Top 10 Greatest Guitar Players (Famous Guitarists)

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From guitar faces to the different kinds of axes, here is the Top 10 Greatest Guitar Players. Squeezing the talent that’s blessed our ears for all these years into a list of 10 is just as difficult as choosing which limbs to lose or keep. The list is by no means definitive, but it’s an accurate representation for the uniqueness of the music the guitarist has made. In short, these famous guitar players have played the melodies that have made grown men cry, and probably gave you a taste of how your guitar face would look like pretending to play that solo. Of course many great guitarists may not have made this top 10 list, but feel free to add your own favorites in the comments.

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10. Tom Morello

The guitar player who makes his guitar sound anything but a guitar. Helicopter rudders, disc scratching, and his use of the kill switch for staccato like guitar riffs has made him probably the most innovative guitar player of our time. He is a guitarist who can take feedback, and ground hum from his own body into coherent music. Be it Rage Against The Machine, or Audioslave you can always see Morello’s signature licks shining through.

9. John Mayer

Whoa whoa wait, what? This pop artist? A guitar player? If all you’ve ever heard from Mayer is Your Body Is Wonderland, or Daughters, then you’ve got to give his album Continuum a listen to. He is no Shakespeare, but his guitar playing speaks to your soul. His songs will make most glorified tough guys miss their old girlfriend, and the rest just go to a corner and cry. If you think that his songs are all too depressing, then watch some videos of him playing. His guitar face is priceless.

8. Jack White

 

Mr. White is an incredibly underrated guitarist. His singles (From the White Stripes) always span with just three to four chords and his simplistic blues rhythm and picking styles have him overlooked most of the time. However, his masterful use of the Digitech Whammy and is erratic playing make for some of the most memorable guitar solos ever. Check out Ball and a Biscuit and try not to like that solo. One of my favorite Jack White moments was during the 2004 Grammys, where he took 7 Nation Army and went into a cover of Son House’s Death Letter (another artist who I had to unwillingly cut out of the list). In an awards show celebrating Justin Timberlake and Missy Eliot, Jack White took time to give a salute to where things got started, to an artist born a century ago.

7. Jimmy Page

Admit it. You’ve slow danced to Stairway To Heaven before. Page’s playing have influenced so many guitar players of today, and Led Zeppelin revolutionized Rock and Roll blending acoustic guitars, banjos, and mandolins while still staying with the same gritty rock image. His guitar riffs are forever etched into Rock and Roll’s hall of fame. How influential was he? Step into a guitar store, and you’ll see. Thousands of 12 year old kids across the globe are playing the intro to Stairway. Now that’s how you know you’ve made it.

6. BB King

Yeah. He may have to sit down when he plays, but he’ll have you on your feet when he does. BB’s creamy yet piercing tone, his unique vibrato and his absolute flawless ability to express his emotions through the guitar earn him a spot in the top ten. King’s years of fame haven’t gone to his head. He is still as humble as ever giving front row seat tickets to fans waiting in a cold parking lot just to have a glimpse of him. BB King can’t play chords. Nor does he sing and play at the same time. But he has worldwide recognition of his accomplishments as an artist. That’s a mark of a truly great guitarist.

5. David Gilmour



Gilmour was made famous by his haunting guitar scores in Pink Floyd. This “replacement” guitarist surpassed expectations and helped shape Pink Floyd’s unique sound. You can always expect hairs at the back of your neck to stand whenever you hear one of his solos – be it for the first or hundredth time you’re listening to it. All the emotion that Gilmour’s poured into his guitar work lives on in the music and is channeled through anyone who’s ever wanted to cover a Pink Floyd song. I know several guitar players (myself included) who whenever playing the Comfortably Numb solo – whether they are alone in their bedrooms or on stage – have always been unwillingly brought to tears, near the point of crying. How could you not expect things to get esoteric and mystical when it comes to music?

4. John Frusciante

Let’s get it straight. Froo – Shawn – Tey. If you don’t know him, he’s the lead guitarist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Frusciante is the author of the brilliant chord progression on Under the Bridge, the haunting intro to Californication and the simplistic solo and riff on Otherside. If you’re the casual listener of the Chili Peppers, then you may wonder why John has made it so far up this list. But a tad of a closer look will reveal that his simple catchy riffs are the tip of the ice berg. One can catch a glimpse at his technical skill in the Dani California solo. A bit deeper and you’ll run into Lyon 06.06.06 in one of the B Sides. John takes his influences (Page, Hendrix) and mixes his own nuances into a sound that’s pleasantly different, but melodically having the same effects on you. A track to look out for on his solo work – Ramparts – showcasing four or so guitars layered upon each other in an introspective orchestra.

3. Stevie Ray Vaughan

Now if this house is rocking, don’t bother knockin. Famous words by Stevie. Many people perhaps know him for Hendrix covers, but where Jimi left off Stevie continued, and continued he did. The elements of Hendrix were alive and plain to see in SRV, but with it, he also mixed in his own influences such as Albert King and his own soul to make it his sound a trademark spot on his songs. I vaguely remember a car commercial where I spotted Stevie’s playing (Pride and Joy) in a Nissan ad. That was much before I really got into Vaughan’s work. SRV was an artist who could play while absolutely stoned face. And when he did sober up, he actually played better. His newfound health and love for life and music are showcased on In Step his last album before his death a year later. Stevie’s footprints will always be in the air and in our hearts.

2. Jimi Hendrix

 

Hendrix was known for a lot of things.The beautiful chord embellishments on Little Wing, the grit of the solo in Voodoo Child screaming off of his strat pickups, his cover of the Dylan song All Along The Watchtower, and the backwards solo in Castles Made of Sand, but known as a great innovative guitar player over and over again. His short but explosive career influenced numerous artists for many years past his death and continues to influence musicians today. To make such a difference in such a short amount of time truly earns Jimi a spot as number two. But…then you may ask, “Who is deserving of number one?!”

1. Robert Johnson

Bobby Jo is number one on this list. Every artist has unknowingly been influenced by him. Starting in the Mississippi Delta, Johnson’s life is rife with myths, and allegory. His deal with the devil and death are full of folklore and mysticism, and it only adds to his haunting voice and groundbreaking guitar playing. His songs are just a pure expression of emotion with no bars held. He led the groundwork for early blues to be filled in and worked upon by all the artists on this list. He also worked on breaking down social barriers. A black man in the early 20th century was not exactly the best place to be. But his music was to add interest by white musicians and help the civil movements of the sixties. Politically or musically, Robert Johnson is deserving of number one on this list.

Robert Johnson
written by Clarence F.


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564 Comments

  1. This list is a disgrace, including no mention of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani or John Petrucci.

  2. I disagree with your selection of “Marooned” as the definitive showcase for Gilmour’s talents….try the latter portion of “Comfortably Numb”……….”live” from the Pulse concert, Earls Court……

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJZYG5qwHHI

    (fast forward to 04:50)

    Enjoy………..

    Don Laird

  3. Jimi is really the best, but how a man who died 80 years ago, when no real music recording existed was the BEST?. Because my grandpa said so? It’s not serious.

  4. Leaving aside guitarists whose relative fame is debatable (such as Steve Hillage or Terje Rypdal), how can you have a wannabe like John Mayer on your list, but not Dr. Brian May, Jerry Garcia or Jeff Beck? And I’d have also swapped out Tom Morello in favor of Adrian Belew. Belew was making his guitar sound like “everything but a guitar” more than a decade before anyone had heard of Morello. Adrian played with Talking Heads, Joan Armatrading, David Bowie (that’s him playing the crazy solos on DJ and Boys Keep Swinging), and King Crimson back in thee late 70’s and early 80’s. And his song Oooh Daddy at least grants him one hit wonder status, as far as “fame” goes.

  5. Pat Metheny can play with speed, complexity and emotion that is beyond just about everyone on that list. (Dont be fooled by the ‘smooth jazz’ if thats all you’ve heard by him.)

    But this is obviously a rock/blues list. Otherwise Wes Montgomery or other jazz greats would be included. Not to mention country pickers like Merle Travis that are incredible…

  6. someonestudied on

    Jimi Hendix to Robert Johnson… Big gap there. Every single person on this list is a celebrity besides him(Robert Johnson). AND 90 percent of them play electric guitar. CHAIRLIE CHRISTIAN is the person you should be worshiping. Comment if you are a guitarist and have actually done your homework.

  7. So where’s Carlos Santana? Richie Sambora? Eric Johnson? Eric Clapton? Jimi Hendrix? Slash?

  8. What a shame….all of these “experts” boasting of “knowing the biggest member” !
    Please – get serious !
    Paco de Lucia, Tommy Emmanuel, Jon Gomm, Mike Dawes….and a thousand more !!
    Music / Guitar is NOT about competing you idiots !!!!!!
    It is about creating and experiencing ART !!!
    ART for those that doesnt know is another dimension than “I can throw a stone much longer than you ”
    So PLEASE – grow up – no more silly BS about “the best ” guitarist !!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. 10. Rusty Cooley
    9.Javier Reyes
    8. Chris Broderick
    7. Jimmy Page
    6. John Petrucci
    5. Jeff Loomis
    4. Paul Waggoner/Dusty Baker
    3. Joe Satriani (Hes a musical computer, knows EVERYTHING)
    2. Steve Vai
    1. Tosin Abasi (No Doubt)

  10. just the notes on

    If your voting on pure guitarist and no particular style then jose felicano is Number one.The worlds greatest living guitarist. also The worlds greatest blind guitarist.
    I always say that Jose Feliciano? is indeed one of the greatest guitarists that’s ever lived. Flamenco, latin, bolero, classical, rock ect ect…. You name it and Jose can play it. Why he’s not on Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarist of all time, is beyond anyone’s guess. dont believe me look up on youtube purple haze, the thrill is gone, flight of the bumble bee, Malagueña under Jose Feliciano. the guy can play anything and make it his own.

  11. Anyone without the skills and ability to shred well technically should not be on a top list ever. Any top list without Buckethead is incomplete since he has the highest ability. Anyone that says Buckethead can not play with soul/feel/emotion/blah blah blah are misinformed and have not listened to enough of him them self. Buckethead has over 50 albums so it is hard to find the good stuff since a lot of his work is experimental, but his good stuff is the best stuff. Oh wow just before pushing post I just found yet another awesome older Buckethead song… Brazos.

  12. The best is in the ears of the beholder.
    The guitar exists hundreds if not a thousand years.
    Addressing mostly recent electrical guitar players and disregard most famous classical and flamenco players is lying to history.
    Not to mention Goya or Pacco de Lucia even with one word is a crime against guitar playing.
    Shame on all of you spring chicks.

  13. In all these comments I have seen no mention of Derek Trucks. I hear you on all the big name rock guitarists. Whatever. I see no Brian Setzer either. Older country greats like Merle Travis, Jody Maphis and Hank “Sugarfoot” Garland should be on an all time greats list. Chet Atkins, the one and ONLY Mr. Guitar. Les Paul, Django Reinhardt. Andres Segovia,
    How about acoustic rock/pop guys like Paul Simon and James Taylor?
    Tommy Emmanuel, and the Alabama Wild Man, Jerry Reed. Go look up Lighting Rod and try to keep up. Redd Volkaert, hell even Willie Nelson plays a mean lead guitar.
    No top ten list can be real without the name Jack Pearson. Former Allman Brothers guitarist, Nobody on your list can hold a candle to him.

  14. sohrab saghafi on

    Ritchi Blackmore is the biggest guitarist in the world after Jimmi H
    endrix ,of course.I want to know what you say.come on…..

  15. As a long time player conveying the skill, craft and passion of this art, which is as much as a science, players of ANY and every instrument can unanimously agree that there are no “best” players. Some have great moments that were captured and regurgitated in the media time and a get which put them in a permanent vista. This is greatness? Hardly. I’ve seen A LOT of players, some included in the article and the majority chanted by the readers on this board screw things up beyond repair–some during the opening of their first song of the performance. OUCH that hurts…but it happens. Some completely lost track with what they were doing during a show casing of their solo work…oops. Yep it happens, like sometimes happens to singers who forget their lines–it doesn’t matter that they have written the song they were performing. Yea, we hear about this stuff every now and then, however at the end of the day, this doesn’t matter. The truth is, people hear only what they want to hear and will by their very disposition, ignore the negatives and embrace the positives of their work–alas this is why this supportive listeners are called FANS.

    BTW, what you heard on Jimi’s video on this article is not what was being played out one the video. (ANY guitar player worthy of his salt would have caught on to that in one or two bars…OK, I’ll be accommodating…10 bars.

    In truth, there are far too many outstanding players working behind the scenes of modern day music or session players that nobody knows about but have definitely heard and someone else is being recognized for it.

    Case in point: Google/YouTube these names:

    1.) Brent Mason
    2.) Eric Johnson
    3.) Steve Wariner
    4.) Larry Coryell
    5.) Reggie Young
    6.) Ronnie Montrose (RIP…miss you bro)
    7.) Les Dudek
    8.) Jan Akerman
    9.) Sharon Isbin (What did she do with Steve Vai) 😉
    10.) Tatyana Ryzhkova

    This list goes on and on for country miles!

    Let this video be a discovery vista and a symbiotic revelation to what guitar and player is all about in giving their instrument a voice for YOU to hear.
    https://youtu.be/8u4krJw-HjM

    It goes to show…there is no “best” guitar players…it’s all a matter of perspective, taste, interpretation, etc….. Above all, much of it has to do with the players in question being at the right place , at the right time, playing what the audience wanted to hear from that performance at that point in time. It’s a big world full of talent undiscovered and sadly, it will remain just that: undiscovered.

  16. John Mayer? Really? And I love Jack White but top ten? No. I’d easily take Eric Clapton (whom I don’t really even care for) or Neal Schon over half these guys any day,

  17. Ed Davenport on

    Obviously listing something as subjective as musical greatness is tough and inevitably going to cause disagreement, but this is another level. Including John Frusciante and Jack White was a little absurd. Excluding players like Yngvie Malmstein, Dave Mustaine, and Slash was questionable. Excluding Eric Clapton was shocking, offensive, but almost admirable. Very little genre diversity, too. By my count, half of these players are blues or heavily blues-based. The complete absence of heavy metal is glaring. This list is ambitious, but golly, this is pretty darn bad.

  18. It’s very odvious you have never heard of Eric Clapton or he would top this absurd list ,actually very amusing,even laughable list you dug up from some unknown source

  19. Phoenix Hung on

    A lot of flotsam and jetsam on this list….no Joe Satriani….Steve Vai….Eric Clapton…Billy Gibbons….Wow….

  20. shawn collins on

    No Tony Iomi? Have you never heard Black Sabbath? Listen to Volume 4 or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Also Prince, not a big fan of his genre, but he could shred a guitar.

  21. John Mayer is overrated af. Go and listen to Eric Clapton lol bruh you have a sad lyf if you never heard him lul.