You probably already know many of the guitarists who play and record online. These names, such as Rick Beato, Marty Swartz, Justin Guitar, will likely be familiar to most, but what about the original guitarists who carved the path before the Internet?
Most guitar enthusiasts explore YouTube, forums, and blogs for the latest guitar news and historical information. Many of them also use these resources to grasp their favorite instrument fully. Many guitarists today create online content for social media channels, and they are doing this for the love of music and for the satisfaction of sharing their knowledge with others.
When guitarists began to upload their music online, the way people learned and shared new music changed, but the historical figures who showed us the way and their legacies have lived online (and offline). You may have come across some articles proclaiming that the guitar is dead or slowly dying. On the contrary, the guitar is thriving; it simply evolved with time. For more than a hundred years, the guitar has remained a powerful tool that defined music as we know it.
Most legends, from Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Nirvana to modern-day icons like John Mayer, Joe Bonamassa, and many others have made strides and created trends using the power of the guitar. This diverse list of the top 50 guitarists includes innovative virtuosos and bold experimentalists who dared to explore beyond their comfort zone. You’ll find artists whose creativity pushed the genre boundaries to create new, unexplored genres, styles, and compositions.
Here is the proof that, indeed, the guitar is not dead.
Jimi HendrixJimi Hendrix revolutionized the idea of rock music. He mastered the art of harmonizing the whammy bar, guitar, studio, and stage.
His effortless playing made every track he recorded sound like the music was flowing through him without working too hard. Take the beautiful song “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix canon. Even the best guitar players struggle to match his skill level in this song despite studying guitar for ages.
The way he integrates single notes and chords and uses unique chord voicings is inspirational. Hendrix excelled at a young age to the point of impressing Eric Clapton the first time they met back in 1966.
1967 was an excellent year for Hendrix. He kicked off a concert with the sensational “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” only three days after release. This guy created the most emblematic rock ‘n’ roll image to date by lighting up his instrument during the Monterey Pop Festival the same year.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding backed his first three albums as the Band of Gypsys that is Buddy Miles and Billy Cox back the last album he recorded before passing.
By the age of 27, he changed how we saw the electric guitar as a sound source. Imagine how many achievements Hendrix would have right now.
Luckily, his legacy as the most iconic guitar player of all time stands strong.
Ritchie BlackmoreThe Rolling stones rated Ritchie Blackmore as the 50th-greatest guitar player of all time. We can all agree that inventing shredding was possibly his most significant achievement. Allow me to explain.
Watching Ritchie perform gives you a sense that there’s a dark, mysterious aura around him. He pioneered spontaneous riffs and mastered how to play in a fierce way that gives his music dark, penetrative energy.
If you listen to Deep Purple’s hit song “Highway Star,” can you name anyone else who played like that during that time? His unique style and sound influenced countless rock musicians or guitarists. It helped create a new genre in the ’70s, and 80’s called ‘neoclassical.’
Ritchie mastered next-level arpeggios and harmonic scales and introduced teasing elements of classical music, jazz, and blues in addition to the fourths on his riffs. It didn’t matter whom he was playing with, be it Blackmore’s Night, Rainbow, or Deep Purple.
Although he admits that his goal was to “make as much noise and play as fast and as loud as possible,” Ritchie is the father of shred guitar and neoclassical metal.
David GilmourDavid Gilmour is among the world’s top living rock musicians. He got voted as the greatest Fender guitar player of all time a while back, ranking higher than Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
If you listen carefully to Gilmour’s guitar in albums such as “The Wall,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals,” and “Dark Side of the Moon,” you will notice how he brought the music alive.
He pioneered using effects to project beautiful images to the audience in every masterpiece Pink Floyd recorded. His solos are some of the best music of all time, as he carved his place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame more than twenty years ago.
In an interview with Uncut, Gilmour shared his opinion and experience with copying. He asserted that attempting to have full originality in the early stages is not the best idea. His learning process included copying legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Pete Seeger, Eric Clapton, Lead Belly, and Jeff Beck.
Gilmour also has a heart of gold when participating in charity events. He once gave away most of his collection to the most prominent guitar auction ever.
Marillion has an excellent track record as a Progressive Rock band for more than 40 years. From the humble beginnings of crowdfunding twenty years ago, Marillion established a niche in the music industry strong enough to attract fans worldwide.
Steve Rothery is a pillar in Marillion, gracing the band with gorgeous melodic sounds decade after decade. Although his expressive style is often underrated, Steve is an incredible guitar player who can teach every player a thing or two regarding what and where to play.
More than 37 years ago, Steve Rothery almost caught on fire on his first ever gig with Marillion.
Marillion’s album F.E.A.R. is simply epic, as Steve Rothery’s perfectly balances effects. Take the opening song, “El Dorado: I. Long-Shadowed Sun,” for instance.
He shows off his finesse in a way that complements the song and melody. It evokes a cinematic feel of the English countryside in the audience. In the song “The Leavers: III. Vapour Trails in the Sky,” the lyrical effects have hints of Fellini and a perfect blend of fantasy and reality.
Steve Rothery’s skills in layering guitars to complement Mark Kelly’s keyboard are awe-inspiring.
Jimmy PageAfter hearing “Rock Island Line” by Lonnie Donegan, Jimmy Page’s love story with music begins. It first became a hit in England after the Scottish singer performed it in 1955.
Jimmy created Led Zeppelin, and his musical alchemy emerged. He had a great vision and knew the band’s exact path to take.
Led Zeppelin was dynamic from the start, discovering different ways to give blues a new and better sound. In 1969, Led Zeppelin had impressive achievements to the magnitude of outselling “Abbey Road” by The Beatles’.
Jimmy Page wasn’t just a diverse guitarist; he was also an experienced musician with technical skills. His deep understanding covered production and engineering aspects.
Jimmy Page’s finesse is undeniable if you listen to the timeless “Stairway To Heaven.”
To date, “Led Zeppelin IV” still ranks high as one of the greatest albums ever produced. This success would be impossible without Jimmy Page’s guitar skills. He admits that his legend began with the seduction of what a six-string instrument is capable of.
Bruce Kulick started his music career in 1975 and has been playing since then. He first gained popularity when he joined the band Meat Loaf on tour in 1977. He then joined the upcoming singer Michael Bolton to form the band Blackjack.
The way he gives old songs a personal touch without losing the music’s soul is inspirational. His shredding skills, tone, and vibrato blend well with the melody, an ability that makes him unique.
Although he has several solo albums such as BK3, Audio Dog, and Transformer, his legacy gained roots when he joined Kiss from 1984 to the 1996 Reunion Tour.
As the lead guitarist for twelve years, Bruce captured the audience’s hearts as the band produced several albums. Bruce achieved several Platinum and Gold awards while performing on tour with Kiss.
Bruce joined Grand Funk Railroad after a personal invitation by Don Brewer, the drummer. He’s passionate about playing lead guitar, which is a rewarding experience, especially when performing with Grand Funk Railroad.
He often describes the experience as “a fantastic journey of rock, funk, and blues, all filled with classic moments of why I love to play the guitar.”
Richie Kotzen is the very definition of a triple threat in the entertainment scene. He’s like a talented actor who can sing and dance.
Richie’s talent is evident in various creative fields. He’s a fantastic guitar player who can write moving songs, play several instruments, shred like no one else, and sing beautifully. His legend was born when Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records discovered him.
He debuted his first album in 1989 at only 19 and later joined the sensational band “Poison” in the early-’90s. He also played with the hard-rock band Mr. Big towards the end of the ’90s.
Richie Kotzen also sang and played the guitar with jazz legends such as Lenny White and Stanley Clarke. In 2012, he joined Mike Portnoy, the previous Dream Theater drummer, and Billy Sheehan, the bassist from Mr. Big, to record a live DVD and two studio albums.
Richie Kotzen shifted his focus back to his solo albums in the recent past. His latest studio releases are “Salting Earth” and “Cannibals.”
SlashSlash (Saul Hudson) is among the most influential rock guitarists to date. There’s nothing more extraordinary than watching Slash with a guitar.
He mastered the classic rock style and became sensational in the 1960s and the 1970s. He merged the old rock’n’roll spirit with the trending blues sensibility to produce hit after hit.
Initially, he attempted playing the bass but had a change of heart when he listened to the influential record by Aerosmith called “Rocks.”
When Guns N’ Roses released their debut album, Slash decided to give up the cliché hair rock and more Strat-style instruments.
Slash’s skill is undeniable if you listen to the punk introduction to “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses or the blues vibe in the opening riff in “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” That riff started when Slash was playing around during practice.
Slash excels as a lead guitar and rhythm guitar player. His music style has blues elements inspired by legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Angus Young.
It’s a mixture of minor and major pentatonic, soulful blues-rock phrasing, picking scale runs, and fast legato.
Before joining Guns N’ Roses, Duff McKagan had minimal experience with a bass. He had a new approach that added a rough edge to songs such as “You Could Be Mine” and “It’s So Easy” by Guns N’ Roses.
McKagan knew he had to learn the bass, so he binge-watched bass lines from various music legends. On top of his list was Prince, Paul Simonon from the Clash, John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, and surprisingly Barry from Magazine.
He explained that he noted how the bass lines stood out when listening to Magazine. Barry kept the chorus pedal on the bass to get the glassy hollow-ish sound. He immediately got Guns N’ Roses the chorus pedal, which was the best decision he ever made.
McKagan made his bass prominent in “Use Your Illusion” and “on Appetite for Destruction.” He achieved the skill level enough to compare to legends like Axl Rose and Slash.
The era of rock storytellers ushered in new talents such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Myles Kennedy. He gained popularity by playing with Mark Tremonti in Alter Bridge and Slash.
In 2018, Kennedy’s solo debut album “Year of the Tiger” was mainly acoustic, highlighting his skills in songwriting. His second album, “The Ides of March,” was bolder as he explored his passion for the lead guitar.
He didn’t just focus on shredding and solos but also managed to pay homage to the jazz, blues, and rock legends he learned from. He wanted to extend his love and passion into different styles.
If you listen to tracks like “The Ides of March,” you get the sense that Kennedy mastered the art of improvisation. It’s a perfect combination of rock, blues, and Latin guitar styles that flows with the lyrics.
Kennedy recorded “The Ides of March” with two friends, Tim Tournier as the bassist and Zia Uddin as the drummer. They both also joined Kennedy to play “Year of the Tiger.”
Kennedy resumed playing the lead guitar following the success of “Tell It Like It Is,” “In Stride,” and “Love Rain Down.” When asked about performing as the lead guitarist, he expressed so much joy, stating how much he missed it.
Duane AllmanElectric guitarists were the pillars of the rock era. Only a few talents created music signatures that every generation has enjoyed even after their passing.
Duane Allman is one of the unique legends like Jerry Garcia or Jimi Hendrix. He had a way of making the guitar sound like a human voice by moving the bottle along the fret. Like Hendrix, watching him perform makes you feel the music flowing through his heart and soul.
Duane earned his place in music history as an influential guitarist before turning 25. Hearing him play for the first time will change your perception of the sounds that can come from the electric guitar.
Duane’s signature is the unique way of slide guitar playing that no one could replicate. It’s such a beautiful sound, like hearing a birdsong on a warm spring morning. He continued exploring ways to connect rock, jazz, blues, and country.
Although Duane Allman’s mastery of the guitar is evident in songs like “Whipping Post,” his ability to modify other artists’ music was perhaps the best thing about him.
Eric ClaptonEven as you chase your dream in music, it’s essential to study the work of prominent musical legends. It helps you understand what they did differently to succeed as they did.
Sometime between the ‘60s and ’70s, the words “Eric Clapton is God” appeared on a railway bridge in London. And rightly so, he single-handedly dominated the music scene with his guitar skills.
Eric Clapton was very bold and didn’t shy away from breaking the rules. In fact, he once turned up the amp to eleven in the ’60s, which was a new concept at that time.
He also discovered he could create an ambiance in the recording studio. If you listen to “Crossroads,” you can almost feel his passion as he plays the guitar. The aggression was palpable because he was yet to master the art of singing with clarity and intensity.
Luckily, he learned those skills from Robert Johnson. Eric Clapton achieved more than 200 performances at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall. In 2015, he ranked second in Rolling Stones Magazine’s list of the greatest guitarists.
He was also inducted thrice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when he was the lead guitarist in Cream, The Yardbirds, and a solo artist.
Over the course of his 56-year music career, some of Clapton’s outstanding achievements include:
Naming a specific tone
Setting world records during the sale of his guitars
Pioneering new guitar and amp combos
Having his surname used to describe a way of playing vibrato
Setting a record for Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and Grammy awards
Chuck BerryGuitar virtuoso Charles Edward Anderson Berry- Chuck Berry revolutionized music, ushering in a new era. He inspired musicians with his sound, as his songwriting skills structured the rock genre.
During an annual talent show at school, Chuck sang “Confessin’ the Blues” by Jay McShann, and the crowd loved his performance. That applause encouraged him to explore performance, leading to his signature “duck walk” and a dominating stage presence.
After the high school performance, Berry started learning guitar techniques from Ira Harris, a jazz guitarist. It played a significant role in defining his unique rhythm guitar style, as you can hear in hits such as “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music.” This was how the rock ‘n’ roll sound was born.
To most people, Chuck Berry is the father of rock ‘n’ roll, and with good reason. He was able to create music from various genres in a way that resonated with people of all ages.
He received his first Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 1984. Shortly after, in 1986, he entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Lita Ford’s love story with music began when she got her first guitar at eleven. During the course of her music career, she got much pushback due to the male dominance in the heavy metal and hard rock music scene.
When she was 16, she joined The Runaways and made four albums between 1975 and 1979, with fantastic hits like “Queens of Noise,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “Hollywood.”
She has many popular singles, such as “Kiss Me Deadly,” which fetched an MTV Music Award nomination for Best Female Video. She also collaborated with Ozzy Osbourne to produce “Close My Eyes Forever” and “Shot of Poison.” The latter got a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1995.
After a ten-year break, Lita resumed music in 2008 and later went on tour across and outside the U.S. with heavy metal band, Queensrÿche.
She recalls how people asked her insulating questions when explaining her musical journey.
After years of proving herself, Lita got the title “The First Lady of Rock Guitar” during the She Rocks Awards. The honour by Marshall Amplification and Guitar Player Magazine was a sign that the music world had space for women.
Outside her music, Lita is a devoted mother of two and an activist for organizations with worthy causes such as cancer research and Kids First Parental Alienation Awareness.
A famous quote says that his blood would be blue if you were to cut Buddy Guy. He would play the guitar so fiercely that the only logical explanation was that the blues must be flowing through his veins.
Watching him on stage is simply magnificent. From the way he plays the guitar behind his back to how he dominates the scene. The thing that probably grabbed everyone’s attention was how he picked the guitar using his teeth.
During the 1970 tour in Europe, The Rolling Stones invited Buddy Guy and Junior Wells to the opening performance.
Over the course of his career, Buddy Guy achieved:
A Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY Award in 2015
The highest number of Blues Music Awards (37) awarded to a single artist
Seven GRAMMY Awards
The Billboard Magazine Century Award for distinguished artistic achievements
The Presidential National Medal of Arts
A Kennedy Center Honor
The Rolling Stone Magazine also named him number 23 on the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. During his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, Eric Clapton appreciated Buddy’s influence on him, comparing Buddy’s effect to that of Elvis.
2012 was perhaps the most remarkable year for Buddy Guy. He performed at the White House, where he received the Kennedy Center Honor for his role in the American culture.
The event’s highlight was when he convinced President Obama to sing the “Sweet Home Chicago” chorus with him.
Alex Lifeson (Alexandar Zivojinovich) is Canadian and one of the best guitar shredders. He formed Rush with Geddy Lee on vocals and bass while Neil Peart was the drummer.
Together, they left a mark in progressive rock, metal, and blues. To date, their sound ranks among the cleanest and most refined sounds. Their influence extends to legends such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dream Theatre, Alice in Chains, and Foo Fighters.
Alex Lifeson’s musical prowess is often underrated, partially because his primary focus was on the music rather than performance. Alex’s contribution deserves more recognition as a sensational yet complicated band member.
Rush sold more than 40 million albums globally and achieved 24 gold, 14 platinum, and three multi-platinum records. They also received multiple Juno awards seven GRAMMY nominations and made it to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1974.
During his time with Rush, Alex Lifeson extensively explored music, taking rock music to new levels in incredibly inventive ways. Rush gained more popularity due to its dynamic music styles, extensive sci-fi motifs, synthesizers, and elaborate arrangements.
Alex Lifeson’s influence on numerous bands is not limited by genre, from heavy metal to indie rock. His latest project, Envy Of None, is a masterpiece, to say the least.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan is among the most idolized blues-rock artists of all time. His influence was so vast that it covered a whole generation of blues guitarists and fans.
Stevie’s approach to music was simple yet very successful. He stripped down the electrifying aspects and focused on only the necessary equipment: the bass, drums, and guitar in a 12-bar format.
By the time he was 21, Vaughan had befriended iconic blues artists in Austin like Albert King at Antone’s Blues Club. Besides writing his music, Vaughan also made covers for existing blues songs by various artists.
He added various jazz elements from Wes Montgomery, Django Reinhardt, and Kenny Burrell. Vaughan also caught the attention of David Bowie, and together they created “Let’s Dance.” He contributed to six out of the eight tracks, and the new album was a huge success, and the timing was perfect for Bowie.
Vaughan, however, declined Bowie’s tour invitation and returned to Double Trouble. They created three epic blues albums; Soul To Soul in 1985, Texas Flood in 1983, and Couldn’t Stand The Weather in 1984.
Stevie Ray Vaughan mastered the fretboard to the point where he could trace the proper route to any note. He would perform a solo for eight minutes straight without repeating a single note.
Although the solos came from a pre-determined structure, Stevie had excellent improvisation skills. Listening to his sound is intoxicating because you’re listening to his creativity at that moment.
His music career only lasted seven years, but his impact on blues guitar is incomparable. His virtuosic style left a permanent mark on the genre.
At only 35, Stevie Ray Vaughan brought a new blues era at his passing. He continues to live on through his music.
Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen’s roots are in a musical family as his father, Jan Van Halen, played various instruments, including the saxophone, piano, and clarinet. From a young age, Eddie and his brother Alex took piano lessons.
He used his background in piano when he started learning to play the guitar with both hands. Following his brother Alex’s advice, Eddie would play backward so that other artists wouldn’t copy his signature sound.
This two-handed tapping technique propelled him to fame as he brought rock guitar solo performance back to the limelight mainstream in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He bridged the gap between the ‘70s rock styles and the ‘80s heavy metal sounds.
In February 1978, Van Halen released his self-titled debut album. His guitar solo, “Eruption,” was an instant sensation. It ranked among the most magnificent guitar solos and inspired countless upcoming guitarists and the rock music genre in general.
Van Halen redefined what guitarists were capable of and laid the foundation of hard rock. Initially, everyone struggled to understand his playing speed. It turns out he used both hands, and this technique became popular among professional guitarists.
Eddie had a way of making each song memorable as long as he had his guitar. He performed a magnificent guitar solo on “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, and the result was so spectacular that it became the song’s final version.
He was modest about how much he influenced other artists like a true legend. Eddie’s style and technique were unique and seemed to flow through him effortlessly. His stage presence was captivating, from the smile to shredding endless notes within a second.
Eddie would start by lighting a cigarette to blow smoke rings then playing a solo for about six minutes. He was a true sonic genius exploring new experimental sounds using guitars and amplifiers.
Brian Harold May is multi-talented who rose to fame playing the guitar and composing music for Queen, one of the most popular bands of all time. From a tender age, Brian May had excellent intellectual capabilities.
When faced with the choice between education and music, May felt that music was more dominant.
As a founding member of Queen, Brian May left a mark in rock history as one of the most talented contemporary guitar players.
Brian explored music through multi-track guitar harmonies, which later became his trademark in and out of Queen. He started his solo career in 1991 when he wrote the music for a Ford commercial.
He released the single “Driven By You” that November and fans went crazy. It rose to number six on the U.K. charts, winning his first Ivor Novello Award for the “Best Theme From A TV/Radio Commercial.”
His second Ivor Novello Award followed shortly after Queen recorded “Too Much Love Will Kill You” on their last album. “Back to the Light” achieved more than a million sales globally and double gold status in the U.K.
Joni Mitchell is among the top 50 guitarists and most iconic female guitar players and songwriters. Her contribution towards empowering female artists in the male-dominated rock industry left an incredible impact. She dared to explore music, breaking the confines of traditional guitar playing since the early ‘60s.
Joni’s approach to playing the guitar is unique, and each song she composed has a tuning alteration.
When Joni plays the guitar, the sound is absolutely captivating, and when you add her voice and poetic imagery, the result is magnificent music.
Joni Mitchell’s talent in songwriting became obvious in classics such as Both Sides Now, like Big Yellow Taxi, and Chelsea Morning. Her most outstanding achievement is perhaps the album Blue, released in 1971.
Joni influenced music icons such as the singer and songwriter Jewel, Taylor Swift, and Prince. She ranked No. 62 on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Artists received nine Grammys and an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
Chet Atkins, ‘Mr. Guitar’ is one of the most respected country instrumentalists. As a pioneer in Nashville record production and an excellent record label executive, he was a vital architect of the ‘Nashville Sound’ in the late ‘50s.
Watching Chet Atkins play is insanely captivating. The way his fingers glide across the guitar strings and frets looks so smooth and effortless. His finger-picking style is very elaborate as he used his thumb on the bass line as the other fingers weaved various melodies and harmonies.
Over the last sixty years, Chet continues to inspire guitarists starting. He won the Best Instrumentalist award in the Cashbox poll for 14 years and received a Yamaha Music Award.
He was also the youngest inductee into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1973 and was the Country Music Association’s instrumentalist of the year for nine years.
Chet Atkins received 14 Grammys for the best country instrumental performance. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 1993. The achievement was in honor of his influence as a vital architect of the ‘Nashville Sound,’ his unique finger-style guitar technique, and his creative legacy in more than a hundred albums.
Kirk Hammett is the lead guitarist in the sensational metal band Metallica, formed in 1981. You have probably heard him play on the radio in “Enter Sandman’s” vigorous yet addictive guitar riff.
One of Kirk’s most significant influences was Angel Vivaldi, the American guitar player and songwriter. Since joining Metallica in 1983, Kirk achieved eight live albums, ten studio albums, and one soundtrack album. He also produced 43 singles, three E.P.s, ten video albums, and 42 music videos.
During his journey with Metallica, Kirk Hammett received numerous awards such as MTV Video Music Awards, nine Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards, and three Billboard Music Awards.
Metallica recently had a deluxe reissue of The Black Album to celebrate its 30-year reign. The Metallica Blacklist features covers from various artists using different styles and backgrounds to play their personal favorites.
Kirk Hammett proved that metal guitarists could play a heavy, aggressive sound without losing the connection to blues and emotional solos.
Although Beatles members Paul McCartney and John Lennon were more popular with fans than George Harrison, his contribution was significant. As the lead guitarist, he’s responsible for creating the band’s distinct sound.
George Harrison was a music junkie, who enjoyed playing rhythm and blues, and rock and roll. He mastered the guitar from a young age and even got equal writing credit as Paul for the guitar solo, “In Spite of All the Danger.”
George had fantastic rhythm, tonality, and melodic sense. Part of the reason the Beatles were so popular was that their sound was dynamic. He would use various guitar types, so the entire band sounded different.
George’s style when playing the guitar was heavy slide guitar to the end. The amazing part is that he never hit any unnecessary or improper notes. The music always matched his clear, concise voice.
Although George was modest, his skill level was epic. He had fantastic rhythm, tonality, and melodic sense. The lines George composed seemed tastefully simple for the sole purpose of highlighting the music itself. He embedded positivity and wisdom in his music and remained true to himself despite the pressures fame brought.
George was the youngest one among the Beatles, and he learned how to play twenty-six musical instruments. This habit of changing guitars was how George Harrison made history. He helped define rock music by creating new captivating sounds with each new album.
Tony Iommi is one of the biggest guitarists ever in the rock scene. As Black Sabbath’s guitarist and songwriter, he was the brain behind their success. He was in charge of the majority of the band’s sonic makeup. The bassist, Geezer Butler, wrote the lyrics as Osbourne wrote the vocal melodies.
Iommi created the band’s new sound and an entirely new genre. The most astonishing part is that he did all while his right hand had two fingertips missing.
Iommi got the injury while finishing his last day working at a metal factory, so he used prosthetic fingertips. He had to tune down his guitar and loosen the guitar strings so that he could easily bend them.
These changes created a different sound which is the heavy metal power chord. This creativity ranked him among the most inventive rock guitarists of all time. It contributed to Black Sabbath’s success, with over 70 million record sales.
Iommi created some of the most magnificent heavy rock riffs ever. He introduced the world to heavy metal and blew everyone’s mind. As a pioneer of metal riff creation, his influence on metal guitar legends made him the genre’s founding father.
In 2005, he was number one on Metal Hammer magazine’s list of the Riff Lords for his distinctive fretsmanship style. In 2007, he was number six on Classic Rock magazine’s 100 Wildest Guitar Heroes list.
Later on, in 2011, he was number twenty-five on the Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Iommi remains perhaps the most crucial guitarist who assisted in developing the heavy metal sound, its subculture, and heavier guitar playing. His iconic rhythm style is now the foundation of the rock guitar scene, and his influence on legendary electric guitarists remains unmatched.
Blues legend B.B. King or Riley B King was popular as the “King of Blues.” He captivated audiences with his precious Gibson guitar Lucille and unique sound in his extensive music career. Listening to the ingenious vibratos and bend notes coupled with his elegant soloing is enchanting.
Even in his eighties, B.B. King went on tour worldwide and recorded numerous albums. He mentored many guitar icons, such as Jimi Hendrix, and inspired them to explore the guitar. He had a unique playing technique where he trilled the strings using a left-hand vibrato.
His influence saw him rank sixth on the Rolling Stone Magazine list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time in 2011.
B.B. King’s collaborations extend beyond blues. Many artists sampled his music, including Ice Cube, Buddy Guy, 50 Cent, and Tony Yayo.
In 1984, he achieved induction into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, then the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. That same year, he got the NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award.
Over his music career, he received multiple Grammy Awards and honorary awards, and degrees from major institutions.
Bonnie Raitt’s music career started by recording a self-titled debut album in 1971 when she was 21. Nineteen excellent albums later, she has ten Grammy Awards and is perhaps the greatest slide guitar legend alive.
Over the five decades of performance, Bonnie captured her fans’ hearts with her guitar-playing skills. Her performance is awe-inspiring as you watch the blue-glass slide, glinting on her left hand’s second finger.
Bonnie plays her beloved Fender Strat, Brownie, with such passion and fire. She inspired major artists we revere today, including Chris Stapleton, Adele, Gary Clark, and Andra Day.
One of Bonnie Raitt’s endearing qualities is her dedication and commitment to what she believes in. When she learned about the financial injustice that most blues musicians face, she decided to take action.
Bonnie sensitized like-minded people to establish the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1988. The organization provides financial services, assistance, and public education programs for the R&B community members who need help.
Besides receiving eleven Grammy awards for Best Americana Album, Bonnie Raitt performed more than 170 shows on her tour through Europe, the U.K., North America, Australia, and Singapore. She sold more than sixteen million records.
The Americana Music Association also awarded her the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance. Unlike other musicians, Bonnie used the slide not as a tool but as an extra dimension to give her music more depth.
Keith Richards was among the founding members as the guitarist and singer of the Rolling Stones, perhaps the most accomplished rock and roll band in history. He’s responsible for creating the band’s distinctive style.
Keith’s guitar riffs were so magnificent that there were some myths about him. He created his signature sound by eliminating the topmost E string then tuning the other five strings to form an open G chord.
Growing up, Keith obsessively listened to Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry records. He was 4th on the Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the best 100 guitarists of all time.
Keith Richards is proof that one musician can influence significant changes in music. In 1989, he received induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he’s the subject of a Netflix documentary, “Keith Richards: Under the Influence.”
Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana undoubtedly had the most significant influence on modern Latin guitar. He created a new sound by integrating blues guitar styles, rock, and Afro-Latin beats. He later added some jazz elements to develop a fantastic hybrid that was both artistic and commercially successful.
His band, Santana, was top-rated from the late ’60s, with electrifying performances of tracks like “Soul Sacrifice” and “Evil Ways.”
In the course of his music career, Carlos Santana achieved three Latin Grammys and ten Grammy Awards for his contributions to music.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
During Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, Brittany Howard couldn’t hide her excitement as she exclaimed, “It’s long overdue!”
Sister Rosetta was among the first women ever to play the electric guitar. She was a pioneer of pop gospel music and helped lay the foundation of rock ’n’ roll.
Sister Rosetta had mastered playing guitar by the age of six, and she learned distortion before Jimi Hendrix picked it up. As a woman of color, she faced much prejudice because her lifestyle was unorthodox, but that didn’t stop her. She believed her guitar skills were better than a man’s in her day, and she was right.
Sister Rosetta had such a powerful voice and incredible vocal control. She popularized the electric guitar and was the first real gospel rock ’n’ roll artist to hit nationally.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe remains the Godmother of rock and roll and the original soul sister.
Jack White is a man of many talents and quite popular in the contemporary rock scene. He excels as an eccentric singer, producer, songwriter, label owner, and multi-instrumentalist.
Jack White created The White Stripes with his then-wife Meg White at 22. They had a captivating dress code, always black, white, and red. Fans went crazy as the duo produced sensational music with only the guitar and drums.
Jack White had a deep fascination for the Flat Duo Jets, Led Zeppelin, and Son House. These legends played a major part in the music he created, and he incorporated a rough tenor in his style that blended perfectly with his natural tenor voice.
The opening riff to White Stripes’ song, “Seven Nation Army,” is among the most iconic guitar themes in the rock scene. It earned a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 2004, and the duo received five more Grammy Awards before parting ways in 2011.
AC/DC is, without doubt, among the most influential bands of all time in the hard rock genre. The band started with two Scottish brothers, Angus Young as the lead guitarist and Malcolm as the rhythm guitarist, back in 1973.
Besides electrifying performances, Angus Young is famous for his distinctive schoolboy outfits, devil’s horns, and duckwalk. Watching his performances is entertaining, as he runs across the stage and jumps around while still playing guitar.
One of the most amusing incidents happened in 1976 when his amplifier caught fire in the studio. The fire didn’t stop him from playing, and he’s been an epic guitarist to date.
Nancy Wilson rose to fame in 1974, when women didn’t lead bands or play rock music on guitars. She’s one of the icons whose onstage presence was memorable.
Nancy poured her heart into her customized Fender Telecaster, and it paid off. Her band sold-out venues worldwide and over thirty million worth of records.
Nancy Wilson’s love for acoustics harmonized heart’s loud, electric sound. In 2013, they got an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and received four Grammy nominations.
Neil Young is an award-winning icon of country, rock, and folk. He’s one of North America’s most influential rock guitarists and a famous singer and songwriter for his unique acoustic and bold electrical compositions.
Neil Young inspired the iconic Kurt Cobain numerous bands and collaborated with legends such as James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, and Pearl Jam.
He created sensational rock anthems, and even Donald Trump played “Rockin’ in the Free World” during his rallies. Neil was against it, however, stating that he couldn’t permit his music to be “a ‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”
Neil Young received an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his unbridled passion in 1995. He was also number seventeen on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists in 2015.
Neil’s influence on indie and alternative rock music remains uncontested. He is also famous as the “godfather of grunge.”
Pete Townshend founded The Who and was the band’s composer and lead guitarist. He is most famous for his guitar playing style, the “windmill,” and unique chord structures.
Pete Townshend revolutionized rock music by introducing the “heavy” aspect. He was the first person who really understood and embraced volume and power in rock music.
Pete mastered the art of using amplifier distortion and feedback. His playing style is simple yet very rhythmic, as he aggressively strums and picks using his right hand.
Pete Townshend’s signature move of smashing his guitar after performances became sensational as he was the first person ever to do that on stage. Unbelievably, the first time it happened was accidental, but his fans got so thrilled that it became The Who’s routine.
Pete inspired upcoming guitarists to try is windmill strumming style and the Marshall stack.
Aaron Thibeaux Walker, T-Bone, is the founding father of electric blues. He was the first to try out electric guitar solos, a natural mastermind, and a fantastic songwriter.
T-Bone Walker pioneered the blues genre and shaped it using electric blues sounds. He successfully merged jazz and blues guitar styles.
T-Bone Walker was the first to use the guitar to communicate his raw emotions and his influences gifted us legends such as Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and B.B. King. He was actually Jimi Hendrix’s childhood hero.
T-Bone Walker received an induction into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Prince was the most influential pop artist in the last three decades. He rose to fame after releasing the album “Purple Rain.” His music career attracted some controversy because he integrated sexual and religious themes.
Despite winning seven Grammy Awards, Prince was a very modest guitar player. He could play mind-blowing solos, but he had excellent restraint. Unlike most guitarists, he overcame the temptation to lose control and always maintained his cool.
Prince was a one-person force to reckon with. He composed, arranged, played all the instruments, produced, and performed his music. Prince was a rare virtuoso, indeed, one of a kind.
Albert King had a naturally large stature, at the height of about six-five and 250 pounds in weight. His talent was as grand as his build, and any guitar looked tiny in his large hands.
Albert dared to explore blues in a way that the world was yet to experience. The notes and tones coming from his Gibson Flying V made a bold statement.
Since he was left-handed, his style was quite unique. His signature move was flipping a right-handed guitar upside down, resulting in unusual tuning. Instead of pulling the strings like another guitarist, he pushed them t produce dramatically epic note-bends that evoked powerful emotions.
Albert King’s influence on blues and rock guitarists extends from Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Mike Bloomfield, and Eric Clapton. He received induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
Steve Cropper is perhaps the most popular soul guitarist of all time. Over the past three decades, he excelled as a songwriter, musician, composer, arranger, and producer, and his influence extends beyond music to television and movies.
Steve Cropper rose to fame in the ‘60s as a talented songwriter. He wrote the song “Green Onions” for the band he co-founded Booker T and the M.G.’s, and his career took off.
Cropper’s contribution as an artist and producer earned him induction into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
In 2007, he received a lifetime achievement GRAMMY and Tennessee’s Arts and Humanities Lifetime Achievement Award.
Dickey Betts was a gifted guitarist, composer, and songwriter and founded the Allman Brothers Band. Although Duane Allman was more popular, the band wouldn’t have achieved much success without Dickey Betts’ contribution.
Duane’s sound had more blues and gloomy undertones, but Dickey Betts balanced it with a mellow Major-type sound. This new twin harmony set them apart from other southern rock bands and created perhaps the most formidable guitar duo in the rock and roll scene.
Dickey Betts helped influence the future of rock ‘n’ roll by blending blues, country, and virtuosic jazz.
James Burton or the Master of the Telecaster,” is among the greatest guitar players ever to use a fretboard His guitar skills were natural, and he never received any professional training.
James pioneered a new genre and helped lay the foundation for country rock. He was also the leader of T.C.B. Band, Elvis Presley’s band, and guitarist from 1969. During performances, Elvis turned to James when they got to the bridge to say “Play it, James,” and he would take it away with outstanding lead guitar solos.
James Burton joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and received a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 2009 for Brad Paisley’s song “Cluster Pluck.”
His influence over country rock’s evolution is significant and earned him recognition by the Musicians Hall and Museum and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He’s also number nineteen on the Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of top 100 guitarists.
Jerry Garcia is a world-renowned singer, songwriter, guitarist, and among the most influential musicians of the twentieth century. He was the lead guitarist and a founding member of the Grateful Dead.
During the same time, he explored various music styles with a particular interest in country and folk music and had his band Jerry Garcia Band (J.G.B.).
Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead revolutionized music by changing the writing, performance, and distribution. He achieved all this without two-thirds of the middle finger on his right hand, which he accidentally lost to an ax.
Garcia dedicated his life to music, and his creative freedom played a significant role in the evolution of modern electric guitar innovation and technology. He was an excellent guitarist solo or part of a band and perhaps the first rock star to have an ice cream flavor named after him.
Robert Johnson, or “King of the Delta Blues,” was a legendary blues singer, composer, and guitarist. His singing voice had an almost unnatural falsetto. Together with his slide guitar rhythms, Robert’s influence over multiple generations extended beyond blues to rock and country artists.
Robert Johnson is among the most studied icons and features in multiple essays, films, and books of all country blues musicians. He became a member of the Blues Hall of Fame very early on in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shortly after, in 1986.
Although his life was short, Robert left a unique legacy with only twenty-nine recorded songs. He mastered the guitar and allowed it to be his second voice. Keith Richards even described him as a one-person orchestra.
Robert Johnson influenced music icons such as Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and modern-day Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Joe Walsh is a creative guitarist, musician, composer, and member of the Eagles’ American band from 1976 to 1980 and the James Gang. His lyrical style influenced pop culture and rock, and it gifted us icons such as Dan Fogelberg, B.B. King, Graham Nash, and Rod Stewart.
Joe was popular for hot rodding his pickups and amps until they overextended the wattage and popped. He was a musical genius who understood instruments and could tell the best guitar and amp manufacturers. He also knew which instrument combination was best for which effect or pedal.
Joe Walsh inspired countless guitarists and solo artists and had a successful career over twenty years. He became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of The Eagles.
Link Wray, Fred Lincoln Wray Jr. was a vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist who rose to fame in the late ’50s. His instrumental “Rumble” helped change the course of the rock music genre.
Wray had a fantastic groove with raw guitar sounds, intense vibrato, power chords, and distorted guitar tones. It appealed to multiple generations of grunge, blues-rock, and indie rock fans.
He mastered how to play a unique sound using a heavy chord sequence. He punched some holes in the amplifier speakers in the studio to reproduce this unique sound.
Link Wray influenced legends such as Bob Dylan, Jimmy Page, Iggy Pop, Neil Young, and Pete Townsend. Although he initially started his career with country music, he advanced to instrumental rock, rockabilly, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Wray was truly a force to reckon with and was the first-ever rock ‘n’ roll to get banned because of his instrumental. He got nominated twice for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and ranked number 45 on Rolling Stone Magazines’ list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Robert White was a guitarist in the trio, the Funk Brothers, who later joined Motown’s studio band. His signature guitar riff is among the most studied pieces, with more than 1.7 billion times globally and hundreds of millions of times on the radio.
The Funk Brothers are among the most popular studio musicians of all time. They pioneered Motown’s sonic revolution and played on numerous top-ranking hits, more than The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Elvis Presley all together.
Motown created a niche by blending soul, jazz, and gospel, then adding a pop to produce musical pockets and captivating hooks. They made a mark in history and influenced pop, contemporary R&B, and hip hop as we know it. They also assisted in overcoming racial barriers and incorporating various races into the music community.
Robert White played a significant role in the band. His outstanding work is evident in “My Girl” by Temptations, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by the Supremes, and “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Motown received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and they became members of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Funk Brothers entered the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Rhythm and Blues Hall Of Fame in 2014.
Martin Carthy is among the most iconic music innovators. He is a magnificent electric and acoustic guitar player and an authentic music interpreter working with newly composed material.
Martin’s most significant skill was transcribing and modifying traditional compositions. He studied them often, looking for fragments he could complete during performances. He added lyrics, acoustics, and new tunes and forever changed Britain’s folk scene.
His music influenced multiple generations far beyond the folk genre, while his natural charm and stage presence captured many hearts.
Martin created a unique approach to playing the guitar. He developed personal tunings to help him visualize the sounds that popped into his mind. He was also a fantastic singer, editor, and arranger.
To date, Wes Montgomery or John Leslie Montgomery remains a very influential bebop guitarist. He managed to change how artists played the guitar and the mentality of those that came after him.
Wes had an original and very unique sound. He disliked the noise the pick makes against the strings, so he used the fleshy part of the thumb instead. It blended well with his soft lyrical lines and became the most copied sound by jazz guitarists.
Wes Montgomery also had excellent organization skills. He played the choruses in his solos staring with single-note melodies, followed by octaves and chords in the climax.
Wes paved the way for future music generations through his signature sound and was perhaps the 20th century most iconic jazz guitar innovator.
Mark Knopfler’s music career blossomed when he joined the “Dire Straits” as a singer, main songwriter, and lead guitarist. He has a unique style as he uses his fingers instead of a pick like other guitarists, making his work original.
Although his hand position looks unusual, Mark’s ability to control every aspect of his glorious tones gives his music a compelling, sensitive touch.
His style emphasizes several stings a once to produce a different, more powerful tone and sound in his solos or riffs. He mastered playing multiple genres, including folk, rock, and blues.
Mark Knopfler created a fantastic guitar-based rock sound that highlights his creativity, originality, and innovation. He is an authentic guitar and music expert who has something to teach any aspiring guitarist.
William Frederick Gibbons or Billy Gibbons is an excellent American singer, musician, actor, producer, and songwriter. He is famous for his time as the rock band Z.Z. Top’s lead guitarist and vocalist. Z.Z. Top produced several popular albums that earned them a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Billy has a unique, thick, brown tone to match the dark shades and long beard. It has a warm, fuzzy yet raw sound, loaded with bite and a hint treble on top.
He brandishes a gorgeous sunburst which he adorns using highly-curated accessories. Billy Gibbons projects a rock-god persona that suits his nickname “The Reverend.”
Frank Zappa significantly guided and influenced pop music all over the world. He had a renegade spirit and refused to conform to the acceptable standards of his time.
Throughout his music career, Zappa introduced the concept of mixing contrasting musical genres.
He joined the band the Mothers of Invention and produced the majority of their albums. Their song, “Plastic People,” was an inspiration to an entire generation.
Frank had strong opinions about social, political, and economic matters. He was among the most vocal anti-censorship campaigners in the U.S. between the ’70s and ’80s.
Frank Zappa was a creative record producer and a contemporary symphony composer. His innovative editing and sound engineering techniques laid the foundation for the new hip-hop generation.
Frank’s improvisation skills when playing the electric guitar inspired legends such as Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. He taught himself to play and compose, so the music he created didn’t precisely fit into any category.
Frank’s eccentric style and the ability to blend different music genres into one were his greatest assets. In 1997, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and became a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member in 1995.