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Top 100 Greatest Rock Guitarists of All Time

Updated: Jan 29


Top 100 Greatest Rock Guitarists of All Time

(Pictured - Jerry Garcia 1978)

By Carl Lender - originally posted to Flickr as Grateful Dead - Jerry Garcia, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6693748


Although the guitar has been around since approximately the 13th century, the debut of the electric guitar in 1936 revolutionized the music industry. Since the dawn of rock music, the guitar has been the staple instrument for almost every rock band. The debate about who the greatest guitarists are, which has captured public interest since the late ‘50s, has recently seen a surge in prominence. Reviewing various lists and rankings from Rolling Stone to Guitar World on the greatest guitarists of all time, one clear pattern emerges: the near-universal exclusion of guitarists from alternative and indie bands. In compiling our Top 100 Greatest Rock Guitarists of all time, we've made a concerted effort to represent guitarists from a broader spectrum of rock, extending beyond just classic rock giants. Our list encompasses hard rock, metal, punk rock, jazz rock, southern rock, progressive rock, indie rock, alternative rock, and other significant rock subgenres. This list focuses solely on rock guitarists, excluding early blues pioneers like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. However, blues rock guitarists such as Bo Diddley and Buddy Guy are included, as they have released a significant amount of rock music. For more expansive insights into rock music, check out our lists of the Top 100 Greatest Rock Albums and Top 100 Greatest Rock Bands/Artists of All Time.

1. Jimi Hendrix

The almost universally acknowledged greatest rock guitarist of all time is the massively influential and skilled guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix. Releasing some of the finest guitar tracks of all time, such as Voodoo Child, Little Wing, Purple Haze, and of course, his guitar-forward spin on Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, no rock guitarist quite made the splash that Jimi Hendrix did in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Hendrix mastered the standard three-minute pop format and injected a dramatically different style of guitar playing into pop songs, never heard before. Hendrix built his advanced, guitar playing style from a diverse collection of electric blues and early rock 'n' roll, taking from the greats before him. Hendrix completely changed the game with his use of unusual chords, amplifier effects, and non-traditional rhythms. He forever transformed the world of guitar playing, influencing countless guitarists after his time on earth was cut short. Hendrix has since gone down in history as the finest guitarist the world has ever known.


2. Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds)  

In our list of the Top 100 Rock Bands/Artists of all time, we crowned Led Zeppelin as the finest rock band to ever grace the earth. It should be no surprise that a big reason Zeppelin was number one was because of the handiwork of guitarist Jimmy Page. Page was born in 1944, had a guitar in his hands by 1956, and made his first TV appearance playing guitar in 1957. He began playing skiffle, rockabilly, and folk but switched to rock by the mid-‘60s as a session musician. After a brief stint with The Yardbirds, Page formed Led Zeppelin, and the rest is history. His guitar playing on tracks like Stairway to Heaven, Immigrant Song, and Communication Breakdown is among the finest recorded guitar-centered songs of all time. The legacy of Jimmy Page, by our standards, is second only to Jimi Hendrix, with both guitarists forever changing the world of rock music. To quote Brian May of Queen, 'I don't think anyone has epitomised riff writing better than Jimmy Page — he's one of the great brains of rock music.


3. Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana has long been celebrated for his groundbreaking fusion of Latin rhythms with rock, jazz, and blues. Born in 1947, Santana quickly exhibited a deep mastery of the guitar, a skill honed since his teenage years. His rise to international acclaim was catapulted by his band's electrifying performance at Woodstock in 1969, a pivotal moment that showcased his innovative musical style, foreign to most American listeners. Carlos Santana has been praised for his iconic tracks Black Magic Woman, Oye Como Va, and the more modern latin rock song with help from Matchbox Twenty's Rob Thomas, Smooth. His distinctive sound is a diverse, rich tapestry of cultural influences, that has not only pioneered the genre of Latin rock but has reframed all of rock. Santana's legacy is a bright long winded one with perhaps his crowning achievement being his 18th studio album Supernatural, released twenty years after his debut.


4. Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band, Derek & the Dominos)

In the realm of Southern Rock, few bands have left as profound an impact as The Allman Brothers Band. Led by the Allman brothers, Gregg and Duane, alongside renowned rock musicians like Butch Trucks and Dickey Betts, the group reinvented the era's country rock appeal into a more progressive style. The remarkable guitar tandem of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts introduced sophisticated Southern rock elements into an evolving rock scene. Duane Allman’s slide and electric guitar playing was equally bluesy as it was country when it was released to the world on the bands self-titled debut album in 1969. Following this release, the band rapidly ascended as one of America's premier live bands, cultivating a vast fanbase that endured well beyond Duane's untimely passing in 1971 at just 24. Duane's profound influence on guitar playing and southern rock resonated with later guitarists like Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa and John Mayer. Some of Duane's finest work can be heard on Eat a Peach's 33-minute Mountain Jam, and iconic southern rock tracks like Midnight Rider, Whipping Post, and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. Dickey Betts also deserves significant recognition for his contributions to these tracks and spolier alert, he's coming up shortly. Alongside those southern rock tracks, Allman is also responsible for the extensive slide guitar outro on Layla by Derek and the Dominos. It’s a true shame the world lost Duane at such a young age, who knows what else was in store for him and his music, assuming he wasn't about to release a Christmas album. 


5. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

Shortly after the release of Pink Floyd's debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn, guitarist Syd Barrett began to experience a decline in mental health, leading the group to recruit guitarist David Gilmour. Gilmour made his Pink Floyd debut on their second record, A Saucerful of Secrets. The band had already achieved notable success in the UK by the time of Gilmour's joining, but as many fans would agree, their best work was still to come. By the early ‘70s, Pink Floyd had become one of the major forces in progressive rock, known for their intricate, unusual, and advanced songwriting styles. However, 1973 marked a significant turning point with the release of The Dark Side of the Moon. By our metrics, we consider The Dark Side of the Moon the greatest rock album of all time, owing largely to David Gilmour's guitar playing. Songs like Time, Money, and Us and Them stand out, with Time featuring one of the most intense and finest guitar solos in rock history. Gilmour continued to impress with his guitar work on Shine On You Crazy Diamond from the band's next album, Comfortably Numb from The Wall, and the entire Animals album. Gilmour's excellence as a guitarist has been widely recognized over time by notable guitarists such as Jack White, Tom Morello, Carlos Santana, and many others.

6. Eric Clapton (Derek & the Dominos, Cream, Blind Faith, Yardbirds)

Few guitarists have found themselves in as many influential rock bands as Eric Clapton, whose guitar credits dominated the late ‘60s and early ‘70s with Cream, Derek and the Dominos, The Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and Blind Faith. Clapton first picked up a guitar at 13 and by the time he was 16, he was getting pretty good and starting to get noticed. Clapton hopped between renowned bands throughout the sixties, perhaps leaving the biggest impact with Cream during their brief but influential 1966-1968 period, releasing songs like Sunshine of Your Love, White Room, and their take on Robert Johnson’s Crossroads. Clapton continued to be successful as a solo artist throughout the following decades, keeping his guitar playing as the focal point of most of his music. Following the tragic death of his son in 1991, Clapton released his most mellow and emotional song, Tears in Heaven, again topping charts all over the world. Eric Clapton has since been regarded as one of the best and most influential guitarists of all time, not only for his skill but for his creative desire to experiment with different musical styles and doing it pretty well more often than not.


7. Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry was one of the true pioneers of rock and roll whose guitar playing, songwriting, and showmanship helped establish the genre in a world of its own. By emphasizing guitar riffs and solos with the attitude of a rock star, Berry established a clear distinction between R&B, blues, and rock. Tracks like Johnny B. Goode, Maybellene, and Roll Over Beethoven were among the first rock songs by a clear and true distinguished rock star, noticeably different from the songs of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis that walked the line narrowly between R&B, blues, jazz, and doo-wop. Berry was a rock star and he acted like one. That same attitude made its way into his music, introducing the world to a rock-forward sound never heard so clearly before. Chuck Berry, although perhaps only modestly instrumentally gifted, developed a distinct and influential sound that paved the way for the rock boom of the ‘60s, while exciting and hypnotizing a generation of 1950s teenagers and young adults. Chuck Berry has since been called the father of rock 'n' roll, and for good reason. There has never been anyone quite like him, and some 70 years later, it's unlikely there will be anyone like him in the future. His style and attitude were important steps not just in the evolution of the guitarist, but in the evolution of music.


8. Pete Townshend (The Who)

North America received a true gift from the UK in the 1960s with The British Invasion. Although the roots of rock can be traced back to the US throughout the early twentieth century through blues and R&B, the Brits mastered it and elevated it to a new level during the British Invasion. Among the British Invasion bands, it was The Who that exhibited the highest caliber of guitar prowess, thanks to Pete Townshend. Townshend and The Who mesmerized American audiences with their sporadic and destructive nature, and many simply could not take their eyes off them. Townshend made his presence known in the '60s with exhilarating guitar playing on tracks like My Generation and the impressive musical feat that was 1969’s Tommy. The Who reached new heights with the release of Who's Next, which we ranked as the 11th best album of the '70s. Townshend’s guitar work on songs like Won't Get Fooled Again and Behind Blue Eyes remains unparalleled to this day. Townshend and his guitar continued to impact the rock realm throughout the '70s and into the '80s, continually releasing fantastic songs like Who Are You, Eminence Front, and Athena.


9. Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead)

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, The Grateful Dead not only created but also dominated the jam band space in North America. The Dead's unique sound and adventurous spirit captured a specific, loyal fan base that endured well beyond the band's end following the death of frontman and guitarist Jerry Garcia. Through Garcia's guitar and his introspective, folksy lyrics, the band forged a sound distinctly their own. The hallmark of the Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead experience was improvisation, characterized by long-winded, melodic jam sessions. Garcia's blend of folk, blues, and psychedelic rock mesmerized listeners. His guitar playing style, reminiscent of banjo techniques, allowed him to navigate complex chord progressions and key changes with ease, creating a sound both unique and emotionally resonant. Since the mid-90s, Grateful Dead tribute bands have popped up by the thousands with essentially each American city having at least one, all trying to match the guitar playing mysticism and emotion of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.. While the band is renowned for their live performances, studio albums like Workingman's Dead and American Beauty rank among the finest rock albums ever produced.


10. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen) 

Eddie Van Halen, the lead guitarist of Van Halen, revolutionized rock guitar with his electrifying style of guitar playing including rapid arpeggios and two hand taping on the fretboard. His playing, characterized by a unique mix of aggression and melody, is exemplified in tracks like Eruption, Panama and Runnin' With the Devil. Eddie's influence expanded beyond just guitar playing but also deep into guitar design and modern amplification techniques. He not only inspired a generation of guitarists but also shaped the sound of much of the hard rock and hair metal to come in the '80s. Apart from his guitar playing speed and technique, Eddie also thrived in some of the slower, more power ballad Van Halen tracks like Right Now. Van Halen has since gone down as one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time, largely due to the technical ability and musical style of Eddie Van Halen.


11. Johnny Marr (The Smiths) 

12. Brian May (Queen)

13. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)

14. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, Chet Atkins, The Notting Hillbillies)

15. George Harrison (The Beatles)

16. Frank Zappa

17. The Edge (U2)

18. Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs)

19. Jeff Beck (Yardbirds, Jeff Beck Group)

20. Kirk Hammett (Metallica)

21. Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Stax House Band, Blues Brothers)

22.  Yngwie Malmsteen

23. Stevie Ray Vaughn

24. Robert Fripp (King Crimson, David Bowie, Giles, Giles and Fripp)

25. Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead)

26. Mick Jones (The Clash)

27. Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Stills-Young Band, Buffalo Springfield)

28. Buddy Guy

29. Slash (Guns N' Roses)

30. Scotty Moore (Elvis Presely)

31. Bo Diddley

32. Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)

33. Joey Santiago (Pixies)

34. Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine)

35. Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)

36. Glenn Mercer (The Feelies)

37. Tony Iomi (Black Sabbath)

38. John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

39. Bernard Sumner (Joy Division, New Order)

40. Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple)

41. Prince

42. Ry Cooder

43. Tom Verlaine (Television)

44. Robert Smith (The Cure)

45. Allen Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

46. Gary Rossington (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

47. Lou Reed (The Velvet Underground)

48. Eric Johnson

49. Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth)

50. Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) 

51. Nick Valensi (The Strokes)

52. Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers Band)

53. Alex Lifeson (Rush)

54. Dick Dale

55. Trey Anatasio (Phish)

56. John Petrucci (Dream Theater)

57. Steven Van Zandt (E Street Band, Disciples of Soul)

58. Tommy Tedesco

59.  Martin Barre (Jethro Tull)

60. Roger McGuinn (The Byrds)

61. Peter Buck (R.E.M.)

62. Zoot Horn Rollo (Captain Beefheart)

63. Rory Gallagher

64. KK Downing (Judas Priest)

 65. Glenn Tipton (Judas Priest)

66. Dave Davies (The Kinks)

67. Gary Moore (Skid Row, Thin Lizzy, Greg Lake)

68. Larry Carlton (Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez)

69. Mick Ronson (David Bowie)

70. Robbie Robertson (The Band, Bob Dylan)

71. Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) (Ween, Moistboyz)

72. Randy Rhoads (Ozzy Osbourne)

73. Don Felder (Eagles)

74. Daniel Kessler (Interpol)

75. Pat Smear (Foo Fighters)

76. Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins)

77. J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.)

78. Angus Young (AC/DC)

79. Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Spirit)

80. Robby Krieger (The Doors)

81. Carl Verheyen (Supertramp)

82. Dimebag Darrel (Pantera)

83. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)

84. Joe Walsh (Eagles)

85. Bradley Nowell (Sublime)

86. Dave Mustaine (Megadeth)

87. Kim Thayil (Soundgarden)

88. Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains)

89. Vernon Reid (Living Colour)

90. Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra, Traveling Wilburys)

91. John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

92.  Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac)

93. Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys)

94. John Squire (The Stone Roses)

95. Neil Young (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Crazy Horse, Buffalo Springfield)

96. Steve Hackett (Genesis, GTR)

97. Bob Stinson (The Replacements)

98. Matt Bellamy (Muse)

99. East Bay Ray (Dead Kennedy's)

100. D. Boon (Minutemen)

 

Just Outside the Top 100

101. Buck Dharma (Blue Öyster Cult)

102. Andy Summers (The Police)

103. Graham Coxon (Blur)

104. Johnny Ramone (The Ramones)

105. Stephen Malkmus (Pavement)

106. Scott Kannberg (Pavement)

107. Steve Lukather

108. Ted Nugent

109. Ronnie Montrose (Montrose)

110. Les Paul

111. Tommy Shaw (Styx, Shaw Blades, Damn Yankees)

112. Joe Satriani

113. Caral Barât (The Libertines, The Dirty Pretty Things)

114. Terry Kath (Chicago)

115. John Mayer

116. Ronnie Wood (Faces)

117. Robin Trower (Procol Harum)

118. Adam Granducial (War on Drugs)

119. Mike Campbell (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers)

120. Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade)

121. Dave Navaro (Jane's Addiction)

122. Matt Taylor (The Growlers)

123. George Thorogood

124. Neal Schon (Journey) 

125. Rick Derringer




1件のコメント


Randy D Abril
Randy D Abril
2月27日

randy rhoads at 72?? who made this list? he should top 20

いいね!
2000's alternative & indie rock playlist cover 2.JPEG
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