Every Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist: Everything you need to know

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Every Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist: Everything you need to know

red hot chili peppers guitarists
(Image: Clara Balzary/Press)
Words by Harry Connell

All the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarists from their very inception and touring players to now

Since the Red Hot Chilli Peppers formed in Los Angeles in 1983, and in their almost 40-year reign as one of the greatest alternative rock bands of all time, there has only been one thing that’s remained constant. Actually, two – childhood friends Anthony Kiedis and Flea, with a smattering of other members, namely, the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarists.

Red Hot Chili Peppers members

The Chilis’ line-up has evolved constantly with 11 changes throughout the band’s history.

Among these have been eight (yes that’s right, eight) changes amongst guitarists, and today we’ll be looking at all of the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarists during RHCP’s dominant run.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Hillel Slovak

The early Chilli Peppers line-up consisted of singer Kiedis, Flea on bass, Jack Irons on drums and Hillel Slovak on guitar – all classmates at Fairfax High School in California.

Their first live performance at the Rhythm Lounge club was in front of a crowd of around 30 people or so.

In the early days they performed under a few names, including Tony Flow and Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem, before settling on the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Inspired by punk funk acts such as Defunkt and James Chance and the Contortions, the band would improvise while Kiedis would lay down rap vocals.

The Israeli-born Hillel Slovak was best known as the founding guitarist, his work featuring in tracks such as ‘Fight Like a Brave’ and ‘Me and My Friends’.

Slovak would eventually leave to focus on his other band What is This? who had been signed to a label, leaving the band to record their self-titled debut album without him.

He returned in 1985, recording the albums Freaky Styley and The Uplift Mojo Party Plan which released in 1985 and 1987 respectively.

Slovak passed away in 1988 due to a drug overdose. 

Jack Sherman

During Slovak’s leave of absence in 1983, Jack Sherman stepped in during the interim, in what was a very, very brief stint.

Sherman was part of the band’s first tour in 1984, to support the release of their debut album, which turned out to be the only one in which he would act as guitarist on.

He played all shows with the Red Hot Chili Peppers from January 1984 to February 1985, and co-wrote half the tracks on the second album Freaky Styley, but was unfortunately fired before recording commenced, and Slovak’s eventual return.


DeWayne McKnight

DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight was a member of jazz-funk fusion band The Headhunters from 1975 through to 1978, and served as a stand in guitarist for the Chili Peppers in 1988 much like Sherman, however his stint was even briefer.

He was only estimated to have played three or four shows before being quickly replaced by John Frusciante.

John Frusciante

The most well-known of all Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarists, Frusciante joined the band after Slovak’s passing in 1988 at the ripe age of 18.

He first appeared on their album Mother’s Milk the following year which was their breakthrough success, as well as Blood Sugar Sex Magik which projected the group into mainstream success.

Frusciante became overwhelmed with the band’s newfound success and would leave in 1992, becoming reclusive and falling into the trap of drug addiction, also while releasing his first solo recordings.

His solo work included debut album Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt in 1994 and Smile from the Streets You Hold three years later in 1997.

In 1998, Frusciante would return rehabilitated, and what would follow would be the band’s best work to date – the majorly successful albums Californication in 1999, By the Way in 2002 and Stadium Arcadium in 2006.

Following the Stadium Arcadium tour in late 2007, RHCP agreed on an indefinite hiatus, which Kiedis confirmed was due to exhaustion from the band’s workload and success following Californication.

In July 2009, Frusciante would quit the band, which wasn’t publicly announced until December that year, two months after they ended their hiatus, and the band began working on their next album with Josh Klinghoffer taking over on guitar.

Frusciante experimented with making electronic music, stating that he had lost interest with traditional song writing methods.

During this time, he founded an electronic trio with Aaron Funk and Chris McDonald called Speed Dealer Moms and released an EP in 2010.

He went on to release numerous other projects throughout the 2010s, until it was announced in December of 2019, that he was returning (again) to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and would replace Klinghoffer on guitar.

Now in his third tenure with the band, February 2020 marked his first performance with the Chilis in over 13 years, and Frusicante exclaimed that it felt good to be back playing guitar, after having focused on electronic music for so long.

He remains a part of the band to this day who have released two double LPs this year. 

Arik Marshall

Marshall had a short run with the band following Frusciante’s departure in 1992, in the middle of the worldwide Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour. He toured extensively during this time, even playing Lollapalooza that year.

Kiedis praised Marshall for his ability to adapt to the band during live shows, but revealed that the group struggled with him chemistry-wise off stage, specifically Flea.

His last performance with the group was in February of 1993, before he was replaced by Jesse Tobias.

He went on to find success as the guitarist for Macy Gray and toured as part of her band in the US and internationally.

Jesse Tobias

Tobias’ stint with the RHCP was even briefer than Marshall’s, being replace by Dave Navarro within a month.

Anthony Kiedis spotted Tobias while he was performing with his band Mother Tongue in a local nightclub, and felt he was exactly what they’d been missing since Frusciante’s departure.

Much like Marshall, the connection with the other three members just wasn’t there, especially (again) with Flea, and Tobias was fired just weeks into his tenure with the band.

It was around this time that Dave Navarro had made himself available, however Kiedis stated that Tobias would’ve been kicked regardless of his availability.

Dave Navarro

Best known as a member of alternative rock band Jane’s Addiction, with whom he recorded four studio albums, Navarro had already made a name for himself when he joined the Chili Peppers in 1993.

Navarro only recorded one studio album with the band however, One Hot Minute in 1995, which despite some mixed reviews, sold over eight million copies worldwide, and produced three hit singles – ‘Warped’, ‘My Friends’, and ‘Aeroplane’.

Navarro was fired in 1998 due to creative differences.

Josh Klinghoffer

In 2007, Josh Klinghoffer began playing with the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the final few legs of their Stadium Arcadium tour, providing backing guitar, vocals, and keys.

In 2009, amid confusion surrounding Frusciante’s future with the group, Klinghoffer joined them in the studio to work on their tenth album I’m with You.

The following year, he performed as lead guitarist for the first time, and was officially named as Frusciante’s replacement.

He became the youngest person at the time to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (age 32) when the band was inducted on April 14, 2012.

Klinghoffer served as the lead guitarist right up until Frusciante’s return in 2019, and in 2020, made his debut with Pearl Jam when the band resumed touring.

More Red Hot Chili Peppers reading here.