The 10 Most Underrated Rhythm Guitarists #4: Izzy Stradlin
Author: Neelesh Vasistha
Think of the band Guns N Roses. Think of them right now. The image swirling up through the cracks of your brain is most likely one featuring a certain lead guitarist and singer.
This is understandable, of course. Axl Rose and Slash indisputably provided the sonic and visual candy in the band. Undergirding the band’s sound however, was always the loose and jangly tone of Izzy Stradlin’s rhythm guitar.
With respect to the theme of ‘underrated’, the point to be made here is that Guns N Roses was defined by Izzy Stradlin, who was the rhythmic lynchpin of the entire band prior to his departure.
Bolstered by a great rhythm section, he provided the canvass for Slash to play almost all of his most iconic solos over. Not widely known in GNR’s heyday, it has also come to light that he was also the principle songwriter of the band during the fabled Appetite for Destruction era, duly complimented by Slash and occasionally Duff McKagan.
Open about his eclectic pool of influences, Izzy’s sensibilities as a rhythm guitarist lie roughly at the confluence of upbeat punk music, and more traditional classic rock.
This is reflected clearly in song composition; Guns N Roses are a band who married the guttural energy of punk with accessible and occasionally even predictable chord movements.
Stradlin favoured some truly beautiful semi-acoustic Gibson guitars. Tonally, this provided a warm and resonant counterweight to Slash’s more invasive Les Paul sound. As amplification, Izzy has favoured deeper, less distorted Fender amps.
The idea we want to hammer here is one of interplay between the guitarists, an understated attribute of all the best bands. GNR are a prime example, where this interplay manifests in both complimenting tones and interlocking guitar parts.
It wouldn’t require the biggest stretch of imagination to picture two budding guitarists sat together in a rehearsal room trying to work out guitar parts, only to decide out of laziness or inexperience to play the same chords in the same way for a ‘thicker’ sound.
This would be a terrific waste of frequencies – guitar parts can always be double-tracked in the studio if need be. Izzy Stradlin’s genius however, was to create rhythm guitar parts which would not only carry across the song, but also dance around and underneath Slash’s more prominent lead rhythm. The result being that the guitars never competed but instead worked together and around each other, weaving in and out as the song demanded.
For our first exercise we focus on the scorching riff of ‘Mr Brownstone’, which demonstrates rhythmic interplay at its very finest. Played alone, Izzy’s part sounds tight if not a little dry.
Going ‘up the riff’, Izzy doubles the main lick for the first half before switching to chords for the resolution. This allows Slash, with a hotter tone, to play the bouncy pull-offs at the end.
Welcome to the Jungle
We come to the sonic firestorm that is the opening of Welcome to the Jungle. This was the moment where GNR screeched onto the scene with a fierce resolve to rise out of the vapid L.A scene which bore them. After an atmospheric intro, the song erupts into the riff, which again is a synthesis of Izzy and Slash’s guitar parts. Together, this sounds like the following:
Izzy plays the riff ‘open’, in a choppy and almost displaced fashion. Note in the following sample how his playing when isolated sounds almost abbreviated; he hints at notes which are paved over by Slash.
100% wrong on Brownstone, Izzy plays the other part in the main riff. Wear headphones, lisyen to AFD, Izzy is always on the left. Great article otherwise.
You’re correct, brother.
Agree with Kev. I was digging the article, until I realized you had it wrong on Brownstone. Actually Izzy is always on the left, except for the first four tracks of ‘GNR Lies’, where he is on the right for some reason. Nice points in the article though. I always thought Izzy was the much cooler rhythm player than Slash. Not a knock on Slash though, as I think Izzy is the coolest rhythm player ever.
Izzy was on the right on the first 4 tracks on Lies, because those 4 tracks came from an EP (Live Like A Suicide) they did before AFD. In their early demos, and on Live Like A Suicide, Izzy was on the right, and from AFD onwards he was always on the left channel. Not sure why they switched sides, I guess it just sounded better that way.
Also kudos for pointing out the mistake in this article. Izzy is indeed the one who plays the lead guitar part in the main riff of Brownstone. Almost everyone assumes that Slash played every single lead guitar part on every single Gn’R song ever made. That’s not true. Izzy played a lot of lead guitar. The part mentioned in Brownstone, he plays the melody in the intro to Jungle, he plays the first part of the main solo in Nightrain, he plays all lead in Think About You, he plays the lead during the verses in Rocket Queen and Move To The City, he plays the intro lead guitar on Back Off Bitch etc. That’s why Slash was always credited as “lead and rhythm guitar” and Izzy was credited as “rhythm and lead guitar”.
how do you find the tempo of a song if not shown?
I hate to say I have to disagree about Izzy Stradlin only because he is not a rythem guitarist a rythem guitarist only plays rythem Izzy also plays some lead and solos but for being underrated most definitely but as a all round guitarist 🤘🏼