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40 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Ranked

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Guitars have been enchanting audiences for generations, weaving melodies that echo through time. From blistering solos to soul-stirring ballads, this instrument has seen virtuosos who pushed the boundaries of the art form itself. Let’s take some time and tip our hats to the 40 greatest guitarists of all time—each leaving an indelible mark on the world of music.

40. John Frusciante, Red Hot Chili Pepper guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Best known as Red Hot Chili Pepper’s guitarist, John Frusciante’s guitar playing style ranges from acoustic guitar to electronic music. As a member of the band, Frusciante was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. In his solo career, he released 11 albums and 7 EPs that encompassed genres like experimental rock, ambient music and electronica. Frusciante’s musical style has evolved over the years and is often attributed to the influence of the works produced by Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. In 2023, John Frusciante released two versions of an ambient solo record, ‘I and II’.

39. Brad Whitford, Aerosmith guitarist and Joe Perry Project

Whitford is best known for being the guitarist for the hard rock band, Aerosmith, which went on to become one of the most successful bands of the 1970s. In his time with the band, Brad Whitford made significant contributions to their repertoire and even co-wrote hit Aerosmith songs like “Last Child”, “Nobody’s Fault”, “Round and Round” among many more. Whitford influenced many guitarists but perhaps, most notably, the lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses, Slash. He also served as a producer of the Boston band, the Neighborhoods.

38. Billy Gibbons, Troubadour Award winner and 50 million albums sold

The bearded vocalist-guitarist behind ZZ Top’s historical success as a multiple platinum-record American rock band, Billy Gibbons’ gritty playing and distinctive tone have made him a legendary guitar icon. The band’s most successful single, “La Grange”, received an extensive radio play in its time and rose to No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1974.

37. Joe Walsh, Certified 26x Platinum Single and 5x Grammy Award Winner

From his work with the Eagles to his solo career, Joe Walsh’s inventive playing and soulful melodies have rightfully earned him a place among the guitar greats. “Hotel California”, the band’s greatest success, was interestingly the reason none of their other singles lived long enough to see the top of the charts.

36. Albert King, Blues Hall of Fame and 2x Grammy Award nominee

A towering figure in the blues world, Albert King’s searing guitar work and soulful vocals have left an indelible mark on the genre. King’s style influenced musical icons like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh and many others to explore powerful string-bending styles. His album, “San Francisco ’83” was nominated for the Best Traditional Blues album in 1983 and the same year he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

35. Jeff Healey, Juno Award winner and Grammy nominee

Despite being blind since childhood, Canadian blues, rock and jazz singer-guitarist Jeff Healey’s jaw-dropping guitar skills and unique playing style earned him widespread acclaim and admiration in the 1980s and 1990s. In his time as an artist, Healey performed with incredible peers like Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Lenny Kravitz, George Harrison, and many, many more.

34. Dimebag Darrell, Hollywood’s RockWalk and 4x Grammy nominee

The driving force behind Pantera’s and Damageplan’s heavy metal sounds, Dimebag Darrell’s lightning-fast riffs and jaw-dropping solos earned him immense popularity and accolades. In other musical forays, he collaborated with several Hollywood artists on different motion pictures, most notably, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Stomp 442 (1995) and Supercop (1996) . Darrell is widely considered as one of the greatest metal guitarists of all time and was inducted into Hollywood’s RockWalk posthumously in 2007.

33. Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne’s Guitarist and Pioneer of Fast Guitar Soloing in ’80s Metal

In a relatively short career ending with his untimely death at 25, Rhoads came to be very well-known for his virtuosic playing and innovative approach to heavy metal as Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist and co-songwriter. Randy Rhoads’ legacy is cemented through his performances on tracks like “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley” on the Blizzard of Ozz album, the former of which is regarded to be one of the most well-known heavy metal guitar riffs. To many admirers of the genre, Rhoads’ techniques, like two-handed tapping and tremolo bar dive bombs, rival those of his contemporary and legendary guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

32. Ry Cooder, 6x Grammy Award winner and Session Musician for The Rolling Stones

A multi-instrumentalist and master of slide guitar and roots music, Ry Cooder’s eclectic style and impeccable technique are adored by many in traditional music circles across countries. In his time, Cooder has undertaken both solo and collaborative works. Most notably, he has worked with Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and many other artists of high esteem. Despite the typically sombre genre of traditional music, Cooder won his first grammy for ‘Best Recording for Children’ in Pecos Bill.

31. Gary Moore, Certified Gold Single by RIAA

Through the course of his career, Moore performed a range of music including blues, blues rock, hard rock, heavy metal and jazz fusion. In his own words, his biggest influence was Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist Peter Green, while many of his early influences included Jeff Beck, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix and many others. Often described as a virtuoso, Moore is considered one of the greatest Irish bluesmen by his peers and admirers alike.

30. Johnny Marr, 7x NME “God-Like Genius” Award and The Smiths guitarist

Johnny Marr first gained success as the guitarist and co-songwriter of The Smiths. The Irish guitarist was often credited with the commercial success and critical acclaim of the band’s music which was characterized by Marr’s signature jangle pop guitar style. Following the disbanding of The Smiths, Marr went on to collaborate with many great artists of his era. From Alternative Rock, Indie Rock and Jangle Pop to Indie Pop and Indie Rock, Johnny Marr has dedicated his skills to an expansive spectrum when it comes to genres – most recently, collaborating with pianist and musical giant Hans Zimmer who brought in Marr to perform in the score composed for the James Bond film ‘No Time to Die’.

29. John Mayer, 4x Grammy Award winner and 20 million albums sold worldwide

While Mayer enjoyed great success in early days with acoustic music, he moved away from it to focus on blues and rock music through his band, the John Mayer Trio. Nicknamed ‘Slowhand Jr.’ in a reference to Eric Clapton, Mayer is adored and despised in equal measure. While his savviness and skill with a guitar have been widely recognized in critical circles, his “pillow-soft song craft” and “dull sentimentality of his lyrics” have been called out in equal measure.

28. Derek Trucks, Grammy Award winner

American guitarist, songwriter and founder of The Derek Trucks Band, Trucks joined The Allman Brothers Band in 1999. His musical style, rooted in blues and rock, expands across several genres of blues, soul, jazz, rock and qawwali music. An admirer of Hindustani classical music, Derek Trucks collaborated with Indian musical giants like sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.

27. Joe Bonamassa, 3x Grammy Award nominee

At twelve years of age, Bonamassa opened 20 shows for blues legend B.B. King and has, since, released an impressive 15 solo albums of which 11 albums have made it to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Blues chart. Unlike his blues rock predecessors, Bonamassa’s influences are decidedly British and Irish blues acts instead of American. Most recently, Bonamassa played lead guitarist on two tracks from Alan Parsons’ 2022 album, ‘From The New World’.

26. Bonnie Raitt, 15x Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

American blues singer, guitarist and songwriter, Raitt released a number of critically acclaimed albums incorporating elements of blues, rock, folk and country. Her tenth album, ‘Nick of Time’, released in 1989 reached No.1 spot on Billboard 200 chart and won her the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Most recently, her single, “Just Like That”, released in 2022 won her the Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

25. Eric Johnson, Grammy Award winner and 7x Grammy Award nominee

American guitarist, vocalist and composer, Johnson is best known for his electric guitar skills across genres of rock, blues, jazz fusion, soul, folk, new-age, classical and country. His album, “Ah Via Musicom”, released in 1990 was certified platinum by the RIAA. His extraordinary guitar skills in acoustic, lap steel and resonator guitars gained Eric Johnson a cult following since early days. Since 2023, Johnson is part of the G3 2024 Tour alongside Steve Vai and Joe Satraini.

24. Steve Vai, 3x Grammy Award winner and over 15 million records sold

Steve Vai started playing the guitar at the age of six and, since then, been involved with heavy rock and metal. His genres expand across instrumental rock, hard rock, heavy metal and progressive metal. Vai’s studio album, “Passion and Warfare”, released in 1990 is often described as his most successful work and established him rightly among one of the greatest hard rock guitarists. Most recently, Steve Vai was a featured artist on the title track of the album, ‘Seven Daughters of the Sea’, by Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin.

23. Angus Young, AC/DC founding member and guitarist and 5x APRA Award winner

One of the only remaining founders of the massively successful hard rock band AC/DC, Young is an Australian musician, guitarist and songwriter. He is widely known for his stage presence and his dedication to his craft. In his early years, Young got his first guitar, Gibson SG, which was second-hand and he played it until the “wood rot because so much sweat and water got into it”.

22. Frank Zappa, 2x Grammy Award winner and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

Zappa’s career spanned over 30 years, where he composed critically acclaimed works in genres across rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and more and produced nearly all of the 60 albums he released solo and with his band, Mothers of Invention. His influences varied from 20th century classical modernism, African-American rhythm and blues to doo-wop music. A true musical maverick, Zappa continued with an eclectic and experimental approach in his works and was considered highly prolific in his art despite his rather controversial critical standing when it came to American societal and political structures. Frank Zappa enjoyed particularly great popularity in Europe as an independent artist.

21. Neil Young, 3x Grammy Award winner and 7x Juno Award winner

A folk-rock icon, Neil Young’s guitar work and deeply personal lyrics define his expansive career. Nicknamed “Godfather of Grunge”, his distorted electric guitar playing with Crazy Horse led to his album, “Mirror Ball”, released in 1995. Young’s emotive playing and raw, honest songwriting have made him one of the most respected musicians of his generation. Most recently, Neil Young has been backed by the American country group, Promise of the Real. An estimated 21 of his albums and singles have been certified gold and platinum by RIAA certification.

20. George Harrison, Beatles guitarist, Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) and Hollywood Walk of Fame

Harrison’s understated yet masterful guitar work as the lead guitarist of the Beatles helped shape the sound of the band. Beatle’s album, “Abbey Road”, released in 1969 featured two classic contributions from George Harrison, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something”, both of which gained him an equal songwriting status with his famous bandmates John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Nicknamed “the quiet Beatle”, Harrison embraced Indian culture and broadened the band’s oeuvre to include Indian instrumentation and spirituality.

19. Pete Townshend, The Who guitarist, 2x Grammy Award winner, BRIT Life Achievement Award

An English musician, Townshend is the co-founder, leader, principal songwriter and guitarist of The Who. His aggressive playing style and impeccable songwriting techniques in the 1960s and 1970s earned him critical acclaim and contributed immensely to the band’s popularity. Pete Townshend wrote more than 100 songs for 12 of the Who’s studio albums which included concept albums, rock operas and popular rock radio staples. Most recently, Townshend released an album with the band’s co-founder Roger Daltrey titled, Who.

18. Mark Knopfler, OBE, 4x Grammy Award winner and nearly 120 million records sold

Lead guitarist of the rock band, Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler is a fingerstyle guitarist who is widely considered the most lyrical of all rock guitarists. His evocative guitar style spanned across genres like rock, roots rock, Celtic rock, blues rock and country rock. Apart from albums, Knopfler also worked on film soundtracks and wrote the music score for the film,, “The Princess Bride” released in the 1987. Through the years, Dire Straits have remained one of the most popular British rock bands and rank among the world’s most commercially successful bands.

17. Brian May, Queen guitarist, 4x BRIT Award winner and 3x Ivor Novello Award winner

Lead guitarist of the rock band ‘Queen’, Brian May is often credited with the wild success of the band. His layered guitar work created a distinctive sound that characterized a number of Queen’s super hits. Following the demise of Freddie Mercury, the band were on a hiatus until May eventually reconvened for performances featuring other vocalists. Brian May was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Queen in 2001.

16. Prince, President’s Merit Award, 7x Grammy Award winner and over 100 million records sold worldwide

Prince was an American musician widely known for his flamboyant, androgynous persona and his impressive vocal range combined with his skill as a multi-instrumentalist. His music spanned across genres like funk, rhythm and blues, rock, new wave, soul, synth pop and many others. In 1984, Prince released his sixth and most successful album, “Purple Rain”, which topped the Billboard 200 chart for six consecutive months. He was a prolific musician who released 39 albums in his lifetime and sold over 100 million records worldwide. Prince is frequently ranked among the best-selling musicians of all time.

15. Tony Iommi, 3x Grammy Award winner and over 70 million records sold worldwide

Co-founder of heavy metal band, Black Sabbath, Iommi was the band’s guitarist and leader for over five decades. Despite losing the tips of the middle and ring fingers of his right hand, Iommi continued playing and consequently pioneered the low string tension and detuned technique in guitar playing that characterized Black Sabbath’s sound and became a mainstay of heavy metal music. Considered as the “true father of heavy metal” by artists and admirers alike, Tony Iommi is one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.

14. Joe Satriani, 15x Grammy Award nominee and over 10 million albums sold worldwide

Joe Satriani started his career as a guitar mentor to the likes of Steve Vai, Larry LaLonde and more. He was later recruited by Mick Jagger as lead guitarist for his first solo tour and worked with a range of artists before joining the supergroup Chickenfoot in 2008. Considered a highly technical guitarist, Satriani has mastered several playing techniques on electric guitar such as legato, two-handed tapping and more. Satriani was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix and was inspired to play the guitar at age 14, after hearing of his demise.

13. Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones guitarist, 4x Grammy Award winner and Grammy Hall of Fame

Original member and guitarist of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards’ career has spanned across six decades and his guitar playing style has been a trademark of the band’s sound. Often portrayed as a countercultural figure, Richards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. His guitar playing is considered direct, incisive and unpretentious since he focuses more on chords and rhythms. Keith Richards, interestingly, was the inspiration for Johnny Depp’s character in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. He also appeared in one of the films alongside Depp.

12. Slash, Guns N’ Roses guitarist, 4x AMA winner and 4x Grammy Award nominee

Nicknamed “Slash” as a child, the lead guitarist of the hard rock band Guns N’ Roses is a British-American musician who achieved worldwide fame for his guitar playing style and his signature riff sound that characterized the band’s music. His guitar solo in “November Rain” is considered one of his most memorable works. Slash also worked with a number of artists in his time, from Michael Jackson to Bob Dylan. He was honored with a Rock Walk of Fame in 2007 and was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 as part of the classic lineup of Guns N’ Roses.

11. Carlos Santana, 10x Grammy Award winner and Hollywood Walk of Fame

American guitarist Carlos Santana is best known as the founding member of the rock band, ‘Santana’. Brought up in Mexico, his musical background is deeply influenced by the Mexican sound. As part of the band, he rose to fame in 1960s and 1970s and pioneered a fusion of rock and roll and Latin American jazz. His blues-based lines set against Latin American and African rhythms were not typically heard in rock. Carlos Santana was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, after regaining popularity and critical acclaim in the late 1990s.

10. Duane Allman, Grammy Award winner and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

Founder and original leader of the Allman Brothers Band, Allman was an American rock and blues guitarist who gained popularity in the early 1970s. While his career was brief due to his untimely demise in a motorcycle crash, he is best remembered for his influential tenure, his expressive slide guitar playing and inventive improvisational skills. Duane Allman was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously.

9. David Gilmour, Pink Floyd guitarist, CBE, Grammy Award winner and 2x Grammy Hall of Fame

Member of the rock band, Pink Floyd, David Gilmour is an English musician who achieved international fame with the band’s most successful albums like ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975) and more. By the early 1980s, Pink Floyd became the highest selling and most acclaimed act in music history, selling more than 250 million records worldwide. In 1996, David Gilmour was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

8. Eddie Van Halen, Grammy Award winner and AMA winner

Widely considered one of the greatest guitarist in rock history, Eddie Van Halen was an American musician and the guitarist of the rock band Van Halen. He is well-known for popularizing the tapping guitar technique that uses both hands on the guitar neck. Eddie Van Halen claimed that Eric Clapton was his main influence and that his trajectory was proof of the American Dream coming true. He was never taught to read music and learned how to play the guitar by watching recitals of Bach and Mozart repertoire. Eddie Van Halen worked with a number of artists like Brian May, Michael Jackson and more and was the subject of the song “Eddie”, a tribute by Red Hot Chili Peppers from their 2022 album called ‘Return of the Dream Canteen’.

7. Jeff Beck, 8x Grammy Award winner and Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music

An English guitarist, Jeff Beck rose to prominence as a member of the rock band, the Yardbirds. He later switched to an instrumental style with his works spanning across styles and genres like blues rock, hard rock, jazz fusion and a blend of guitar-rock and electronica. Often described as one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock, Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice—as a member of the Yardbirds and as a solo artist.

6. Stevie Ray Vaughan, 6x Grammy Award winner and Blues Hall of Fame

Stevie Ray Vaughan is best remembered as the guitarist and frontman of the blues rock trio Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Although his career was relatively brief in the mainstream, Vaughan is regarded as one of the most influential musicians in the history of blues music as well as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Following his untimely demise in a helicopter plane crash, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music continued to gain commercial success and sold over 15 million albums in the US. Vaughan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously in 2015, along side his Double Trouble band mates.

5. B.B. King, Presidential Medal of Freedom and 15x Grammy Award winner

American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and record producer, B.B. King introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending, shimmering vibrato, and staccato picking that generations of blues electric guitar players. He is widely recognized as the single most important electric guitarist of the 20th century. Popularly nicknamed as “The King of the Blues”, B.B. King performed tirelessly through his musical career, appearing at more than 200 concerts every year well into his 70s. He taught himself how to play the guitar and went on to chart No. 1 on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues in 1952, amassing an impressive list of hits like “You Know I Love You”, “Woke Up This Morning”, “Please Love Me” and more. B.B. King said that his favorite singer was Frank Sinatra and that he was instrumental in opening doors for black entertainers in “white-dominated” venues.  

4. Jimmy Page, OBE, Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Widely considered one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time, Page is an English musician who began his career as a studio musician in London and quickly became one of the most sought-after session guitarists in Britain. He is the founder and guitarist of the rock band, Led Zeppelin after his former band, the Yardbirds, broke up. During his session days, Page developed the technique of playing his guitar with a cello bow which he performed live on the songs “Dazed and Confused” and “How Many More Times”. Jimmy Page was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of the Yardbirds and as a member of Led Zeppelin.

3. Eric Clapton, CBE and 18x Grammy Award winner

English rock and blues guitarist Eric Clapton is regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in rock music. Former member of the Yarbirds, Clapton played with a number of local bands. His career is defined by a number of band and solo acts. Clapton’s most successful album, Unplugged, was released in 1992 and received six Grammy awards. This album also featured the song, “Tears in Heaven”, written in the memory of his four-year old son, Connor, who had died in 1991 after falling from the window of a NYC apartment on the 53rd floor. Eric Clapton’s ‘Unplugged’ charted No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 10 million copies in the US. He remains the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2. Chuck Berry, Grammy Lifetime Achievement award and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Nicknamed the “Father of Rock and Roll”, Chuck Berry refined and developed R&B into elements that made rock and roll distinctive. He was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is widely considered to be the one who laid the groundwork for the rock and roll sound. Three of Chuck Berry’s songs, “Johnny B. Goode”, “Maybellene” and “Rock and Roll Music”, are included on the Voyager Golden Record—which contains sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth—aboard the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 by NASA.

1. Jimi Hendrix, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Hollywood Walk of Fame

American guitarist Jimi Hendrix is undoubtedly the greatest guitarist in the history of rock music. He was inspired by rock and roll and electric blues and favored over-driven amplifiers. While many had experimented with the distorted sound before him, it was Hendrix who turned those effects popular. In his relatively short but impressive career, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was the recipient of many music awards. Interestingly, Hendrix is often cited as one of the many disproportionate number of musicians who died at the age of 27 in the same era in a phenomenon that has since been referred to as the ’27 Club’.

So, there you have it, folks! These 40 guitarists represent a diverse array of styles, techniques, and influences, but they all share one thing in common: an undeniable mastery of the instrument and an enduring legacy that continues to inspire musicians around the world. Whether you’re a fan of blistering solos, soulful ballads, or gritty blues, there’s something for everyone among these guitar greats. Now is the time to pick up your axe, crank up the volume, and let their timeless melodies take you on a musical journey unlike any other!

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