The Greatest Guitarists Of All Time

Although every member of a band plays a crucial role, one that tends to stick out is the guitarist. Almost all bands have at least one, and it is often even the preferred instrument of a band’s frontman. Extremely versatile and undeniably cool, guitarists are responsible for creating melodies, keeping rhythm, and smashing their instruments from time to time. A revered position, it takes stage presence, practice, and natural talent to be the best of the best. Here are some of the greatest guitarists who have it all.

Les Paul Revolutionized The Guitar

Les Paul and wife
Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

If you don’t know Les Paul for his incredible guitar skills, you may know him from the iconic guitar named after him. He was the creator of the solid-body guitar that essentially dominates the music scene today, and when he wasn’t busy making them, he was certainly playing them.

A self-taught musician, Paul is mostly known for his jazz hits but got his start playing country music. His style of using, licks, trills, and other fretting techniques set him apart from other musicians of the time, with him and his wife, Mary Ford, selling millions of records together.

Scotty Moore Invented The Power Chord

Scotty Moore in the studio
GAB Archive/Redferns
GAB Archive/Redferns

Credited as being the guitarist who invented the power chord, Scotty Moore is best known for playing the guitar and singing backup vocals for Elvis Presley. Listening to “Jailhouse Rock,” Moore’s talent is clear as well as the incredible influence he has made on music, landing him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Even famed Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims that Moore’s performance on “Heartbreak Hotel” is one of the reasons that he picked up a guitar in the first place. He went on to say “Everyone wanted to be Elvis, I wanted to be Scotty.”

Robert Johnson May Or May Not Have Sold His Soul

Johnson with his guitar
Pinterest
Pinterest

Born in 1911, Robert Johnson was a renowned blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Between 1936 and 1937, he released a series of recording that would influence countless future musicians.

Because there is little known about his life, many legends have circulated about it, the most popular being that he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads for his musical talent. He is famous for being able to play a diverse group of genres flawlessly even though he only participated in two recording sessions during his life.

Angus Young Backed Up His Sneer

Angus Young posing for a picture
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

Simple, yet powerful riffs are the essence of Angus Young’s style of guitar playing. Of course, he can do just about anything on the guitar, but some of his most memorable licks come from songs such as “Back in Black” and “Highway to Hell” among others, which blow listeners away every time.

He has a way of going from incredibly complex fingerings straight back into a series of heavy power chords that few guitarists can handle with such ease. While he doesn’t consider himself to be a soloist, he’s up there with the best.

Pete Townshend Is A Wildman

Townshend jumping
Chris Morphet/Redferns
Chris Morphet/Redferns

Although he held numerous positions in the band, Pete Townshend is best known as the lead guitarist for the hugely successful rock band The Who. Revered for his incredibly and sometimes outlandish performances.

Townshend is recognized for his signature windmill maneuver while jumping around the stage, adding an extra flair to his playing abilities. Caught in the heat of the moment, it also wasn’t unusual for him to destroy most of his instruments at the end of a show. He helped solidify The Who as one of the greatest rock bands of all time

David Gilmour Is The king Of Psychedelic Guitar

David Gilmour playing and singing
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

Although Gilmour wasn’t the original guitarist for the psychedelic rock group Pink Floyd, there’s no denying everything he has done for the band and music as a whole. Known for experimenting with his instrument, he helped to normalize the use of echo and other effects, while simultaneously giving Pink Floyd their signature sound.

Skilled at improv guitar, it’s no surprise that he started out playing blues, a style that can definitely be heard in his music. While he might not be the fastest or most technical guitar player in the world, he certainly is one of the most uniques.

Duane Allman Was A Master Improvisor

Duane sitting down with guitar
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Known as Duane “Skydog” Allman of the Allman Brothers band, Duane took the Allman Brother’s music to another level with his southern rock riffs and twang. His skill with the guitar wasn’t restricted to playing with his band either, musicians such as Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Herbie Mann, and more were all eager to get him into the studio with them.

One of his most notable skills, however, was improvisation, the main reason why some of the Allman Brother’s tracks clock in above 30 minutes. Sadly, he was taken from us too soon at the young age of 24.

Keith Richards Is Still Rocking

Keith Richards in the studio
Christopher Simon Sykes/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Christopher Simon Sykes/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Easily one of the most recognizable names in rock and roll, Keith Richards has been playing lead guitar for the Rolling Stones since the band’s inception in 1962. On top of his out-of-this-world guitar skills, he has also acted as one of the primary songwriters next to Mick Jagger.

Although his music isn’t always the most complex, his two and three no tracks such as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” are as impactful as they come. Richards is also considered to be the master of alternate and open tuning, opening new doors to the diversity of the instrument.

Jeff Beck Is A Master Of His Craft

Jeff Beck playing on stage
Jeremy Bembaron/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
Jeremy Bembaron/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Described by critics as the “guitarist’s guitarist,” Jeff Beck is known for his innovative sound and his ability to play impressively across most genres. Although he had a successful solo career, he is also known for playing with some of music’s biggest stars such as Rod Stewart, Roger Waters, ZZ Top, Mick Jagger, Morrisey, among countless others.

Jeff Beck has been recognized for his talent, being awarded a Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance on six different occasions, as well as being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.

We Owe It All To Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry crouching down
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Considered to be the godfather of rock and roll, Chuck Berry made music the way he thought it should have been played regardless of what others thought. As it turns out, Berry was right, and help establish one of the most popular genres in music.

His tracks such as “Johnny B. Goode,” show his mastery over the guitar and his ability to create something that was uniquely his own. Coming up with riffs that had never been heard before, he immortalized himself as a pioneer of not only the guitar but all of music.

Ritchie Blackmore Fused Genres

Playing guitar in all black
Frank Hoensch/Redferns
Frank Hoensch/Redferns

A founding member of Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore is known for some of the most recognizable riffs in rock and roll music such as “Smoke On The Water” and “Highway Star.” On top of his time with Deep Purple, he also had a successful solo career under the name of Rainbow.

Blackmore was is recognized for his integration of baroque music with heavy metal, separating him from many of his contemporaries. For his work in Deep Purple, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016.

Kurt Cobain Made His Mark In A Limited Amount Of Time

Cobain with wings behind him
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Known as the frontman for the grunge band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain may have had a short career, but a long-lasting influence on music. After the release of the band’s second album Smells Like Teen Spirit, the band exploded into popularity, elevating Cobain to the status as one of the most popular musicians of his time.

Credited with bringing garage rock to the forefront of the music scene, Cobain commanded the stage with his presence as well as his distinct style of guitar playing. He could be slow, loud, quiet, or fast, yet you always knew it was Kurt Cobain.

Tony Iommi Is The Godfather Of Heavy Metal

Playing for Black Sabbath
Fin Costello/Redferns
Fin Costello/Redferns

Considered as one of the founding fathers of heavy metal music, Tony Iommi lost the tips of one of his fingers working in a metal factory in Birmingham, England. To make up for his lost appendage, Iommi wore a leather fingertip, which gave his guitar a unique and heavy sound, putting his band, Black Sabbath, at the forefront of the rock and roll scene.

Along with his leather fingertip, Iommi was also known for his unique style of tuning his guitar, heard in tracks like “Iron man,” separating Iommi from other musicians of the time.

George Harrison

George Harrison playing guitar in a sweater
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Known as the “Quiet Beatle,” George Harrison may not have been the face of the band, but his skills on the guitar said it all. Not only the lead guitarist for the group, but he was also a prominent songwriter, some of his credits including “Within Without You” and “I Want to Tell You” among others.

Inspired by Indian music and culture towards the end of his time with the Beatles, he showed what was truly possible to do with a guitar and that you didn’t have to stick with one genre.

Carlos Santana Brought The Blues Back

Carlos playing a solo
Paul Natkin/Getty Images
Paul Natkin/Getty Images

A Mexican-born musician, Carlos Santana came into popularity playing with his band Santana in the late 1960s and 70s. A natural at the guitar, what made Carlos Santana stand out especially was his incorporation of Latin and African rhythms into his music such as his use of timbales and congas, instruments that were uncommon in rock and roll at the time.

Throughout his career, Carlos Santana has received 10 Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammys for his unique take on rock and roll. Famed musicians such as Prince hailed him as one of the greatest guitarists of their time.

Stevie Ray Vaughn Had Undeniable Talent

Playing in a cowboy hat
Kirk West/Getty Images
Kirk West/Getty Images

Learning the instrument at just seven years old, Stevie Ray Vaughn solidified himself as one of the greatest guitarists of his age. An unbelievable blues guitarist, he was sadly killed at the young age of 35 in a helicopter crash.

However, during his music career, he was regarded as a pioneer of the guitar who was able to be progressive, yet still true to the blues. His natural talent with the guitar earned him six Grammy Awards and ten Austin Music Awards. Unsurprisingly, he was also inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and has been dubbed one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

Eddie Van Halen Is A Cut Above

Playing with signature guitar
Van Halen Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Van Halen Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Alongside his brother Alex Van Halen, the two rose in the ranks to become one of the biggest bands in the world, calling themselves Van Halen. Besides being a founder and one of the primary songwriters for the group, Eddie is best known for his incredible abilities on the guitar.

His riffs from songs such as “Eruption,” “Unchained,” and “Take Your Whiskey Home,” exhibit his incredible ability to play loud, fast, and with ease, something not easily accomplished by all guitarists.

Jimmy Page Is An Icon

Jimmy Page with violin bow
Chris Walter/WireImage
Chris Walter/WireImage

A founding member of Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page is responsible for some of the most iconic and recognizable guitar riffs in music. Not only did he produce some of the heaviest and most memorable licks in music history, but he also had the ability to play beautiful and gentle tunes on the acoustic guitar and mandolin such as in “Over the Hills and Far Away.”

A legendary player, he helped popularize double-neck guitar and would even use a violin bow at times to evoke sounds most guitarists would never even think of.

Eric Clapton Had Quite The Career

Eric Clapton on stage
David Redfern/Redferns
David Redfern/Redferns

Not only did Eric Clapton have an exceptional solo career, but he was also instrumental in major bands such as The Yardbirds, Cream, and Derek and the Dominos. He stood out for his unique use of the wah-wah pedal, giving his playing a psychedelic sound that other guitarists could only hope to imitate.

For his raw talent, Clapton has received 18 Grammy Awards and is the only musician to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on three separate occasions.

Jimi Hendrix Did Things His Own Way

Jimi Hendrix playing on stage
David Redfern/Redferns
David Redfern/Redferns

Widely considered as one of the greatest guitarists to ever take the stage, Jimi Hendrix played by his own rules. Whether it was using his teeth, playing behind his back, or setting his guitar on fire, he never failed to disappoint.

He didn’t even play the guitar the “correct” way, learning to play on right-handed guitars that he turned upside down and restrung to be able to play left-handed. He left us with songs such as “Foxy Lady,” “Hey Joe,” and “Purple Haze,” demonstrating his mastery of the guitar and his skill with experimentation.