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Punk guitar- A quick guide.

Yes, that's right. Punk. The musical choice of snotty, no talent brats everywhere.
Don't listen to the shredders- Punk is a damn fine musical genre, and deserves our respect and admiration. Thinking punk is the musical niche for you? Just want to know more about the style? Read on.

Techinques of punk guitar

Firstly, and most usefully, the power chord. Played on (mostly) the low E, A, and D strings, the power chord is the basis of punk rock. Oh, did I mention it's dead easy to play? Explanations of the specifics can be found here. Just a few pro-punk points I'd like to add to those writeups- You can simply play it with only the root and fifth, either fretting the fifth with your third or fourth finger. (I use my fourth for quick switching).(credit to Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath for *supposedly* inventing the first+fourth finger-fretting.) So an A5 would look like:


The Ramones based pretty much all of their songs in their decades-long career around the power chord, which just goes to show what you can do with a loyal fanbase and a dictator of a guitarist. (side-note: The power chord was supposedly brought into mainstream music by Pete Townshend of The Who. Go listen to "My Generation" and tell me that's not the first punk song. Thank you.)

Well, the power chord should fulfill all your punk rhythm guitar needs. Lead playing? Johnny Ramone would stab you for even thinking about that, but still. Some of the punk lead techniques you'll want to learn are:

The double stop

A double stop (pioneered mainly by Chuck Berry) involves playing two high-pitched notes at the same time. Let's look at a lick from the Rancid song radio to show the applications of a doublestop in punk.


Fret that one with your first finger. Not so hard, is it? A slide when doublestopping gives a neat, almost surf rock sound. Useful for West Coast punk, type of thing. Gives a great sense of movement in a song.

The pick slide

Oh yeah. This one works a treat with punky distortion. Simply slide your pick along one or more of your bass strings, to give this really neato squealing sound. Doesn't require any left hand technique whatsoever. Sounds awesome. Why don't more people do it?

Of course, if you really must piss on the grave of Johnny Ramone, you can play solos. Pick up the Sex Pistols' one ill-fated album, Never Mind The Bollocks, to listen to a pretty good approximation of punk soloing. Steve Jones is truly the father of two-fingered monkey playing. Either stick to your basic pentatonic shapes, or do the true punk thing and ignore key completely. Wail on your top strings like a madman, completely ignoring mistakes and timing. Oh yeah. That's punk.

Punk Rock Gear

No, I don't mean your bloody clothes. I mean the equipment necessary to punk out like the hardcore machine that you are. Let's check the first and most obvious part. Your axe.

The most important thing for a good, solid punk guitar is high output. This means you wanna push your amp hard. For this, most of the time you'll need humbucker pickups.
To ensure you're getting that overdriven sound you want, keep the guitar's volume and tone controls on full. Some popular guitars for punk work are:
The Fender Telecaster (The Clash)
Pretty much any Mosrite guitar (Ramones, Nirvana)
Some hollowbody guitars, such as those made by Gretsch(Rancid, The Living End)
The Gibson Les Paul, although it's heavy and expensive, gives a REAL fat tone.

Of course, you could always do the real punk thing, and just buy a cheap guitar with humbuckers and use it for your entire career until you destroy it onstage. Another important note: Get one with a fixed bridge. You're punk! What the bloody hell do you need a whammy bar for?

Now for the other important part. The amplifier.

These days, the amp buyer's world is filled with many pretty, pretty options. Mesa Boogie, Marshall, Vox... Won't these amps make you happy? Of course they will, if you have a spare three grand.

But, as Joe Strummer, king of British punk, once shouted, "Now Get This!": Almost any amplifier, be it tube or solid state, can sound "punk". The beautiful thing about punk rock tone is... well, it's ugly. Here's how you can make a damn fine punk tone on just about any amp (adjust to taste, naturally). Here's my own personal parameters, used on a solid state combo which shall remain nameless. You'd wanna have:

50% gain, 10% bass, 50% treble, 100% mids.

This oughta give you that snotty, rough, dying-gerbil-in-my-circuitry punk buzz we all know and love. You can always dial back the mids and boost the bass if you want a more rounded tone. That should conclude the section on amps. If you want to use effects pedals, just keep it to either overdrive, distortion, or fuzz, eh? If any of you inquired as to a phaser, Prog Rock is that way. Thank you.

Well, I hope this has either given you a bit of a better insight into punk guitar, or at least helped you pick up some tips. Any ideas for inclusion, just /msg me. Cheers.


Jeedan wrote in with a nice inclusion- Feedback. Feedback occurs when sound vibrations coming out of your amp "feed back" into your pickups, creating a neat little loop of sound. Of course, pretty much all the integrity goes out of this sound, turning it into either a rumbling growl or a high-pitched squeal, depending on all sorts of things like the amount of gain used, pickup type, etc.

How does one feed back, you ask? Point your pickups at your amp's speaker. Depending on the level your amp is running at, you may need to get pretty close before you can start feeding back. But once you get a note of feedback running, do fun things like manipulating the tone and volume controls. (Tom Morello once made a solo just with one note of feedback and dial manipulation.) Feedback can be fun, but beware of how high-pitched it can get.

Jeedan (helpful person, that Jeedan) also suggested the use of a Gibson Les Paul Junior as a good punk guitar. Quite right. It's lighter and cheaper than a LP Standard, and can still push out the tone you need. Try taking out the stock pickup and hammering in an EMG- I haven't tried it myself, but some people swear by modifications like that.

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