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The Best Guitarists on the Planet: Our Top Ten Picks

By Alexis, published on 01/06/2017 Blog > Music > Guitar > The Top 10 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time

As soon as you decide to learn the guitar, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with all the great guitarists who have come before you.

Whether you’re a fan of classical, folk, rock, hard rock or funk music, each genre has its canon of great guitarists who have popularized it and propelled it forward.

Off the top of our heads, we can name Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Django Reinhardt, Slash, Jimmy Page, BB King and countless others.

But coming up with the list of the top 10 best guitarists on the planet is no small task, as the list is bound to vary according to everyone’s tastes and preferred music genre. Nonetheless, we’re confident that our top 10 list will be a good source of information for those who are looking to learn guitar.

It’s a debated subject for music fans who all have their own preferred musician or group for reasons that are extremely diverse and personal: for some, the technical skills of the guitarist is the deciding factor, and for others, it’s a question of emotion.

And for others still, it comes down to how much commercial success the guitarist in question has had.

So basically we had many criteria to take into account as we ranked the most renowned guitarists.

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How to Define a Very Good Guitarist

A very good guitarist is before all else a musician who plays music; this is different from assessing a top athlete (even though there are similarities between the two, in terms of preparation and training) whose worth depends on technical feats.

Our choice for the top 10 best guitarists is based on the musicality of the guitarist, that is to say on the art the of arranging sounds in the right order, at the right moment and length, in order to express an emotion or idea.

To be considered an excellent musician, one must be able to create emotion and energy from one’s music, and give the listener chills. The great guitarists in turn inspire guitar instructors who give guitar lessons.

And who wouldn’t dream of having a guitar lesson by the great Jimmy Hendrix?

The Top 10 Best Guitarists in the World

We’ve surveyed about one century of music history to come up with this list of the top 10 best guitarists that the world has produced up until now.

Remember that these rankings are subjective => So leave behind your preconceived ideas on the guitar before reading this article!

Jimi Hendrix

Whether you’re after emotion or technique, Jimi Hendrix is considered the uncontested master of the guitar today.

It is possible to play like Jimi Hendrix Jimmy Hendrix is the ultimate guitarist.

Self-taught genius, experimenter, incredible soloist and melodist, he pretty much invented and reinvented the world of rock and blues, still inspiring both big names and beginner guitarists today, all of whom will have covered “Voodoo Child” at one time or another.

He also opened the doors for left-handed guitar players by showing them that they too can master a musical instrument and make something unforgettable from it. In the same way that a “southpaw” boxer like Manny Pacquiao achieved unbelievable things in the ring, the gifted left-handed guitarist Jimmy Hendrix pushed guitar playing to its highest level.

For those lefties who are still unsure how to play the guitar, we invite you to observe the master in action by checking out some online guitar videos.

He was a part of the iconic Club27 group of musicians who all died at the age of 27, including Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Brian Jones.

Eric Clapton

Modestly known as “God” by fans, Eric Clapton is one of the most famous rock and blues guitarists still actively playing for almost 50 years today.

This Brit rocker pushed the boundaries of rock and blues.

He’s a great soloist and iconic melodist who quite simply knows how to play everything.

You can get to that guitar playing level too! Clapton: One of the greatest guitar soloists!

Also nicknamed “Slow Hand,” Clapton handles the fretboard with virtuosity.

Big titles like “Cocaine” or “I shot the Sheriff” brought him global success that secured him a definite place in the canon of guitar-heroes.

His talent is expressed in solos (we are thinking of the MTV album “Unplugged”) as well as through heartfelt collaborations with artists such as Phil Collins or Mick Jones and gigs in groups like The Yardbirds and The Cream.

He is also the idol of countless students who take guitar instruction.

Jimmy Page

One of the founding and leading members of the famous band Led Zeppelin is naturally third on our list of the top 10 best guitarists on the planet.

Known as “The Wizard,” Page is a guitarist like no other, playing with a violin bow on his famous Gibson, alternating blues and rock with joy and passion.

Page: A guitarist god of Rock Mythology! Photo via Visual Hunt. Page was a Guitar God

He wrote several music pieces with Robert Plant that have entered rock mythology such as “Stairway to Heaven” (what guitarist has not tempted at least once to play the famous intro or final solo?), “Black Dog,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Since I’ve been lovin’ you.”

A canonical guitarist.

Robert Johnson

In less than 29 songs, this blues guitar genius has had a major impact on this musical genre as well as rock guitar.

The legend has said that he would have sold his soul to the devil himself to obtain guitar-playing talent: many blues players mocked his guitar playing incompetence.

His death was equally mysterious, further heightening the legend surrounding this atypical man. But one thing is clear, even though there remains little written by him, the young Robert Johnson aka “The Genius” revolutionized the world of blues and earned worldwide recognition.

Chuck Berry

He is one of the pioneers of rock’n’roll.

At once a guitarist, singer, and songwriter, he has been a veritable source of inspiration for other iconic artists like Elvis “The King” Presley.

He revolutionized music by combining two different guitar styles who were begging to be played together, blues and country.

Chuck Berry via Visual Hunt. Chuck Berry playing guitar live

And thus rock was born – all you need to do to is listen to his famous song “Johnny B. Goode.”

He is the pioneer of music as we know it today and as such, he absolutely earns his place in our top 10 best guitarists on the planet.

Carlos Santana

Word Music precursor, the Mexican-born Santana has inspired numerous artists around the world.

Named “The Pope” of rock with Latino vibes, he’s a genius guitarist who discovered the magic formula by skillfully merging rock, blues, samba and percussions, along with other guitar styles.

Santana is known for his special guitar techniques The frenzied rhythms of Carlos Santana!

Santana’s manner of playing his guitar is immediately recognizable.

 

An expert in making guitar strings ring, he’s a performer who mastered his art while always experimenting. Indeed, instead of playing the same old songs, Santana prefers to collaborate with other artists to enrich and rethink his music.

His success is also due to the messages he communicates through his guitar songs with notions of peace, compassion, understanding, and joy.

Listen to “Europa” or “Smooth” and you will recognize his typical lyrical playing, and its characteristic warm and saturated sound.

Muddy Waters

His presence among the top 10 best guitarists in the world may come as a surprise but he who is named “The Lord of the Blues” is an unparalleled guitarist who popularized the bottleneck technique.

Bottleneck slide guitar Muddy Waters or the king of Bottleneck.

His complete mastery of this accessory and his blues virtuosity allowed him to write the great blues titles that are considered classics today like “Hoochie Coochie Man” or “Rollin Stone.”

He’s often considered one of the great blues guitarists of all time along with Willie Dixon, Johnny Lee Hooker or BB King.

BB King

BB (for Blues Boys) King is the master of New Orleans blues. He’s a true legend of guitar history!

Although certainly less technical than Stevie Ray Vaughan, he wrote numerous classics of the genre (“Sweet Little Angel,” “Sweet sixteen”), rounding out his songs with a rich voice full of emotions and his characteristic vibrato.

BB King: A groovy blues guitarist! Photo via Visual Hunt. BB King: A groovy blues guitarist! Photo via Visual Hunt.

Thanks to his inimitable touch that gives real personality to the guitar, BB King has influenced the guitar biggies like Clapton and Hendrix.

Working from one sole note, he is capable of telling a story that touches the deepest depths of the human soul.

Keith Richards

One of the leading members of the famous The Rolling Stones along with Mick Jagger, he is still one of the most talented rock guitarists today.

Known for being a seducer guitarist!

Called The Human Riff, he’s appreciated less for his virtuosity than for his extreme simplicity.

For him, it’s preferable to have “2 notes that kill rather than virtuosity for nothing.”

Let’s Rock’n’Roll with Keith. Photo via Visual Hunt. Let’s Rock’n’Roll with Keith. Photo via Visual Hunt.

His obsession with sound and his personal playing technique (thanks to his 5-string guitar with open tuning in G) ranks him as one of the greatest rhythmic guitarists of all time.

He has written and composed rock classics like “Jumpin Jack Flash,” “Satisfaction” and “Paint it black.”

Eddie Van Halen

For many musicians, there is a before and after Van Halen.

Why? The way guitar is now played changed all because of a measly one minute and 42 seconds, or the time it takes to play his infamous “Eruption.”

Eddie Van Halen on stage in 1978. Photo via Visual Hunt. Eddie Van Halen on stage in 1978. Photo via Visual Hunt.

If you want to learn the electric guitar, Eddie Van Halen is the model to follow.

How is it possible that a single man can play as though a group of guitarists is on stage?Whereas there is just him, his ten fingers and his incredible touch of the guitar neck!

Nicknamed “Superman,” every guitar fan is awed after hearing his music and his mastery of the instrument.

These guitarists we’ve listed above are all too familiar with the many benefits of guitar playing.

Bonus: your comments!

Thank you! A great number of you have responded with your own comments and opinions after the publication of this article.

As a bonus, we’ve followed your suggestions to expand our presentation of the best guitarists in the world.

From Robert Plant and Beck to Elvis: who are the guitar legends according to you?

Do you agree with Rolling Stone’s ranking of the 100 best guitarists?

Buddy Guy

This guitarist had a decisive influence on Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Buddy Guy: From Blues rock to Funk: an electric guitarist! Buddy Guy: From Blues rock to Funk: an electric guitarist!

He was a member of Muddy Waters’ band who signed his first contracts with Chess Records.

His music gave off a flamboyant modernism while staying true to the musical roots of his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

He especially impressed fans with his thunderous Funk in “Howlin Wolf,” “Killing Floor” and “Wang Dang Doodle.”

Kirk Hammett

Kirk Lee Hammett was been a guitarist and songwriter in the iconic heavy metal group Metallica since 1983.

Metallica was a precursor group of trash metal. Photo via Visual Hunt. Metallica was a precursor group of trash metal. Photo via Visual Hunt.

In 2003, Hammett was classed 11th in the Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

And in 2009, Hammett was ranked number 15 in Joel McIver’s book on the 100 greatest Metal guitarists.

Tom Morello

Thomas Baptiste “Tom” Morello is a singer-songwriter and political activist. He’s especially known for playing with the groups Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.

Morello: the king of picking and tapping! Image via Visual Hunt. Morello: the king of picking and tapping! Image via Visual Hunt.

Morello was also a touring musician with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. He was well known for his acoustic solo “The Nightwatchman,” and “Street Sweeper Social Club.”

Pioneer of rap metal, he explored the musical potential of the guitar, integrating mixing and hip hop.

Gary Moore

Robert William Gary Moore was born in 1952 in Northern Ireland. He grew up in East Belfast and left home very young. He moved to Dublin where he met his personal mentor: Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac. In the years that followed he joined the band Skid Row, then Thin Lizzy in 1974, and Colosseum II with whom he played until about 1978.

Since 1979, Gary led a solo career, during which time he’s released a number of very successful albums, such as the fan favorite “Still Got The Blues” (1990). He was very active up until his premature death in February 2011.

It’s difficult to put into words how Gary Moore changed the music landscape with “Still Got The Blues.” Perhaps we should let the music do the talking?

“Still Got The Blues” is his most popular hit not only because it’s a beautiful song, but because its guitar solos highlight his melodic blues (a signature of Gary Moore).

Gary Moore has a powerful playing style that every guitarist should study regardless of the musical genre they play.

It’s exactly as @Fabrice explains:

It’s the perfect union between emotion, musicality, melody, and technical skill, from how he holds notes, and the variety of big and rapid sounds. But it’s rarely just a pure demonstration of technique and speed, as it’s his underlying reserve of power that is the most impressive. Music and Melody always have priority.”

Slash

For you music fanatics, Saul Hudson aka Slash is one of the most talented guitarists of his generation and a leading member of the group Guns N’ Roses. And if you don’t know it yet, it’s something you’ll learn soon enough in a guitar lesson!

While he was placed in the top 10 best guitarists by Time magazine in 2009, Rolling Stone only ranked him 65 in its top 100 best guitarists of all time…

For us common mortals, he’s known as the musician who accompanied Michael Jackson on stage to songs like “Give In To Me,” “Black or White,” and “Beat It,” playing his live guitar solos that could wake up the dead.

Some of these solos went on for a bit too long, at least in the eyes of the King of Pop! Ok this is a slight exaggeration, but like all guitarists of his generation, he is successful simply because he does what he loves.

Considered by some to be the greatest guitar soloist of all time, Slash is known for his style, incredible technique and his ability to transmit his emotions to the public.

Proof of his moments of pure inspiration can be seen in the mass of concert videos you’ll find on the Internet and the many studio recordings he’s made.

Start with these songs:

  • Sweet Child.
  • November Rain.
  • You Could Be Mine.
  • November Rain.
  • Estranged.
  • November Rain.
  • Have we already said November Rain?

David Gilmour

He is glaringly missing from the ranking of top guitarists!

How could we not mention the fabulous soloist David Gilmore, who was part of the psychedelic band Pink Floyd? Lovers of the drug-induced melodies of this British band would not be able to argue with that…

Here’s a small quiz for his true fans: was Gilmour an original member of the group? Well? 

The answer is no! Pink Floyd was created in 1965, and we had to wait until 1968 for the guitarist-singer to join up with Roger Waters, Richard White, Nick Mason and Roger Syd Barrett! A true asset for the group as it was after the arrival of the 14th best guitarist of all time (according to Rolling Stone in 2011) that Floyd flew to new heights.

In fact they produced the 3rd highest sold album of all time (many even consider it the best album in history): The Dark Side of the moon (1973), which stayed in the Billboard 200 for 17 years and 6 months. This major recording in the history of rock and alternative rock included tunes like the famous “Money”!

Here are some of Gilmour’s other major contributions:

  • Another brick in the wall (1979)
  • Wish you were here (1975)
  • Comfortably numb (1979)
  • Hey you (1979)

Gilmour is recognized for a great many contributions. And the great rock classics we mentioned above are not all.

He’s also a magnificent singer, and a genius soloist, whose music goes directly to your core (the solos “Hey You, Wish you were here” and “Comfortably numb” for example), with such perfect notes never before coming out of a Fender.

Speaking of Fenders, David Jon Gilmour has also been considered one of the best Fender guitar players ever, alongside other legends like Hendrix and Clapton. Enough said.

Steve Lukather

Even the less aware among your will certainly remember Steve Lukather’s powerful and heady riff from the song “Hold the line.” You’ve have, right? I should hope so!

Because yes, Steve Lukather is not only the guitarist of the group Toto, the popular group big in 1980s FM radio. The group’s style has often been mocked and labeled “Rock FM,” as it was seen as more “pop” than “rock”…

Still, Lukather is one of today’s most well known guitarists! While this is debated in the more hard-core guitar milieu… In 2016, the group’s guitarist declared to the French newspaper Sud Ouest, before giving a concert in Bordeaux: “The whole world looks down on us, but hell, we’ve sold 40 million records the hard way, man!” 

Even if the label Toto (who still tours on stages around the world) has stuck to him (which doesn’t bother him), everyone knows that Lukather is a true virtuoso, whose talents have been enjoyed at the Grammy Awards as well as in appearances in the legendary songs like Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller!

On that note, the King of Pop is not the only one who has called on him, because Clapton, McCartney, Joe Cocker, Elton John and even George Benson have welcomed him in the studio to record on their albums!

A true virtuoso, Steve Lukather is capable of navigating between heavy metal and jazz, adding in a few notes of blues and hard rock. A versatility that has allowed him to have a fantastic solo career, outside of Toto.

Blues Guitarists

Joe Bonamassa

In contrast to certain guitarists in this decidedly very contested category, Joe Bonamassa is both a guitarist and singer.

Born in Utica, New York in 1977, Bonamassa is a pure bluesman. Non-believers need only to listen to the sounds of his group Black Country Communion to get the picture.

A rare instinct, developed from the age of 4, and honed through high-quality musical training, notably based around the sounds of BB King. Even BB King has paid homage to Joe’s talents! And there’s no disputing the master…

Today, Bonamassa is THE reference for American blues rock. Although rough and sometimes rustic, his style is always melodious and powerful. Guitarists worldwide especially recognize his incredible technique, which is both fast and seemingly limitless.

But to appreciate Bonamassa’s talent (and the rock voice), we recommend watching a live version of “Just got paid”! Trust us, you won’t be sorry!

John Mayer

Criticized after his first televised concerts in 2001, John Mayer was perceived by many as just one of those artist-composers who makes music for lovelorn adolescents.

Although his first album was quickly forgotten, Mayer’s unconditional love of the blues helped his career take a completely different turn

Inspired by his idol Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer obtained a Grammy Award in 2003, in the category best male pop performance, before turning towards the blues. Image via Visual Hunt. Inspired by his idol Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer obtained a Grammy Award in 2003, in the category best male pop performance, before turning towards the blues. Image via Visual Hunt.

Notably, he appeared at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004, at which time he introduced his song “City Love” with an incredible blues solo inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun.”

His music mixes technique and emotion – with his thumb touching the lowest string to embellish the note – so that he ranks with the greatest blues musicians. For those who want to get a better idea of his talent, you should check out the album “Try” with the bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan. Grab those headphones!

Jack White

Despite often being considered a purist of vintage blues, Jack White is not one to show off technical effects. In fact, you may be shocked to see him in this category. But it’s largely thanks to his guitarist talent that his group, The White Stripes, has made a name for itself in  blues rock (You heard that right!).

Both a pianist and drummer, Jack White is an unparalleled musician. Image via Visual Hunt. Both a pianist and drummer, Jack White is an unparalleled musician. Image via Visual Hunt.

Oh yes, The White Stripes is a blues group. By covering the songs “Stop Breaking Down” by Robert Johnson or even “St. James Infirmary Blues” with his classical guitar in their first album, his listeners are able to revisit the history of blues music.

World Music

Bombino du Niger

Marked by the conflicts in his native country of Agadez in Niger, his numerous trips into exile and his Tuareg culture, Bambino du Niger is an absolutely unique guitarist on the musical stage.

While some might class him under the genre “World Music”, the sacredness of Bambino du Niger’s guitar bars him from entering any musical category.

Forced to flee in 1990 during his childhood, this Tuareg artist-guitarist has known persecution and governmental oppression. This included the prohibition of the string instrument, which came to be considered a symbol of resistance for the Tuareg culture.

Despite the loss of some members of his group (who were killed), Bombino du Niger continues to promote unity and social togetherness at concerts and festivals.

His music, which draws on traditional Tuareg instruments and a mastery of the guitar, oscillates between sadness and joy.

Paco de Lucía

Paco de Lucía revolutionized guitar playing and flamenco! Image Visual Hunt. Paco de Lucía revolutionized guitar playing and flamenco! Image Visual Hunt.

Eyes closed and head thrashing about, with hands that pivot on guitar strings with a rare dexterity that pianists would be jealous of, vibrating to melodies that transport you to another place… It’s none other than Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gomez aka Paco de Lucia.

Unanimously recognized as one of the greats since his first studio album came out, the Andalusian guitarist has left his musical imprint on the history of flamenco.

Although he’s won awards since the age of 14, Paco de Lucía’s music became more perfect with time. This guitarist from the South of Spain contributed to the modernization of traditional flamenco while never straying far from its noble notes.

Influenced by the Unites States, where he often played during his musical career, Lucía’s music is enriched with influences of jazz and diverse musical currents, which is evident in pieces such as “Entre Dos Aguas” and “Rio Ancho.

The atypical trajectory of this Andalusian guitarist is also due to his musical upbringing, initiated by his father, who taught him to play the 6-string instrument alongside his brothers Ramón de Algeciras and the flamenco singer, Pepe de Lucía.

While you can learn more about his life by watching a cinematographic documentary that appeared just after his death in 2014, it’s through his music that one can best perceive (or hear) his genius on the flamenco guitar.

Today, this flamenco virtuoso counts among the eternal legends. And we are not just saying that because after the official mourning was decreed by the mayor of his native city, Google depicted the icon as a “Doodle.”

Techniques for Becoming a Good Guitarist  

The guitar is the European version of similar instruments like the bouzouki, lute, and the ukulele. Photo via Visual Hunt. The guitar is the European version of similar instruments like the bouzouki, lute, and the ukulele. Photo via Visual Hunt.

It attracts women, calms nerves and unites mankind, making the guitar the musical instrument par excellence. You can strum, caress, pluck or even hit its body to produce sounds that make people laugh, dance or even cry.

  • Is guitar playing talent something innate?
  • Must you have a certain state of mind to learn the guitar?
  • Where should one look to begin guitar instruction?

So take your instrument out of its case, tune your guitar, and plug in your amp: we’re going to discover a few techniques to improve your guitar performances.

Solfège

Solfège may just be the initial challenge that has prevented so many music lovers from jumping freely into acoustic guitar training.

Obviously, it’s preferable to have a good understanding of solfège if one wants to launch a guitarist career, but it isn’t indispensable.

The important thing for every beginner guitarist today is first to learn to read a chord chart. As such, you’ll know where to place your fingers on the strings to play your guitar chords.

The Guitar

Finding an acoustic guitar is another important step towards mastering the guitar!

Choosing between a folk, classical or manouche guitar, with strings of steel or nylon is a difficult choice to make when one is still a novice musician!

It may seem like finding your acoustic guitar is a bit like Indiana Jones’ quest for the Holy Grail, so it’s better to take your time to reflect before making the purchase. Like your spouse with whom you’ll have to live under the same roof, you are going to spend many long hours with your guitar.

For this reason, it’s imperative to choose a guitar that suits you, with strings and wood that produce the sounds you.

Musical culture

We sometimes forget that it’s important to have a good sense of music history and culture, although it’s the cornerstone of playing any instrument!

Reinforcing your musical knowledge, by way of listening to solos by the great guitarists, will train your ear and improve your sense of rhythm to win over every audience.

Play guitar and sing

We love listening to singing pianists like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Nina Simone. The same goes for artists who wear the double label of singer and guitarist, such as Prince or Mark Knopfler. But this is a rare talent!

Singing demands a supplemental investment of a great intensity. This makes it impossible to drown your thoughts in your instrument; when you sing it’s a question of lifting your head and facing the public, breaking out of your musical bubble.

To become a good guitarist, you must practice. Your hands should be on the strings like a pastry chef handles dough nonstop or like an athlete has his eyes on the ball. And if you want to become a really good player, you must learn to lift your head, look at the audience, and share your emotion.

Your concentration must be at once focused on your notes and on communicating your feelings to the public.

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