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.
Jimmy Nolen. 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. This guitar style greatly influenced a large number of guitarists and other funk groups, including Tower of Power, George Clinton, and Chic.
Eddie Hazel. 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.
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.