The Rolling Stones are undeniably the most successful rock and roll band in history. And it’s no secret that the Stones’ revolutionary sound hinges on the distinctive style of guitarist Keith Richards. But does Keith Richards play with a pick?
Keith Richards does often play with a pick. However, on songs such as Honky Tonk Women, Richards does fingerpick without the use of a pick.
His unique style has its roots in his individual, one-of-a-kind techniques that countless guitar players have tried to emulate.
And part of that is often removing the top E string and tuning the remaining 5 strings to an open G chord.
But I was curious to learn about Keef’s guitar playing in general. How does he stack up against other guitar gods? Is he as good as everyone says he is? How does he measure up against the other guitarists of the Rolling Stones?
And was it Keith playing the slide guitar on any of their hit records?
On the new cover of @TotalGuitar! pic.twitter.com/yObtjbA3Md
— Keith Richards (@officialKeef) March 12, 2021
Does Keith Richards Play Slide Guitar?
Keith Richards does play slide guitar and played it on the 1969 album Let it Bleed and again on the 1972 album Exile on Main St. But in most cases, the other guitarists that have been in the band, Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, and Ron Wood, tend to play slide guitar more.
Maybe he felt they were simply more competent?
Keith Richards has played alongside some talented guitar players, each of whom brought a distinctive sound to the Stones.
Brian Jones was an incredible multi-instrumentalist who put the slide guitar front and center of the Rolling Stones sound.
He was, in fact, fundamental in defining the early sound that shot the Stones to stardom. If you want to read more about how important Brian Jones was for the Rolling Stones, check out this article I recently posted.
Just click that link to read it on my site.
Later, after Jones was kicked out of the band, he was replaced by Mick Taylor, a technical wiz with the six strings. Mick eventually left the band on his own accord and was replaced by Ronnie Wood.
Through one guitar player after another, Keith Richards was the constant – the balancing influence that kept the sound consistent through the years
Throwback! Pirates of the Caribbean! Captain Teague
MAY 20, 2011 On Stranger Tides! MAY 25, 2007 At World’s End 📷 Photo: J.Bouquet pic.twitter.com/ZNvWswzjeb
— Keith Richards (@officialKeef) May 27, 2021
Is Keith Richards a Good Guitar Player?
Keith Richards is a good guitar player with a unique style and sound that is an integral part of the Rolling Stones’ sound. He is not, however, a virtuoso which is why the Stones have always had a 2nd guitar player that was often more skilled.
So absolutely yes, Keef is awesome, but not in a technical virtuoso kind of way. Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, and Ronnie Wood are all regarded as top-notch musicians.
In fact, many fans are of the opinion that they are all better guitarists than Keith Richards.
What makes Richards an iconic guitar player is that he managed to carve out a unique sound and style in the way he plays his guitar.
He famously prefers the uncommon open G tuning and is notorious for keeping only five strings on his instrument.
Heavily influenced by Chuck Berry and distinctively rhythmically loose, Keith Richards has never felt the need to be the ‘lead’ guitarist.
Deeply creative and a prolific inventor of riffs, he thrives when playing as part of a team and masterfully plays off his guitar counterpart on stage.
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 22: (L-R) Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones perform onstage at Rose Bowl on August 22, 2019 in Pasadena, California. Goodbye Charlie and thank you for everything ♥️♥️🙏🙏♥️♥️🎶🎶♥️♥️🎼🎼 #rollingstones pic.twitter.com/ZZnNpTAt15
— Joe LIGHTCLOUD (@JLightcloud) August 25, 2021
Is Ronnie Wood a Better Guitar Player than Keith Richards?
Ronnie Wood is considered by many to be a great soloist with a superior technical ability compared to Keith Richards, who focuses less on technical skill and more on catchy riffs and a talent for composition.
Ronnie Wood has been with the Stones since 1975 when he replaced Mick Taylor. Interestingly, he was never officially made a full member of the band until the 90s, after Bill Wyman left the group.
I suspect that decision had a lot to do with money and the legal setup of the band.
Be sure to check out my recent article about the real story of how the Stones made most of their money. I also get into how much more Keith and Mick are worth compared to the remaining members.
Woods and Richards have been described as spiritual brothers and a musical dream team.
They complement each other perfectly, as anyone who has seen the Stones perform live can tell you. There is an intuitive bond between the two, and their onstage communication is ethereal; one will immediately fill in for the other with instinctual precision.
In a 1983 interview with Guitar Player magazine, Keith stated,
“If he drops a cigarette I’ll play his bit, and we’ll realize later that I’ve covered for him, and he’s covered for me. And you think at the time, “Oh, my God, what a gap,” but when you listen to the tape, you find that it’s been fixed right there at the moment, in a very un-thought-about way. We pick it up and cover each other so that sometimes you can’t really tell who’s playing.”
But who is the better player? Is Ronnie Wood a better guitar player than Keith Richards?
The answer to that question really depends on your perspective. If you are of the opinion that Richards is more creatively gifted than technically skilled, the answer is yes.
Even Richards is capable of admitting this. In the same interview, he states, “…you know when to lift one of his licks and vice versa, without thinking about it. He lifts more of mine than I do of his.”
Mick Taylor pic.twitter.com/0VOiPL1ZD1
— Robert Perlskog (@robertperlskog) August 21, 2021
Who was the Best Rolling Stones Guitarist?
The best Rolling Stones guitarist, in terms of technical skill, is widely considered to be Mick Taylor. Taylor replaced Brian Jones in 1969 and stayed with the group through 1974, playing on such classics as Sticky Fingers, Let It Bleed, It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, and Exile on Main St.
Having learned the guitar from an uncle at the tender age of 9, Taylor had a tremendous talent for playing blues and rock music.
When the Stones were at the height of their recording career, it was Taylor who was at the helm, assuming the role of “lead” guitarist.
“… the Mick Taylor period was a creative peak for us. A tremendous jump in musical credibility,” said the late, great, Charlie Watts.
Keith Richards stated in his autobiography Life that Taylor had “…a melodic touch, a beautiful sustain, and a way of reading a song.”
Taylor has readily credited John Mayall for everything he was able to learn about playing the blues and helping him to develop his unique style, which was fundamental in launching the Rolling Stones to the astronomical heights of commercial success the band achieved.
Mick Taylor played with the Stones from 1969 to 1974 before leaving the band. Some speculate that he had become bored with the group, fed up with Keith Richards’ drug issues, or both.
Who would have imagined that trying to figure out whether Keith Richards plays guitar with a pick would have taken me down the rabbit hole that is the soap opera of the Rolling Stones guitar players?
No matter what you think about Keith Richards’ technical skill, the man’s unique style and talent have earned him a spot on every single list of the greatest guitar players of all time.
No wonder a guitar pick used by him can be worth more than $100.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay