Two guitarists in one band: sometimes it’s a happy accident, sometimes it’s part of the plan. Regardless of how it came to be, to work together well, both guitarists will have to make conscious decisions all the time. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for two guitarists to work side-by-side.

Two Guitarists in One Band: Who Plays What?
Wishbone Ash (2015)

Division of Roles

While going for a wall of sound makes sense when there’s two guitarists in your band, this doesn’t fly in every genre – just like a more transparent sound also takes a certain approach. That said, there are plenty of bands out there with two guitarists. “Sometimes it’s deliberate and oftentimes it’s not,” says guitarist and guitar teacher, Joop Wallerbosch. “The configuration of a lot of bands tends to change along the way and, at some point, it’s not uncommon for a second guitarist to join the band – somebody who already knows someone in the band, or someone who’s a friend-of-a-friend. It could even be a guitar-playing singer. In most cases, one guitarist will end up playing the rhythm parts while the other takes on the intros, solos and little embellishments. Also, don’t underestimate the rhythm guitar role. Delivering tight rhythm parts is harder than it looks, and it’s the foundation of every song. In practice, it’s actually not a bad idea to leave the rhythm parts to the best guitarist in the band.”


“Personally, I’m a big fan of transparency in music,” Joop says. “And while two guitars can put the transparency in jeopardy, if done right, it can also add an extra dimension. Basically, everything you decide to do must be meaningful. That second guitar must enhance the sound, and things have to check out both technically and rhythmically or you’ll just sound messy.” There are various ways two guitarists can cooperate within a band. “You could opt for two-voice solos called dual leads, where both guitars play the same part, each in a different pitch that fits the harmony. Bands like The Allman Brothers, Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy have turned this approach into their hallmark. Take ‘Jessica’ by The Allman Brothers. It features a two-voice guitar composition all the way through. Another example would be the intro of ‘Throw Down The Sword’ by Wishbone Ash.” Two-voice guitar parts are similar to two-voice vocals, Joop explains. “So in thirds or sixths for instance. But you can’t pull it off by just improvising. Both parts must be planned out in detail beforehand. It also requires tight timing, so a lot of practice.”

Double-Tracking Guitars

Double-tracking is another option. “Here, the second guitarist plays exactly the same part as the first guitarist so you can stick one guitar on the left channel and the other on the right in your stereo mix. This method gives you a big, broad sound and is sometimes used in styles like hard rock and metal, for instance by Metallica. Even though both parts will never sound 100% identical, both guitarists will have to be at the top of their game to pull it off.”

There are various ways to go about double-tracking according to Joop. “You could have one guitarist play the chords in the form of power chords (root note plus the fifth) while the other guitarist plays the chords in the form of triads. This way, the power chords can be played lower down the fretboard and backed up by beefy distortion, while the triads (three-note chords) are played in a higher register with a less heavy sound. This combination always results in a nice-and-broad sound.” In this case, the role of the second guitarist is similar to the role of a keyboardist, who typically adds notes to the chord and has a different sound. “This way of playing lends itself to a wide variety of styles,” Joop adds. “To create a tapestry of sound, you could even opt to have one guitarist play more rhythmically while the other plays drawn-out chords.”


Canadian pop-punk band Simple Plan have their own way of implementing two guitars. “Take their tune ‘Ordinary Life’. One guitarist plays power chords while the other plays a counterpart melody a whole note as well as an octave higher at the same time. Depending on whether it’s a major or a minor chord, the melody in octaves lines up with the major or minor third interval, creating a complex whole that sounds good. Of course, playing counter-melodies also works for regular three-note or four-note chords, not just power chords.” Whenever both guitarists play regular chords, it’s also worth knowing that they can play the same chords in different ways using the CAGED system. In short, the CAGED system revolves around playing open chords (C, A, G, E and D) as barre chords at a different section of the fretboard. It’s definitely worth looking into.


A lot of songs, especially in funk and rock, are riff-based. This means that the guitarist and bassist play the riff, while the second guitarist (or the keyboardist) lays down a foundation of chords. This can also work the other way around where the song is chord-based and the second guitarist piles on a melody or arpeggios (broken chords). “The possibilities this opens up leaves room for experimentation,” Joop mentions. The following is commonly heard in funk: one guitarist plays a neat rhythm on the three highest strings while the other injects one or two notes playing one string. Good examples of this include ‘The Boss’ by James Brown, ‘Peg’ by Steely Dan and ‘Always On The Run’ by Lenny Kravitz. That Kravitz tune features one guitarist playing a heavy riff while the other plays a completely different counterpart, resulting in a swinging, familiar whole, none of which is improvised. It’s all arranged. In ‘You Gonna Go My Way’, another Lenny Kravitz song, the second guitar joins in during the intro. Since it’s played an octave up, you get a very unique effect. All of these are examples of complementary parts, which you can also clearly hear on old Jeff Beck records like ‘Wired’ and ‘Blow By Blow’.


Those second guitar parts have all been written and planned out beforehand, which is usually essential according to Joop. “However, going for improv with two guitars is an option as well, but only on the condition that you listen closely to each other and aren’t just focussed on your own parts. You must also be fully tuned into one another. While it should be a conscious decision, most bands end up with two guitarists by accident. If there’s a second guitarist in your band, you’ll want to make sure they don’t become the fifth wheel, which is all about respect – both socially and musically. Everything you do in music must have meaning.”

Good to Know

Studio, Live and Tribute Bands

When you’re in the studio, the temptation to record multiple guitar parts is huge. This is why during most recording sessions, the same guitarist plays the same thing a number of times in the form of overdubs. If there’s only one guitarist in the band, doing the same thing live will require a different approach. That’s why many big-name bands sound so different when they perform live. If you’re part of a tribute band, then be sure to listen closely to live performances of the band you cover.

Playing Dual Leads as a Solo Guitarist

Dual leads don’t necessarily require a second guitarist. There are various modern effect pedals that, based on the key you’re playing in, generate a second voice in a matching key.

Dual Leads Through the Years

Feeling inspired? Here’s a list of well-known songs that feature dual lead guitar solos:

1966 The Beatles – And Your Bird Can Sing
1966 The Yardbirds – Stroll On
1967 Buffalo Springfield – Bluebird
1967 Jeff Beck – Hi-Ho Silver Lining
1969 Allman Brothers Band – Black Hearted Woman
1969 Johnny Winter – Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
1969 Quicksilver Messenger Service – Mona
1969 Allman Brothers Band – Whipping Post
1969 Delaney & Bonnie with Eric Clapton – Comin’ Home
1969 Fleetwood Mac – Oh Well
1970 Wishbone Ash – Blind Eye
1970 Wishbone Ash – Handy
1970 Allman Brothers Band – In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
1970 Wishbone Ash – Phoenix
1970 Wishbone Ash – Queen Of Torture
1970 Allman Brothers Band – Revival
1970 Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane
1970 Derek & the Dominos – Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
1970 Fleetwood Mac – Green Manalishi
1971 Wishbone Ash – Jail Bait
1971 Crosby Stills Nash and Young – Southern Man Live
1972 Allman Brothers Band – Blue Sky
1972 Cargo – Cross Talking
1972 Doobie Brothers – Disciple
1972 Doobie Brothers – Don’t Start Me To Talkin’
1972 Eric Clapton – Let It Rain
1972 Steely Dan – Midnight Cruiser
1972 Doobie Brothers – Rockin’ Down The Highway
1972 Wishbone Ash – Throw Down The Sword
1972 Wishbone Ash – Time Was
1972 Derek & the Dominos – Bell Bottom Blues
1972 Deep Purple – Highway Star
1972 Derek & the Dominos – Layla
1972 Thin Lizzy – Whisky In The Jar
1973 Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies
1973 Steely Dan – Bodhisattva
1973 Little Feat – Dixie Chicken
1973 Fleetwood Mac – For Your Love
1973 Alice Cooper – Halo Of Flies
1973 Black Oak Arkansas – Jim Dandy
1973 Fleetwood Mac – Miles Away
1973 Wishbone Ash – Sorrel
1973 Doobie Brothers – South City Midnight Lady
1973 Edgar Winter Group – Free Ride
1973 Lynyrd Skynyrd – I Ain’t The One
1973 Allman Brothers Band – Jessica
1973 Allman Brothers Band – Ramblin’ Man
1973 Steely Dan – Reelin’ In The Years
1974 Deep Purple – Burn
1974 Wishbone Ash – F.U.B.B.
1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd – I Need You
1974 Deep Purple – Mistreated
1974 Charlie Daniels Band – No Place To Go
1974 Bachman-Turner Overdrive – Not Fragile
1974 Thin Lizzy – Still In Love With You
1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
1974 Elton John – Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)
1975 The Outlaws – Green Grass And High Tides
1975 Thin Lizzy – Suicide
1976 Thin Lizzy – Cowboy Song
1976 Thin Lizzy – Emerald
1976 Boston – Hitch A Ride
1976 Boston – Rock And Roll Band
1976 Lynyrd Skynyrd – That Smell
1976 Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town
1976 Kansas – Carry On Wayward Son
1976 Thin Lizzy – Don’t Believe A Word
1976 Blue Oyster Cult – Don’t Fear The Reaper
1976 Orleans – Still The One
1977 Thin Lizzy – Bad Reputation
1977 Pink Floyd – Dogs
1977 Outlaws – Hurry Sundown
1977 Boston – Peace Of Mind
1977 Thin Lizzy – Southbond
1977 Eagles – Hotel California
1977 Eagles – Life In The Fast Lane
1977 Sanford Townsend Band – Smoke From A Distant Fire
1978 The Scorpions – We’ll Burn The Sky
1978 Atlanta Rhythm Section – Imaginary Lover
1979 Thin Lizzy – Black Rose
1979 UFO – Doctor Doctor
1979 April Wine – Roller
1979 Thin Lizzy – Do Anything You Want To Do
1979 Molly Hatchet – Flirtin’ With Disaster
1979 Thin Lizzy – Waiting For An Alibi
1981 Def Leppard – Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
1981 Judas Priest – Heading Out To The Highway
1981 April Wine – Sign Of The Gypsy Queen
1982 Iron Maiden – Hallowed Be Thy Name
1982 The Scorpions – No One Like You
1982 Iron Maiden – Run To The Hills
1984 Prince – Computer Blue
1987 Def Leppard – Hysteria
1988 The Church – Reptile
1989 Dickey Betts Band – Duane’s Tune
1991 Guns N’ Roses – You Could Be Mine
1998 311 – Beautiful Disaster
2000 Jimmie Van Zant Band – Southern Comfort
2004 The Darkness – Love Is Only A Feeling
2007 Wilco – Impossible Germany
2008 Avenged Sevenfold – Afterlife

See Also

» Musician-Related Injuries: 8 Ways to Avoid Them
» How to Play Great Solos Over Chord Progressions
» Guitar Chords: CAGED Major
» Learning to Read Guitar Tabs

» Guitar Books
» Guitars & Accessories

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