Funk is much more than a style of music that evolved from R&B in the 1960s—it’s a way of life. Or, as the late great James Brown said in “(Get up I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, Pt. 1,” “You got ta have the feelin’.” It’s the sound of a tight ensemble powered by a relentless groove. It’s sweat, soul, and everybody playing in the pocket. It’s subservience to the first beat of every bar. Groove is the monarch of the genre.

But funk is also about hip, interlocking guitar parts that make the songpop. In funk, the song always comes first, and the best funk guitar parts are mini compositions within the song. Creating these mini compositions requires mastering a variety of techniques, each of which is inevitably and indelibly seasoned by each player’s ethnic, regional, and musical backgrounds. That’s why veteran 6-string funksters like Leo Nocentelli (The Meters), David Williams (Michael Jackson, Madonna), Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Paul Jackson Jr. (The Temptations), Phelps “Catfish” Collins (Parliament, Funkadelic), George Johnson (The Brothers Johnson), and Gary Shider (Parliament, Funkadelic) all have uniquely funky styles that don’t just rely on stereotypicalwaka-wakawah hackery.

But the roots of funk reach back even further than the aforementioned masters to five greats—Jimmy Nolen, Freddie Stone, Tony Maiden, Nile Rodgers, and Al McKay. Each guitarist played the funkiest stuff on the planet with individuality, soul, andjoie de vivre. They found their distinctive voices within the guitar techniques available to us all, and made great songs groove harder by adding feel, knowledge, and imagination.