Johnny Marr Discusses ’Most Important Part of Being a Guitar Player,’ Explains How He Practices Today

Well known for his work with The Smiths, as well as his other projects, guitarist Johnny Marr appeared on a recent episode of Rick Rubin’s “Broken Record Podcast” to discuss his career. Among other things, Marr reflected on one thing he heard from either John Lennon or Keith Richards (we’re not sure either and it could easily be that both of them said something like this), pointing out the importance of rhythm guitar playing.

Looking back at his beginnings and his guitar-playing peers being all about guitar solos, he said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“When you start off, if you are really obsessive as I was, some bits of information really stick to you. And there was either Keith Richards or John Lennon, I think, saying that the most important part of being a guitar player is being able to play rhythm.”

How Soon Is Now - Johnny Marr Live At The Crazy Face Factory

“And to a 12-year-old boy whose pals are all going, [guitar solo], and I tried to play all this shreddy stuff, or whatever, when I read that information, I was kind of like, ‘Huh.’ It sounded really noble to me.”

As Marr then adds, he started getting into guitar players who had a specific focus on rhythm and groove, explaining how this particular phase was important for his development as a musician:

“And then obviously, as time went on, and I got into people like Keith Richards, or obviously Nile Rodgers, people like that, and Jimmy Nolan, who played with James Brown, and any number of really great rhythm players.”

“That’s just one of the chapters that you need to go through. It’s just part of being a guitar player. I just think it’s really cool to just be appropriate to the song.”

Johnny Marr - Counter Clock World (Live)

During the interview, Marr also shared a few details about his practice routine today. Well, it may not be the most conventional and strict practice routine all the time but he keeps at it every day:

“I practice every day. I go for periods where I just practice, practice, and then I play absentmindedly when I’m around the house and watching TV.”

“But I’m going through another phase now where I’ll come in this little studio here and put the headphones on, and I just play and play, and try and get my chops up. Maybe that’s because I’m going out live, or… I don’t know why.”

The Killers - This Charming Man (feat. Johnny Marr) (Glastonbury 2019)

To Johnny Marr, this sort of casual jamming is something he does for his own enjoyment. Sure, it may help him keep his chops at a required level, but ultimately, he does it simply because he loves doing it. As he added:

“But that connects me to the kid I was when I was eleven or twelve. Which, honestly, it’s got nothing to do with career, it’s got nothing to do with The Smiths, it’s got nothing to do with Johnny Marr, nothing to do with business or anything. It’s because that was my first love when I was ten or eleven, it was to peel off from the kids who were playing football, or were climbing trees, or whatever.”

“Sometimes, I would just go and disappear and go into my room on my own and just play for a couple of hours, not even plugged in, and make all these discoveries and moving chord shapes around.”

“And you know what? I’m so grateful that I still want to do that for fun. It’s my hobby!”

Johnny Marr - Easy Money [Official Music Video]

Elsewhere in the interview, Marr was also asked about his crazy 9-pickup Strat. When reminded of it, he replied:

“No one has ever asked me about that guitar! And they probably won’t again. It’s in my actual studio because this is my house now, but it has an amazing sound.”

And the story of how he got it is as weird as the instrument itself:

“You know, I don’t drink anymore, but I wasn’t actually drunk when I bought it — I may add — but it was back in the days when I was drinking quite a lot.”

Johnny Marr - Getting Away With It (6 Music Live October 2014)

“I was either drunk from the night before. But I went into a guitar shop, Noel Gallagher [from Oasis] was in it — it might have even been the very first day we met — and I saw this thing, and my logic for buying that guitar was like, ‘Okay, if Kraftwerk played guitar, that’s what they would play.'”

“Noel had only just met me and I think he thought, ‘This guy is a crazy, crazy rockstar’. But you know what? Maybe it was about, what, probably almost 30 years later — I had to wait to get a song out of it, but it was ‘Spirit, Power, and Soul’. It came up with the riff so, hey, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!”

The guitar in question is known as the “Spirit Strat” and features nine single-coil pickups. And, what’s even crazier is that it comes with a total of 18 switches on the pickguard. Using one live on stage would probably be a nightmare and Marr debuted it publicly in a music video for his song “Spirit Power and Soul.”

Johnny Marr - Spirit Power and Soul (Official Video)

Photo: Jwslubbock (AIM independent music awards 2019 26)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.