Some bands only have one guitarist, whilst others have two, three or even four. So why do they need so many guitar players?
In this article, I’ll go through exactly why some bands have more than one guitarist, and why it actually matters quite a bit. So let’s get started.
The Quick Answer
Bands have more than one guitarist because they want to split the lead (e.g solos) and rhythm parts into separate roles, played by different guitarists.
With two-guitar bands, one player usually plays lead, and the other plays rhythm. Bands with three guitarists usually have one lead player, and two rhythm players that play a mixture of chords and riffs. Bands with one guitarist usually play rhythm sections, and are supported by the bass player when they are playing lead sections.
The Roles of a Guitarist
So before we jump into some examples of how different bands use their guitars, let’s get clear about the roles they have.
There are two main types of guitar players: lead and rhythm.
Rhythm and lead guitar sections differ according to their function, sound and the techniques required to play them.
- Rhythm guitarist support the drummer and bassist, to help provide the beat and chord progression.
- Lead guitarists support the melody by adding embellishment and solos.
If you want to learn more, then check out this article I’ve written on the 3 differences between rhythm and lead guitar.
One Guitar Bands
Usually, in bands with one guitarist, the focus will be on rhythm playing. Generally, the guitar player will also be a singer. That means that they usually only play chords whilst they’re singing, and solos when they’re not.
However, in some bands things can be a little more complicated. Sometimes a band will only have one guitar player, and they won’t be the singer as well.
Usually, the guitarist will play rhythm sections when the singer is singing, and lead sections (solos) when the singer isn’t singing.
Sometimes the guitarist will only ever play rhythm sections throughout the entire song, if there isn’t any soloing involved.
However, occassionally, some bands have only one guitarist, and they only play the role that typically a lead guitarist would play (if there was both a rhythm and lead guitarist in the band).
This is rare, but it is a technique used by some bands, notably, Muse. Matt Bellamy is both the guitarist and singer of the band. But rather than playing easy chords whilst he’s singing, he plays pretty complex riffs. Take “Plug in Baby” for example.
So if he’s playing the role of a lead guitarist, how do Muse cope without a rhythm guitarist? Well, this is simple, the bassist steps in.
Chris Wolstenholm is one of the most talented bass players out there. He plays complex riffs (take “Hysteria” for example) and also ensures that the music doesn’t sound “empty” without a rhythm guitarist.
Check out this live performance to see this setup in action.
Two Guitar Bands
Typically, most rock and metal bands have two guitarists.
This is because there is generally a lead guitar player, and a rhythm guitar player.
First, let’s start off with rhythm guitar. The main role of a rhythm guitarist is to provide the chord progression, and help with keeping the beat. Lead guitarists, on the other hand, are not really responsible for keeping the rhythm, but instead are focused on the melody.
When there are two guitarists, usually one will be assigned the lead sections, and the other the rhythm sections. Take Oasis for example. Usually, Noel Gallagher would play all the lead guitar sections, whilst Bonehead usually played all the rhythm guitar parts.
A lot of the time, one of the guitar players is also the lead singer. They will either take the rhythm playing responsibilities, or play lead guitar (usually when they’re not singing).
Take Metallica for example. James Hetfield is the rhythm guitarist and lead singer. Whilst Kirk Hammett plays the lead guitar parts.
The Beatles also used this setup. John Lennon player rhythm guitar and sung, whilst George Harrison played lead guitar.
An example of a band where the lead guitarist also sings, is The Arctic Monkeys. Alex Turner both sings and plays a lot of lead guitar, whilst Jamie Cook takes care of the rhythm playing.
In some bands, the players may swap roles, either between songs, or within the same songs.
Three Guitar Bands
There are also some examples of bands that have three guitarists. Whilst this may seem excessive, it can work really well.
Usually, one guitar will be assigned the lead sections, and the other two will play rhythm parts.
However, sometimes, the guitarists may switch between rhythm and lead sections, rather than sticking to specific roles.
The Foo Fighters are one of the best bands to demonstrate this.
David Grohl is the lead vocalist, and also plays rhythm guitar. Pat Smear also plays rhythm, whilst Chris Shiflett plays lead guitar. Check out the video below to see how the three guitarists work together.
Other bands with three guitarists include Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stone Age, The Eagles and Iron Maiden.
So there you go! That’s why some bands have two or three guitarists! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful: