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The 16 Greatest Guitar Players of All-Time

greatest guitar players
A list of the greatest guitar players of all time. Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash.

Who is the greatest ever guitar player? That’s an ongoing debate, but we can all agree that there are at least 16 guitarists that changed music forever. Find out all about the greatest guitar players of all time below.

jimi hendrix guitar
Pop artist Jimi Hendrix at Hippy Happy in Ahoy in 1967. Photo by Ary Groeneveld on Wikipedia Commons

Jimi Hendrix

More than just one of the greatest guitar players of all time, Jimi Hendrix is often considered the very best. His use of distortion and feedback was pioneering, and his style was unlike anything that came before.

Also a subtle and effective songwriter, Hendrix redefined the guitar’s potential and ushered in a new era of rock music with his mix of blues, soul, psychedelic rock, and more.

The guitar god was known for his stage antics, such as his ability to play the guitar with his teeth and behind his back. More than just a great guitarist, he was also a master showman.

Some of his most legendary performances include burning his guitar during “Wild Thing” at the Monterey Pop Festival, his freeform version of “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, and “Machine Gun” from his stint at the Fillmore with the Band of Gypsys toward the end of his life.

eric clapton
The legendary Eric Clapton playing live at the Hard Rock Calling concert on June 28, 2008 in Hyde Park, London. Photo by Majvdl on Wikipedia Commons.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is another guitar legend whose impact on the instrument is practically unparalleled. He is known for his distinctive blues-influenced sound and aggressive-yet-soulful style.

Clapton has won 18 Grammy Awards, the most of any male solo artist. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times: once as a member of the Yardbirds, once as a member of Cream, and once as a solo artist. Clapton has also been awarded the British Order of the British Empire and the American Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Some of his most famous guitar solos can be found on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and Derek and the Domino’s “Layla.”

jimmy page guitar
Jimmy Page in the show Whole Lotta Love, 1973. Photo by Open Culture on Wikimedia Commons.

Jimmy Page

Simply, Jimmy Page is one of the most famous guitar players in history.

He’s best known as the guitarist for Led Zeppelin, one of the most successful and influential rock bands of all time. Like Clapton – they both cut their teeth in 60s blues rock band the Yardbirds – he was heavily influenced by the blues, but his style is a bit more expansive and aggressive.

Led Zeppelin was formed in 1968 by Jimmy Page (guitar), Robert Plant (vocals), John Paul Jones (bass), and John Bonham (drums). Their first four albums, popularly known as I, II, III, and IV, were more blues-based, while their later material expanded into epic pop rock and even world sounds.

Page’s guitar playing was at the center of it all. That he’s one of the greatest guitarist players ever is beyond question.

eddie van halen
Photo taken at the 45th Emmy Awards 9/19/93. Photo by Alan Light on Wikimedia commons.

Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen is known for many innovations on the guitar, including the proliferation of tapping, the use of pedals and effects, expanding the range of harmonics, and extensive use of the tremolo bar.

This alone would cement his place as one of the best guitarists ever, but he also happened to co-found one of the greatest and most legendary rock n’ roll bands, Van Halen.

They made an immediate impact on the rock world with their self-titled debut album in 1978. Some of their iconic songs, which all include classic solos from Van Halen, include “Eruption,” “Pretty Woman,” and “Everybody Wants Some.”

 

Slash

Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash was born Saul Hudson on July 23, 1965, in Hampstead, London. His mother, Ola J. Hudson, was an African-American costume designer, and his father, Anthony E. Hudson, was an English artist and set designer.

Slash began playing guitar at the age of five. His older brother, who was a fan of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, influenced him greatly. His father also exposed him to classical music, significantly impacting his later guitar style. 

Guns N’ Roses was founded in Los Angeles in 1985 by Axl Rose and Tracii Guns. Slash joined the band later that year. You can hear his incredible guitar work on songs like “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” and “Paradise City.” His epic solo on “November Rain” is one for the ages.

steve vai
Steve Vai in London in 2001. Photo by GNU Free Documentation License from Wikimedia Commons.

Steve Vai

Who is the best guitarist in the world right now? Many would say Steve Vai.

Steve Vai is well-known for his technical proficiency on the guitar. He was born in New York in 1960 and began playing the guitar at a young age, quickly developing a mastery of the instrument.

Vai’s first major success came when Frank Zappa hired him to play on his album Joe’s Garage. His career took off from there. Some of his classic albums include Passion and Warfare and The Story of Light.

 

B.B. King

Who is the greatest blues guitarist? There are many contenders, but B.B. King is the first that comes to mind for most people.

In addition to being one of the greatest guitar players, King was also a proficient songwriter and dynamic performer. His live shows were legendary. King’s influence was widespread and helped to popularize the blues genre to rock n’ roll fans.

“Lucille,” “The Thrill is Gone,” and “Why I Sing the Blues” are among the best B.B. King songs.

django reinhardt
Django Reinhardt at the Aquarium jazz club in New York, NY. Photo by William P. Gottleib on Wikimedia commons.

Django Reinhardt

Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt is perhaps the most famous jazz guitarist ever. He’s best known for his work in the 1930s with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, which featured violinist Stéphane Grappelli. He practically invented gypsy jazz.

Reinhardt was a true innovator, and his unique style helped shape the sound of jazz guitar. Some of his best-known songs include “Minor Swing,” “Djangology,” and “Nuages.”

Django is one of the 10 best guitarists of all time, and he did it without having 10 fingers: he lost two of them in a caravan fire.

chuck berry
Chuck Berry in Brunnsparken, Örebro, Sweden in 2007. Photo by Håkan Henriksson on Wikimedia Commons.

Chuck Berry

In addition to being one of the greatest guitar players, Chuck Berry is undoubtedly one of the most influential, having an undeniable impact on the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and basically anybody who picked up a guitar after him.

Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18, 1926. He began playing the guitar at 15 and soon developed his distinctive style. In 1955, he released his first single, “Maybellene,” which became a huge hit. 

He went on to release some of the most iconic rock n’ roll singles of all time, including “Johnny B. Good,” “Rock n’ Roll Music,” and “Come On.”

 

Keith Richards

Keith Richards co-founded perhaps the greatest rock n’ roll band of all time, The Rolling Stones, in 1962. Richards co-wrote some of The Rolling Stones’ most famous songs, such as “Satisfaction,” “Paint It Black,” and “Gimme Shelter.” 

Richards is more known for his unique style and approach to the guitar than for his technical ability. Emotion goes a long way, though, and Richards has that in spades. He wouldn’t make every list of the greatest guitar players, but he makes ours.

jerry garcia
Jerry Garcia in 2012. Photo by Carl Lender on Wikimedia Commons

Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia was more than just the founder of the legendary jam band The Grateful Dead. In addition to a successful solo career, he also launched country rock luminaries New Riders of the Purple Sage and was one half of Old and in the Way with fiddle player Vassar Clements.

Though not always given as much attention for his guitar playing as he deserves, his fluid style influenced every jam band that came after him, from Phish to Gov’t Mule. If you’re judging based on depth of emotion, he is clearly one of the greatest guitar players, as you can see here

Some of Jerry Garcia’s best songs include “Friend of the Devil,” “Ripple,” “Sugaree,” “Casey Jones,” and “Touch of Grey.”

 

Duane Allman

Allman Brothers co-founder Duane Allman left an indelible mark in rock history with his visceral, blues-oriented style. The way he stretched out solos is legendary, especially on the version of Allman Brothers classic “Whipping Post” from their residency at the Fillmore.

Allman also funded Derek and the Dominos with Eric Clapton, where he often outshone his more famous counterpart.

Les Paul
Les Paul, ca. January 1947 (Photograph by William P. Gottlieb on wikimedia commons).

Les Paul

Guitar innovator Les Paul helped to develop the solid-body electric guitar, which became a standard in the music industry. He played for a number of different bands throughout his career and collaborated with many legends, including the the Ink Spots, Benny Goodman, and Nat King Cole.

Aside from his guitar innovations, Paul also pioneered the use of overdubbing and multitrack recording techniques. His contributions to the world of music were vast, making him one of the greatest guitar players of all time.

 

Pete Townshend

60s rock legends The Who are known for their visceral style. The drumming of Keith Moon, the bass playing of John Entwistle, the vocals of Roger Daltry, and of course the guitar work of Pete Townshend were all unhinged, making for some of the most racusus sounds in rock n’ roll.

Somehow, Pete Townshend is an underrated guitar player. Listen to any of his wild solos on Who concerts from the 70s and it’ll convince you that he’s one of the greatest guitar players.

Townshend has won several awards throughout his career, including induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the UK Music Hall of Fame. He has also been awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and an Ivor Novello Award. 

David gilmour
David Gilmour in Munich on July 2006. Photo by Joep Vullings on Wikimedia Commons.

David Gilmour

The solo on “Comfortably Numb” alone would give David Gilmour a spot on any list of the greatest guitar players. He’s so much more than that, though. His unique style of playing, which ranged from long sustained notes to a biting guitar attack, is one of the defining characteristics of Pink Floyd.

Other than “Comfortably Numb,” some of his other best solos can be found on Floyd tracks “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Time,” in addition to solo pieces like “In Any Tongue.”

 

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan singlehandedly kept the blues alive in the 1980s and 90s. Famously, he was booed off stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, only to find David Bowie and Jackson Brown waiting in the wings backstage to invite him to play on their next album and record in their studio respectively.

Vaughan had a successful run of albums with his band Double Trouble, including Texas Flood and Couldn’t Stand the Weather. His major hits include “Tight Rope,” “Pride and Joy,” and “Cold Shot,” which each feature his signature blistering solos.

Who do you think are the greatest guitar players of all-time? Who did we miss? Let us know in the comments!

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.

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