The undertaking of any all-time greatest list is never easy.
When it comes to music, the task can be even more difficult. So the question remains...how do you chose the best guitarists of all-time when there are so many styles and techniques to choose from?
Some guitarists are technically brilliant. Others may be less skilled in the technical aspects but more of a "feel and attitude" type player. Then, the freestyle "wow factor" players have to lead to the "legendary" status they invoke today. No matter which category these guitarists find themselves in, they all share one thing in common, and that's the way they command themselves on the stage and the way they operate the ax.
I have composed many lists in my day, and this will undoubtedly be one of my most challenging tasks to date. However, I am confident in navigating the landscape and narrowing it down to the highest upper echelon elite group. To do so, I will combine rankings based on a myriad of polls and expert opinions. I will then use my musical research to make the orders and populate the list.
As with any list, this is a matter of opinion, and I am sure there will be many who disagree along the way...and indeed that's ok. I love these types of disagreements because it sparks some excellent conversation. With that being said, here are a few guitarists that I love but unfortunately just missed the cut...
I know you are all waiting to see which players cut...so without further ado...Ladies and Gentlemen, here are the Top 25 Guitarists of All-Time...
24) Mark Knopfler
Knopfler is the lead guitarist and co-founder of the band Dire Straits. He is a fingerstyle guitarist that can bring it on all levels. He may not have the name notoriety of many other greats, but what he lacks in the name he makes up for on the stage—a terrific songwriter with underrated talent.
23) Duane Allman
An American session guitarist and the founder of the band The Allman Brothers. Known as the "Skydog," Duane was one of the most formidable working guitarists in the biz. He is most known for his expressive slide technique and his use of improvisation. The world will never know his true potential as he tragically died at the age of 24.
22) Neil Young
Young was a Canadian born musician known for his talents on multiple instruments. However, most of his fame came on the ax as he fronted numerous bands, most notably Buffalo Springfield and Crazy Horse. His work with the latter led to his nickname "The Godfather of Grunge," as he has been attributed to the beginnings of this important genre of music. Neil is known for his wide range of styles, which combines folk, rock, and country with rapid use of distortion.
21) Alex Lifeson
One of the co-founders of the band Rush, Lifeson is known for his well-rounded approach to guitar. His agility and versatility have been praised by many artists alike. He is an active member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won the Best Rock Guitarist award twice in his lifetime. James Hetfield and John Petrucci have both cited Lifeson as significant influences on their careers. Underrated and a stone-cold lock for this list.
20) Angus Young
Co-Founder and Lead Guitarist of the Australian rock band AC/DC. The second "Young " to make this list. Angus is a tremendous guitar player that brings an added level to the stage that is rarely matched. He is well known for wild onstage antics that have helped cement his legacy among the greats. Many people have criticized his often simple chord progressions while failing to recognize his unending repertoire of arpeggios. No matter what difference of opinion may arise about Young's talent, there is no underselling of his place with the greatest of all-time.
19) Pete Townshend
Another dual musician threat, Pete was the leader and co-founder of The Who. Townshend thrived at his craft despite never having any formal training. He is well known for his aggressive playing style and has received critical acclaim for his innovative songwriting techniques. Another member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. One of the first great riff writers of our day.
An American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, dancer, actor, and filmmaker. His resume speaks for itself. He is regarded as one of the most excellent musicians in the history of music. What gets sometimes lost, though, is how great of a guitarist he was. It was on the ax where he made his most magic. He has won awards galore for his achievements both on and off the stage. His album Purple Rain remains his most extraordinary effort of all-time as it stayed atop the Billboard 200 for 24 consecutive weeks. A true legend in music and a Guitar God for sure.
17) Dimebag Darrell
Darrell Abbott, best known as "Dimebag Darrell" was a co-founder for the band Pantera. His work on the guitar was absolutely breathtaking. No doubt one of the most influential guitarists of the past 25 years, this legend was tragically taken away gone too soon. Dimebag fused a blues style with traditional metal to forge the groove metal style that would eventually become its own musical genre of metal. He is also known for his heavy use of the major third in his riffs and leads. Another disciple of Eddie Van Halen.
16) Steve Vai
Vai is a three-time Grammy Award winner and fifteen-time nominee; who has stood the test of time and produced at an epic level. A Frank Zappa and Joe Satriani pupil has gone on to forge his legacy of guitar excellence. He is known for his attention to detail and has maintained a rigorous practice schedule that sometimes would transcend fifteen hours. He blends many styles and has set the bar high. This guy can shred and will knock your socks off.
15) Tony Iommi
Tony had overcome many obstacles during his career, beginning with a right-hand injury before he even started playing. Most people would have folded but not Tony. Known mostly for his work with Black Sabbath, Tony can be attributed to much of the metal we hear today. He perfected the power chord while combining blues-style solos with dark and minor melodic riffs. He was also one of the early pioneers of treble boosting effects pedals, and his sound is well pronounced. No list will ever be complete without Tony...a wrap.
14) Randy Rhoads
Another guitar great gone way too soon. Randy was a devout student of classical guitar, which he combined with metal to form his distinct style. Rhoads was an extraordinarily technical player and maintained rigid precision throughout all of his solos. He began his career with the band Quiet Riot but made most of his fame as the lead guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne during his prime solo act. His use of classical guitar became his signature style, and his riffs can be recognized a mile away because of this. There is no telling how great he would have been; had he not died so young, but his talent was limitless—one of my favs of all-time.
13) Brian May
Brian is the lead guitarist and co-founder of the rock band Queen. He is responsible for writing most of the band's hits and was instrumental in the group's rise to the top in music. Referred to by many as a virtuoso of guitar, his style included many classical and pop-driven leads. Although he sometimes does not get the credit, Brian deserves so much more. He had a unique sound that was unable to be replicated, which puts him on another level. He is responsible for some of the most iconic solos, including "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Brighton Rock," both of which belong on the Top 50 all-time.
12) Ritchie Blackmore
Blackmore dove onto the scene with Deep Purple and continued his excellence with Rainbow. He was one of the earliest guitarists to use the classical guitar style, and he used that style to mold his distinct sound and tone. Ritchie focused on composing tight and on point solos for every song he wrote, a prolific riff writer. Blackmore was also big on Vibrato, which he took to another level. Very underrated artist and sometimes forgotten as one of the greats...but not by me.
11) Chuck Berry
Known as the "Father of Rock and Roll," Berry is entirely responsible for the world of music that we know today. Rock and Roll's pioneer set the tone for all of the great guitarists that we have grown to admire. He was one of the first guitarists to use a "solo" as a way of expression. He has appeared anywhere from fifth to twenty-fifth on most all-time lists. An inspiration and one of the early groundwork layers of rock music culture. Also responsible for the redefinition of Rhythm and Blues, an essential element of rock music in general.
10) Keith Richards
Richards is the lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, one of the most iconic bands of all-time. Richards has shown the propensity to stand the test of time, and he has refined his skills throughout the past decades. One of the true stalwarts of both rhythm and lead guitar, he thrives no matter what position he finds himself in. Although he shared most of the band's songwriting credits, Keith was the driving force in most of the band's successes. Most guitar players today cite Richards as being a significant influence on their craft.
9) Jeff Beck
Many guitar experts put Beck on the same level as Clapton, Paige, and Hendrix regarding innovation and sound. That's some serious company which is well deserved and rightfully stated. Beck came from the same tree as two of those stalwarts when he played with The Yardbirds. Jeff recorded two hit albums during his solo career, but most of his greats have come playing for other artists. He was one of the pioneers of the "lead" guitarist and put his stamp on every project he ever worked on. Beck may not have the name pedigree but has the talent, and that's precisely why he makes the top ten.
8) Stevie Ray Vaughn
Vaughn was an American singer and songwriter and was responsible for reviving blues guitar during the eighties. His main influences were Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, and Buddy Guy, among others. Vaughn was big into tremolo and vibrato as well as sweep picking. You would classify Stevie Ray as a "feels style" player as it all came from the heart. His playing transcended many genres as far as style and attitude. When you listened to this guy play, you were in for a treat at any given moment. He was a guitar hero of the present if we ever did have one and yet another gone way too soon.
7) B.B. King
The grandfather of the string bend, King, developed an intricate style of soloing that would go on to influence future generations of blues guitar. King was another player that was maybe not as technically sound, but he made up for improvisation. He further cemented his legacy by combining rhythm and blues with jazz to form his unique sound. He was a master of live performances during his career, sometimes averaging over 300 appearances per year, definitely ahead of his time, and a true master of ax dominance.
6) David Gilmour
Gilmour made his legacy playing for the band Pink Floyd. David is an excellent guitarist who combines precision, skill, and technique to balance raw emotion and feel. The result is an all-out masterpiece of sound and energy. Gilmour is responsible for many iconic solos, and his lead play is of elite status. Whether its long sustaining melodic tones or dark eloquent riffs, his sound always seems to break the barriers. One of the true legends of the craft and well-deserving of all-time great prowess.
Few guitarists have made as much of an impact on music as Slash. Known mostly for his work as the lead guitarist for Guns N Roses, Slash has carved out quite a solo career as well. He has also appeared as a guest for many music's most outstanding performers, including Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper, and Ozzy Osbourne. An absolute beast of his craft, Slash is known for his epic solos and arpeggio laden leads. His style is often bold and to the point, and not many can maintain his playing's attitude or feel. Quite honestly, he could belong in the top three, but number five is not too shabby.
4) Eric Clapton
Often referred to as one of the most influential guitarists of all-time and revered by pundits everywhere as a guitar legend. Beginning with the Yardbirds, Clapton set sail on one of the most incredible journeys a guitarist could ever travel. He made his fame with the band Cream, where he produced most of his hit songs. Clapton is another "feel" inspired musician; however, his skill and technique were also elite. He is also known as one of the most formidable working guitarists as far as practice goes, and that practice made for the perfect sound. He is a three-time member of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. A Rock God on earth.
3) Jimmy Page
Lead guitarist and founder of Led Zeppelin, Page is another of the most influential musicians of all-time. Probably the best pure riff writer of the generation as well as a musical genius. Just about every guitarist today will credit Page for some of their influence. He has transcended every genre of metal and would easily blend in with any of the bands today. Page was a master of the lead element and has fathered countless guitar greats today regarding style and technique. The Page is in a league of his own leaving most others in the dust.
2) Eddie Van Halen
Although he is not credited for inventing the "tapping technique," he indeed did perfect the style. He never fully learned how to read music, but the audience could never tell. Van Halen is a Rock God that leaves listeners in awe. His style is epic, and his energy is relentless. Eddie was a prodigy and one of the great innovators of the guitar world we know today. To put it simply...There would be no Synyster Gates without Eddie. There would be no Kirk Hammett without Van Halen. He is playing varsity while everyone is trying to learn jayvee—the crème de la crème. Only one guitarist can ever come close to this level, and that's a fact.
1) Jimi Hendrix
Hands down the greatest of all-time. He is the grandfather of the metal guitar as we know it today. He was one of the pioneers of using high gain and volume while infusing widespread distortion through amplifiers. Most of the guitar sounds we hear can be attributed to this musical inventor—A master of innovation and a true guitar hero. Jimi is the king of the ax, and we are all his pawns. Jimi could speak through the guitar. The strings had their vocabulary, and the sounds would resonate as he played—Guitar hero number one, folks.
About Jason Voorhees
Jason resides in Norristown, PA and writes about all things sports and heavy metal music.