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10 Greatest Jazz Guitarists of All Time

Mike Grindle is a freelance culture writer with a love for film, music, and literature.

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In the jazz world, the trumpeters and saxophonists tend to get the most spotlight, with the bassists and pianists not far behind. But Jazz has also given us some of the most talented six-stringers ever to pick up the guitar. And here we're going to look at some of the most incredible musicians ever with the 10 Greatest Jazz Guitarists of all time.

10. Django Reinhardt

9. Mimi Fox

8. Kenny Burrell

7. George Benson

6. Pat Martino

5. Charlie Christian

4. Grant Green

3. Joe Pass

2. Jim Hall

1. Wes Montgomery

10. Django Reinhardt

Known for his unique approach to playing harmonics and his moniker as the "Father of Jazz," Reinhardt's influence is undeniable. But Reinhardt's success only becomes more astounding when you realize he had only two fingers to work with on his fretting hand for much of his career.

Reinhart's hand was burned in a fire after his early teen success. But while doctors thought he'd never play again, Reinhardt simply made do with what he had and remained one of the greatest ever to play.

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9. Mimi Fox

Having taught herself to play guitar by listening to the Beatles, Mimi Fox later mentored under guitar greats such as Bruce Forman and Joe Pass before becoming a distinguished player and educator to others herself. She's since worked with all of the greats, and her virtuoso speaks for itself on her recordings.

8. Kenny Burrell

If you like a more bluesy approach to your jazz guitar playing, then Kenny Burrell is the man for you. He's worked on numerous labels and played the part of sideman, leader, and co-leader and excelled in each, all while making a name for himself as an award-winning jazz educator and releasing some fantastic albums, including 1963's legendary Midnight Blue.

7. George Benson

Benson is one of those annoying people who somehow manages to excel at everything and do it from a young age. Indeed, Benson began his career as a child prodigy playing guitar to audiences by age eight and recording music from age nine.

Benson would rise to prominence in his 20s, playing soul jazz before later going solo and releasing several multi-platinum records. But while he may be best known for his more R&B and pop-orientated releases, which saw him play the part of a frontman singer, his ability as a jazz guitarist cannot be understated.

6. Pat Martino

Another guitarist who played professionally from a young age is Pat Marino, who frequented many a jazz club from age fifteen onwards. What followed was a long and incredibly fruitful career, which many guitar hopefuls have studied diligently in the hopes of playing half as well.

In 1980 Martino suffered a near-fatal seizure and, following a period of forgetfulness, had to relearn the guitar. Yet he managed to prosper nonetheless and continued playing, writing, and recording some incredible music for years after.

5. Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian was a key player in the development of bebop and cool Jazz, who changed the role of jazz guitar forever. Known for his single-string technique and improvisation skills, Christian was one of the first Jazz players to bring lead guitar to prominence in bands and music ensembles. So significant is his influence that he was even inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 1990.

4. Grant Green

A truly unique player, Grant Green was influenced more by saxophonists than other guitarists. As such, he avoided rhythm playing almost entirely and developed a unique and instantly identifiable style.

Green didn't often get as much praise as he perhaps should have during his lifetime, but today he is often praised as one of the all-time best.

3. Joe Pass

Perhaps best known for his collaborations with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitgerald, Joe Pass always seemed to be on a different level of playing than his peers.

So talented was Pass that critics took to describing him as the Paganini of the guitar world. And while he sounded great in a band, his complete solo playing is genuinely something to behold even now.

2. Jim Hall

Having performed for some 60 years alongside all of the greats, Jim Hall became known worldwide for his delicate warm tone that developed with each new album and collaboration. And while he greatly loved spontaneity, he also gained notoriety for his incredibly economical approach to playing. Indeed, Hall embodied a "less is more" approach to the instrument, where his use of silence is just as impressive as his instrumentation.

1. Wes Montgomery

Despite a short playing career, Montgomery is largely considered the most influential jazz guitarist of all time. Alongside his amazing talent, Montgomery is particularly known for developing a unique style that saw him use only his thumb instead of a plectrum or a traditional fingerstyle. Montgomery developed this style of playing from trying to keep quiet while playing late at night.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Mike Grindle

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