Techniques such as power chords and finger-tapping can be found on guitars ranging from the iconic Fender Stratocaster to the Gibson Les Paul. Choosing one virtuoso over another is extremely difficult. Indeed, it was understood that the debate itself had sparked several heated debates. The 1960s produced more than their fair share of six-string slayers, but the 1980s revolutionized the concept of what is possible on a standard electric guitar. We compiled a list of the world’s greatest guitar players, taking into account their techniques and contributions to the instrument.
Robert Fripp, the band’s founder, is responsible for musical innovations like Frippertronics, soundscapes, and the so-called “new standard tuning.” Even though he gradually rose to stardom in his own right, he paid his dues by working as a session guitarist for notable musicians such as David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and Blondie for decades.
John McLaughlin of Doncaster, England, is a key figure in the development of “fusion” music. He won the Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo in 2018. John also had an impressive list of artists with whom he had collaborated at one point or another. While being on this list is hardly a reason to rub shoulders with rock royalty, there aren’t many guitarists who can claim to have shared Miles Davis’s stage. McLaughlin actually played on Miles’ most famous album, Bitches Brew.
Steve Morse is the founder of the Dixie Dregs and the lead guitarist for Deep Purple since 1994. In 1986, Steve Morse joined the popular rock band Kansas as the lead guitarist. The albums Power and In The Spirit of Things were released while he was a band member. Although he is now a member of the Flying Colors supergroup, Morse claims that when he was with Deep Purple, his bandmates forced him to ride in a separate vehicle because he would constantly play guitar as they went from gig to gig.
Peter Green was a co-founder of Fleetwood Mac and was born in London, England. Mr. John Mayall, the British blues godfather, hired him in 1965, a man who found more than a few guitarists on this list, and his career took off. In reality, the guitarist in John Mayall’s band who Peter Green replaced was none other than Eric Clapton, who, as you might expect, was further down the list.
Trower grew up in the Essex town of Southend-on-Sea. He was regarded as one of the best guitar players of his time due to his Jimi Hendrix-like skills and alleged ability to bend notes better than any other player alive. However, when he was a member of the famous group Procol Harum in the 1960s, his guitar playing became even more popular. The album Bridge of Sighs, released in 1974, is widely regarded as Trower’s pinnacle achievement. In the 1980s, Trower formed a band with Jack Bruce, the Cream bass player.
Before becoming a rock god, Tom Morello earned a BA in Social Studies from Harvard University. In the 1990s, Morello met Zack de la Rocha. Rage Against the Machine, one of the most successful and influential rock bands of the 1990s, was formed. Rage Against the Machine performed outside the Staples Center Convention Center in Los Angeles in 2000, hosting the Democratic National Convention.
Gilbert is best known for his fast guitar playing and stylistic versatility. Gilbert was tapped to fill in as a guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, the legendary metal-monster when he was just 15 years old in the early 1980s. Until Ozzy’s producer heard Gilbert perform, it was all over. Gilbert relocated across the country and joined the band soon after. Most guitarists on this list would never combine speed picking with legato and Spanish guitar techniques in the same sentence.
At the age of 20, Malcolm Young and his brother Angus co-founded Australia’s largest rock band, AC/DC. Malcolm continued to play rhythm guitar while Angus took the lead. According to legend, they chose the name AC/DC after seeing the letters on the top of their older sister Margaret’s sewing machine. Malcolm and his band were touring Europe with Black Sabbath by the late 1970s.
Another great artist died ahead of his time. This founding member of the Beatles died in 2001 at the age of 58 from throat cancer, which he attributed to years of smoking. Harrison was the first Billboard Century Award winner in 1992. It marked Harrison’s “critical role in laying the groundwork for the modern concept of world music.”
Michael Schenker was named “a legendary figure in the history of metal guitar.” The German guitarist was also a founding member of the Scorpions, a rock band. In the mid-’70s, he and his brother, Rudolf Schenker, formed the UFO band. Overall, Schenker has left and rejoined the UFO band at least three times and has written a song after each reunion.
Howard Duane Allman was the founder and leader of the Allman Brothers Band, a band that allowed him to play with his brother, Gregg Allman. Duane was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash that smashed his internal organs. He was only 24 years old when he was killed. He was well-known for his expressive slide guitar playing and improvisational ability on the instrument. “Live at the Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers is widely regarded as one of the best live rock albums ever recorded.
Paul Kossoff was a guitarist who was in high demand because of his uncanny timing and complex ability to solo. He 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. Unfortunately, Kossoff began using drugs when he was 15 years old. He died of a pulmonary embolism on a flight from Los Angeles to New York on March 19, 1976.
“The co-founder of the Rolling Stones, along with his partner Mick Jagger, is Keith Richards, arguably the best rhythm player in history, and one-half of the “Glimmer Twins.” Richards was dubbed the creator of “rock’s greatest single body of riffs” on guitar. Richards was also the inspiration for Johnny Depp’s character, Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, in the Caribbean films’ Pirates. This is what sets him apart from everyone else you’ve met.
Billy Gibbons, 70, is the lead guitarist and lead singer of ZZ Top if his beard didn’t give it away. Early in his career, Gibbons founded The Moving Sidewalks, which served as an opening act for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, allowing him to become close friends with Jimi. Billy Gibbons’ genius is undoubtedly responsible for ZZ Top’s Texas blues boogie sound, which is now selling out concerts worldwide.
Here’s why Joe is on this list. Joe Bonamassa famously opened for B.B. King when he was just 12 years old. B.B. King said that when he first started playing, the audience fell silent for a moment as they realized it was the child who was making those sounds. However, once the truth was revealed, the audience went insane, and Bonamassa performed in front of large crowds ever since.
Mick Taylor, another graduate of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers school of producing rock guitar gods, was the blues virtuoso Mayhall had been looking for. Taylor continued to perform with The Rolling Stones until 1974, demonstrating that he was a mix of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Slash, the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, has stated that Taylor had the most influence on him as an artist.
Dave Mustaine was Metallica’s first lead guitarist. Mustaine was fired from Metallica on April 11, 1983, due to his alcoholism, substance addiction, violence, and feuds with James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich’s founding members. Despite this, he achieved great success in his career due to the band he founded, “Megadeth.” He is known in his band for both singing and playing fast, amazing lead lines.
Hetfield is an absolute guitar beast. Hetfield is credited with inventing the sound of speed metal and instilling an unrivaled sense of rage in the music industry. Hetfield went to rehab for substance abuse in 2001. He’s been residing in Vail, Colorado, since then.
Townshend co-founded The Who, one of the most influential rock bands of all time. He wrote in his biography about growing up in London shortly after WWII, “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, a Metallica member, was recruited as a replacement for Dave Mustaine, Metallica’s previous guitarist, when he was 16 years old. After frontman James Hetfield approached Hammett, his parents put him on a plane to New York to meet with the band. When the kid walked into the venue, the band was not impressed, but when he nailed the solo for the hit “Seek and Destroy,” they hired him on the spot.
Chuck Berry was a rock and roll pioneer. Berry gave rock music three things: an irresistible swagger, a focus on the guitar riff as the primary melodic element, and a focus on songwriting as storytelling. There is no doubt that today’s rock music would not be what it is today if it weren’t for Chuck Berry.
Howe is the lead guitarist for the progressive rock band Yes. After leaving The Velvet Underground, Howe was the lead guitarist on Lou Reed’s first solo album, further solidifying his reputation. Howe had a successful solo career after leaving Yes. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
Rory Gallagher was a blues and rock legend. His albums have sold more than 30 million copies around the world. Gallagher died tragically on June 14, 1995, at the age of 47, from a failing liver caused by alcohol, narcotics, and an MRSA infection. Because of how well he plays the blues, he has influenced a lot of blues guitarists.
Zakk Wylde began his musical career as a member and lead guitarist of the small band Stonehenge. He eventually auditioned for and was hired as Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist, which he held for a long time. He’s also a member of the Black Label Society heavy metal band, where he sings lead. Wylde is well-known due to his undeniable stage presence. When Ozzy was on stage, he used to say that getting the crowd to look at him was difficult.
Frank Zappa, who died of lung cancer in 1993, was a master of nonconforming free-form improvisation. Zappa was a prolific artist, releasing more than 60 albums with his band, Mothers of Invention, and solo artists. Zappa is a self-taught guitarist who is regarded as one of the new era’s most influential guitarists. In his later years, Zappa led orchestras and recorded jazz and classical music albums.
Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck, better known as Yngwie Malmsteen, was born in 1963 and rose to fame in the 1980s for his neoclassical metal style. With 20 studio albums under his belt, Yngwie Malmsteen remains one of the most prolific artists working today. In 2018, he signed with Mascot Records and showed no signs of slowing down!
John Petrucci is best known for his work with Dream Theater, of which he was one of the founding members. Every “Top Guitarist” essay and post in magazines and on the internet includes Petrucci’s name. He is best known for his ability to incorporate classical and jazz phrasings into rock chord progressions, resulting in a sound unlike anything else in the rock world today.
You might not think of the late musician Prince as a shredder, but his guitar playing could make anyone’s jaw drop. Prince was known for his ability to master various musical styles, including disco, punk, R&B, new wave, soul, pop, and psychedelic. Prince is one of the best-selling musicians of all time, with more than 130 million albums sold by his adoring fans.
Synyster Gates is the lead guitarist for the band Avenged Sevenfold. Total Guitar named him the Best Metal Guitarist in the World in 2016 and 2017. He’s a big jazz fan, and Django Reinhardt, the legendary gypsy guitarist, is one of his biggest influences. He also mentions Danny Elfman, the frontman for Oingo Boingo, as someone he admires.
Carlos Santana walked onto the Woodstock stage, virtually unknown, and blew the audience away. His band Santana rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, pioneering a fusion of rock and roll and Latin American jazz. He won a Grammy, a Billboard Century Award, and numerous other accolades.
Angus Young is another member of AC/DC. His active appearances, schoolboy-uniform outfits, and take on Chuck Berry’s duckwalk have made him famous. Young is 65 years old, and his playing style is heavily influenced by blues, power chords, and Scottish folk music. His ability to play one-handed arpeggios is well-known in his solos!
Dimebag Darrell of Damageplan has never had formal guitar lessons, but his style is legendary. He used the major third to add dissonance to his minor key tonalities in his riffs and leads. He had incredible picking ability as well but preferred legato phrasing. On December 8, 2004, during a Damageplan concert at the Alrosa nightclub in Ohio, something terrible happened. A deranged fan jumped onto the stage during the first set and shot Dimebag Darrell several times.
B.B. King was the first to introduce a sophisticated guitar solo style to the world. He pioneered new techniques for electric blues by using string bending and vibrato. B.B. King, the undisputed “King” of the blues guitar, was a lifetime friend of the blues and one of the greats of all time. King died in 2015 while sleeping at 89.
David Knopfler, the rock band Dire Straits’ co-founder, is his younger brother. Label, no. 70, was dubbed a virtuoso. He is a finger-style guitarist, a four-time Grammy winner, and a three-time University of Music Honorary Doctor of Music. Sultans of Swing, from Dire Strait’s first album, is an absolute masterpiece of guitar showmanship.
Randy Rhoads, who played with Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne, was a major influence on neoclassical metal. He is credited as an influence by hundreds of well-known guitarists. He died tragically in 1982 while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne at the age of 25. A few band members, including Rhoads, were flying in a single-engine plane when it collided with the top of the tour bus, spiraled out of control, and killed everyone on board.
Gary Moore, another former member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, has been dubbed a true virtuoso. He had success in several bands and as a solo artist. He had eleven solo Top 40 hits in the UK as a recording artist. In 1993, he collaborated on an album with former Cream members Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Moore died of a heart attack in his sleep in 2011 at the age of 58.
Tony Iommi is a founding member of the Black Sabbath. He changed his playing style after an accident in a factory where he worked as a teenager. He lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand. He went on to become one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.
Joe Satriani has been nominated for a Grammy 15 times. Satriani made a living as a guitar instructor before becoming a rock god, even teaching a young guitarist named Steve Vai at one point. His breakout album, Surfing With the Alien, which features the iconic illustration of Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer on the cover, cemented his reputation as one of the best instrumental rock guitarists of all time.
It’s difficult to disagree with guitarists who played with The Yardbirds. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page were the only members of the Yardbirds. Jeff Beck is a true guitar genius whose work spans blues rock, hard rock, and electronica, among other genres. He is now 75 years old and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s been seen playing with Johnny Depp at live shows recently.
At the age of 18, Steve Vai began his musical career by transcribing a complicated Frank Zappa song on notebook paper and submitting it to the artist. After reading the page, Zappa mailed a plane to Vai, who flew a few to Los Angeles and joined the band. Vai is another virtuoso who has been described as a very individualistic player.
Ritchie Blackmore is a co-founder of Deep Purple and a highly accomplished guitarist and composer. Single guitar notes are hard-punched, combining his free-flowing jamming style with softer, almost pipe organ sounds to create a sound that hasn’t been duplicated. He is renowned for his fantastic riffs and classically inspired solos, and he is now 75 years old.
Slash is Guns N’ Roses’ lead guitarist. He has received critical acclaim for his guitar playing since he began his career in 1981. He shared the stage with some of the world’s best guitarists, including Lenny Kravitz, who described him as “probably the best guitarist he’d ever played with.” Slash later went on to form Velvet Revolver, a supergroup band.
Alex Lifeson is the guitarist for Rush, a progressive rock band from Canada. He plays the mandola, bouzouki, and mandolin, as well as electric and acoustic instruments. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Lifeson, who is now 67, enjoys being a painter, a restaurant owner, and a licensed pilot.
Brian May is the lead guitarist and one of the founding members of the legendary Queen band. May is known for his soaring guitar solos and combining rock and roll and classical music styles. Regardless of which band he’s in at the time, his distinct voice is instantly recognizable. Queen as a band was put on hold for almost a decade after Freddie Mercury’s death. On the other hand, Brian May has resurfaced since then, bringing Queen back to the forefront of rock once more.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Vaughan was a key figure in the revival of the blues in the 1980s. David Bowie, who chose Vaughan to play guitar on his new album Let’s Dance in the mid-’80s, recalled his lightning-fast fingerpicking. Vaughn was an instant hit, and opening acts included The Stray Cats and Eric Clapton. He died in a helicopter accident in 1990, at the age of 35. He is still remembered as a legendary guitar player.
Eric Clapton is God. -Or at least that’s what the graffiti scrawled on London houses once declared. Eric Clapton, a member of The Yardbirds, Cream, Derek, and The Dominos, is the first three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Clapton has won 18 Grammy Awards and has sold over 100 million albums worldwide.
Gilmour was a member of Pink Floyd. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Pink Floyd took their transformative sound from their roots as a blues/folk band and turned it into an acid rock genre that no other band could match. As new fans of the band emerge, the Moon and The Wall’s albums Dark Side continue to sell millions of copies each year.
Eddie Van Halen
The founder of hard rock band Van Halen is an absolute beast on the guitar. Edward Van Halen and his brother Alex were discovered by Gene Simmons of Kiss and form one of the most successful rock bands of all time, fronted by David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. Van Halen was voted number one on Guitar World magazine’s list of the greatest guitarists of all time in 2012. Sadly, he passed away on October 6, 2020.
The rock band Led Zeppelin was founded by Jimmy Page. But guess what, though? He was in The Yardbirds too. He was also a member of The Yardbirds. He was one of the most sought-after session guitarists in Britain as a twenty-year-old in the 1960s. Page, who is now 77, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.