These Are the Best Guitarists of All-time, Ranked. Do You Agree?
If you're a music fan, you probably understand the thrill of hearing an amazing guitar riff or an electrifying Rock'n'Roll solo. Whether it's blues, folk or even metal, a good guitarist plucking away on a guitar always seems to tug at our heartstrings at the same time.
So who are the world's best guitarists?
Everyone has their own opinion, but we've compiled a list of 43 who we think are at the very top. Is your favorite musician up there? Read on to find out.
42. Bo Diddley
Ellas McDaniel, born Ellas Otha Bates - but probably best known as Bo Diddley - was born in McComb, Mississippi in 1928, and grew up on the South Side of Chicago.
We're placing Bo Diddley at the beginning of this list not because we think he's an inferior guitarist than anyone else here, but rather because, thanks to his innovative musical style and iconic rectangular guitar, he's influenced Rock'n'Roll music as much, if not more, than giants like Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry.
Over the years, his songs have been covered by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Elvis and Muddy Waters, and his sound, firmly based in West African rhythms, is now a staple in rock, rap and blues music.
41. Johnny Ramone
Johnny Ramone - actually named John William Cummings - helped shape punk rock music with his distinctive playing style and his Mosrite guitar.
“Johnny was the first guitar player I ever saw play like he was really mad. And I was like, ‘Damn. That’s cool,'" Henry Rollins once said.
Johnny's heavy, and yet up-tempo riffs may not be too complicated to play, but they were revolutionary in their time - and still hold up, as songs like “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Judy Is a Punk” and “Rockaway Beach" still testify.
40. Jerry Garcia
Ask fans of Grateful Dead - known as Deadheads - and they'll tell you they're much more than just a band. The Grateful Dead are a cultural movement, and have been influential since the early 1960s, through 1969's Summer of Love and all the way into the 1990s.
At the center of this remarkable band stood Jerome John Garcia, whom Deadheads simply called "Jerry."
His trademark fusion playing style, comprised of influences as diverse as Spanish guitar, bluegrass, and jazz, not to mention plain old Rock'n'Roll, was unique, challenging and deeply beautiful.
39. Tony Iommi
Anthony Iommi, better known as Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath fame, should not have been able to play the guitar at all, let alone make it into this list; when he was 17, he lost the tips of two of his fingers in an industrial accident.
"I sat in the hospital with my hand in this bag and I thought 'that's it – I'm finished.' But eventually I thought 'I'm not going to accept that. There must be a way I can play,'" Iommi said in a BBC interview.
And play he did. Coming up with a distinct playing style that was all his own, Iommi went on to help compose and perform heavy metal classics like "Iron Man," "Sabbra Cadabra," "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and many more.
38. Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson doesn't need much of an introduction. It seems his career, which has spanned more than six decades so far, and nearly 100 studio albums, speaks for itself.
Throughout it all, Nelson has used the same guitar, his trusty Trigger, with its distinctive strap and custom pickups. Being played for so long, Nelson's pick has worn a hole just above the guitar's bridge, which, by now, has nearly reached the sound hole.
Nelson's distinct style combines hints of rock, blues, country and jazz. At nearly 90 years old, Nelson is showing no signs of slowing down, and continues to play live to this day.
37. Joni Mitchell
If we were to ask you what you think about Roberta Joan Anderson's music, you'd probably scratch your head and ask us who we're talking about - but if we were to tell you that she also goes by the name of Joni Mitchell, we're willing to guarantee you'd tell us you have several favorite songs of hers.
Mitchell is known for writing many of her songs with the same chords - but with different guitar tunings. To keep up with her unique tunings, Joni used to travel with five identical Ibanez guitars, each one strung with differing sized strings matched to the tuning she needed for particular songs. Since then, she's been able to use just one guitar with the help of a synthesizer, but her guitar playing style still remains unique.
36. Buddy Guy
What would you be willing to do to get a free, private Buddy Guy performance in your home, whenever you wanted it?
We can't speak for anyone else, but we'd be willing to do quite a lot, and we're pretty sure you would, too. So when we discovered he was kicked out of the family home when he was young because his music was too noisy for his parents, we were dumbfounded.
Still, despite the hardships he's had to endure, Buddy Guy eventually became a guitar legend, and is still cited today as one of the most influential guitarists in history.
35. Tom Morello
No Greatest Guitarists list would be complete without Tom Morello somewhere in it.
The Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist has been consistently ranked as one of the world's most impressive guitarists in lists composed by Rolling Stone, the BBC and many others, thanks to his unique blend of effects, hip hop rhythms and punk sensibilities, greatly contributing to the sound that made Rage Against the Machine so successful.
In addition to his work with Rage and Audioslave, Morello has toured with giants like Bruce Springsteen and continues to experiment in side projects with countless other musicians.
34. Angus Young
Angus Young was born with a very fitting family name, considering his penchant for schoolboy outfits, which he still performs in today, despite having been born in 1955.
Even if you've never head or AC/DC, the image of Young strutting about on stage with his Gibson SG, shorts and tie is one that's become so iconic that we're sure anyone would recognize it.
Over the years, Young, who has been playing with AC/DC since he was 18, has composed and played classics like "Back in Black" and "Highway to Hell," and continues to rock today.
33. Brian May
Brian May is not only the lead guitarist of one of the greatest bands of all time - Queen - he's also an astrophysicist and a luthier - that is, a builder of guitars.
Responsible for the guitars in songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Don't Stop Me Now," May built his first guitar, the Red Special, also known as the Old Lady, with his father when he was a kid.
32. Bobby Krieger
The Doors may be most associated with their legendary front man, Jim Morrison, but they would be nothing without their guitarist, Bobby Krieger.
Known for their stripped-down sound, which was bereft of both rhythm and bass guitars, Krieger had a lot of work to fill in the void.
Thanks to his training in both jazz and flamenco, though, Krieger was able to help craft one of the most unique sounds in Rock'n'Roll history. In addition to his guitar playing skills, Krieger is also an accomplished songwriter, and wrote some unforgettable numbers like "Light My Fire," as well as co-wrote "Riders on the Storm" and "Roadhouse Blues."
31. The Edge
U2's legendary guitarist, The Edge, also known as David Evens, is truly a phenomenal guitarist. It takes a lot to be able to match Bono's singing, but The Edge carries his weight as an equal part of the sound of one of the world's most successful bands. It's especially impressive, considering his guitar playing skills are all entirely self-taught. He's best known for the songs "I Will Follow," "Pride (In the Name of Love)," and "The Fly".
30. Billy Gibbons
Despite his somewhat intimidating "biker" look, Billy Gibbons, one third of the legendary country-rock trio ZZ Top, was actually born into a very cultured household. His father, a maestro, instilled the love of music in him from a very young age, and encouraged his career as a musician, taking him to see Elvis in concert and BB King in the recording studio.
By the time he was 20 years old, Gibbons was nothing less than a musical phenomenon. He ultimately teamed up with the bearded bass guitar player Dusty Hill, and later, with their clean-shaven drummer friend, Frank Beard, and together the three formed ZZ Top, performing rockin' classics like "Tush" and "Gimme Your Lovin."
29. Scotty Moore
Elvis Presley is one of Rock'n'Roll's greatest performers, but despite his distinct singing style and provocative dance moves, he very likely wouldn't have made it very far without the help of Scotty Moore.
Moore accompanied Elvis on the guitar, at first in the early '50s when Elvis was still a teen, and later, during his 1968 comeback. During his work with Presley, he came up with the famous "slapback" echo effect which helped define the sound of a generation.
Some of his best performances can be heard in songs like "That's All Right," "Mystery Train" and "Heartbreak Hotel."
28. Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters, born McKinley Morganfield, was born in rural Mississippi in 1913. He grew up playing Delta blues in his community, and when he was in his mid-20s, moved to Chicago, where he began to perform and record his songs, mixing his raw, southern-style blues with the more highly produced Chicago sound.
Muddy Waters is one of the greatest blues performers of all time, and it's difficult to even start guessing just how far his influence over modern music goes. The Rolling Stones named themselves after his 1950 song, "Rollin' Stone", and Jimi Hendrix cited him as a major inspiration.
27. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell
Tom Petty, best known as the front man of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was a pretty accomplished guitarist on his own - but it's impossible to mention Petty without also mentioning Mike Campbell, the Heartbreakers' guitarist. In Petty's first solo album, Full Moon Fever, Campbell is actually the guitarist delivering most of the solos.
26. Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa is an extremely versatile guitarist. Born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 21, 1940, he's produced over 60 albums over the years - some solo, some collaborations - but is probably best known for his work with the Mothers of Invention, and songs like "Willie the Pimp" and "In-a-Gadda-Stravinsky."
Drawing on musical genres as diverse as Jazz and Musique Concrète, Zaapa seemed to be able to do things no one had ever before done with a guitar - most notably on his 1981 album Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar.
25. Neil Young
Neil Young, also known as "The Godfather of Grunge", was born in Toronto, Canada in 1945.
Since then he's played with bands like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which helped form counterculture from the flower children's movement in the sixties all the way to grungy, angry rockers like Nirvana and Pearl Jam in the mid '90s.
Young still performs today, his singing voice unique and full of attitude - and his guitar even more so.
24. David Gilmour
David Gilmour wasn't Pink Floyd's original guitarist. That honor is reserved for Syd Barrett. But despite not being the first, he eventually found his way to becoming one of the band's most prominent members.
Gilmour's love of effects and complicated sound production led to the creation of the iconic sound of albums like Dark Side of the Moon. We have him to thank for songs like "Comfortably Numb" and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."
23. Joe Perry
We have Anthony Joe Perry, who goes by his middle name, to thank for the amazing guitar solos in songs like "Dream On," "Walk This Way" and "Janie's Got a Gun."
With Steven Tyler's pipes singing right next to him, it's no wonder Perry has to bring it when he plays - you simply cannot let a voice like that down with mediocre guitar playing.
Rolling Stone Magazine called his guitar riffs "blues on steroids," and it's difficult to disagree with that description.
For a while in the early '90s, Guns N' Roses was the biggest band in the world.
The band's success was due in equal parts to Axle Rose's intense singing and charismatic stage persona, and Saul Hudson's - better known as Slash - ripping guitar solos.
We have Slash to thank for the timeless guitar solos in "November Rain" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" - and while Slash and Rose had a long falling out, they're now, thankfully, back together performing and recording again.
21. Buddy Holly
It's difficult to list a contemporary rock musician Buddy Holly didn't influence. Eric Clapton, the Beatles and Elton John all cite him as a major influence, and many say he essentially invented rock music as we know it today.
Listening to songs like "That'll Be the Day" and "Peggy Sue," it's hard to believe the man singlehandedly came up with a sound that is so recognizable today, mixing blues and country into a unique cocktail that still gets listeners rocking, decades later.
20. Dick Dale
Dick Dale was born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 4, 1937. It may be funny to note that one of the fathers of surf rock was born on the East Coast, but it makes more sense when you learn that he and his family moved to Southern California when he was a teen, and that he began to surf at the age of 17.
Having coming up with songs like "The Peter Gunn Theme" and "Misirlou," he drew on Middle Eastern music scales and experimented with reverberation to come up with the guitar sound we all associate today with catching waves.
19. Freddie King
Freddie King, known as "The Texas Cannonball" thanks to his large build, was known for his fittingly explosive live shows.
Playing his guitar with metal picks meant for banjoes, he came up with a unique sound that inspired many other musicians.
In a 1985 interview, Eric Clapton (don't worry, he's on this list as well) said that King's 1961 "I Love the Woman" was "What started me on my path."
Most famous for his song "The Stumble," his fusion of rock and blues is still making waves today.
18. Kurt Cobain
Born in Aberdeen, Washington on February 20, 1967, when Kurt Cobain turned 14, his uncle offered him either a brand-new bike as a present - or a used guitar.
That present started one of the brightest burning careers in rock history. Cobain, along with his band Nirvana, came up with a distinct, grungy sound that fused rock, punk and folk in ways that no one had heard before. Their songs "Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “All Apologies,” and “Heart Shaped Box," to name a few, became instant hits, and changed the shape of music - and of youth counterculture - forever.
17. John Lennon
John Lennon had the unique, uncanny ability to take a simple melody and turn it into one pop anthem after another.
Playing rhythm guitar for the best-selling band in history, songs like "Help!," "Day Tripper" and "Yer Blues" wouldn't be the same without Lennon's flair - but his guitar playing usually goes unsung.
“They call George the invisible singer," Lennon once said. "I am the invisible guitar player."
16. George Harrison
It's impossible to mention John Lennon without also mentioning George Harrison on this list.
Often thought of as playing third fiddle to Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Harrison's guitar playing eclipsed them both.
Harrison was an accomplished songwriter in addition to his guitar solos, having written classics like "Taxman" and "Here Comes the Sun."
Tom Petty once said of his style that “He was very in tune when he played, the slide was very precise, and just had a beautiful vibrato on it.”
15. Albert King
The name "Albert Nelson" may not ring any bells, but that's only because he went by the name of Albert King when he was playing.
Born in Indianola, Mississippi on April 25, 1923, King was known as the "Velvet Bulldozer" because of his towering stature and smooth singing. Despite being left handed, King played a right handed guitar. When asked about his influences in 1968, he said he had none, because "everything I do is wrong."
Somehow, all that wrong added up to something very right, as he was admired by artists like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton throughout his career.
14. Joe Walsh
With a middle name like "Fiddler", Joe Walsh of the Eagles seemed to be destined for a musical career from the moment he was born.
Joining the band late, the same year they released their greatest hit, "Hotel California," it's his guitar work that can be heard in the song's original recording - widely considered to be one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
In addition to "Hotel California," his work also includes songs like “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Funk #49.”
13. Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend first started as The Who's guitarist. Despite his immense talent, he never played a single solo while with the band. Still, coming up with the guitar parts for songs like "My Generation," "I Can See for Miles" and the cover of "Summertime Blues" alone would be enough to place him high on our list, even without his later solo career.
12. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughn may be almost as famous for the faces he makes while playing the guitar as he is for his actual musical ability.
His unique sound was influenced by a mix of rock and blues and traces of Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King and Eric Clapton are all easily discernible in his work.
His songs “Love Struck Baby,” “Cold Shot” and “Look at Little Sister" are all masterworks of guitar playing, and if it weren't for his untimely death in a 1990 helicopter crash we have no doubt he'd have come up with countless more classics.
Prince Nelson - or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, as he was asked to be called after he changed his name to his iconic logo - always did things his own way.
He was said to have written his first song at the age of seven, back in 1965, and titled it "Funk Machine."
Many music lovers often say they can hear traces of Hendrix in his work, but Prince disputes this.
“If they really listened to my stuff, they’d hear more of a Santana influence than Jimi Hendrix," he said.
Regardless of who his influences are, his songs "Purple Rain," "Kiss" and "When Doves Cry" and masterpieces that will live on forever.
10. Duane Allman
Just like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane “Skydog” Allman was taken from this world too young. Robert Randolph once said of Allman’s death, “Duane died young, and it’s just one of those things. You could tell he was going to get 50 times better.”
His style had an emphasis on precision in a way that hadn’t been played before. While all of us are deprived of his untimely death due to a tragic from a motorcycle crash, he’s best known for his slide guitar work in the Allman Brothers songs “Statesboro Blues,” “Whipping Post” and “Blue Sky.”
9. Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana is, except for Hendrix, perhaps the definitive guitarist of the Summer of Love.
Prince said Santana was a greater influence on him, though, because he "played prettier."
Known for classic solos in songs like “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va” and “Soul Sacrifice," Santana attributed LSD for his finding his voice, saying “You cannot take LSD and not find your voice.”
8. B. B. King
Riley B. King, better known as “B. B. King,” was born in Itta Bena, Mississippi on Sept. 26, 1925. A classic blues artist, he brought a raw, grassroots style of the genre to millions.
A hard worker, as it’s estimated that King did 342 shows in 1956 alone, and 200 shows a year in the 1970s. He’s best known for songs such as “3 O’Clock Blues,” “The Thrill Is Gone” and “Sweet Little Angel.” Along with Albert and Freddie King, B. B. is considered one of “The Three Kings of Blues Guitar.”
7. Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck was born in Surrey, England on June 24, 1944. While he was part of two very successful albums with the Jeff Beck Group, his time with the band was short, and he became something of a journeyman bouncing from band to band.
Beck is best known for his songs “A Day in the Life,” “I Ain’t Superstitious” and “Heart Full of Soul." He still rocks it to this day and is touring long past the age of 70.
6. Keith Richards
Keith Richards was born in Kent, England on Dec. 18, 1943. Richards is an enigma because he’s the band’s leading guitarist, and also their rhythm guitarist, often in the same song.
According to Nils Lofgren of the E. Street Band, one of the keys to Richards’ unique style is the way he tunes his guitar. Just like Van Halen, one can play his music but it just won’t sound the same. Richards is best known for his songs “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Gimme Shelter” and “Paint it Black.”
5. Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on Jan. 26, 1955. During some of his riffs, Van Halen employs a unique style to the way he holds a pick. By gripping it in his middle finger and thumb, he’s able to drag his fingers across the strings, and some artists have said it’s like he’s added another instrument.
Van Halen is best known for tracks such as “Eruption,” “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” and “Hot for Teacher.” Mike McCready of Pearl Jam once said of Van Halen’s style, “You can play the things he’s written, but there’s an ‘X-factor’ that you can’t get.”
4. Chuck Berry
Charles Berry, better known as Chuck, was born in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct. 18, 1926. Berry was a blues-style guitarist that kept to his roots but rocked it so well that he influenced some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll guitarists of all time.
Berry is best known for songs such as “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven.” His song “Johnny B. Goode” is considered to have one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. It was his and several others rocking of the blues that basically created rock ‘n’ roll, so the rest of the members on this list can thank Chuck Berry.
3. Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page was born in Middlesex, England on Jan. 9, 1944.
An undeniably dark, yet folkloric sound, Page’s guitar captivates multiple generations of fans.
As the lead guitarist for Led Zeppelin, Page wrote music, and in the recording studio, he was known to be a true workhorse, always fine-tuning his guitar to produce the right sound. He’s best known for his work in songs such as “Dazed and Confused,” “Heartbreaker” and “Kashmir.”
2. Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton was born in Surrey, England on March 30, 1945. Clapton used simple notes and smooth, basic sounds to produce unforgettable melodies. The greatest guitar players either trained in blues, or adopted blues style to Rock‘n’Roll, and Clapton is a perfect fusion of both.
In his early days with Cream, he played with two other jazz guitarists, and later said he was, “just trying to keep up.” He produced a groundbreaking sound, and it was only the beginning of his odyssey with the guitar. He’s best known for his songs “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Crossroads” and “White Room.”
1. Jimi Hendrix
We’ve arrived at our No. 1 guitar player of all time, and this man, Jimi Hendrix, tops all lists of greatest guitar players ever. Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington on Nov. 27, 1942. One thing to note is the fact that Hendrix is hands down the god of the guitar, and had the shortest career of anyone else on this list.
His sound was out of this world, as the first to perfect feedback, and he produced combinations of notes and chords never heard before.
He’s best known for songs such as “Purple Haze,” “Foxy Lady” and his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”