In the world of music the lead singer may get all the fan and media adoration, but it is the lead guitarist who really makes the band. With so many musical genres, and so many guitar legends having come and gone over the decades, trying to come up with a list of the top 10 greatest guitarists was extremely difficult, and a task I undertook with some trepidation. Music is such a personal experience, and what sounds melodious to one set of ears is just so much screeching noise to someone else. However, no matter where one’s taste in music lies, there are some musicians who are so incredibly talented, so blessed with divine talent, that it is impossible to deny their greatness. When coming up with the list of the top 10 guitarists of all time I really strove to narrow down those artists who had transcended whatever their musical genre was to achieve a mastery of music that could be appreciated by all ears. I think I’ve been successful in my endeavor, but no doubt there will still be those who disagree. Such is the nature of all art, most especially music. Here are my picks for the top 10 greatest guitar players of all time:
10 – Eddie Van Halen – Though Eddie Van Halen’s Dutch parents preferred classical music, it was the hard rock genre where Eddie carved out his name as a guitar legend with the band Van Halen. During the late 1970s and 1980s Van Halen was one of the biggest bands on the planet and Eddie Van Halen’s signature solos are instantly recognizable. Possibly his most famous solo came not as a member of Van Halen, but when he provided the guitar work for Michael Jackson’s massive hit, Beat It.
9 – Slash – Just the fact that a guitar player of Slash’s caliber can barely squeak onto the list of the top 10 greatest guitarists should pay silent tribute to just how incredibly talented the other members on this list are. Slash is one of the most recognizable rock icons in the world with his long black hair and top hat. He is arguably the best guitarist to come along in the past two decades and his work as a member of Guns ‘n’ Roses is legendary.
8 – Chuck Berry – Speaking of legends, they don’t get any bigger in the world of rock and roll than Chuck Berry. Just listen to the intro of Johnny B. Goode and you’ll see why this incredible rock and roll singer is recognized by music fans everywhere as one of the best guitar players in history.
7 – Jimmy Page – One of rock’s greatest icons, and a guitar legend, Jimmy Page started carving his legend as a member of the Yardbirds. As a group the Yardbirds were blessed with a trio of incredible guitar legends. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck all played lead guitar for the band, though sadly for music fans Clapton left the band prior to Page and Beck’s arrival. The original Yardbirds would eventually dissolve, but Page brought in Robert Plant and John Bonham in an attempt to keep the group alive. The New Yardbirds soon became known as Led Zeppelin, and the rest, as they say, is rock and roll history.
6 – Stevie Ray Vaughn – Not all of the greatest guitarists were rock and roll icons, and many would argue that this Blues legend deserves a higher spot on this list of the top 10 greatest guitarists of all time. His death in a helicopter crash in 1990 remains as one of the greatest losses in rock and roll history, but thankfully we have such legendary hits as Pride and Joy and Texas Flood to remember him by.
5 – B.B. King – Another legendary blues guitar player that is an icon that transcends all musical genres is B.B. King. King first started performing in 1946, and is still thrilling audiences to this day, 62 years later! His list of hits is a mile long but some of his best tracks are “Woke Up This Morning”, “Ten Long Years” and “Whole Lotta Love”. No matter what your taste in music you have to sit down and listen to B.B. King. Absolutely beautiful music.
4 – Eric Clapton – This guy is on everyone’s list of the top 10 guitarists of all time, and if he isn’t, he should be! The lead guitarist for such legendary bands as The Yardbirds and Cream, Clapton proved that he could play any style with equal flair and grace. “Layla”, which he performed with Derek and the Dominoes is considered his signature hit, but every time Clapton picked up the guitar he made incredible music.
3 – Duane Allman – Yes another musician who was tragically lost to us before his time, Duane Allman’s proficiency with the guitar still lands him the number 3 spot on the list of the top 10 guitar players of all time despite the relative brevity of his career. The founder and lead guitarist of the southern rock group, The Allman Brothers Band, his incredible improvisational skills and his signature bottleneck style made him an all time rock and roll legend.
2 – Robert Johnson – I’m going way back for my number two selection on the list of the top 10 guitar players of all time. Though he only lived to 27 years of age Robert Johnson’s incredible musical legend still lives on today. Known as The Grandfather Of Rock and Roll, Johnson’s guitar style had a direct influence on the careers of many of the other guitar legends on this list from Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton right up to our number one selection.
1 – Jimi Hendrix – Was there ever a question that Jimi Hendrix would earn top honors as the greatest guitar player of all time? Something about the guitar seems to lend itself to a short life span, and in 1970 Jimi Hendrix died under mysterious circumstances at the age of only 27. He pioneered the technique of guitar feedback by using overdriven amps, and his monster hits like Purple Haze and Fire still get regular radio play today. As good as the other guitarists on this list are, this left-handed legendary genius trumps them all.