15 glam rock guitarists from the '70s who defined the decade and beyond

[L-R] Ace Frehley, Johnny Thunders, Mick Ronson and Marc Bolan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Lipstick-kissed mirrors and glitter-bombed stages defined a decade that schizophrenically straddled the line of a verifiable rock 'n' roll personality crisis.

In the early hours of the '70s, whispers of glitz and glam being delivered via rock music were merely an idea rather than a reality. It wasn't until a few brave souls draped themselves in macabre garb and smeared their sweaty faces with crimson lipstick that the idea materialized into reality.

Soon, numerous glam rock acts peppered UK and US cities, providing a breeding ground for influential and seminal artists searching for a voice amongst the chaos. Initially, the glam rock movement was akin to many that came before it, defined by cries of rebellion and shoving preconceived notions aside.

But soon, glam took on an identity of its own, exemplifying the decade. While important, aesthetics aren't the entire piece of the puzzle. After all, we are talking about rock music, and a big part of that boils down to the electric guitar.

The genre features many legendary pedal-stomping players; below are 15 '70s glam rock guitar heroes who defined the decade and beyond.

15. Jean-Paul Crocker (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel)

UK cult outfit Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel aren't exactly the most guitar-centric group, but their lead guitarist, Jean-Paul Crocker, made himself known within the eclectic musical stew. 

Crocker's riffs and textural rhythms showed immense restraint and provided simplicity to often complex arrangements. It's also worth noting that in the many instances where Crocker was disallowed the chance to solo, instead, he contributed by way of electric violin and mandolin.

14. Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music)

Said to be one of at least 20 players who auditioned for Roxy Music, it was Phil Manzanera's determination that initially allowed him to stand out. He immediately brought dramatic flair, which is certainly saying something considering this was an act already featuring the likes of Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry. 

Manzanera's contributions to Roxy Music's meteoric turned world-beating rise cannot be understated. His compositional prowess, coupled with his inventive nature, was bookended by subtle Latin American influences, resulting in a uniquely quirky style.

13. Vic Malcolm (Geordie)

Unfairly, Geordie is often recounted as the band Brian Johnson abandoned for AC/DC. The lion's share of Geordie's magnificence can be attributed to the band's former six-stringer, Vic Malcolm. 

Malcolm's sinful licks proved a potent counterpart to Johnson, able to match the vocalist's intensity pound for pound. During the Geordie's '70s heyday, Malcolm served as chief songwriter and was responsible for a great deal of the group's classic tracks.

12. Andy Scott (Sweet)

Sweet's most cohesive unit, rounded out by guitarist Andy Scott, authored a half dozen records that serve as building blocks of glam rock, the most famous being 1974's Desolation Boulevard

Far from a technical genius, still, Scott's songsmith, phrasing, and sense of melody were second to none. After several stops and starts, with Scott as the sole remaining core member, Sweet forges on, spreading its message of glam rock to adoring masses.

11. Dave Hill (Slade)

Known for his flamboyant garb and exotic hairstyles, Dave Hill's prowess is beholden as a thing of beauty. Hill's blue-collar background translated to a meat and potatoes approach full of power chords and shimmering splendor. 

Although left-handed, Hill preferred to play a custom right-handed 'John Birch Superyob,' which contributed to Hill's and Slade's distinctive sound. Although missing many of its original members, Hill has carried on performing as Slade into the present day.

10. Glen Buxton (Alice Cooper)

In its earliest days, Alice Cooper was a full-on band rather than a moniker its lead singer, Vincent Furnier, took on. From a guitar standpoint, Ohio native Glen Buxton was a key cog in that wheel, with the six-stringer being the only player who could play an instrument initially. 

The original Alice Cooper band would go on to record seven records, hitting paydirt with the single I'm Eighteen in 1971. Guided by Buxton's muscular style, Alice Copper would experience continued success before the group broke up, and Furnier carried on solo.

9. Punky Meadows (Angel)

While enigmatic, Washington DC act Angel proved a slick production, nonetheless. While primarily a glam outfit in sound and certainly in image, Angel combined progressive and power-pop elements into its shimmering sound. 

Meadows' sickly-sweet tone, gentle refrain, and gorgeous leads proved powerful, so it's certainly not his fault that the masses generally ignored Angel. Angel called it a day in 1981, and after an infamous Kiss audition gone wrong, Meadows left music altogether, instead opening a chain of tanning salons. But in 2016, Meadows returned, and Angel is now as active as ever, with new music on the way.

8. Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick)

As one of the decade's most famous and radio-friendly bands, the exploits of Cheap Trick have been well documented. Known for sporting smart jackets, a cap, and checkered pants, with a guitar to match, Nielsen's tidy style fit Cheap Trick like a glove. 

Never one to overplay, Nielsen was a master of serving the song, aiding in creating many of the Cheap Trick's definitive moments. Nielsen continues to carry the torch to this day, wowing audiences with an assortment of Fender, Hamer, and multi-neck guitars.

7. Mick Ralphs (Mott the Hoople)

Forming in Herefordshire, England, in 1969, Mott the Hoople were early originators of glam rock, and Mick Ralphs, with his muscular yet gaudy style, the proverbial backbone. 

After four criminally ignored albums and on the verge of folding its tent, the band turned to David Bowie, who penned All the Young Dudes, and the rest, as they say, is history. As for Ralphs, he would stick around for one additional record before leaving to form hard rock outfit Bad Company.

6. Marc Bolan (T. Rex)

Marc Bolan's enduring influence within the arena of glam rock is towering. As the leader of London natives T. Rex, Bolan spun a vortex of glam-soaked bombast that proved difficult to match. 

Bolan's edgy riffing and voracious choruses led T. Rex to four UK Number One hits, but it was 1971's Electric Warrior and its 1972 follow-up The Slider which captivated audiences. Bolan's streamlined rhythms and sing-song leads would rudder T. Rex until 1977, when he was abruptly killed in a car crash, silencing a one-in-a-generation talent far before his time.

5. Richie Ranno (Starz)

Led by the uncompromising New Jersey native Richie Ranno, Starz combined power pop melodies, and glam aesthetic, with traditional metal touches, setting the tone for the '80s hair metal explosion ahead. 

As for Ranno, he's an underexposed legend, often unfairly overshadowed by his commercially acclaimed contemporaries. His searing leads, garnished with emotive wails and crisp execution, are a thing of endearing beauty. Currently, Starz is at a standstill, with Ranno regularly gigging with his solo band.

4. Mick Ronson (David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars)

A perfect foil, Mick Ronson provided retrained flourishes, caressing the edges of David Bowie's perceptive songwriting. A master rhythm player, Ronson added intuitive touches to Bowie's early '70s output, the most prominent of which may well be 1972's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Although capable of a definitive solo, Ronson often chose to serve the song, leaving his guitar work oftentimes unnoticed, but listen closely, and what you'll find is sublime.

3. Chris Bell (Big Star)

Criminally ignored upon release, #1 Record featured Chris Bell's chiming fretwork alongside Alex Chilton's storybook songwriting. Atypical in an era defined by prog rock, jam bands, and multi-guitar attacks, Bell chose breathtaking flourishes of simplistic mastery instead of forceful, elongated solos. 

Bell's approach laid the groundwork for the likes of The Smiths, R.E.M., and The Replacements. Simply put, the '80s indie rock movement would look entirely different without Bell.

2. Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls)

Caked in makeup and susceptible to cross-dressing, the Dolls' out-of-control approach to rock was spiral-bound by the hyperactive, proto-punk stylings of guitarist Johnny Thunders. 

Thunders' over-caffeinated methods paved the way for multiple scenes, mostly splitting the difference between glam and punk rock. Combining Brill Building pop, '50s doo-wop, and streetwise realism, Thunders's heroics were utterly distinct, shocking unsuspecting audiences and record companies alike.

1. Ace Frehley (Kiss)

Few bands in the '70s would consider matching the New York Dolls shtick, let alone endeavor to exceed it, but that's just what fellow NYC stalwarts Kiss did, blowing the lid off the scene. 

Leather-clad and Kabuki-smeared, the Bronx-born Ace Frehley gave Kiss its flash. With rings clattering against his strings and his Marshall overloaded to the brink of near explosion, Frehley's frenetic and unusual approach to the guitar demarcated Kiss's early sound.

With a Les Paul weighing down his wiry frame, and a habit of dropping off-the-cuff, smoke-spewing solos, Frehley was a relentless animal unto himself. With overarching influence on droves of rock guitarists who came after, when it comes to glam rock excess, the '70s belonged to 'Space' Ace Frehley.

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Andrew Daly is a contributing writer at Guitar World. In addition to currently working with Copper Magazine, Goldmine Magazine, Ultimate Guitar, Andrew is the founder and editor of VWMusic, a successful rock-oriented outlet launched in 2019. Andrew has interviewed the likes of Joe Perry, Stone Gossard, Paul Stanley, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Tommy Thayer, and many more. While his instrument of choice may be the drums, Andrew is a lover of all things guitar. Some of his favorite bands are KISS, Oasis, Spread Eagle, and Starz.