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Best Guitar Players of All Time: Legends of the Strings

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Best Guitar Players of All Time
03 May, 2024

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A guitar is an instrument marked with passion and rebellion but has also been the cornerstone of musical innovation across generations. Thus, guitarists transform and define vibrations into anthems, be it the electrifying riffs of rock ‘n’ roll or the soul-stirring melodies of blues.

In this guide, we celebrate the “Best Guitar Players of All Time,” a tribute to the legends whose guitar sounds became the soundtrack of our lives.

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Guitar players in music history

Guitar players have been the architects of the musical world, shaping the sound and soul of genres across the spectrum. They have pushed boundaries across genres such as blues, rock, jazz, and classical, defined new sounds, and inspired generations of musicians.

To honor their impact, we will learn about the most influential and best guitar players of all time and peek into their musical journey, fame, and recognition.

Top 10 list of best guitar players of all time

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix
An image credit example from Rolling Stone

Born: November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington, United States

Died: September 18, 1970, at the age of 27

Genre: Fusion of rock, blues, and psychedelia

Famous songs: Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

Jimi Hendrix, born Johnny Allen Hendrix, later changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix. He is widely recognized as one of the best guitar players ever.

Jimi Hendrix was known for his innovative approach to the guitar, combining elements of blues, rock, and psychedelic music into a unique style that pushed the boundaries of what was possible with the instrument. His music career took off in the mid-1960s when he moved to England and formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which included bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell. The band quickly gained a following with their electrifying live performances and Hendrix’s virtuosic guitar playing.

Jimi Hendrix’s breakthrough performance in the United States came at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, where he famously set his guitar on fire during a performance of “Wild Thing.” He went on to release three landmark albums with the Experience: “Are You Experienced” (1967), “Axis: Bold as Love” (1967), and “Electric Ladyland” (1968).

Despite his short life, Hendrix’s influence on music and popular culture is immeasurable, and he remains an icon of rock and roll.

Brian May

Brian May
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Born: July 19, 1947, in Hampton, Middlesex, England

Died: September 18, 1970, at the age of 27

Genre: Rock, pop, and opera

Famous songs: “We Are the Champions,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Don’t Stop Me Now.”

The founding member of the rock band Queen, Brian May, is a songwriter, producer, and astrophysicist. May’s distinctive guitar-playing style earned the title of one of the best guitar players ever.

Brian May’s music career began with Queen and ended with the era of Queen with the death of the vocalist Mercury in 1991. He is famous for using a home-built electric guitar called the Red Special.

In 2005, Brian May was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Recently, in 2023, he was given a Knighthood for her services to music and charity.

Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page
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Born: January 9, 1944, in Heston, Middlesex, England

Genre: Rock

Famous songs: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Kashmir,” “Black Dog,” and “Rock and Roll.”

James Patrick Page, commonly known as Jimmy Page, the founder of the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin, is a guitar, record producer, and songwriter. His music career began in the 1960s as a session musician, where he played on numerous recordings for artists such as the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and Joe Cocker.

Throughout his life journey, Jimmy Page has been part of several bands, including The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. After Led Zeppelin disbanded, Page continued to be involved in various musical projects, such as The Firm, Coverdale–Page, and Page and Plant. He is famous for using a cello bow on his guitar to create unique sound textures. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, making him secure his name in the list of best guitar players of all time.

Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen
An image credit example from Rolling Stone

Born: January 26, 1955, in Nijmegen, Netherlands.

Died: October 6, 2020.

Genre: Hard rock and heavy metal

Famous songs: “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Jump,” “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher,” and “Eruption.”

Eddie Van Halen was born in an immigrant family to the United States in 1962, settling in Pasadena, California. He is best known as the lead guitarist and co-founder of the rock band Van Halen.

Eddie Van Halen’s guitar style revolutionized the instrument, incorporating two-handed tapping, harmonics, and tremolo-picking techniques. Van Halen achieved massive commercial success with albums like “Van Halen” (1978), “1984” (1984), and “5150” (1986). They became one of the era’s most popular and influential rock bands, selling millions of albums worldwide and earning critical acclaim for their musicianship and songwriting. Despite battling with cancer, his passion for music never waned, and he continued to record and perform until his passing.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton
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Born: March 30, 1945, in Ripley, Surrey, England

Genre: Rock and blues

Famous songs: “Tears in Heaven,” “Wonderful Tonight,” “Lay Down Sally,” and “Cocaine”

Eric Clapton is considered one of the most influential guitarists of all time. Clapton rose to prominence in the 1960s as a member of several influential bands, including the Yardbirds, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Derek and the Dominos.

Clapton has received numerous awards and accolades throughout his career, including multiple Grammy Awards and inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist and Cream member. He tours and records music, delighting audiences with his soulful voice and masterful guitar playing.

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David Gilmour

David Gilmour
An image credit example from Rolling Stone

Born: March 6, 1946, in Cambridge, England

Genre: Psychedelic rock and art rock

Famous songs: “Comfortably Numb,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and “Time.”

David Jon Gilmour is a guitarist, vocalist, and one of the primary songwriters for the iconic rock band Pink Floyd. His musical style has soulful vocals and emotive guitar chords. David Gilmour’s music career began when he joined Pink Floyd in 1968 as a replacement for the band’s founder, Syd Barrett. Gilmour’s arrival marked a turning point for the band, as he brought a new level of musicianship and creativity to their sound.

David Gilmour has also produced for various artists, released solo studio albums, and is known for bringing singer-songwriter Kate Bush to public attention. His contributions to music have earned him a place in the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame, and he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2003.

Ritchie Blackmore

Ritchie Blackmore
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Born: April 14, 1945, in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England.

Genre: Hard rock, heavy metal, and neo-classical rock.

Famous songs: “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star” with Deep Purple, as well as “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Stargazer” with Rainbow.

Ritchie Blackmore is a legendary guitarist and songwriter recognized for his work with the hard rock and heavy metal bands Deep Purple and Rainbow. He is also the co-founder of these groups. Blackmore is known for his distinctive guitar riffs and classically influenced solos. His contributions to music have earned him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Deep Purple, and hence, he is cited as one of the best guitar players of all time.

Alex Lifeson

Alex Lifeson
An image credit example from Rolling Stone

Born: August 27, 1953, in Fernie, British Columbia, Canada

Genre: Rock, hard rock, and heavy metal

Famous songs: “Tom Sawyer,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Limelight,” “2112,” and “Closer to the Heart.”

Alex Lifeson, born Aleksandar Živojinović, is a founding member of the legendary rock band Rush. The band released their self-titled debut album in 1974, and over the following decades, they achieved massive commercial success and critical acclaim. Lifeson’s innovative guitar playing and creative songwriting have earned him a place as one of the best guitar players of all time.

He played electric and acoustic guitars and string instruments like mandola, mandolin, and bouzouki. He also performed backing vocals and occasionally played keyboards and bass pedal synthesizers.

Lifeson has been recognized throughout his life journey for his innovative guitar work, earning him a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Rush in 2013. He has also been involved in various solo projects, including his 1996 solo album “Victor.” Beyond music, Lifeson is a painter and a licensed aircraft pilot and has had cameo roles in film and television.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck
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Born: June 24, 1944, in Wallington, Surrey, England

Died: January 10, 2023, in Wadhurst, East Sussex, England

Genre: Rock, blues, jazz, and fusion

Famous songs: “Beck’s Bolero,” “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers,” and “Freeway Jam.”

Geoffrey Arnold Beck, also known as Jeff Beck, began his career in the early 1960s when he joined The Yardbirds but later founded and fronted The Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert & Appice. His career spanned from 1964 to 2023. He was a highly influential English rock guitarist known for his fast, intricate playing and was often called a ‘guitarist’s guitarist.’

Beck was critically praised, receiving six Grammy Awards for Best Rock Instrumental Performance and one for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. In 2014, he received the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: as a member of The Yardbirds in 1992 and as a solo artist in 2009.

Slash

Slash
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Born: July 23, 1965, in Hampstead, London, England

Genre: Hard rock, heavy metal, blues rock, and glam metal

Famous songs: “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “November Rain,” and “Paradise City.”

The iconic star and lead guitarist of Guns N Roses, Slash’s full name is Saul Hudson. His career peaked with the band; thus, he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Guns N’ Roses’ classic lineup in 2012. His solo guitar performance in “November Rain” ranks highly among the greatest guitar solos. After leaving Guns N’ Roses in 1996, Slash embarked on a solo journey. Soon, he returned to Guns N’ Roses in 2016 and has continued to tour and record with the band.

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FAQs

Who is the number one guitarist of all time?

Jimmy Hedrix is considered to be number one guitarist of all time. He was known for his innovative approach to the guitar, combining elements of blues, rock, and psychedelic music into a unique style that pushed the boundaries of what was possible with the instrument.

Who are considered the best guitar players of all time?

Here is the list of 10 best guitar players of all time:

  1. Jimi Hendrix

  2. Brian Maye
  3. Jimmy Page
  4. Eddie Van Halen
  5. Eric Clapton
  6. David Gilmour
  7. Ritchie Blackmore
  8. Alex Lifeson
  9. Jeff Beck
  10. Slash

Who is the king of playing guitar?

Jimmy Hedrix is crowned the “King of Guitar.” He was a guitarist and singer-songwriter known for his electric guitar-playing skills in rock, blues, and psychedelia.

Who is the famous guitarist who can't read music?

Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Eric Clapton are among the famous guitarists who can’t read music.

Who is considered a guitar god?

In 1966, the people of London graffitied on the wall, “Clapton is God.” Eric Clapton was a famous guitarist whose fans loved his speed and complexity. Other names praised with the “guitar god” moniker include Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Steve Vai.

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