.

It tends to be the genre my fingers automatically gravitate to when I pick up my admittedly Bluegrass-centric musical instruments -- fiddle, banjo and steel-string acoustic guitar. It is fun as heck to go to Bluegrass jams. By the same token, however, more often than not Bluegrass players tend to be cold technicians who value flash & cliche over heart & finesse. There's a sameness to the chosen tempo(s) and touch that drives me crazy.

I might mention, too, that the folks who play what is Bluegrass' precursor, Old Time, genuinely hate what is designated Bluegrass. It's kind of funny to hang out & play alongside both crowds.













"Now, there is Jazz I like, names you would expect: Count Basie (man did his band swing!), Ellington, Mose Allison, Ray Charles, early Big Joe Turner, Cab Calloway. Composers including Irving Berlin, Bernstein, Gershwin, etc."

I apologize for my carelessness in making false assumptions. 

No excuse, but I suspect I was feeling a bit triggered and "protective" of a genre that seems to have very few fans. In other words, I somehow misread your words as a broad attack on the genre as a whole.  

"I listen for for and respond to first form: great chord progressions. melodies, harmonies, etc."

This is true for me, as well. I enjoy improvisation but please (!) give me a nicely crafted melody as a jumping off point, and some actual chord changes, not just a hip riff or a two-chord vamp, repeated ad nauseum. Jazz seems to be heading increasingly away from melody and chord changes, unfortunately. 

"Plus, as I said, Bluegrass instruments are more pleasing to me in terms of timbre than is most Jazz". 

A matter of personal taste, and therefore, inarguable.

"Jazz music tends to not give me what I’m looking for musically, not as much as do other genres."

It only makes sense for each of us to "follow our bliss" when it comes to aesthetic experiences. 

I enjoy your contributions, even if I occasionally have a strange way of showing it ;o)

Iron Maiden's been doing three guitars since 1999 and they do it quite well IMHO.

@edcyn: There are actually two schools of Bluegrass: Traditional, and Progressive. There are Bluegrass players who perform exclusively in one of the two schools, and others who do both---for instance one of my favorite living musicians, dobro player Jerry Douglas. He plays traditionally when working in a band providing accompaniment for singers such as Alison Krauss and Iris Dement, and progressive when he leads his band in mostly instrumental music.

I’ve seen & heard Jerry live doing both, and much prefer the Bluegrass music he makes in Traditional style. His solo band is sort of a Bluegrass/Jazz Fusion band! I went and saw he and his band last time they came through Portland, and got bored: too much instrumental soloing, not enough song playing. As I said above, it is song’s I love, not the technical ability of musicians. The skill set required to be an excellent accompanist are very different from those required to be a superior soloist and/or improviser.

As I was saying in an above post, I find music made with virtuoso playing as it’s primary focus---the very essence of much Jazz---often disregards the concept of the song or composition, many of them barely qualifying to be considered a real song (but then the same can be said of Bruce Springsteen’s "songs" ;-). I hear far too much Jazz in which there is no real song at all, just a couple of chords repeated ad nauseam, of use only as the platform for which to solo over (Grateful Dead, anyone? ;-) . Sometimes not even two chords, just one! No employment of modulation, inversion, harmony, counterpoint, or any other musical technique for interesting song development. Sure, the musicians are great on their instrument, but does that alone make for interesting, compelling music? IMO, no.

In 1992 Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band had Joe Walsh, Nils Lofgren, Todd Rundgren, & Dave Edmunds touring together at the same time.

Throughout the years other guitar notables included Randy Bachman, Mark Farner, Peter Frampton, Rick Derringer, Steve Lukather, Ian Hunter, Billy Squire, Colin Hay, Richard Marx, and Wally Palmer but no more than two played together at any given time. 

Guests guitarists have included Bruce Springsteen, Eric Carmen, Jeff Healey, Bonnie Raitt, Slash, Andy Summers and Eric Stuart.

The 15th All Starr Band will tour in North America starting in May this year.