From the iconic Fender Stratocaster to the Gibson Les Paul, techniques such as power chords to finger-tapping. Choosing a virtuoso over another is genuinely challenging. In fact, the very discussion had led to some heated disagreements amongst various musicians. The decade of the 60’s made more than its fair share of six-string slayers, but the 80’s revolutionized the very idea of what is possible on a typical electric guitar. We made a list of the greatest guitar players in the world, taking into account both their techniques and their guitar performance. On this list, could you find your favorite guitarist?
Robert Fripp, the founder of the band King Crimson, is the man behind various musical inventions, including Frippertronics, soundscapes, and the so-called “new standard tuning.” By spending decades working as a session guitarist, he paid his dues, setting tracks for notable musicians including David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and Blondie, even though he gradually rose to stardom in his own right.
One of the critical figures in creating “fusion” music is John McLaughlin of Doncaster, England. He won the Best Improvised Jazz Solo 2018 Grammy Award. John also had an outstanding array of musicians he had performed with from one time or another. And while it’s not an excuse to rub elbows with rock royalty on this list, you’re not going to find too many guitarists who can claim to have shared the stage with Miles Davis like them. Did you know that he performed on Miles Davis’ most famous album called “Bitches Brew”?
Steve Morse is the Dixie Dregs founder and became the lead guitarist for Deep Purple in 1994. Morse grew up in Ypsilanti, MI. As the lead guitar player, Steve Morse joined the popular rock group Kansas in 1986. The band’s albums Power and In The Spirit of Things were released while he was part of the band. Although he is now part of the supergroup Flying Colors, Morse said that when he was with Deep Purple, his bandmates would force him to ride in a separate vehicle because he would play guitar all the time as they went from gig to gig.
Peter Green was born in London, England, and was one of the co-founders of Fleetwood Mac. His career got a boost when he was hired in 1965 by the British blues godfather, Mr. John Mayall, a man who found more than a couple of guitarists on this list. In reality, the guitarist replaced in John Mayall’s band by Peter Green was none other than Eric Clapton, a guitarist who, as you would expect, could be seen somewhere further down the list.
Trower grew up in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. He was considered one of his day’s very best guitar players because of his Jimi Hendrix-like skills and his alleged ability to bend notes better than any other player alive. However, his guitar playing became most popular during the 1960s, when he was a famous Procol Harum group member. Most might acknowledge that perhaps Trower’s crowning achievement was the album Bridge of Sighs, which was released in 1974. Later on, in the 1980s, Trower formed a group with Jack Bruce, the Cream bass player.
Tom Morello grew up in Libertyville, IL. Before becoming a rock god, he attended Harvard University and received his BA in Social Studies. In the 1990s, Morello met Zack de la Rocha. Together they formed one of the most successful and influential rock acts of the nineties, Rage Against the Machine. In Los Angeles in 2000, Rage Against the Machine played outside of the Staples Center Convention Center, which was currently hosting the Democratic National Convention. As the show raged on, the audience members grew increasingly angry and violent, finally resorting at one point to throwing rocks.
Gilbert grew up in Carbondale, IL. He is best recognized in fast guitar playing for his speed and stylistic versatility. For the legendary metal-monster Ozzy Osbourne himself, Gilbert was tapped to fill in as a guitarist at the ripe age of 15 in the early ’80s. At the time, Ozzy’s manager and producer were dead set against getting a kid to play guitar for a man who was once the lead singer of Black Sabbath. It was all over, however, until Ozzy’s producer heard Gilbert perform. Gilbert traveled across the nation and soon joined the band. He pairs speed picking with legato and Spanish guitar techniques in the same sentence, which is a feat that most guitarists on this list can never achieve.
Malcolm Young was born in Sydney, Australia, and he and his brother Angus co-founded Australia’s largest rock group, AC/DC, at the age of 20. Malcolm played the rhythm guitar, while Angus played the lead. Legend has it that they settled on the name AC/DC after seeing the letters at the top of their older sister Margaret’s sewing machine. By the late 70s, with the band Black Sabbath, Malcolm, and his band were touring Europe. It was rumored that Black Sabbath did not get along too well with them. One story suggests that when tempers flared, Sabbath guitarist Geezer Butler pulled a Malcolm knife one evening.
Another great artist died ahead of his time. This original member of the legendary “The Beatles” died in 2001 after contracting throat cancer, which he blamed on years of smoking when he was 58 years old. Harrison became the first winner of the Billboard Century Award in 1992. It marked Harrison’s “critical role in laying the groundwork for the modern concept of world music.”
Born in the small town of Sarstedt, West Germany, in January 1955 was legendary guitarist Michael Schenker. He was named “a legendary figure in the history of metal guitar.” The German guitarist was also an original member of the Scorpions, a rock band. Later, in the mid-70s, he founded a band called UFO with his brother, Rudolf Schenker. All in all, Schenker has now quit and rejoined the UFO band at least three times and has knocked out a song after each reunion.
Howard Duane Allman was the founder and leader of the Allman Brothers Band, which allowed him to play alongside his brother, Gregg Allman. Tragically, after an accident, Duane died, essentially smashing his inner organs on his motorcycle. He was only about 24 years old. He was renowned for his expressive slide guitar playing and his improvisational ability on the instrument. The Allman Brothers’ album “Live at the Fillmore East” is often cited as one of the best live rock albums ever released.
Paul Kossoff was a member of the famous band “Free” and was in high demand as a guitarist because of his uncanny timing and complex ability to solo. Sadly, Kossoff started using drugs when he was 15. On March 19, 1976, on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, he died of pulmonary embolism. He was only about 25 years old.
Keith Richards, arguably the best rhythm player in history, is the co-founder of the Rolling Stones, his partner Mick Jagger, and one-half of the “Glimmer Twins.” In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine referred to Richards as the creator of “rock’s greatest single body of riffs” on guitar. On top of that, Richards was the basis for Johnny Depp’s character, Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, in the Caribbean films’ Pirates. It’s what makes him cooler than anybody you meet.
If the beard doesn’t give it away, 70-year-old Billy Gibbons is ZZ Top’s lead guitarist and lead singer. The guitar maven established The Moving Sidewalks early in his career, opening for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, allowing Gibbons to become great friends with Jimi. ZZ Top’s Texas blues boogie sound, now selling out concerts around the world, is undoubtedly due to Billy Gibbons’ genius.
Here is why Joe is included in this list. The fact that Joe Bonamassa opened for B.B. King is a well-known fact, but did you know that he was only twelve at the time? B.B. King mentioned that the audience was quiet for a moment when he began playing, taking a moment to realize that it was the kid who made those sounds. But after the truth sunk in, the audience went crazy, and Bonamassa has been performing for massive crowds ever since.
Mick Taylor was the blues virtuoso that Mayall had been looking for, another graduate of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers School of creating rock guitar gods. Until 1974, Taylor went on to play with The Rolling Stones, suggesting that one part was Eric Clapton and one part was Jimmy Page. Guns N ‘Roses guitarist Slash has said that Taylor had the greatest impact on him as an artist.
Dave Mustaine was Metallica’s original lead guitarist. He was born in La Mesa, CA. On April 11, 1983, Mustaine was fired from Metallica because of his alcoholism, substance addiction, abuse, and battles with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich’s founding members. Still, thanks to the band he founded called “Megadeth,” he managed to have great success throughout his career. In his band, he is known for both singing and playing fast, amazing lead lines. Incredible, right?!
Speaking of James Hetfield, here he is! Hetfield is an absolute guitar beast and comes from Downey, CA. Hetfield is essentially credited with creating the ‘speed metal’ sound, creating a spirit of rage that is completely unparalleled in the music industry. Hetfield went to rehab for substance dependency in 2001. He’s been living in Vail, Colorado, ever since, and now.
Co-founding The Who, Townshend is a part of one of the most influential rock bands of all time. He wrote about growing up in London shortly after World War II in his biography, “I wasn’t trying to play beautiful music. I was confronting my audience with the awful, visceral sound of what we all knew was the single absolute of our frail existence—one day, an airplane would carry the bomb that would destroy us all in a flash. It could happen at any time.”
Kirk Hammett, also part of Metallica, was recruited at the age of 16 as a replacement for Dave Mustaine, the previous guitarist for Metallica. After frontman James Hetfield approached Hammett, his parents put him on a plane to New York to meet with the band. As he walked into the venue, the band was not impressed by the kid, but they hired him on the spot as soon as he nailed the solo for the hit ‘Seek and Destroy.’
The pioneer of Rock and Roll, born in 1926, was Chuck Berry. He died in 2017 at 90 years of age. “Berry contributed three things to rock music: an irresistible swagger, a focus on the guitar riff as the primary melodic element, and an emphasis on songwriting as storytelling.” Joe Lynch wrote. There is no doubt that if it weren’t for Chuck Berry, the rock music of today wouldn’t be the way it is today.
Howe is the lead guitarist for the progressive rock group Yes. Building on his popularity, Howe was actually the lead guitarist on the first solo album by Lou Reed after leaving The Velvet Underground. Howe also had a very good solo career after leaving Yes. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2017.
Rory Gallagher, who was born in Ireland, was a star of blues and rock. His albums have sold over 30 million copies globally. Gallagher died tragically at 47 on June 14, 1995, due to a failing liver’s combined effects due to alcohol, narcotics, and an MRSA infection. Due to the amazing way he plays the blues, he has also influenced many blues guitarists.
Zakk Wylde started his career as a member and lead guitarist of a small band named Stone Henge. Finally, as Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist, he auditioned and had a long career. He’s also a member and lead singer of the heavy metal band Black Label Society. Wylde is well known because of his undeniable stage appearance. Ozzy used to say that it was tough to get the crowd to look at him when Wylde was on stage.
Frank Zappa, who passed away from lung cancer in 1993, was a master of improvising free-forms that did not conform. Zappa was prolific, releasing 60 + records with his band, Mothers of Invention, and solo artists. Zappa has been self-taught and is one of the most influential guitarists of the new era. In his later years, Zappa led orchestras and recorded albums of jazz and classical music.
Born in 1963, Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck, best known as Yngwie Malmsteen, became well known for his neoclassical style of playing metal in the ’80s. With 20 studio albums to his credit, Malmsteen continues to be one of the most prolific artists active today. In 2018, with very little sign of slowing down, he signed with Mascot Records!
John Petrucci, born in 1967, is best known for his work with the Dream Theater that he was a founder member of. Petrucci’s name constantly comes up in every “Top Guitarist” article and posts in magazines and online. He is most renowned for his capacity to infuse classical and jazz phrasings into rock chord progressions, producing a sound unlike anything else in the rock world today.
You may not think of the late musician Prince as a shredder, but with his guitar playing, he had the chops to make everyone’s jaw drop. Prince was known for mastering various music styles, most notably disco, punk, R&B, soul, pop, and psychedelic new wave. Prince is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with more than 130 million albums purchased by his adoring fans.
Synyster Gates is the lead guitarist of the band ‘Avenged Sevenfold.’ He was voted Best Metal Guitarist in the World by Total Guitar in 2016 and 2017. He’s a massive jazz fan, and he cites gypsy guitar hero Django Reinhardt as one of his biggest influences. Moreover, he also cites Oingo Boingo’s frontman, Danny Elfman, as someone he deeply admires. A brother-in-law of his, M. Shadow, is the lead singer of Avenged Sevenfold.
In Jalisco, Mexico, Carlos Santana was born. Virtually unknown, he took the stage at Woodstock and blew the audience away. His band Santana came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, pioneering a fusion of rock and roll and Latin American jazz. He received a Grammy, a Billboard Century Award, and a host of other awards.
Angus Young is another member of AC/DC. He is known for his active performances, schoolboy-uniform outfits, and his take on Chuck Berry’s duckwalk. Young is 65, and among the techniques that influence his playing style heavily are blues, power chords, and Scottish folk music. His solos are well known for their ability to play arpeggios with one hand!
Dimebag Darrell of Damageplan has never had formal guitar lessons, but his playing style is legendary. He made use of the major third in his riffs and leads, adding dissonance to his minor key tonalities. He also had incredible picking ability but personally preferred legato phrasing. During a Damageplan concert on December 8, 2004, at the Alrosa nightclub in Ohio, a terrible thing happened. A deranged fan jumped onto the stage during the first set and shot Dimebag Darrell multiple times. The guitar legend was pronounced dead at that scene. He was only thirty-eight years old.
For B.B. King, born in 1925, introduced the world to a sophisticated guitar solo style. He would use string bending and vibrato, which were pioneering new electric blues techniques. A lifetime blues friend and one of the great guys of all time, B.B. (which was short for Blues Boy), is hailed as the uncontested “King” of the blues guitar. King died in his sleep at the age of 89 in 2019 while he was asleep.
Knopfler is the co-founder of the rock band Dire Straits, along with his little brother, David. Label, no. 70, was referred to as a virtuoso. He is a guitarist known for his proficiency in finger-style, as well as a four-time Grammy recipient and a three-time University of Music Honorary Doctor of Music. His hit, Sultans of Swing, from Dire Strait’s first album, remains an absolute masterpiece of guitar showmanship.
Randy Rhoads, who performed with Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne, significantly influenced neoclassical metal. He is cited as an influence by hundreds of revered guitarists. Sadly, in 1982, he died at the age of 25 while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne. A few band members, including Rhoads, took a single-engine plane for a spin when they clipped the top of the tour bus, spiraled out of control, and killed everyone inside the aircraft.
Gary Moore has been described as an absolute virtuoso, yet another alumnus of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. He had success with multiple bands and as a solo artist. He had eleven Top 40 solo releases in the UK as a recording artist. In 1993, to release an album, he also played with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, both officially from Cream. Unfortunately, at the age of 58 in 2011, Moore died in his sleep from a heart attack.
One of the Black Sabbath founding members is Tony Iommi. His playing style was changed by an accident that happened in a factory he worked in as a teenager. The tips of his middle and ring fingers were lost in his right hand. He also went on to become one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.
Joe Satriani is a 15-time Grammy candidate. Before becoming a rock god, Satriani made ends meet by working as a guitar instructor, even teaching a young guitarist named Steve Vai at one point. Cementing him as one of the best instrumental rock guitarists of all time is his breakout album, Surfing With the Alien, featuring the iconic illustration on the cover of Marvel Comic’s Silver Surfer.
It’s hard to argue about guitarists that played with The Yardbirds. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page were all members of the Yardbirds. Jeff Beck is a genuine guitar genius with genres such as blues rock, hard rock, and electronica covered in his work. He is now 75 years old and shows no signs of slowing down. Recently, he was seen playing with Johnny Depp at live shows.
Steve Vai was born in Carls Place, New York, in 1960. He began his music career at the age of 18 by transcribing on notebook paper a rather complex Frank Zappa song and submitting it to the artist. After reading the page, Zappa mailed a plane to Vai, who ticked some out to Los Angeles and joined the band. Vai is another virtuoso who was defined as a highly individualistic player.
One of Deep Purple’s co-founder is Ritchie Blackmore, who is a highly accomplished guitarist and composer. His free-flowing jam style of playing combines the hard-punching of single guitar notes with softer, nearly pipe organ sounds to produce a sound that has not even been duplicated. Now 75, he is widely praised for his fantastic riffs and his classically inspired solos.
Guns N ‘Roses’ lead guitarist is Slash. He has gained critical acclaim for playing guitar since his career began in 1981. He performed with some of the greatest guitarists globally, and Lenny Kravitz remembered him, saying that he was probably the best guitarist he’d ever played with. Later, Slash went on to create the Velvet Revolver supergroup band.
Alex Lifeson is the Canadian-born guitarist of the progressive rock band Rush. He plays instruments that are electric and acoustic, the mandola, the bouzouki, and the mandolin. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Now 67, Lifeson likes being a painter, a restaurant owner, and a licensed pilot.
Brian May is the lead guitarist and one of the formative members of the iconic band named Queen. May is renowned for his soaring guitar solos and his ability to blend classical music with his rock and roll styles. His distinctive voice is easily recognizable, regardless of what band he’s playing with at the moment. Queen as a band was put on hold for almost a decade after Freddie Mercury’s death. But since then, Brian May has reemerged and taken Queen back to the forefront of rock once again.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Vaughan was highly influential in the rebirth of the blues in the ’80s. David Bowie, who chose Vaughan to play guitar on his latest album, Lets Dance, recalled his lightning-fast fingerpicking in the mid-80s. It was an instant hit with Vaughn, and bands like The Stray Cats and Eric Clapton toured the opening world. Unfortunately, at the age of 35, he died in a helicopter accident in 1990. Still, he is widely remembered as a legendary guitar player.
Eric Clapton is God. Or at least that’s what the graffiti once reported on London houses scrawled. Eric Clapton, a member of The Yardbirds, Cream, Derek, and The Dominos, is the first three-time inductee to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Clapton has won 18 Grammys, and more than 100 million albums have been sold globally.
Gilmour was a member of Pink Floyd. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Pink Floyd took his transformational sound from his blues/folk group origins and transformed the group into an acid rock genre that any other band could not touch. As new fans of the band emerge, the Moon and The Wall’s albums Dark Side still sell millions of copies each year.
Eddie Van Halen
The founder of Van Halen, a hard rock band, is an absolute guitar beast. Discovered by Gene Simmons of Kiss, Edward Van Halen and his brother Alex went on to form one of the best-selling bands of all time, fronted along the way by both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. Van Halen was voted number one in Guitar World magazine’s list of the greatest guitarists of all time in 2012. Unfortunately, on October 6, 2020, he died.
Jimmy Page is the founder of the rock band Led Zeppelin. But guess what, though? He’s also been in The Yardbirds (as were Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck). He was among the most sought-after session guitarists in Britain as a twenty-year-old in the 1960s. Now 77, Page has been inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice.