The Ultimate Guide To Punk Rock Guitar

Punk Rock guitar is about power chords & simplicity – Let’s look at some examples!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 3 awesome Punk Rock guitar songs
  • What power chords are & why you need to know them
  • How to memorize the fretboard using power chords
  • Why a firm pick grip is important

Punk Rock Guitar Isn’t Just About Rebellion & Anarchy

This red-hot aggro genre of music has been around for decades, and has always carried with it anthems of social change as well as outcries of injustice.

  • Some of it also just carries the message of partying and being good to one another.
  • Regardless of the message, Punk music is a genre that revs us up and gets our adrenaline pumping.
  • In this free guide, we’re going to give you a brief history on Punk Rock guitar playing, as well as the lowdown on laying a good foundation for playing this style of music.

Grease up your mohawks and grab your leather jacket, it’s about to get loud in here.


A Brief History Of Punk Rock Guitar Playing

Historically, the origin of Punk music dates back to 1960’s Garage Rock music, later dubbed ‘Protopunk’ in the 1970s by music critics.

  • The style of Punk Rock guitar playing stems from a variety of different influential bands such as the Sex Pistols, The Stooges and many more.
  • Many off-shoots of Punk music have surfaced through the years.

The fusion of Punk music with Thrash Metal influence even helped give rise to the birth of Hardcore music (a much louder and more aggressive take on Punk music).


Notable Punk Rock guitar players that you should check out include:

We recommend you get familiar with some of these guitarists. Each of them has left their mark on the Punk Rock guitar scene and are looked to for influence by younger generations of musicians wanting to make their mark.

Now, what does Punk Rock guitar playing look and sound like? Let’s find out below!


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The Foundation Of Punk Rock Guitar Playing – Power Chords

We won’t find many elaborate or complicated guitar chords in Punk music.

For the most part we use power chords, which are reduced versions of common chords that we may already know! This gives us an advantage, as we may already be familiar with the sounds of many of these chords.

  • Power chords are primarily played from the low E and A strings.
  • We can play these chords with either two or three strings, depending upon how thick we want them to sound.

This makes it super easy for us to play alongside a bass player, which is definitely required when playing Punk music.


To play power chords effectively, we’ll need our index and ring finger to start with.

The use of the pinky finger on the third string is not necessary, but it adds depth to the chord which is always nice to have.

Pro Tip: When we say that power chords are reduced versions of chords, what we mean is that they possess fewer notes than their major and minor chord cousins.

Major chords hold the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the major scale. Minor chords have the same notes, with a flattened 3rd note (1 fret down).

Power chords do not possess a 3rd note, only the 1 and the 5. This means power chords are neither major, nor minor!

We’ve included some power chords for you to try out below, give them a whirl!

C5 | G5 | A5 | B5 | F#5 | F5 | D5


Punk Rock Guitar: Learn Your Power Chords Along The Neck!

It’s not enough to just learn power chords in the first 5 positions. By learning the various power chord positions across the fretboard, we give ourselves access to slide up and down the neck with ease. This is a valuable tool for Punk Rock guitar playing.

  • Learning power chords across the fretboard also helps us become familiar with the notes on the fretboard on both the E and A strings.
  • It makes sense that if we can learn the notes on these strings, we can learn them on all of them.
  • Here’s a little trick to help you figure out the notes on the fretboard using octaves:

If you play a note on the low E string, you can find that note again two strings down and two frets up. 

C5 (8th Fret) | D5 (10th Fret) | E5 (7th Fret) | F5 (8th Fret) | B5 (7th Fret)



For example: play a G at the 3rd fret on the E string, and find the octave at the 5th fret on the D string

This same rule applies to the A string. You can find an octave of a note on the A string by moving two frets down the neck on the G string.

Pro Tip: This rule does not apply to the D and G strings.

To find the octaves of the notes on these strings, move three frets and two strings down from either string.

For example: Play a G at the 5th fret on the D string, and find the octave at the 8th fret on the B string.

This is a simple rule that helps us navigate the fretboard with ease, and will help you memorize your power chord shapes effectively.

You could also just check out this fretboard below:


Punk Rock Guitar Isn’t About Complexity

Now that we’ve got our power chord shapes down, we can look at the structure of the music itself and see what’s going on.

  • Punk Rock guitar playing keeps it simple and effective.
  • Most often we will see a recurring pattern of two (maybe three) chord progressions in a song that all use power chord shapes.
  • The more effort we put into memorizing our fretboard, the easier it will be the play these Punk Rock guitar songs.

Let’s look at an incredible Irish Punk tune from The Dropkick Murphys called “Going Out In Style”.

The electric guitar in this song only plays three power chords: Bb, Eb and F (shown below).

Bb5 (6th Fret E) | Eb5 (6th Fret A) | F5 (8th Fret A)


This song requires some heavy strumming, but it’s a lot of fun to dig in hard and play your heart out.

Pro Tip: It’s important to keep a good grip on your pick when learning how to play Punk Rock guitar. This style of music requires a heavy pick stroke, so keep a firm hold and consider using a pick with a grip. We recommend trying Dava Picks.


The Noise You Can Use

If you’re into the heavier side of Punk music, you might be interested in some of the cool noises that the electric guitar can make.

  • Noise is a huge element of the heavier side of Punk music, and many bands utilize it to help fill out their sound.
  • The electric guitar is capable of a lot of noise when paired with a good distortion pedal.

Not only are these sounds fun to make and experiment with; but they can also be thrown in between chords at the end of musical passages for accent and emphasis.


Try This: With distortion engaged on your amp or pedal, lay your finger across the fourth fret wire on your fretboard and smack the strings all at once with your pick. This should produce a pang sound, driven by distortion.

  • This is called an artificial harmonic, and can be played at the 4th, 6th and 9th frets for some weird sounds.
  • For some additional noisy fun, try picking your strings behind the nut of your guitar.
  • This produces a much less musical sound, but can still be added in for flavour if noise is a thing you like using.

While we’re talking about noise, what about distortion?


Distortion Is A Weapon!

You won’t find many Punk Rock guitar songs that involve clean-sounding electric guitars, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with different distortion pedals and find the one that’s right for you.

  • We recommend the Fulltone OCD pedal for the best distortion at the best value.
  • With enough distortion and by standing in front of your amp, you can generate a feedback loop between your amp and guitar.

This is great for annoying your neighbours, but also equally as great for hyping up audiences when your Punk band plays a gig.


Pro Tip: You don’t have to max out the distortion on your amp or pedal to get a thick and heavy tone out of it.

In fact, you can keep your distortion around 7/10 and get a great tone that will cut through without being overwhelming to listen to.

  • Distortion can get out of control very quickly, so it’s important to keep an eye (and ear) on how much of it you’re using.
  • Try to avoid maxing out your pedals wherever possible, as it can oversaturate your guitar’s sound.


Punk Rock Guitar Technique – Grip Your Chords Tight

Hold on to those chords!

  • Punk Rock guitar playing is fast and aggressive, which means chord changes happen fast.
  • This is where practice comes in handy.
  • The more we practice, the better we know what we’re playing.
  • In order to really master this style of guitar playing, we should have our fretboard memorized and have a good idea of the structure of the song we’re playing.

A classic Punk song with quick chord changes is ‘Unknown Soldier’ by The Casualties.

This tune’s power chords follow the ‘woah-oh’ vocal very closely as shown in the tab here.

Have a listen to a live version of the song right here, and find the main chords of the song below.

C5 | D5 | Eb5 | Bb5


These chord changes happen quickly, but they aren’t so far apart that they become hard to reach.

  • Power chords give us an advantage because they always use the same shape on the two lowest strings.
  • Additionally, the low E and A strings are primarily where you will play power chords in this genre.

The more you practice, the easier it will be to switch from one power chord to the next!


Simple Melodies Get The Point Across

Like we’ve said before, Punk Rock guitar playing isn’t about complexity.

  • Most bands opt to keep things simple when it comes to lead guitar playing and writing melodies.
  • The Unseen are a great example of this, with their song “Scream Out.”
  • Not only does this song carry a positive message about music as a form of therapy, it also carries a great guitar hook that’s easy to learn just by listening.

Check out the full tab for this song here, and learn this Punk Rock guitar tune in pieces to absorb it more easily.


Pro Tip: Want to learn how to write a simple Punk Rock guitar melody? It’s super easy!

  • Take these four power chords below and play them however you like.
  • Once you’ve found a rhythm you like, play only the D string note of each chord (the root note up the octave).

You can switch the rhythm up for this if you want to get creative, but you can use the root notes of each chord to guide your melody along without having to learn any theory at all!

Easy, right?

This is a common technique used in Punk Rock guitar to create melodies without over-complicating the structure of the song. Give it a shot!


Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

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What Is The Best Guitar For Punk Music?

Before we let you go, we wanted to give you a rundown of some of the best guitars for playing Punk music.

Although you can play this genre of music with virtually any guitar, there are some that have more bite to them than others, making them worth the consideration.

Check out our shortlist of our four favourites below!

Epiphone/Gibson Les Paul (Pictured above)

The weight of these guitars combined with the thick-sounding humbuckers make them ideal for Punk Rock guitar playing.

These guitars provide a very thick and beefy sound, and they sound great at high volume.

The only downside to a Les Paul is that the weight is a lot for some to deal with.

Squier/Fender Stratocaster (Pictured above)

Some Punk music enthusiasts prefer the hot sound of single-coil pickups to the sound of humbuckers, like in a Les Paul.

For those people, a Strat is the perfect pick. These guitars are articulate and great for all styles, and they’re lightweight!

These guitars may also be too light and noisy for some guitarists due to the single-coil pickups, however.

Squier/Fender Telecaster

Another single-coil guitar with a thicker sound than a Strat, the Telecaster is another ideal choice for Punk Rock guitar playing.

Weighing more than a Strat but less than a Les Paul, Telecasters are a great middle-ground guitar. Their thicker necks make them great for gripping power chords, too!

Where Do I Go From Here?

Want some more inspiration for playing Punk music? Check out some of our favourite Punk tunes below:

Recommended Resources

If you enjoyed this free guide on Punk Rock guitar essentials, you’ll love some of the other free material we have for you below!

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