This Story Rocks

The Ultimate Ultimate Guitar Story

BY Kevin Litman-Navarro

Published August 10, 2018

I had just turned nine years old when Jack Black's School of Rock hit theaters. Like Black and his motley crew of middle-school musicians, I wished to pick up a guitar — which I would call an axe — and shred till my fingers bled. I wanted to bang out face-melting solos, gut-busting riffs, and bone-shaking chords.

My mom decided it would be best if I took piano lessons.

Still, you can't stop fate, and I was destined to become an extremely mediocre guitarist. When I was able to steal away from the watchful, Puritanical eyes of my rock-fearing parents, I would grab my brother's guitar — which my parents would call a devil stick — and furtively log on to the computer, navigating to Ultimate Guitar dot com.

Since the turn of the century, Ultimate Guitar has been the main online resource for guitar learners. The website is home to some 1.2 million tabs (sheet music for people who can't read sheet music) all uploaded by fans. Because Ultimate Guitar is fan-driven, it can also be seen as a rich database: a living document that measures the popularity and longevity of bands based on how many people want to play their music, to be like them.

Ultimate Guitar Royalty

Who are the kings of this universe, the ones we turn to woo a love interest, or express our deepest feelings?

Look no further than the all time top 100 rated tabs. The list factors in how many hits a song gets to some degree, so it really highlights the most appreciated songs on the site.

Most represented artists in the 100 top rated tabs

I know. You don't care who is in the list; it's not very punk rock to get that kind of validation from the internet masses.

I also know what you really want to know: in what keys are the most popular songs played?

Popular keys of 100 top rated tabs

But let's focus on me here

Enough of these jokers on the top 100 list. I'm more interested in, well, the bands I'm interested in. The ones that made me want to learn the guitar and dedicate countless hours to crooning into my closet.

In order to satiate my interests, I'm going to look at a small sample of bands that inspired me, and some foils for comparative purposes. In no particular order: The Beatles, Blink-182, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Taylor Swift, Radiohead, Ed Sheeran, Fall Out Boy, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Death Cab for Cutie, and Pink Floyd.

Is my enthusiasm for emo music of the aughts shared by others? Let's find out!

Number of tabs for each band

Fans upload multiple tabs of the same song for different instruments and to correct mistakes.

Okay, no surprise there. Of course The Beatles have been tabbed out, they are the greatest band of all time. But maybe amount of tabs is a bad metric for determining which bands people really are loving on here.

Average tab rating

Okay, just kidding, I take it back. Maybe comparing Ed Sheeran to The Beatles is just apples and elephants. Instead, let's look at when these tabs were uploaded, and get some hints about the longevity of these artists. The best guitar songs will be one sthat people want to keep learning, and keep tabbing, ad nauseum.

You get the gist. In large measure, the number of tabs uploaded per year tracks with a band's output and general popularity. Still, I think it's a separate metric. How does the phrase go? Show someone a song and they will listen for a day. Teach someone a song, and they will play it for a lifetime.

Tell me more, tell me more

Wow, you got very far! Since you're so interested, feel free to scroll down for more information on the bands in my sample. For each band, I've expanded the timeseries showing tabs uploaded every year, and provided some context for the peaks and valleys.

In addition, I've included the most tabbed songs for each band, so you can see how the enthusiasm among the guitar-playing community stacks up against general popularity.

Number of Blink-182 tabs uploaded over the years

Most tabbed Blink-182 songs

Number of Taylor Swift tabs uploaded over the years

Swift is back with guitar

anthems on 2017’s Reputation.

Swift’s sound gets more

pop-ish on Red and 1989.

Swift fever spreads after the

2010 release of Speak Now.

The old Taylor dies, presumably.

Most tabbed Taylor Swift songs

Number of My Chemical Romance tabs uploaded over the years

The band’s popularity peaks after the release

of its third album The Black Parade.

My Chemical Romance’s next album,

Danger Days portends a 2013 breakup.

Most tabbed My Chemical Romance songs

Number of Ed Sheeran tabs uploaded over the years

Sheeran appears on Game of Thrones,

much to the chagrin of all viewers.

Ed Sheeran introduces himself with

the relase of + in 2011.

Sheeran becomes a household name

after x tops the charts in 2014.

Most tabbed Ed Sheeran songs

Number of Beatles tabs uploaded over the years

Despite their having not releasing music for decades, people keep posting tabs.

Most tabbed Beatles songs

Bonus! Most viewed Beatles tabs

Number of Red Hot Chili Peppers tabs uploaded over the years

When Ultimate Guitar launched in 2000,

the Chili Peppers are atop the rock game.

The release of Stadium Arcadium in 2006

creates a new generation of fans.

2011’s Rain Dance Maggie doesn’t

make a big impression on the

tabbing community.

Most tabbed Red Hot Chili Peppers songs

Number of Green Day tabs uploaded over the years

Green Day’s tab popularity peaks with

2009’s 21st Century Breakdown.

Well into their forties, the members

of Green Day are hardly slowing down.

When Ultimate Guitar launched in 2000,

Green Day was coming off its 6th album.

In 2004, American Idiot sweeps into

garages across the nation.

Most tabbed Green Day songs

Number of Death Cab for Cutie tabs uploaded over the years

After releasing Narrow Stairs in 2008,

Death Cab’s popularity peaks.

Codes and Keys fails to excite audiences

like previous Death Cab albums.

The relase of Plans catapults

Death Cab into the mainstream.

The decline continues with the

2011 release of Kintsugi.

Most tabbed Death Cab for Cutie songs

In conclusion, go learn how to play the guitar.

Go back to my portfolio