A rock guitarist since the 1970s, Kelley has been a fan of rock, blues and jazz since the 1960s.
Rock artists may be the most versatile of all guitarists
This list only includes rock guitarists, but players of blues and R&B qualify, since rock sprang from those genres around 1950. So, no jazz, classical, flamenco, bossa nova, folk, bluegrass, or country guitarists are included. And keep in mind this list only includes guitarists who became famous during the twentieth century; therefore, they could be considered “classic” rock guitarists.
Now let’s begin the countdown!
57. Stephen Stills
Stephen Stills was already an extraordinary guitarist by the end of the 1960s, evidence of which can be found on the classic album Super Session (1968), as well as his work with the legendary Buffalo Springfield. Over the years, he’s jammed with just about everybody, including Jimi Hendrix, with whom he was going to make an album until Hendrix’s premature death. But most of his guitar work has been with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, of course, though his oeuvre of solo work is impressive. Master of many styles—hard or soft, using finger-picking, slide, or whatever, Stills is one of the greatest all-around rock guitarists ever. Interestingly, Stills played at three of the iconic rock festivals of the 1960s—Woodstock, the Monterey Pop Festival, and Altamont.
56. Kurt Cobain
Eccentric grunge rocker Kurt Cobain died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in April 1994 and joined the long list of Rock Stars Dead at 27. At any rate, Cobain wasn’t known for playing long guitar solos, as are most of the guitarists on this list. But his chords, licks, and lyrics are certainly some of the most memorable and influential in rock history. In the early 1990s, Cobain’s band, Nirvana, may have been the most popular rock group in the world; and Cobain, whether he liked it or not, was a spokesperson for generation X, which was coming of age back then. But he didn’t feel comfortable being a rock star, as one of his quotes seems to attest: “I didn't know how to deal with success. If there was a Rock Star 101, I would have liked to take it. It might have helped me.”
55. Vernon Reid
If Jimi Hendrix hadn’t proved it, guitarist Vernon Reid, born in England and raised in NYC, proved that black guys can play hard rock on the guitar. Reid’s major claim to fame is that he’s been the lead guitarist for the hard rock band Living Colour since the middle 1980s. Living Colour’s first album, Vivid, went double platinum in 1988, and its hit single, “Cult of Personality,” won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance. Reid plays fast and furious and Hendrix-like, if you will, his fingers little more than a blur much of the time. Since the middle 1990s, Reid’s had a solo career, producing the album Mistaken Identity (1996) and Other True Self (2006). He’s also recorded and performed with Masque and the Yohimbe Brothers and worked as a session guitarist and producer extraordinaire into the present day.
54. Peter Frampton
British rocker Peter Frampton joined his first major rock group, Humble Pie, in 1969. About this time, Frampton also did lots of session work with rock luminaries such as George Harrison, Harry Nilsson and Jerry Lee Lewis. Then Frampton went solo in 1971, producing the album Wind of Change, utilizing guest artist Ringo Starr. But his early solo albums had little commercial success. This changed, however, when Frampton produced the quintessential arena rock album, Frampton Comes Alive!, one of the best rock albums of the era, and one of the best-selling live albums of all time. The album’s hook-laden hits “Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” have become staples on classic rock stations. Since then, Frampton has tried to recapture the magic with varying degrees of success, doing some work with friend David Bowie in the middle to late 1980s. Frampton’s album Fingerprints, highlighting his versatility, won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2007.
In 2020, Peter Frampton published his autobiography, Do You Feel Like I Do? This book is crammed with recollections about the who’s who of rock he’s met, befriended and/or played music with; it also tells the tale of the Phenix, a Les Paul guitar he lost for more than 30 years—and then finally recovered!
53. Steve Lukather
Steven “Luke” Lukather began playing guitar at age seven and in 1976 helped form Toto, a band for which he’s been a member throughout his professional life, helping them produce 15 studio albums; he’s also released nine solo albums, including I Found the Sun Again (2021). But perhaps Lukather’s greatest claim to fame springs from being one of the best session musicians ever; he’s provided guitar work on over an astonishing 1,500 albums! He’s also worked as a songwriter, singer, arranger, producer and manager. (Unfortunately, work for session musicians has diminished greatly in recent years.) Notably, Lukather has been nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, winning five. He’s also played guitar with Los Lobotomys, a jazz-fusion band associated with jazz guitarist Larry Carlton. He’s also played in Ringo Starr’s supergroup, the All-Starr Band.
52. John Fogerty
John Fogerty was lead singer and guitarist for yet another 1960s San Francisco Bay Area band named Creedence Clearwater Revival. Its first hit “Susie Q” showed some of Fogerty’s blazing, psychedelic-edged guitar work. Creedence Clearwater Revival was perhaps the best Top 40 rock band in the country in the early 1970s, pumping out Fogerty-penned hits such as “Proud Mary,” “Fortunate Son” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” After the breakup of Creedence in 1972, Fogerty launched a solo career, utilizing both country and rock idioms, sometimes playing all the instruments on recordings. Then his career took a nosedive. Fogerty made a comeback in 1985 with the release of “The Old Man down the Road.” Then Fogerty made still another comeback in 1997, releasing Blue Moon Swamp, which won a Grammy for Best Rock Album. Currently, Fogerty tours and records as a solo act, while performing all over the world.
51. Mark Knopfler
Of Scottish origin, Mark Knopfler, guitarist, singer-songwriter, composer of soundtracks, producer, multi-instrumentalist and four-time Grammy Award winner, may be best known for co-founding Dire Straits, which, as of 2009, had sold over 120 million records; the group also produced Brothers in Arms (1985), one of the most popular albums of all time, selling 30 million copies. After leaving Dire Straits in 1995, Knopfler embarked on a solo career, producing nine solos albums, the latest of which, Down the Road Wherever (2018). Utilizing a unique, finger-picking style of axemanship, Knopfler has impressed many critics, including Classic Rock magazine in 2018, which claimed: “The bare-boned economy of Knopfler's songs and his dizzying guitar fills were a breath of clean air amid the lumbering rock dinosaurs and one-dimensional punk thrashers of the late 70s.”
50. Joe Walsh
Joe Walsh’s first big success was playing lead guitar and singing in The James Gang (TJG), a power trio that produced two hit albums: The James Gang Rides Again (1969) and The James Gang Live at Carnegie Hall (1971). (TJG opened for another power trio, Cream, in May 1968 at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit). TJG’s hit singles were “Funk#49” and “Walk Away.” In 1975, Walsh joined The Eagles. Maybe his best guitar work with them was on the hit single “Hotel California,” often considered having one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. Walsh re-joined the Eagles a number of times until 2015, and as a member of the Eagles, he won five Grammy Awards. In 1993, he performed with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band. Walsh also began a solo career in 1973, eventually producing 12 solo studio albums and two live albums.
49. Terry Kath
Terry Kath became the lead guitarist for Chicago in 1969. On Chicago’s debut album, Kath displayed much of his guitar versatility, particularly on “Free Form Guitar,” a solo effort on which Kath rips up and down the neck, using heavy distortion, wah-wah pedal, and whammy bar, a tour de force reminiscent of the best hard rock of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton. Kath showed similar soloing prowess on the song “25 or 6 to 4.” Also excelling at singing and writing songs, Kath continued playing lead guitar for Chicago until his tragic death in 1978. While at a party, Kath pointed a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol at his head. Thinking the gun was unloaded because he had ejected the magazine, he jokingly pulled the trigger and the pistol went off, killing him instantly. Kath failed to realize there was still a bullet in the chamber of the pistol!
Famously, in 1968 when Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were headliners in a show at the Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood, Chicago was the opening act. While watching Chicago perform, Hendrix told Chicago bandmate Walt Parazaider, “Jeez, your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me."
48. Neil Giraldo
Neil Giraldo began his professional musical career in 1978, playing guitar and keyboards for Rick Derringer’s band. But perhaps Giraldo’s major claim to fame is playing lead guitar for singer Pat Benatar, whom Giraldo married in 1982. Giraldo helped Benatar produce some of her greatest hits: “Hit Me with Your Best shot,” “Hell is for Children,” “We Live for Love” and “Love is a Battlefield.” He has also excelled at songwriting, record producing and arranging and can play the drums. Giraldo has also recorded with Rick Springfield, Kenny Loggins, John Waite, the Del-Lords, Beth Hart and Steve Forbert. Notably, Giraldo has helped produce five Grammy Awards, as well as four nominations for Grammy Awards.
47. Andy Summers
Andy Summers began playing guitar professionally in the middle 1960s; his first band was Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, which eventually became Dantalian’s Chariot. He also played with Eric Burdon and the Animals, Soft Machine, and Strontium 90, and then in 1977, he joined The Police, for whom he wrote many hits songs—“Message in a Bottle,” “Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take” and others. With The Police, he won two Grammy Awards for Best Rock Instrumental Performance on the songs “Reggatta de Blanc” (1979) and “Behind My Camel” (1980); and he also perfected a unique guitar sound emphasizing the usage of pedal effects, synthesizer, filters, and a chorus effect, all of which so he could play guitar in a trio for two hours without boring the audience! Summers has also produced numerous solo albums, including Triboluminescence (2017) and has played on many movie soundtracks.
His birth name Saul Hudson, Slash is a British-American lead guitarist who’s best known for his slash-and-burn guitar shredding in the 1980s and ‘90s with Guns N’ Roses, whose enviable nickname was the “Most Dangerous Band in the World.” Considered one of the greatest guitar monsters of the recent era—and easily the youngest player on this humble list—Slash has scored highly on multiple lists for guitar virtuosity: #65 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All-Time in 2011; #34 on Gibson Guitar Corporation’s list of the Top 50 Guitarists of All-Time in 2010; and #1 for his guitar solo on “Sweet Child o’ Mine” for Total Guitar’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos compiled in 2004. Also, his guitar solo on “November Rain” is also highly ranked. After leaving Guns N’ Roses in 1996, Slash has performed and recorded with Slash’s Snake Pit, Velvet Revolver, Myles Kennedy, and the Conspirators and returned to Guns N’ Roses in 2016.
45. Neal Schon
Certainly a quick study, at age 12 Neal Schon began his career when he played guitar with his father’s big band, and then at 17 he joined Santana, playing on two of their albums, Santana III (1971) and Caravanserai (1972). Then in 1973, Schon along with Gregg Rolie, formed Journey, for which Schon is the only continuous member. A rock, blues and jazz-fusion guitarist, Schon has been influenced by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Wes Montgomery. Schon has produced 14 studio albums with Journey and nine solo albums, the last of which Vortex (2015). He’s also collaborated with numerous artists—Paul Rodgers, Jan Hammer, Michael Bolton, Larry Graham, and Jonathan Cain, and, besides Santana and Journey, he's played with many other bands—Azteca, Bad English, Hardline, Abraxas Pool, and others.
44. Harvey “Snake” Mandel
Harvey Mandel grew up in the Chicago, Illinois vicinity and then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he jammed with guitarists such as Jerry Garcia and Elvin Bishop. In 1968, he released Cristo Redentor, his first of 26 solo albums to date. Mandel has played with various musicians and groups—Pure Food and Drug Act, Charlie Musselwhite, Canned Heat, the Rolling Stones, John Mayal, as well as a recent incarnation of the Electric Flag. In 2017, he produced Snake Attack, an album on which he played all the instruments and did all the mixing and production. Mandel is famous for developing a two-handed, fretboard tapping technique adopted by many guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page, though it’s uncertain who began using it first.
43. Robin Trower
Robin Trower started as lead guitarist for Procol Harum in the late 1960s, but the band didn’t play what Trower really dug, that is, Strat-charged, psychedelic blues. Going solo in the 1970s, Trower started a power trio, whose first hit album was Bridge of Sighs (1974). Trower, along with Frank Marino and others, became one of many so-called Jimi Hendrix imitators, though his own style is quite evident. Although Trower’s music hasn’t equaled Hendrix’s bold, inventive legacy, he’s created many memorable riffs over the decades. Notably, Trower joined up with ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce in the early 1980s, but the result was unmemorable. As of the 2000s and 2010s, Trower continues performing, though he has a little less hair these days. Trower’s most recent album is Coming Closer to the Day (2019).
42. B.B. King
Born on a cotton plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi, and often called “The King of the Blues,” B.B. King (B.B. is an abbreviation of “blues boy”) was one of the most influential blues musicians of all time and certainly one of the hardest workers in that genre; in 1956 he played in 342 shows! King had a reputation of being a player who avoided using chords, instead relying on picking notes in an improvisational way and highlighted by liberal use of vibrato. King’s first big hit was “3 O’clock Blues,” released in 1952; it hit #1 on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues chart. Perhaps King’s signature hit was “The Thrill Is Gone,” which won a Grammy Award in 1971. In fact, King won 15 Grammy Awards in his career. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine placed him #6 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. And, in 1991, the B.B. King Blues Club opened in Memphis, Tennessee.
41. Joe Perry
Many rockers are familiar with Joe Perry’s guitar riffs, as heard on Aerosmith’s various singles and albums over the years and decades; and some rockers may be able to play his licks on the guitar. Joe Perry is one of the founding members of Aerosmith; he also has a solo band, The Joe Perry Project, and also performs with the Hollywood Vampires. Perry and singer Steven Tyler, who’ve written numerous hit songs together, were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. First picking up a guitar at 10, Perry was heavily influenced by the British bands of the 1960s. Perry’s iconic runs can be heard on the hit numbers: “Dream On,” “Same Old Song and Dance,” “Walk This Way,” “Back in the Saddle,” “Rag Doll,” “Last Child” and “Sweet Emotion.” Because of Perry’s guitar genius—and another reason or two—Aerosmith is often regarded as the greatest American rock band of all time.
40. Ritchie Blackmore
Ritchie Blackmore helped start Deep Purple in 1968, playing a style of psychedelic progressive rock that became popular in the 1970s, particularly as played on Deep Purple’s signature hit, “Smoke on the Water.” Blackmore then left Deep Purple in 1975 and formed Rainbow (different incarnations of which continue to the present). Then, in the middle 1980s, Blackmore became one of many hair-metal guitar shredders. Blackmore has received his share of honors, too, his name appearing on numerous lists, including #16 on Guitar World’s Greatest Metal Guitarists of All Time in 2004 and #50 on Rolling Stone’s compilation of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All time in 2011. These days, Blackmore plays smaller gigs and doesn’t play much metal; instead, he strums baroque folk rock, though he still hammers out some of his earlier hard rock riffs.
39. Buddy Guy
A purveyor of Chicago blues since the late 1950s, and mixing with such blues legends as Muddy Waters, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and Junior Wells, Buddy Guy developed a stylistic repertoire that changes with every performance. But during the British Invasion of the middle 1960s, Guy’s guitar-slinging began to be noticed by the Brits, particularly young guitar slingers such as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Keith Richards. Guitarist Eric Clapton once called him “the best guitar player alive.” Then in the 1980s and ‘90s, when the blues underwent a revival, Guy joined the 24 Nights all-star blues lineup in the UK. Please note that when you hear Guy play, he may hit an off-key note or two, but Buddy would probably tell you that the blues ain’t perfect. Interestingly, Buddy Guy owns Buddy Guy’s Legends, a blues joint in Chicago, Illinois.
38. Bonnie Raitt
A list such as this should have at least one lady guitar slinger. Bonnie Raitt is such a great singer and songwriter many people forget she also plays slide guitar that gives you chills—and brings tears. But Raitt didn’t find commercial and critical success until the 1980s, when she recorded Nick of Time (1989), which sold over six million copies in the US. (She also found sobriety at this time, with the help of Stevie Ray Vaughan.) Raitt also began garnering Grammy Awards, winning four in 1990 and four more in 1992. Raitt’s music includes many genres—rock, blues, folk, pop, country, and reggae, which she accentuates with visceral and dramatic guitar riffs that comprise the very best of American blues. Interestingly, Raitt has been an activist for the anti-nuclear movement since the late 1970s.
37. The Edge
David Howell Evans, aka the Edge, is generally known as the lead guitarist for U2, an Irish rock band formed in 1976. The Edge has a style of guitar playing that uses plenty of delay effects, reverb or echo, creating an arpeggio-driven, multi-guitarist sound. Also, while playing in concerts, he seems to change guitars frequently, hoping to get that perfects tone for each number, though he will often stick with his own model axe, The Edge Signature Stratocaster. Notably, as a member of U2, he’s won 22 Grammy Awards. Also a songwriter, singer, producer and keyboard player, the Edge emphasizes that he’s a musician, not a guitar slinger or shredder. “I'm a musician,” he says. “I'm not a gunslinger. That's the difference between what I do and what a lot of guitar heroes do."
36. Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry practically invented rock ‘n’ roll lead guitar and, in the process, influenced countless guitarists in the 1950s, ‘60s, and into the following century. In fact, Berry may be the most influential rock guitarist of all time. Berry played his most famous riffs on the immortal tune, “Johnny B. Goode,” of which well over a hundred recorded versions exist. Rolling Stones lead guitarist Keith Richards may have learned more from Chuck Berry than any other artist. Yes, Berry could “play his guitar like ringin’ a bell,” as the song goes. Furthermore, if the so-called King of Rock ‘n’ Roll came from the 1950s, then it would surely be either Elvis Presley, Little Richard or Chuck Berry. Which illustrious cat would you pick?
35. Angus Young
The only constant member of Australian hard rock band AC/DC, Angus Young, and his schoolboy looks and attire, along with older brother Malcolm, formed the band in 1973. Young’s first electric guitar was a Gibson SG, which eventually rotted away from overuse, so abusive is the style of Young’s wringing wet, frenetic guitar shredding. Thereafter AC/DC produced a string of hit albums, culminating in Back in Black (1980), which sold an astonishing 50 million copies! Then they released For Those About to Rock We Salute You (1981), establishing the band as the best hard rock assemblage in the world. But critics have labeled AC/DC’s music as little more than three-chord rock. Responding to this, Young says, “To us, the simpler a song is, the better, 'cause it's more in line with what the person on the street is."
34. Billy Gibbons
Billy Gibbons has been the lead guitarist/singer/songwriter for the rock group ZZ Top seemingly as long as the Pyramids of Egypt have existed. In fact, ZZ Top opened four times for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix said he was impressed with Gibbons’ guitar licks, and a friendship ensued. (Hendrix also taught him how to play “Foxy Lady.”) Gibbons began his musical career playing guitar for the Moving Sidewalks in parts of Texas. Then he assembled ZZ Top in 1969, and they produced their first album, ZZ Top's First Album, in 1971. Over the decades, Gibbons has performed with just about everybody in the realm of blues and rock and roll; he’s also performed and recorded as a solo artist, releasing the album Big Bad Blues (2018).
33. Jerry Garcia
Jerry Garcia was the lead guitarist for the Grateful Dead from 1965 to 1995, but over his extensive musical career he played in many other bands, notably the Jerry Garcia Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and Not for Kids Only, and released a number of solo albums; he also worked many times as a session musician or guest guitarist. Garcia’s style of guitar playing was unique and much imitated by other artists: it had a country-rock twang played with a bluesy feel, generally using major pentatonic and Mixolydian licks; other times it had a more acid rock sound, though his guitars, all 25 of them, had no whammy bars. Interestingly, Garcia’s first recording was “Raunchy” by Bill Justis, produced in 1959.
Prince was a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist from a young age; he wrote his first song, “Funk Machine,” at seven and landed a recording contract at 17. Prince’s sound was a combination of funk rock, new wave, and synth-pop, and his most successful album was Purple Rain (1984), which remained atop the Billboard 200 for 24 weeks and sold over 20 million copies. Producing more than 40 albums during his life, Prince was one of the most prolific and best-selling music artists ever. Notably, Prince became known as an androgynous sex symbol, similar to Little Richard, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix. At one time Prince identified himself as Love Symbol #2, a combination of male and female attributes; and another time he called himself the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Prince was so famous he could change his identity whenever he wanted!
31. Tony Iommi
Of British descent, Tony Iommi is one of the founding members of Black Sabbath; in fact, Iommi was their main composer, and it seems safe to suggest that without his towering, apocalyptic riffs and power chords, Black Sabbath never would have existed (apologies to fans of singer Ozzy Osbourne). A left-handed axeman, evidence of Iommi’s screaming legato prowess can be heard on “Heaven and Hell,” “War Pigs,” “Supernaut,” and “Children of the Grave.” Having injured two of the fingers on his right hand at 17, Iommi has to play with thimbles and lowers the tuning on his guitar a half step or even a step and a half, which other metal bands have imitated. Eddie Van Halen says that “without Tony, heavy metal wouldn’t exist. He is the creator of heavy!”
30. Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter was “discovered” in December 1968 when he played at a concert starring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper at the Fillmore East in NYC. A representative of Columbia Records saw Winter perform his signature hit “It’s My Own Fault” and soon thereafter Columbia signed Winter with an advance of $600,000—that’s big money even these days! Since then, Winters became a guitar slinger of blues and rock, often playing and recording with his younger brother Edgar Winter. Usually the lead guitarist and singer in a power trio, Winter played all over, including Woodstock. Perhaps Winter’s best album back then was Johnny Winter And (1971). Back in the day, Winter knew all the rock and blues standards, all the fills, frills, turnarounds, intros and outros, and was considered as fast and flashy as Hendrix, Beck, Page, or Clapton!
29. Pete Townshend
Known primarily as the lead guitarist for The Who, Pete Townshend is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter, whose musical career began in 1961 while playing with the Detours. During the classic rock period from 1965 to 1975 or so, Townshend’s style of guitar playing included plenty of sustained power chords turned to stratospheric highs on his Marshall stack, while windmilling his right hand and performing acrobatic jumps. These days, though, Townshend doesn’t jump around a lot, much less bash his guitar into the stage; he doesn’t have to because his impressive career would place his bust on the Mt. Rushmore of Rock. Townshend has produced numerous solo albums, and he and Roger Daltrey, the surviving members of The Who, still record and perform when the urge strikes them. Interestingly, Townshend is a lifetime follower of Indian spiritual master Meher Baba, and in 2012 published his autobiography, Who I Am (2012).
28. Brian Setzer
Maybe the best 1950s’ rockabilly guitarist ever, Brian Setzer began playing guitar with the Bloodless Pharaohs and the Tomcats. Then in 1981 he found success playing in Stray Cats, whose debut album produced two hit singles, “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town,” which reached #9 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Notably, in 1983, Stray Cats released the album Rant ‘n’ Rave with the Stray Cats, which included “(She’s) Sexy +17,” which hit #5 on the Billboard Hot 100; it could be one of Setzer’s best tunes. Afterwards, Setzer launched a solo career, becoming a sideman or guest guitarist and also produced 11 solo albums. In 1990, he formed the Brian Setzer Orchestra, a swing and jump blues big band comprising 17 musicians, which has produced 11 studio albums, the latest of which Rockin’ Rudolph (2015). Setzer also won two Grammy Awards in 1998.
27. G.E. Smith
G.E. Smith began playing guitar at 4 and started making money as a musician at 11. His first electric guitar was a 1952 Fender Telecaster, which has been his favorite brand of electric guitar throughout his career. Smith became the lead guitarist for Hall & Oates from 1979 to 1985, and then he ascended to musical director of the SNL Band from 1985 to 1995. Over the years, he’s produced three studio albums: In the World (1981), Get A Little (1992) and Incense, Herbs and Oil (1998). He’s also performed and/or recorded with many music luminaries—Buddy Guy, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Buffett, Roger Waters and Jim Weider. Smith seems able to play whatever style of guitar there is and do so with a virtuosity that’s astonishing to behold; and he always seem to play with a charming, childlike joy. Of course, if one could play as well as Smith does, they too would probably be joyous 24/7!
26. Keith Richards
Keith Richards is an original member of the Rolling Stones, for which he plays lead or rhythm guitar, sings, and writes songs. Most of the guitar riffs for which the Stones are famous were created by Richards. Session guitarist Chris Spedding says Richards’ guitar work is “direct, incisive, and unpretentious.” Generally using a five-string open-G tuning, as heard on such hits as “Start Me Up” and “Street Fighting Man,” Richards creates an unrelenting, catchy, quintessential rock platform for the Stones. Collaborating with singer Mick Jagger on many of the Stones’ best songs, the duo’s first top-ten hit was “The Last Time” (1965). Since the turn of the twenty-first century, Richards has performed in many tribute concerts honoring music’s pantheon of great rockers. And, astonishingly, Richards has a collection of about 3,000 guitars!
25. Steve Morse
Originally known as the lead guitarist for the Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse seems able to play just about any style of guitar—rock, jazz, country, heavy metal, funk, classical and fusion, and play them about as fast as any guitarist alive. Yes, Morse can shred those strings! Since the Dregs went on hiatus, Morse became the lead guitarist for Kansas in 1986. Then he joined Deep Purple in 1994, playing on six studio albums and numerous live cuts. His “axemanship” for Deep Purple is particularly impressive on “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming.” Afterward, Morse joined the Flying Colors, a kind of supergroup, in 2011. He’s also had an impressive solo career and performed on more guest appearances than most guitarists alive. And Guitar Player magazine named him “The Best Overall Guitarist” five years in a row.
24. Allan Holdsworth
Known mostly as a jazz fusion guitarist, Holdsworth was also known for his impressive musical acumen, particularly as it relates to using uncommon chord progressions, artful picking and legato, with which he created advanced solos with an unpredictable, unique, outside-the-box sound. Essentially a solo artist, producing 13 solo albums, Holdsworth nevertheless corroborated with numerous artists—Gordon Beck, Jean-Luc Ponty, John Stevens and Danny Thompson, as well as bands such as Soft Machine, U.K. and Planet X. Per Guitar World magazine, Holdsworth was a guitar god in the ilk of Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen, and had many fans: Frank Zappa, Neal Schon, Gary Moore, Shawn Lane and Robben Ford, who claimed: “I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of the guitar. I don't think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can."
23. Steve Howe
Englishman Steve Howe began his guitarist career playing with the bands Syndicats, Tomorrow and Bodast. Then in 1970 he joined Yes, a progressive rock assemblage for which Howe not only played lead guitar but also helped write many of their best songs. Yes went on to produce a plethora of great albums—The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Tales from the Topographic Oceans, making them one of the best rock groups of the 1970s. Along the way, Howe began producing solo albums, including The Steve Howe Album (1975). Over the years, Howe continued recording and performing with Yes, as he pursued other ventures, forming GTR, a so-called supergroup, in 1985, and Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe in 1988. Howe’s career has barreled onward; he’s produced more than 10 albums in the 2000s. Impressively, in 1981, Howe was the first rock guitarist inducted into the Guitar Player Hall of Fame.
22. Gary Moore
A Northern Irishman, Gary Moore, specializing in blues, rock, heavy metal and jazz fusion, blazed virtuosically on the fretboard for decades. He began his career in the 1960s and ‘70s, joining bands such as Skid Row, Thin Lizzy, and Colosseum II. Notably, in 1973, Moore produced his first solo album, Grinding Stone, which was popular in the US. Then in the 1980s, Moore segued into heavy metal, eventually forming his own band, G-Force; he also began singing his own songs. Perhaps his greatest album of that period was Wild Frontier (1987). Moore turned bluesy next, producing Still Got the Blues (1990), featuring a hit single of the same title. After Moore’s death in 2011, many rockers such as Ozzy Osbourne, Kirk Hammet, and Tony Iommi, praised his talent. And a statue of Moore was erected on an island near Skånevick, Norway, where he often performed at the Skånevick Blues Festival.
21. Duane Allman
Nicknamed “Skydog,” Duane Allman began playing guitar in the early 1960s. Even though he was left-handed, he played guitar right-handed. His first band was The Escorts and then he and his brother, keyboardist/singer Gregg Allman, formed the Allman Joys, which became the Allman Brothers in 1969. Duane Allman excelled at playing slide guitar and had exceptional improvisational skills. Moreover, only guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix or Johnny Winter seemed to share his blues guitar prowess. Duane Allman’s greatest guitar virtuosity can be heard on the album At Fillmore East (1971). At this time, the Allman Brothers were considered one of the best rock bands in the country. Unfortunately, Duane Allman died at age 24 in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971.
20. Kirk Hammet
Replacing lead guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was fired from the band, Kirk Hammet joined Metallica, one of many great San Francisco Bay Area bands, in 1983. (What better name is there for a heavy metal band than Metallica? And they better be damn good, too!) Hammet soon began writing the riffs on Metallica’s songs, some of his best thrash metal work on “Enter Sandman” and “The Judas Kiss.” It could be said that Hammet’s guitar solos blaze like a California wildfire. Even though primarily a metal guitarist, Hammet also plays jazz and blues. Interestingly, Hammet is a big fan of horror movies and likes to read comic books rather than do drugs. Anyway, Hammet may have made Metallica the best metal band ever, as their name would seem to suggest.
19. George Harrison
Most people know that George Harrison was the lead guitarist for the Beatles, perhaps the greatest rock group of all time, but he was also a prolific solo artist, having produced 12 solo albums, including All Things Must Pass (1970), a triple-album set. Harrison was also a great songwriter, whose songs often dealt with Indo-Asian spirituality. As for his guitar work, Harrison seldom played long solos; his were short, flexible, and to the point. Eric Clapton says that Harrison was “clearly an innovator” and “was taking certain elements of R&B and rock and rockabilly and creating something unique.” Harrison’s solo on “Something,” a song he wrote, is considered a masterpiece and one of his most memorable. Harrison was also one of the first rockers to play the sitar, as evident on “Norwegian Wood” and “Within You Without You,” both tunes showing a joining of pop and Indian music.
18. Larry Carlton
Larry Carlton is another one of those virtuosic guitarists who seems able to play many styles of music—rock, jazz, pop, soul, country, R&B, and blues. First picking up a guitar at six and producing With a Little Help from My Friends, his first solo album in 1968, Carlton began working as a studio musician in the 1970s and ‘80s. Incredibly, Carlton has been recorded on hundreds of albums and gold records and played for numerous movies and TV shows. He’s also been a member of the Crusaders, a jazz-fusion band, and Fourplay, and worked as a sideman for Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell. He’s also had a very long, impressive solo career, producing such albums as On Solid Ground (1989), Fire Wire (2006), and Session Masters (2015), as well as a plethora of live albums, including Lights On (2017).
17. Yngwie Malmsteen
Swedish guitar shredder Yngwie Malmsteen plays a neoclassical style of heavy metal that few guitarists can match. Inspired by musicians such as Niccolò Paganini, Johan Sebastian Bach, and Ritchie Blackmore, he formed his first band at the age of 10. The first metal bands he joined were Alcatrazz and Steeler in 1983, and then he released his first solo album, Rising Force (1984). Between that time and the present Malmsteen’s musical output can match that of any other rock guitarist. Often considered a wild human, in a 2005 issue of Guitar Player, he said, “I've probably made more mistakes than anybody. But I don't dwell on them. I don't expect people to understand me, because I'm pretty complex, and I think outside the box with everything I do.” Notably, Malmsteen plays his own Signature Stratocaster, introduced in 1986, which has a scalloped maple fretboard and special pickups.
16. Robben Ford
At 18, Robben Ford, heavily influenced by blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield, began his career playing with blues harp legend Charlie Musselwhite in San Francisco, and then soon left to form the Ford Blues Band with younger brother Mark on harmonica. Throughout the 1970s and beyond Ford has played with countless artists, including Jimmy Witherspoon, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell, Kiss, Muddy Waters, Larry Carlton, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and the LA Express. Then Ford joined the Yellowjackets, a jazz-fusion band, their eponymous first album one of the best fusion albums of the 1980s, particularly the unforgettable cut, “Priscilla.” Ford has also produced numerous solo albums over the decades. And, in recent times, Ford released the album Purple House (2018).
15. Al Dimeola
Seemingly, Al Dimeola is a guitarist able to play any style of music. Primarily known for playing jazz fusion, rock, flamenco, Latin, and world music, Dimeola found critical and commercial success in the middle 1970s, when he played guitar in Return to Forever with Chick Corea, and then quickly turned solo, producing albums such as Land of the Midnight Sun (1976), Elegant Gypsy (1977) and Casino (1978). In 1980, Dimeola recorded Friday Night in San Francisco (1981), a live acoustic show with Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin, which is considered a seminal event in the world of guitar (they reunited for two more albums, one in 1983 and another in 1996). In the 2000s, Dimeola returned to electric music, producing the DVD, Return to Electric Guitar (2006). Notably, Dimeola has such great technical ability and plays so fast that he’s been criticized for playing . . . too many notes!
14. Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa, a composer/producer/singer/guitarist and much more, is perhaps the most radical, experimental, eclectic, avant-garde, and satirical artist on this list. AllMusic called Zappa the “godfather of comedy rock.” Influenced by Edgard Varése, Zappa and the Mothers of Invention formed in 1965 and soon released their debut album—Freak Out! featuring “Trouble Every Day,” a tune about the Watts riots and perhaps the first rap tune ever. Thereafter, Zappa kept blowing minds with his radical format, iconoclastic messages, bizarre lyrics, and idiosyncratic guitar playing. Certainly one of the fastest guitarists around, at times Zappa seemed to be squeezing the innards from some outer space beast. Late in life, Zappa worked with the Synclavier, producing Civilization Phase III (1993). And in 2016, the editors of Guitar Player wrote, “Brimming with sophisticated motifs and convoluted rhythms, Zappa's extended excursions are more akin to symphonies than they are to guitar solos."
13. Eric Johnson
An impressive guitarist while only a teenager, Eric Johnson joined his first professional band at 15. Then he formed a jazz fusion band, the Electromagnets, in 1974. This work propelled Johnson toward virtuosic mastery of the guitar, a fusion of rock, jazz, and classical, culminating in such masterpieces as “Cliffs of Dover” (1991). Mostly a solo act or a session artist since the 1970s, Johnson continues playing blistering legato runs that leave one’s head spinning. Well into the 2000s, Johnson has been performing and touring with the greatest rock, jazz, and fusion guitarists of the era: Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Sonny Landreth, and Steve Vai. Johnson’s solo albums keep coming as well—Souvenir (2002), Bloom (2005), and Europe Live (2014).
12. Brian May
Primarily known for his guitar work with British rock group Queen, Brian May’s licks with Queen are truly unique, a kind of melodrama on strings, over-the-top, grandiose, and operatic. A Night at the Opera (1975), perhaps the greatest album for the classic Queen lineup, features “Bohemian Rhapsody,” considered by many to be one of the greatest rock tunes of all time. Since the demise of Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury in 1991, May has produced numerous solo projects and performed with other incarnations of Queen. About May’s meteoric guitar licks, singer Sammy Hagar says, “I think Brian May has one of the great guitar tones on the planet.” Interestingly, May hand-made his first guitar, the famous Red Special; he also earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics in 2007; and has an asteroid named after him: 52665 Brianmay.
11. David Gilmour
David Gilmour joined prog rock band Pink Floyd after the departure of Syd Barrett, one of Gilmour’s best friends, and over the ensuing years “the Floyd” became one of the most popular rock bands in the world, selling a quarter-billion records by 2012. David Gilmour’s guitar work, singing, and songwriting helped propel this psychedelic assemblage to create their signature, laid-back, trippy dreamscape of sound. Gilmour’s mesmerizing guitar solos take one on a journey to alternate universes with plenty of sustain, heartfelt bends, and bluesy transitions. Rolling Stone critic Alan di Perna says Gilmour was the most important guitarist of the 1970s and the “missing link between Jimi Hendrix and Van Halen.” Gilmour has produced four solo albums and also plays bass, keyboards, synthesizer, banjo, lap steel, mandolin, harmonica, drums, and saxophone.
10. John McLaughlin
Perhaps the greatest all-around guitarist on this list, John McLaughlin excels at playing rock, jazz, Indian classical music, Western classical music, flamenco, blues, and jazz fusion. Extrapolation (1969), McLaughlin’s debut album as a jazz player, still sounds astonishingly good. Then McLaughlin played the lead for the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1970s and ‘80s, a collaboration that propelled fusion to orbital ascension. McLaughlin’s aggressive mastery of the fretboard has been very influential, as shown on “Miles Beyond” from his album, Live at Ronnie Scott’s (2018). Guitarist Frank Zappa said this about McLaughlin: “I think anybody who can play that fast is just wonderful. And I'm sure 90 percent of teenage America would agree, since the whole trend in the business has been 'faster is better'." This seems apt praise for McLaughlin, who often plays his Marshall amp in the “meltdown mode.”
9. Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana, whose Latin-flavored, Afro-Cuban rock has been revolutionary in the world of rock, is the frontman for Santana, another sensational San Francisco Bay Area band, which arose in the late 1960s. (Who can forget Carlos’s tasty, staccato riffs on “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock in 1969?) Ever evolving, Carlos Santana’s melodic, ethereal riffs sound as polished as that of the best jazz guitarists. Edging into his seventh decade, his licks seem to get better with age, like redwood forests. Over the years, often teaming with such virtuosic talents as Neal Schon or John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana continues to expand his eclectic oeuvre well into the twenty-first century. And, always a positive, spiritual fellow, Carlos Santana brims with thoughtful quotes: “The most powerful possession you can own is an open heart,” he says. “The most powerful weapon you can be is a weapon for peace.”
8. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan was an Albert King-inspired blues guitarist who also played rock. Vaughan’s fondness for Jimi Hendrix songs is evident on his stellar version of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” (He and Hendrix played the same style of guitar, showing a masterful use of the wah-wah and overdrive pedals and offering stage histrionics such as playing the guitar behind their heads.) Vaughan simply attacked his 1959 Fender Strat—or overwhelmed it could be a better way of describing it. Perhaps his best albums were two concert cuts: Live at Carnegie Hall and Live Alive, the second of which featuring a rousing version of “Say What!” In 1983, as Vaughan rose to worldwide fame, Variety wrote that Vaughan, after playing a set at the Beacon Theatre in NYC, “left no doubt that this young Texas musician is indeed the 'guitar hero of the present era.' "
7. Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen—trained as a classical pianist in his native Holland—developed a wild, finger tapping, whammy bar-accentuated guitar style that became the rage of the hard rock genre in the late 1970s; and throughout the 1980s and ‘90s he continued to astonish fans and fellow guitar players with his scatterbrained wizardry on the fretboard. Eddie’s solo work on the tune “Eruption” is considered a heavy metal classic. Perhaps one of the fastest rock guitarists ever, Eddie had a keen melodic sense that all great guitarists seem to possess. Notably, Van Halen said this about his playing style: “I've always said Eric Clapton was my main influence, but Jimmy Page was actually more the way I am, in a reckless-abandon kind of way.”
6. Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page, along with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, emerged from the Yardbirds—the “yardstick” of rock, if you will, in the middle 1960s, and then Page formed Led Zeppelin, considered one of the top hard rock bands in history. The Zep, an enduring bunch, kept the same personnel for 12 years and influenced multitudes of rock guitar enthusiasts. Page played lead, of course, showing his artistry for blues, rock, classical and Celtic folk. Perhaps his best riffs were on “You Shook Me,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Black Dog,” “Stairway to Heaven” and “Whole Lotta Love.” Brian May says this about Page: “I don't think anyone has epitomized riff writing better than Jimmy Page. He's one of the great brains of rock music.” Interestingly, surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited for a concert in 2007. But Page, who hasn’t worked solo since 1988, wants to record and tour with Led Zeppelin, but singer Robert Plant says no way.
5. Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton has played with just about everybody, and in every place, except Woodstock, but don’t forget Live Aid, where he performed in 1985. Starting as a blues guitarist, as many rock guitarists have, Clapton was so ass-kickingly good by the time he was 22 that some rockers began referring to him as “god.” Then, in 1966, Clapton formed the quintessential power trio, Cream, moving heavily into acid rock and long, improvisational blues jams. Perhaps Clapton’s best rock tunes over the years are “I’m So Glad,” “I Feel Free,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room”, “Layla” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Cocaine,” and “Wonderful Tonight.” Like Stephen Stills, Clapton can blast away with awesome riffs or play poignantly slow, such as in the self-penned song, “Tears in Heaven.”
4. Joe Satriani
Joe Satriani, like Steve Vai and Jeff Beck, has been a solo act for most of his career. Able to read and write music, and working as a renowned teacher of guitar since the 1970s, Satriani doesn’t seem to need much help working as an instrumental guitarist in the hard rock, jazz fusion, or progressive rock categories. Moreover, Satriani is another one of those guitar slingers who’s played with just about everybody, particularly when involved with his G3 Jam Concerts, started in 1996. Regarding such concerts, Satriani shows technical virtuosity, boldness, and dash, and if there’s a faster lead guitarist around, who in the heck would that be? Interestingly, Satriani’s first hit album was Surfing with the Alien (1987), and his highest-grossing album to date is The Extremist (1992). Satriani’s latest studio album is What Happens Next (2018).
3. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix died way too young to be higher on this list, but his guitar swagger and electrifying technique are without equal. Borne from the R&B bands of the early 1960s, when he toured through the famous Chitlin Circuit, Hendrix formed in 1966 his power trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which soon took the rock world by storm, and within a year or two Hendrix was considered the greatest rock guitarist in the world. (Can you hear the rolling feedback, stuttering vibrato, and outrageous distortion?) But he didn’t go around and tell everybody how great he was—Jimi was modest about such matters. Hendrix’s most creative work can be found on the double-album set, Electric Ladyland (1968), perhaps the greatest rock album of the 1960s, though that would be very hard to prove.
2. Steve Vai
Steve Vai is as good as he is because he took lessons from Joe Satriani. He’s also surpassingly good because he has the balls to play a “triple-neck” guitar! Schooled in the avant-garde irreverence of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, with whom he played in the early 1980s (Zappa referred to him as his “little Italian virtuoso”), Vai also played with various artists and bands at the time, including David Lee Roth, Alcatrazz, Ozzie Ozbourne, and Whitesnake. Then he went solo in 1989. His second solo album was the critically acclaimed Passion and Warfare (1990), which includes one of his best guitar solos on “For the Love of God.” Then Vai produced Fire Garden (1996), an album including 18 cuts, perhaps the best of which was “Dyin’ Day.” In 2002, Vai played with a 100-piece orchestra in Tokyo. He’s also played on numerous soundtracks, video games and acted in several movies. In short, in the world of contemporary rock and roll, Steve Vai has been there, done that.
1. Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck made his own guitar from scratch as a kid, and he’s been amazing people with what he plucks from guitars ever since. One of three amazing axemen to play in the short-lived Yardbirds, Jeff Beck formed the Jeff Beck Group in the late 1960s, producing such classic albums as Truth, Beck-Ola, and Rough and Ready. Then he developed his own jazz-fusion style in the middle 1970s, creating the incomparable album, Blow by Blow, which includes the dreamy, ethereal masterpiece, “Diamond Dust,” and then a notable follow-up disk, Wired, with Jan Hammer on keyboards. Since those days Beck has been a lone wolf, working as a soloist, sideman, or studio musician. Beck continued the artistry in 1989 with Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop, which includes the frenetic, incendiary number, “Big Block,” and produced many other exceptional albums in the 1990s and 2000s. Beck’s latest album is Loud Hailer (2016), which shows that Beck's Beckisms on the guitar make him the greatest rock guitarist ever.
© 2009 Kelley Marks
Christopher Nowak on November 07, 2019:
RAY SHULMAN AND GARY GREEN from GENTLE GIANT!!!
Christopher Nowak on October 26, 2019:
I can name one French girl who can blow everyone away: TINA S!!!
Kelley Marks on October 26, 2019:
Thanks for the comments, Mr. Nowak. BB King was (is) over-rated - he never played chords. As for Garcia, he also played pedal steel, and I'll have to pay more attention to Reinhardt and Nolan. So many guitarists, so little time!...
Christopher Nowak on October 25, 2019:
I am glad that you did not include the very overrated B.B. KING.
BTW, did you hear of the new name for STEVIE RAY VAUGHN?: STEVIE RAY GONE.
Christopher Nowak on October 25, 2019:
I do not think that most people know that JERRY GARCIA was also very proficient on BANJO.
Christopher Nowak on October 25, 2019:
KELLEY MARKS: If you ever get a list for gypsy jazz guitarists, include Django Reinhardt and Robin Nolan.
To get an idea of what a true pure gypsy jazz song sounds like, YOUTUBE:THE CHRIS NOWAK PROJECT (vol.1,2 or3-2 is the best) and click on HUNGARIAN GYPSY BLUES.
Unfortunately, I do not play publicly anymore so there is no guitar.
Imagine how the guitar could enhance the song.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on June 05, 2019:
Hey, big BixSixtyFour, I also think Frank Marino is a great rock guitarist, but there's only so many slots on this list. However, in the future I'll probably continue to add to it, and Marino certainly could get a nod from me. Later!...
BigSixtyFour on June 04, 2019:
No mention of Frank Marino at all. Y'all are absolutely CLUELESS! For those of you who don't know him - Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush - LIVE! Among other truly hot songs on this album, recorded in 1978, he lays down the HOTTEST "Johnny B. Goode" ever played!
Homi Vesal on May 09, 2019:
Firstly the No.1 has to be Ritchie Blackmore, there has never been any question about that. If into blues rock guitarist, then i suggest listen to an album which was released in 1971 called "The Green Bullfrog. How could you possibly forget Elvin Lee from Ten Years After or Gary more, Steve Morse, Alex Lifeson, Chuck Berry, Robert Leroy Johnson, John P. Hammond and.....
Joseph zehentner on April 26, 2019:
Are u crazy where is gary moore,,,and srv number 8 wow...Clapton played after srv in a concert once,,,,was destroyed said he would never do that again...
Michael Dipaola on March 21, 2019:
They were all good to me!!!
Ace on February 16, 2019:
No PRINCE invalidates this list!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 26, 2016:
Thanks for the comment, Boomer Music Man! Yes, Clapton and Berry are two of the all-time great rock guitarists, no doubt. Later!
Boomer Music Man on August 23, 2016:
Chuck Berry is one of the best and so are the others. Eric Clapton is also a legend.
Andrea Troiano on June 22, 2015:
*******. TOMMY BOLIN ******
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 14, 2015:
Thanks for the comment, guitarpedals. I've heard of Reinhardt but I doubt he's top ten material. At any rate, it's very hard to pick the ten best. Later!
Evan from Washington, DC on April 13, 2015:
What about Django Reinhardt? A totally different style (gypsy jazz), but damn that guy could play! And his fretting hand was all messed up from getting burned in a fire!
Sense2k on October 10, 2012:
To me, a lot of guitarist have total mastery of the instrument but few can play music that really influences and affects the listener on a deeper level than just "wow, he plays fast" etc.
Case in point, the late Gary Moore. I know no one that can make you feel like he rips every note from the bottom of his soul.
too bad he's gone
Didierrrr on August 16, 2012:
Gotta say I think The Satch should be #1. Make Vai a number 5 instead. I believe that would be fair.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 25, 2012:
Hey, Dave, this list is only for rock guitarists - no players of classical, jazz or country. Kewl? Later!
Dave on May 25, 2012:
Lists are fun, I suppose....but there is no such thing as 'the best'. Too subjective, but also, what about guys such as David Russell, John Williams, Christopher Parkening, Berta Rojas....fantastic classical guitarists who, let's be honest people, have a command of their instrument that the people in your list could only dream of.
randy on March 07, 2012:
JIMMY PAGE IS THE BEST.PERIOD!!! stephen stills?????
Vai? Come on man! Get Real!
TDubs on January 20, 2012:
Nice to see Stephen Stills on this list. He never seems to get the credit he deserves. A great all-around player, from acoustic to blues to rock. Nice job!
arizonataylor from Arizona on January 02, 2012:
Well, I've seen Steve Howe, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steven Stills, Joe Satriani, Niel Young, and even Chuck Berry. Steve Howe even played some Townshend on the night I saw him. NONE of them compare to Townshend, NONE. All were great, but none could compete in rhythm.
In the 911 concert, nobody played more than two songs, except the Who. There's a reason. They stole the show. Townshend is the man.
I play a little guitar and can play a bits and pieces from each of these people, bits and pieces. Townshend's playing is different. The timing, rhythm, and style are unique. For this and so many other reasons, I believe he is at least the best rhythm guitarist.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on January 02, 2012:
Hey, Arizonataylor, Pete Townshend is definitely one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. (Yes, I remember the great, "Live at Leeds.") I suppose he could be on this list rather than Stephen Stills - talk about a guy who can play rhythm! - but I guess it becomes a battle of favorites at some point. Later!
arizonataylor from Arizona on January 02, 2012:
Pete Townshend. If you see him live, you know why. Nobody can play rhythm guitar like he does, nobody. He's seldom mentioned, and that's truly unfair to him.
Look at who largely used distortion for the first time, intentionally. Look at power chords. Who largely invented them? Watch Live at Leeds sometime. It's considered the best live album for a reason.
Pete Townshend may not be the best lead guitarist, but he is certainly among the best. He is, however, the best rhythm guitarist. Studio albums do not do him justice. You have to see him live. If you do, you'll probably agree with me.
theotherguy on January 02, 2012:
Haha,,,really, vai as no 1?? haha...wait, seriously?
ssss on October 03, 2011:
VAi in number 1 , it's a joke !
mario cuellar on September 26, 2011:
You definitely need a bigger list Mike Bloomfield Duane Allman Steve Cropper do i need to go on?any of us that grew up in the sixties knows that
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on September 21, 2011:
Hey, terretwo, it takes years to become great. As for some of the under forty crowd, check out my hub entitled "Ten Great Young Rock Guitarists," a link to which can be found above. Later!
Candle Hour from North America on September 21, 2011:
You should do one with newer guitarists from the 90s & 2000s, think along the lines of John Frusciante, Jack White, Adam Jones, etc.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on June 21, 2011:
Yes, lots of rockers like Pete Townshend, who could certainly appear on many such lists. Later!
arizonataylor from Arizona on June 20, 2011:
This is a great list, but I think Pete Townshend should be on the list too.
james lad on March 05, 2011:
no slash or angus young
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 16, 2011:
Yeah, Steve Vai is tough to beat, ya know? Later!
Alternative Prime from > California on February 16, 2011:
Extraordinary list of extremely talented "Guitar Maestros".....
All are Virtuosos in their own unique way however I think if one "Blazing Fretboard Animal had to be singled out for the universally held crown my vote would have been cast for Mr. Steve Vai as well.
murray on December 13, 2010:
Murray's top ten list of rock guitarists based on technical skill, artistry and "edge":
1) Ritchie Blackmore
2) Jimmy Page
3) Jeff Beck
4) Steve Morse
5) Vivian Campbell
6) Mick Box
7) Rudolf Schenker
8) Rory Gallagher
9) Tony Iommi
10) Glenn Tipton / K.K. Downing (tie)
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 25, 2010:
Murray, thanks for turning me onto Koichi Hayakawa. Man, that cat is scary fast, and he also seems to have a melodic and artistic sense. On YouTube, they show Hayakawa vs. guitarists such as Satriani and Van Halen. So who's better? Satriani and Van Halen have the legend, but we'll have to wait and see how Hayakawa turns out. At any rate, he certainly seems spectacular. Of course, there are many very good guitarists shown on YouTube, many of whom are known only to locals. Thanks for the helpful comment. Later!
Murray on November 25, 2010:
Hey Cosmo, I would be interested to get your take on Koichi Hayakawa - and where he fits into the whole "best rock guitarist" debate. I really don't know much about him - but having come across him the other day while looking at "best guitarists" debates on the internet, the guy clearly has mad skill. I am conflicted though as to how he (or a myriad of other such little known - but incredibly skilled - axe-men) truly stack up against such iconic guitar greats as Page, Hendrix, Blackmore, Beck, Van Halen, etc. - all of whom are far more famous than Hayakawa. Check out the array of "Hayakawa versus (insert name of guitar great here)" downloads on the internet. The guy sounds scary good. ...That said, not sure where (if indeed at all) he fits into the whole "best guitarist" debate.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 15, 2010:
Well written comment, Murray, much of what makes a guitarist great is artistic in interpretation. The great ones had soul too. Malmsteen is a virtuoso, but he has no soul, man, ya know? Anyway, back in the 1970s just about every hard rocker liked Blackmore, and I'm sure he is the favorite of many as well. Later!
Murray on November 15, 2010:
Hi Kosmo, disagree as I may with you, I fully respect your opinion that there are guitarists on this list who are as good or better than Blackmore. The beauty of the whole "best guitarist" debate is that it allows for a wide divergence of reasonable and credible opinion. This is of course because guitar playing is as much an art form as it is a technical skill - and as the old adage goes, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Cheers from London, Ontario, Canada - rock on!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 09, 2010:
Thanks for the comment, Murray. "Child in Time" is definitely one of Deep Purple's greatest hits, and Blackmore's solo certainly kicks ass, but I think every guitarist on this list plays just as well or better. Blackmore's replacement, Tommy Bolin, could blaze away with the best of them too. Later!
Murray on November 09, 2010:
Check out Ritchie Blackmore's solo on "Child in Time" on Deep Purple's "Nobody's Perfect" live album. I would be interested in comments from all. ...To me, it is the best hard rock guitar solo ever. It also shows just why Blackmore is (by a freakin' long shot) the best hard rock guitarits ever - musically and technically (and for those who care about such things, "speed-wise"). I mean, come on people, open your eyes - and your ears!
jabberwock on September 21, 2010:
IMHO Steve Vai shouldn't even be on the list, not to mention #1. Yes he is a good player but the "greatest" guitar players must play music people want to hear. Steve Vai is a guitarist's guitarist. He is loved by fans of technical skill but he really hasn't written anything that's captured the public imagination. Compare him to guys like EVH or Jimmy page who are listen to daily on radio stations everywhere and he falls way short of the mark.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 27, 2010:
Thanks for the links, Terminus! Roy Buchanan is certainly a masterful guitarist. I particularly enjoyed him playing Hendrix tunes. For more blasts from the past, check out my hubs: "Ten Forgotten Rock Guitarists" and "Ten Classic Rock Guitarists." Later!
Terminus on August 26, 2010:
Here's a few links of memorable Roy Buchanan tunage. I think he is the best Telecaster player ever and Les Paul/ Jeff Beck would wholeheartedly agree. His story is tragic... Enjoy
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 25, 2010:
Here's another tome provided by TERMINUS!!! Thanks for the benefit of your rock acumen, sir. I think our lists coincide greatly. Every one of those guys paid their dues, if you will, and had a tremendous influence on the history of rock and roll. Roy Buchanan, eh? I'll have to go to YouTube and check him out. Later!
Terminus on August 25, 2010:
They are listed in no particular order. Again, it's really tough to list just 10.
1.Steve Howe - This man is just amazing. If you have any questions, just listen to 'Awaken'.
2.Jimi Hendrix - The God of all guitarists.
3.Jimmy Page - Innovative and experiemental to his own detriment.
4.Jeff Beck - Talented beyond description.
5.Eric Clapton - Good 'ol 'Slowhand' - One word: Spectacular.
6.Eddie Van Halen - Incredible technical prowess, not so great musically. In fact Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen or Joe Satraini are far more talented. That said, EVH has influenced many more guitarists than the more talented afermentioned.
7.Stevie Ray Vaughan - A man born to do it and a tragic death to equal Hendrix's.
8.David Gilmour - His ability to re-create studio work live and improve upon original concepts solidly lands him on my list.
9.Chuck Berry - To omit the Father of Rock N Roll would be sacrilege.
10.Duane Allman - The most gifted natural guitarist ever. Sometimes, Steve Morse reminds me of him.
Very painful for me to omit so many that rightfully belong on this list. Especially Stephen Stills who is just as talented as any guitarist in the list.
I will say this: Had he lived and got together with some of the other guys, there is no question that Randy Rhoads would have made this list. The recordings do not even begin to give justice to his ability to play and innovate live onstage. He would blow EVH, Slash, or Young right off the stage. I will also state that many, many guitarists owe a debt to Robert Fripp. I love Santana but sometimes he drank or smoked too much pot to be anything but sloppy on stage. Honorable mention: Jeff Healy because his blues/rock knowledge rivals SRV's and his live shows are louder than Molly Hatchet's or Motorhead's which suck in comparison. One more name... He is always forgotten... Roy Buchanan
michael k on July 11, 2010:
rory gallagher belongs in the top #10.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 03, 2010:
I remember reading about Page supposedly stealing a song from somebody. It was "Dazed and Confused"? Well, stuff happens. If you're gonna steal, make sure it's good!!! Later, dude!
WeLoveMusic on July 03, 2010:
Well, I actually meant stealing, not cover songs, the latest being less than a week old. Led Zeppelin was sued for Dazed and Confused, it turns out that Page stole the song from a singer named Holmes while he was with The Yardbirds. The fact is that it wasn't the only one Zeppelin got sued for and lost, well they still haven't lost, but I heard the original song on YouTube, it's the same song. They didn't even bother to change the name :)
Anyway, great point you made with the last comment. Lists are supposed to be fun, I somehow managed to suck the fun out of it for a moment! And I agree, there aren't many people who can give a valuable opinion which will count for all of us! Keep the hubs interesting and motivating as this one, and I'll keep coming back for more :)
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 03, 2010:
Of course Page did some cover songs. Doesn't everybody? As for the experts, they can be just as subjective as anybody else, though I would certainly value the opinion of somebody who has seen just about everybody play it live, which is where the true artists really shine. But how many people have seen all those talents, including the "old bands" from the 60s and 70s? Anyway, lists are just supposed to be fun, as well as a way to stimulate lively debate, as this article certainly has. Later!
WeLoveMusic on July 02, 2010:
Well, the fact is I would never dare to do such a thing as a top ten list, so it's childish to dare me. I don't presume I would write anything but my taste. So, when I think about it, I'm not qualified to write such a thing, neither are you, nor anyone else. That is why we have experts, that dedicate their lives to following bands and music happenings. Leave that to them.
I'm not going to comment the put down, as it wasn't intended as one. The fact is that, although inventive, the skills that he showed compared to other named guitar players is not even close. I just said that putting him before them is ridiculous, I didn't say he doesn't deserve to be in top ten. Plus, I never heard of them stealing a song and putting it as their own, which he did on several occasions!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 02, 2010:
Regarding your put-down of Jimmy Page, he played better rock than SRV and, Satriani, though very fast and inventive, can't match Page's melodic sense. Incidentally, I've played the guitar for a long time as well, though I don't consider myself to be very good. Back in the 90s I was better, but that was a long time ago. Thanks for the comment. Let's see your top ten list. I warn you, it won't be easy to produce. Later!
WeLoveMusic on July 02, 2010:
What about Yngwie Malmsteen and Zack Wylde? Also not my type of a list, I can only agree with half, and I play the guitar for almost 20 years. Some of them were popular for other things, not their guitar skills!
I love Led Zeppelin but putting Jimmy Page in front of Joe Satriani and Stevie Ray Vaughan is ridiculous!
Doire60 from Cleator Moor on June 01, 2010:
Hi Kosmo great list and certainly could buy into most. Of course it's all subjective, but no-one will deny the right of any of those guys to be on a top ?? list. I'm intrigued by the Phil Keaggy comment, it's one of those urban mythes, isn't it. Apparently someone asked Jimi Hendrix the same question and he replied don't know ask Rory Gallagher. Look forward to your forgotten guitarists list!!
Paul_Steads on May 25, 2010:
I enjoyed reading this. I think you've chosen a good ten. I'm glad Edward van Halen is there. It's a shame you couldn't have exchanged one of them with Randy Rhoads.
Tom Cornett from Ohio on March 03, 2010:
LOL...I have been asked that question quite a few times...He's been around since dirt...unknown dirt but dirt.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 03, 2010:
Thanks for the comment, Tom Cornett. Who in the hell is Phil Keaggy?!... There always seem to be some asskicking guitarist that nobody knows about. I've seen some of those guys on YouTube, I'll bet. Ha! I really have. Later!
Tom Cornett from Ohio on March 03, 2010:
Good list...I would have chosen most of these too. A reporter once asked Eric Clapton,"How does it feel to be the greatest guitar player in the world?" Eric replied,"I don't know...you should be asking Phil Keaggy."
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 03, 2010:
Yeah, the kids tend to forget Chuck Berry and all he's done for rock 'n' roll; in fact, he could be called the King of Rock and Roll. Thanks for the insightful comment. Later!
tony0724 from san diego calif on March 02, 2010:
Kosmo thanks for remembering Chuck Berry. People seem to forget that when it came to the rock guitar Chuck Berry was first ! None of the other artist are on this list without Chuck Berry ! Good job.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on March 02, 2010:
Yeah, I kinda like top twenties too. Maybe I should expand the list. At any rate, I have other lists for the best rock guitarists. Check 'em out. Later!
Michele from Reno, Nevada on March 02, 2010:
It is hard to settle on 10. For metal buffs I would put Dimebag, and would throw in Keith Richards, the Edge, Slash, Zakk Wylde and a few others. Maybe you should have done the top 20 :) It is hard to please everyone.
KT on February 13, 2010:
lolz... its rubbish.
Where are Slash & Yngywe?
Your list will never be completed with this 2 guys.
Brian from Northern Michigan Reed City on February 11, 2010:
I'm surprised that Slash from Guns and Roses wasn't on this list. Also CC Devile from Poison. I think he's better than Van Halen. But, I did see a show where all of these guys when in the top ten at one point. Eric Clapton always seems to be at the top of the list.
The show I saw had Clapton at number 1, Van halen second, CC Deville at number 3, followed by Hendrix, and a few others. Couldn't tell you who the rest were. It has been a while since I saw that program.
Murray on February 08, 2010:
I think Ritchie Blackmore should be on this list. Check out his solo on Child in Time on the Made in Japan live album - 'nuff said.
Murray (London, Ontario, Canada)
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on August 20, 2009:
I certainly like Gallagher and Trower, but they're not Top Ten guys. However, Gallagher is on my list of Ten Forgotten Rock Guitarists. Check it out. Later!
Krystal Paige from Midwest, America on August 19, 2009:
Rory Gallagher and Robin Trower are better than all of those guitaristS! :) Well except Jimmy and Jimi!
Cher Anne from Earth on August 01, 2009:
nate on July 09, 2009:
are you kidding me eddie van hallen is deff number two behind jimmy hendrix
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 05, 2009:
Keep in mind, this list is only for rock guitarists. If it weren't, there are some jazz guitarists I'd put here! Ever heard of George Benson and Joe Pass? Later!
Jim on July 05, 2009:
Great List and couldn't have wrote it better myself! The only change I would make is adding Al Dimeola to the list and that's because I dont care what style of music you like, if your a guitarist, you can appreciate Al. Theres also a few others I would add such as Chet Atkins, even perhaps Roy Clark as they are masters of the chicken picken. There are so many other guitarists that deserve to be here and I like most of them with equall enthusiasim, but as you said you cant list everyone. I love Steve Vai and he is a mind blowing guitarist, but in the 30 years I have been playing and listening to guitar, I have never heard anyone as gifted and musicaly intelligent as that of Joe Satriani, for that I would have switched places with Vai! I quite often hear that Joe plays music without much soul or feeling and for that I have to laugh. His music brings tears to my eyes!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 01, 2009:
What can I say? Everybody can't be on this list!
vinny on July 01, 2009:
ok lets see here..ur right with evh, stevie ray vaughn and vai..but wheres slash, randy rhoads, zakk wylde, and angus..one of thems at least gotta be up there
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on April 30, 2009:
Frank Zappa was very good. He certainly had his own quirky, frenetic style. But he's not Top Ten material, as far as I'm concerned.
James A Watkins from Chicago on April 30, 2009:
One of my personal favorites is David Gilmour but I do not expect him to make any "best" lists because tasty playing is not going to attract the attention of flash and speed. Neal Schon ain't bad either. I am surprised, though, at the omission of Frank Zappa.
marmmoo from MEQUON, WI. on April 10, 2009:
Right on, The guitarists you mentioned, completely kick major butt, the problem is there are so many, and from different types and styles of music, it's hard to pick just 10, for me at least. Rock On!
tony0724 from san diego calif on April 02, 2009:
You pretty much got em all covered ! And you obviously know your guitar . Because I do not think alot of people know who Al Dimeola Is . Really good guitarist .