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Playing one instrument is hard enough — excelling at more than one is the stuff legends are about. Here is our list of great musical artists who are also successful multi-instrumentalists. Listed in alphabetical order.
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Remember when Kanye West claimed Beck played “14+ instruments?” Well, maybe it’s not that many (or perhaps there’s even more), but the multi-Grammy Award-winning musician, whose music has spanned everything from indie rock to rap, is extremely versatile. The casual fan has seen him on the guitar, but on his smash 1996 release Odelay alone, Beck played slide guitar, bass, organ, clavinet, xylophone, percussion and harmonica — just to name several. He’s also busted out the sitar, kalimba and vocoder throughout his career.
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The musical talent within Arcade Fire spans the entire band. However, when it comes to the most versatile member of the group, Chassagne stands out. While she’s often on the keyboards, her work on the accordion, and notably the track “Neighborhood #2 (Laïka),” from the band’s stellar 2004 debut Funeral, has long been celebrated. Meanwhile, Chassagne, who also plays percussion and piano, is known for her work on the hurdy-gurdy (a hand-cranked string instrument). Check out “Keep the Car Running” from Arcade Fire’s brilliant sophomore effort Neon Bible.
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Personal control has always seemed to consume the Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman, especially within the confines of the band. Corgan is known for his stellar guitar playing, whether from a screeching, metal vibe or more melodic, Pink Floyd-esque offerings. However, when it came to the recording of the band’s 1993 smash Siamese Dream, Corgan’s control reached new, and rather totalitarian heights. He reportedly overdubbed the guitar and bass parts of bandmates James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky, respectively. While he was able to show off his versatility, Corgan’s overbearing and controlling nature proved unhealthy for himself and the rest of the band.
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Whether playing bass or providing rhythm, and some lead, work on the guitar, Deal is still bringing it at a high level. One of the most inspirational female rockers of all time, Deal first made a name for herself as bassist and co-vocalist for trendsetting alternative rockers the Pixies (give a listen to Deal at her best on “Gigantic“). She then held rhythm guitar duties during the 1990s with the Breeders. Deal has also been part of various other projects, but regardless who she is playing with, usually manages to stand out.
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Fogerty’s guitar playing was the true backbone of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Hall-of-Fame sound. However, Fogerty truly showed off his musicianship and versatility when he went solo, notably during the 1980s. The masterpiece of Fogerty’s solo career is 1985’s Centerfield, an album in which he played all the instruments himself, and pieced together through the aforementioned process of overdubbing. Paced by the famed title track, rollicking “Rock and Roll Girls” and CCR-reminiscent “The Old Man Down the Road,“ the record hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in the United States and went twice-platinum.
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Whether with indie/alternative rock outfit Ben Folds Five or on his own, Ben Folds has long been lauded for his musical innovation. Much of Folds’ success comes back to his ability to include various instruments, of his own playing, into his works. One of the great rock composers, Folds is likely best known for his accomplished work on the piano and keyboards, but he’s also an underappreciated guitar player, who has spent time on the bass and drums, as well. For those not in the know, get to know Folds’ greatness through his band’s 1997 acclaimed release Whatever and Ever Amen.
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The famed drummer from Nirvana and guitar-shredding frontman of Foo Fighters. By now, Grohl’s musical versatility is well chronicled. Perhaps most impressive about said ability is that no matter which instrument — piano and bass guitar, too — he’s playing, Grohl makes it look so easy. All by himself, Grohl recorded Foo Fighters’ 1995 self-titled debut album, which, essentially, was a cathartic solo project for the musician in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death. Then following the 2022 death of Foos’ drummer Taylor Hawkins, Grohl recorded all the drums tracks for the band’s 2023 release But Here We Are.
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No offense to Thom Yorke, but the true driving force behind iconic English alternative rockers Radiohead has been Greenwood. Considered one of the great alternative guitarists of all time, Greenwood has also been praised for his work as a keyboardist. And, not just from those popular contributions via Radiohead. Greenwood earned a Grammy nomination for scoring Paul Thomas Anderson’s highly praised 2007 film There Will Be Blood, and twice received an Academy Award nom for Best Original Score — Phantom Thread (2017) and The Power of the Dog (2021).
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Danielle, Este and Alana Haim
Music has always been a major part of the Haim family, and sisters Danielle, Este and Alana have made it a point to show off their musical talent while enjoying indie/pop rock success for more than a decade. On stage, Danielle and Alana will brandish a guitar with Este on bass. However, Alana dabbles on the keyboard and all three will show off their abilities on the drums and percussion. In addition, Danielle was part of Jenny Lewis’ touring band and played guitar and percussion in The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas’ solo band.
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Polly Jean is so respected and celebrated as a singer, songwriter and musician that she’s influenced the influencers. Rock icons like the Go-Go’s and Red Hot Chili Peppers have cited Harvey as someone they look up to and aim to emulate. Obviously because of her overall talent (which includes acting and poetry), but especially her versatility as a musical artist. When it comes to instruments, Harvey’s roll call can go toe-to-toe with anybody in the business. Here we go: guitar, saxophone, piano, keyboards, violin, cello, percussion, harmonica and the harp/autoharp. And there are plenty more.
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It would have been interesting to see what the Rolling Stones would have sounded like in the 1970s and beyond had Jones not died at the age of 27 in 1969. A prominent rhythm guitarist and co-founding member of the legendary band, Jones incorporated various new, and somewhat unorthodox, instruments within the group. Heavily influenced by the blues, Jones played saxophone, marimba and even the sitar as a member of the Stones. Check out Jones’ performance on the keyboard-like mellotron during the quirky, trippy “She’s A Rainbow,” from 1967.
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Now, there were, and probably still, hardcore Rush fans still have not gotten over the band’s “keyboard era” from the 1980s. For some, just mentioning that moment is enough to make one start to sweat. While Lee, one of the finest bass players of all time, started introducing keyboards into the mix with 1977’s A Farewell to Kings, it was 1981’s massively popular Moving Pictures (“Tom Sawyer“) and the follow-up Signals (“Subdivisions“), one year later, that showed how Lee was making the instrument a major part of the band’s sound.
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Amid Sir Paul’s legendary greatness as songwriter, composer and lyricist, is the fact that he’s also a pretty good musician. It might sound strange, but McCartney probably never got his due as a bass player, becomes he was noted as an icon for other musical reasons. Just listen to the bass line from “Come Together” or the brilliance of his performance on “Taxman.” Meanwhile, some of McCartney’s most lasting memorable moments with the Beatles, Wings or as a true solo artist happen to come on the piano (“Hey Jude,” “Live and Let Die“).
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For those who weren’t around to enjoy Prince during his heyday, but have taken to his musical legacy in the present day, he was more than just a dynamic guitar player. Prince also was an elite drummer, and often showed off his skills with the sticks during those amazing live sets. He also shined bright when sitting down at the piano or showing off his funky side while enjoying some time on the bass guitar (give a listen to the 1989 Batman soundtrack for proof.) All are just a few more reasons why he should be considered one of the all-time great musicians.
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It’s important to note that Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. He’s not only the brainchild of the industrial rock giants, but has been the only officially recognized member of the group for most of its existence. When NIN tours, there is a band on stage with Reznor, but his guitar, keyboard and synthesizer work has essentially driven the project for decades. However, his true innovativeness and talent comes inside the studio, when Reznor is ready to mix and put all the heaviness, and moments of melodic brilliance, into a masterpiece of musical art.
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Rundgren has played with just about anyone worthy noting, and done so via myriad instruments. Though perhaps mostly regarded, in high form, for his guitar work, Rundgren has also dazzled on the piano (“Hello It’s Me“). On his classic 1972 hit “I Saw the Light,” Rundgren played every instrument and provided vocals. It’s that instrumental versatility which helped the Hall of Famer also serve as one of the more successful producers in the music history, working with the likes of Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf and the New York Dolls.
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The Boss might not be the best musician among the legendary E Street Band (Nils Lofgren, Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg can duke it out for that honor), but he obviously does more than just write iconic music and lyrics. Springsteen can more than hold his own as a guitar player, and he’s long been a wonder with the harmonica (“The River,” “Thunder Road”). But, when he recorded the entire Nebraska (1982) by himself on a 4-track, he also played the mandolin, glockenspiel and even the organ. Bruce also dabbles on the piano, so there’s obviously not much he can’t play. And, still playing well.
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The indie folkster is one of the most innovative musicians around. He can play several instruments, such as the guitar, banjo and various members of the woodwind family. In 2018, Stevens was nominated for an Academy Award for the song “Mystery of Love,” from Luca Guadagnino’s highly praised film Call Me By Your Name. On that track, Stevens makes use of the “guitalin,” a sort of hybrid guitar and mandolin that was developed just for him. He’s always willing to try something new, even if it has to be created for his own purpose.
Don’t let the dance numbers, costume changes and on-stage interactions amid the playful drama of her songs, Swift is quite the accomplished musician. According to Re-Edition magazine, Swift learned to play both the piano and guitar on her own. Swift’s piano ability can be heard throughout her studio catalog, and when she plays during her marathon live sets, it’s truly a special moment for fans (like a 2022 version of “Clean”). She’ll also break out the acoustic guitar out on stage when she wants to show off more of her talent.
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Yes, Townshend is a legend when it comes to his guitar abilities with The Who, and via his solo projects. However, as time went on, Townshend began incorporating keyboards in his songs. While not all of his pure rock fans appreciated the synthed-up sound, it found a place for him to challenge himself as a musician. On The Who classic “Baba O’Riley,” Townshend doubled on the synthesizer and Lowrey organ to produce one of the most notable musical moments of all time. His keyboard work on “You Better You Bet” is also quite noteworthy.”
Eddie Van Halen is a guitar legend, and his legacy has grown stronger since his 2020 passing. However, the direction of Van Halen’s sound took a rather dramatic turn when he incorporated keyboards and synthesizers into the mix, beginning with the massively successful 1984 album (must to the chagrin of then-frontman David Lee Roth). Keyboard-aided songs like “Jump” and “I’ll Wait” opened the door to a larger group of mainstream rock fans. That level of success continued in earnest through those types of tracks, after Sammy Hagar replaced Roth on 5150 (1988), OU812 (1988), For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991) and Balance (1995).
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Wolfgang Van Halen
Following quite nicely in the footsteps of his famous father, Wolfgang Van Halen first made a true name for himself as Michael Anthony’s replacement in the later days of Van Halen. However, he’s truly displayed his musical talent through Mammoth WVH, which began as a solo project, but progressed into something bigger. While Mammoth features a full backing band behind Wolfgang in a live setting, Eddie’s son played lead, rhythm and bass guitar, plus keyboards, piano and drums on the self-titled debut release from 2021 — and to rather impressive reviews.
During his 30-plus-year run as the famed frontman for Pearl Jam, Vedder has gone sans instrument — unless one counts his traditional bottle of wine that tends to accompany him on stage. However, he’ll break out an electric guitar at times (like on “Rearviewmirror”), or even the ukulele when it comes to time for a little “Just Breathe.” Now, when Vedder takes his act solo, the ukulele and acoustic guitar both make regular appearances in his hand. Vedder has also been known to sit in on drums every once in a while — and not just in the movie Singles.
One doesn’t get inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame by just singing. Of course. Wonder has a legendary voice and penned some of the greatest pop/love/R&B songs of all time. He’s also among the most lauded keyboard players (just listen to “Superstition“) to tickle the keys. Not to mention, Wonder has always knocked it out of the park on the harmonica (“Isn’t She Lovely”). When talking about the best of the best in musicianship, there aren’t many better than this icon.
A Chicago native, Jeff Mezydlo has professionally written about sports, entertainment and pop culture for nearly 30 years. If he could do it again, he’d attend Degrassi Junior High, Ampipe High and Grand Lakes University.