Is Robert Smith a Good Guitarist?

After 40 years of leading The Cure, Robert Smith has nothing left to prove. But what about his guitar playing? Most of the time, he’s not the lead guitarist. So, is Robert Smith a good guitarist?

Robert Smith is an excellent guitar player. As the band’s original guitarist, and only guitarist for the first 6 years, he created the sparse, chilling, and icy tones that came to define The Cure. 

The thing that I like about Smith’s guitar skills is his way of carrying the emotions that are despairing, sad, but oddly satisfying. He can capture the essence of gothic rock & post-punk.

However, it seems to me that Robert Smith is one of the most underrated guitarists to come out of the ’80s. Let us look at why, despite being loved by millions, he remains less talked about as a guitar player.

Let’s go.

Does Robert Smith play all the guitar parts on any Cure album?

Robert Smith played all the guitar parts on the 2nd through 5th Cure albums. But most of The Cure’s albums, starting with The Head on the Door, feature Porl Thompson on guitar or other guitarists. Smith also noted he played all the guitar parts on The Cure’s upcoming 14th album (currently untitled). 

In an interview with The Times in 2019 just before the pandemic, Smith was candid. He hinted at the difficulties he faced in completing Cure’s 14th album because he played all the guitar parts alone.

Smith said:

“I’ve struggled more with finishing . . . these new Cure recordings than at any other point. We recorded 20-odd songs, and I wrote nothing. I mean, I wrote a lot, but at the end, I looked at it and thought, “This is rubbish.”

In addition, reports emerged indicating that Robert had worked solely on the 4 albums after Thompson was fired during the making of The Cure’s 1st album Three Imaginary Boys, which increased his frustration and led him to periods of inactivity.

But Mary Poole (his wife) encouraged him to get back up on his feet and continue working. 

There is no denying that Mary’s been a constant admirer of her husband. You will notice in my recent article the impact Mary’s had on Smith’s life.

Click the link to read it on my site.

While some fans expect that the creative process is always easier, Smith was unflinchingly honest about such challenges every artist faces once in a while.

Who is the best guitarist in The Cure?

Porl Thompson, who now goes by Pearl Thompson, is the best guitarist The Cure has had. He founded the band with Robert Smith and played on all their signature releases, but has come and gone from the band at least 3 times.

In 1979, Thompson was fired from the band before the release of their debut album, and the band kept working on the next 3 albums as a trio.

After the band’s third album Pornography, Thompson joined back in 1984 playing saxophone on the album The Top and returning as a full-fledged guitarist on the next album, The Head on the Door.

During these years, Porl improved his guitar skills drastically, and the band received a unique position in the punk ethos.

Out of these, Porl Thompson’s greatest work is on the following albums:

  • Disintegration 
  • Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me 
  • The Head On the Door 
  • Wish 
  • The Cure in Orange 

Thompson’s guitar skills were highly praised by critics and audiences.

One of his final works before leaving in 1993, that showcases his intricate guitar work is the hit Friday I’m In Love.

And then after leaving the band from 1993 to 2011, he returned and delivered another great album, 4:13 Dream. I saw The Cure on that tour, and it was perhaps the best of the 4 shows I’ve seen. Ironically, they had no keyboards whatsoever. Thompson played all the keyboard parts on guitar!

Thompson made his final exit in 2012 to dedicate his life to art.

Porl/Pearl successfully delivered iconic performances and influenced millions of young guitarists who think he is the best guitarist in the Cure.

And I couldn’t agree more.

What kind of guitar does Robert Smith play?

Robert Smith started The Cure with a Teisco Top 20 guitar he bought at Woolworth’s. But in more recent years, he frequently plays a Fender Jazzmaster. He also helped design the Schecter Robert Smith UltraCure guitar in 2005 and played that often as well.

Woolworth/ Teisco Top 20

Robert Smith’s first-ever electric guitar was a Teisco Top 20, which he got from the now-defunct department store Woolworths. The Top 20 model was made in Japan by Teisco and sold by Woolworths. It was notoriously known for going out of tune while operating.

The story goes that after releasing their debut album Three Imaginary Boys, producer Chris Parry detested this guitar.

But Smith liked it and even removed the bridge pickup to later install on his replacement guitar, a Fender Jazzmaster.

Fender Jazzmaster

After producer Chris Parry told him to buy a ‘real guitar,’ Smith bought a Fender Jazzmaster and installed his bridge pickup from Woolworth Top 20 to achieve the old spanky sound. He said:

“The extra pickup on the Jazzmaster is from Woolworth’s Top 20 guitar- my very first electric. We bought a Fender Jazzmaster, and I immediately had the Top 20 pickup installed into it, which upset Chris. I played the entire Three Imaginary Boys album through a Top 20 pickup.”

The sound that you hear in early Cure’s albums like “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Forest” is Fender Jazzmaster.

Fender Electric XII

This is a 12-string electric guitar that Smith used extensively during his brief time playing with Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman

Smith has often mentioned using Gretsch to record the Cure’s signature song ‘Friday I’m in Love.’ As the band entered the 90s, so did the sound of a humbucker Gibson.

Listen to the Wish album, and you will notice a mixture of two Gibson extensively used by The Cure.

According to Smith himself: 

“The key to my current sound is the new Gibson Chet Atkins semi-acoustic-it’s brilliant. It’s the first guitar since my very first Jazzmaster to sound exactly how I want it to.”

Schecter UltraCure

In 2005, Robert collaborated with Schecter to ask them to design a custom guitar called the UltraCure.

If you have watched any of his live shows this year, you will notice Smith replacing Fender and Gibson with Schecter UltraCure.

How many instruments can Robert Smith play?

Robert Smith is a multi-instrumentalist who can play guitar, keyboards, violin, bass guitar, recorder, and cello. 

Robert’s distinctive and intricate guitar playing, tunings, innovative use of flangers, chorus pedals, and phasers have led him to be considered a pioneering guitarist in the new wave, indie, and rock genres.

Smith’s status as a punk culture emblem seems to have underlined his musical achievements.

For the general audience, the band’s relevant touchpoints are their hair and make-up choices rather than their guitar skills.

Ironically, he doesn’t consider himself to be a great guitarist, having once said to The Hit:

“I’m not technically a good player but at least I don’t sound like anyone else. For me the idea of being a musician has nothing to do with technical ability, but I suppose you have to have a certain amount to be able to put ideas into music.”

Does Robert Smith play lead guitar?

Robert Smith played the lead guitar parts on songs like Boys Don’t Cry and One Hundred Years. But on most of The Cure’s catalog, lead guitar duties were handled by Porl Thompson. The Cure’s current lead guitarist is Reeves Gabrels.

Smith told a guitar Magazine that it took him a long time to come to terms with having guitar solos on their band’s songs.

He despised them. He adds:

“I didn’t like the whole wanky idea of stepping out to the front and saying, “Look at me!” But now it doesn’t bother me. It would have been done in the past to put in a guitar solo just because someone felt like playing one.”

But is Smith as good on guitar as Simon Gallup is on bass?

After all, so many iconic Cure songs start with one of Gallup’s menacing bass lines. I get into that and all things Simon Gallup in a recent article. Ironically, Smith once fired Gallup.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

The Cure: Robert Smith - Seventeen Seconds 2020 Session


Robert Smith is amongst those guitarists who always have great stuff in terms of guitar skills, but he is also amongst those rarely talked about.

Some of his tones in Pornography, Wish, and Disintegration are outstanding. Another thing that I like about him is that he does an excellent job of incorporating the texture and atmosphere with his skills.

But sadly, he is never held in the same regard as Johnny Marr.

He is one of the most underrated artists on my playlist. That Seventeen Second is undoubtedly one of my all-time favorites.

A career that spanned four decades, there should be no doubt that Robert Smith is a great guitarist.

Photo that requires attribution:

The Cure en Chile by Carlos Varela is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

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