Greatest Guitar Players Ever

Tastes are different and Love is Blind and selecting the 10 best guitarists ever is controversial at best.

Obviously a very subjective topic

As a lifelong guitar aficionado my attention was obviously drawn to Rolling Stone Magazine’s  election of the Best Guitarist ever. This time around (as several times before) it was Jimi Hendrix, followed by 9 guitarists who all were born before 1955 and except for Eddie Van Halen, had their original heyday long before 1980. Four were from the UK, Five from the US and one from The Netherlands.

Rolling Stone Magazine, Guitar World Magazine and websites produce these lists from time to time, mostly to the ridicule of guitar players around the world, because the criteria set for the selection are not necessarily covered by titling the list as “The Greatest Guitar Player in History”.

Selection Criteria

In Rolling Stone’s case it would be fair to stick to the genre which would be rock blues rock and electric blues, most succinctly defined by the boundaries of amplification. Ranking guitarists by originality, creativity and skill (versatility and technique) is one thing, measuring their influence on other aspiring and accomplished players is another thing altogether. Having made this distinction however I can be at ease with the fact that Al Dimeola, Paco de Lucia, Julian Bream or Django Reinhardt are not on the list. I can also accept that Yngwie, Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett all belong on another list, even though Eddie Van Halen’s prominent 8th position on the list maybe a bit questionable in this respect.

Biggest Influence

But looking at the choice from that perspective I can actually live with the top ten Rolling Stone Magazine published to the world yesterday, yet even then I have to admit that the list is driven by many more commercial motives than love for music. But I also realize that it is truly impossible to create absolute criteria by which to measure technical abilities, melodic virtuosity, innovative tuning and toning, and all of its variants, exposed within a series of songs that are appealing to the largest number of individuals. Yes I miss Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ritchie Blackmore or David Gilmour on this list and for obviously different reasons. Stevie Ray was an exceptional guitar player in his lifetime, yet, with few exceptions, his fame was mostly derived from master covers of Jimi Hendrix tunes. Ritchie Blackmore was and has always been a hugely underrated guitarist/composer who fused classical music with rock that made “Deep Purple” stand out. Any aspiring guitarist out there should try to master the final of his lead in the incomparable “Child in Time”. And David Gilmour took Pink Floyd to become one of the best selling rock sensations in history with his beautiful melodic leads. Which is why I also miss Carlos Santana here. But 10 spots are only 10 spots, because else I would also squeeze in Alvin Lee and Warren Haynes for multiple reasons.

Yet looking at the Rolling Stone list I can see why Hendrix ended up on number 1. He was a magician on guitar; had an enormous stage presence and his early death at 27 in 1970, in London, kind of moved the entire guitar based rock and blues rock to England after Woodstock a year earlier closed up the US .

England produced Supergroups like Cream, Blind Faith, Traffic and the arrival of Led Zeppelin opened spots 2 through 5 to four British guitarists in Hendrix’ legacy. Eric Clapton, solid, magnificent, creative, but just not as explosive as Hendrix deserves the number 2 spot.

Jimmy Page, with the help of frontman Robert Plant, made the sound of Led Zeppelin cross the globe like a tsunami. Rolling Stones’ lead guitar Keith Richards would be a huge surprise on this list, if it were measured by technical ability. Technically Richards is mediocre, but no guitarist in rock history, has created as many song riffs that are immediately identified with the song and the brand (Rolling Stones). Think Satisfaction, The Last Time, She’s a Rainbow, 19th Nervous Breakdown etc.

Jeff Beck on the number 5 spot is an enigma, recognized by insiders as a genius on guitar. Like Clapton and Jimmy Page, Beck did a “tour of duty” in the British band The Yardbirds, yet never became an icon like his one time buddy Rod Stewart. To really appreciate why Jeff is on this list, you need to get a copy of the 1968 album “Truth” and just  wonder how different our world would have been if Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart would have progressed along that line.

Numbers 6 and 7 on the list are US octogenarians B.B. King and Chuck Berry, without whom electric guitars would probably have never reached the dominance in popular music it enjoys today.

Dutch born Californian Eddie Van Halen takes the 8th position, because he is perceived as a true master of riffs, underlining both technical craftsmanship and creativity.

With a smile on my face I see Duane Allman on the number 9 spot. A natural from the moment his mom bought him a Gibson Les Paul Junior, he became an enormously innovative lead player in the short 11 years he played, ending up with the inimitable Allman Brothers Band.

And last but not least Pete Townshend deserves a spot here, because he is one of the undisputed best rhythm guitar players ever. He wrote and produced numerous hits for the British Supergroup the Who, none of which has a remarkable lead or solo or even a recognizable riff, yet pre-1970 hit songs from his guitar, are still filling the airwaves and TV programming (f.e. the CSI franchise on CBS TV.)

Like I said, giving the set criteria I can live with the list of  Rolling Stone Magazine’s 10 Greatest Guitar Players in History that will hit the news stands on Friday.

2 Comments

  1. ameliadude

    This is a tough one as I see Carlos Santana as head and tails above some of these, and Rory Gallager who is in the 50’s as one of the tops too. I guess it all a matter of ones perspective and age. Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson should be very close as well. Hendrix and Clapton are no brainers but the rest of the list leaves a lot of interpretation!!!

  2. Anonymous

    As I said, 1 to 10 would never be enough to fit all of them. I think Joe Bonamassa is rapidly approaching this top ten as he is diversifying in styles and creativity, but he has no signature lick yet, that he can call his own like Clapton’s Layla, Hendrix’ Purple Haze or Keith Richard’s Satisfaction. Based on those criteria I can live with this list.

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