Header image: James Brown by Heinrich Klaffs, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Making Music with Marshall

Playing styles


Posted: 29 September 2020

Funk is a genre that has been adopted in all forms of major music. Although the genre is synonymous with tight drums and powerful bass-lines, the guitar has played a very crucial role in its development. We’re going to talk through the history, playing technique and gear used in funk.

Read time - 2 mins


Funk music appeared in the 1960s from African-American communities. Originally formed as a blend of soul, jazz and blues with a stronger focus on rhythm. The combination of tight drum parts with shuffles, syncopation and an emphasised downbeat alongside colourful chords created an incredibly ‘danceable’ style of music. It was in the 1960’s when James Brown defined the genre with his unique rhythms and emphasis on the first beat of the bar. He’s often heard shouting ‘On the one!’ in many of his tracks. Acts such as Sly & The Family Stone, Parliament Funkadelic, Chaka Khan, The Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye adopted funk stylings with disco throughout the 70’s.

The surge of electronic synths and drum machines such as the Oberheim DMX, Yamaha DX7 and Linn LM-1 Drum machine in the 1980s gave artists such as Rick James, Prince and Michael Jackson inspiration to take their music to another level. In modern music many pop, R&B and even rock artists have funk influences. More modern acts such as Vulfpeck, Thundercat and Parcels have adopted heavily compressed funk guitar parts in their music.

Playing Style

The guitar has always played a major role in funk music, heavily syncopated parts with interesting rhythms are paramount. A lot of parts will revolve around one chord and jazz/blues improvisation isn’t as commonplace in funk guitar. James Browns’ guitarist Jimmy Nolen would use 16th note strumming patterns and triad chords that are great for chord inversions and don’t muddy up the overall sound too much. This style was later adopted by funk guitar legend Nile Rodgers in his band Chic.

Image: Nile Rodgers by Raph_PH, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


In terms of gear, funk guitar is primarily very clean, common gear used is a compressor pedal for fast attack and that classic ‘chukka chukka’ rhythm. Funk guitarists would commonly plug their guitar straight into the desk, but an amplifier with plenty of headroom and a great clean tone is essential.

Further listening

We've created a playlist featuring a selection of Funk music, along with tracks that have strongly influenced what Funk music is today. This showcases you some of the early Funk artists, such as James Brown and George Clinton, along with modern funk music, helping you to track how these iconic playing styles have influenced a huge range of music.

Listen to the full playlist here or take a look below for a quick selection.