It is impossible to collate an objective list of the best guitar players of all time. Everybody will have a different opinion about who should have made the list.
However, there are certain names that stand out because they were guitarists that pushed the limits with virtuosic playing! Throughout history, guitarists have emerged in various genres and impressed with their style, tone, and ability.
Killer guitar solos, mind-melting riffs, and luscious chords. These are just a few of the ways we can judge which guitarists should make the list. Innovation, technique, and melody are also a good way of identifying which guitarists have been most influential throughout history.
Some guitarists have been more prolific than others. Other guitarists have shone brightly in a short amount of time and left a legacy. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And many of these badass guitarists have started trends and inspired guitarists that pale in comparison.
Best Guitar Players of All Time
- Joe Pass
- Jimi Hendrix
- B.B. King
- Eric Clapton
- Jimmy Page
- Stevie Ray Vaughn
- Carlos Santana
- Keith Richards
- Jeff Beck
- Angus Young
- Roy Buchanan
- Robin Trower
- Rory Gallagher
- Duane Allman
- David Gilmour
- Ritchie Blackmore
- Toni Iommi
- John McLaughlin
- Frank Zappa
- Adam Jones
Without a doubt, each guitarist that made the list has made an indelible mark on the musical tapestry of the guitar. In no particular order, here we go…
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List of Best Guitar Players (in no particular order)
1. Joe Pass
Not many people will have described Joe Pass as badass but his skill with the guitar was second to none. Joe Pass was one of the greatest and most influential jazz guitarists of all time. Pass knew every inch of the fretboard and maneuvered his fingers with style and grace to pluck wonderful melodies and licks.
Pass was a frequent collaborator with some of the biggest stars in jazz like Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. His talent as an accompanist was equal to his powers as a virtuosic soloist. His use of progressions and chord inversions was innovative and made his playing one of the defining sounds of jazz guitar.
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2. Jimi Hendrix
What more can be said about Hendrix? He sits atop RollingStone’s list of the greatest guitarists of all time for a reason. With style and swagger, Hendrix reinvented rock guitar and made sure that anyone who strums on six strings will remember him.
He is routinely heralded as one of the best guitar players of all time because he produced sounds that had never been heard before. With his left hand and sometimes with his teeth he transcended the guitar and became a music legend. He was undoubtedly one of the most talented guitar players to grace the earth!
Hendrix’s version of the National Anthem is a testament to his revolutionary playing. He could take a tune that everybody knew and play it like no one would have dared.
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3. B.B. King
The King of the Blues. B.B. King was one of the most skilled guitarists of the twentieth century. King made his name playing blues and rhythm better than anyone else. He was best known for using the Gibson ES-335 to unleash spine-tingling blues solos.
His fluid string bending and perfect use of vibrato have influenced many guitarists in blues and other genres. His career spanned many years and encompassed the evolution of the guitar from a gentle jazz tool to a wild heavy metal ax.
B.B. King played the guitar so consistently at such a high level that he definitely deserves to be on this list.
Image Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica
4. Eric Clapton
Clapton is a three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and one of the top guitarists of all time. As a member of the Yardbirds, Cream and as a solo artist, Eric Clapton has established himself over many years as a guitar god. Through the 60s and 70s, he was playing the guitar like no one else had dared to do.
Clapton continues to play live gigs around the world and treat audiences to his wide catalog of music. He is still one of the best guitar players today. Clapton has made some of the most wonderful music of all time whether he is plucking blues licks on the electric guitar or playing ballads on the acoustic.
5. Jimmy Page
The guitarist and founder of Led Zeppelin deserves a place on this list. Jimmy Page was a genius on the guitar and utilized many different tricks to craft the perfect sound. Page was instrumental in creating some of Zeppelin’s most iconic songs, whether he was applying his bow to the strings or indulging in alternative picking
He would experiment with dynamics and rhythm to create guitar riffs and progressions that were revolutionary. He has written immortal songs and is certainly one of the ten most badass guitar players ever.
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6. Stevie Ray Vaughan
SRV was integral to the blues revival in the ’80s. His playing style was rooted in blues but has gone on to influence guitarists in all sorts of genres. He could play any type of guitar he wanted. SRV was one of the few guitarists to keep blues alive and kicking with fresh and exciting songs.
There are not many guitarists who could play more impressive and soulful guitar solos than Stevie Ray Vaughan. He could make the guitar wail and sing as something possessed.
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7. Carlos Santana
The multi-grammy award-winning guitarist spearheaded the fusion of Latin American Jazz and Rock’n’Roll. As a kid, he was profoundly influenced by blues artists like B.B. King, and this can be heard in his playing ever since.
Since the late 60’s Santana has been weaving cracking guitar riffs and solos into iconic Latin rock anthems. He has flirted with commercial success and niche musical ventures throughout his career.
His huge collaborative spirit has ensured that his music has reached all the corners of the world. Whatever genre of music he finds himself in his guitar playing is instantly recognizable.
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No one played with as much funk and style. Although principally known as a singer, Prince was also one of the most influential guitarists ever. He was a supremely talented musician that could play most instruments to an enviably brilliant level.
His talent was making the guitar howl and sing in the coolest manner possible. Throughout his widely diverse and successful career, he played guitar on his albums and live to enhance his overall sound. He was distinctly and unashamedly Prince.
His solo on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ amongst a plethora of guitar legends is a testament to his unbelievable skill and verve. His other musical ventures and achievements meant that he was often underrated as a guitarist. But Prince was definitely one of the top guitarists of all time.
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9. Keith Richards
As a member of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards produced some of the most iconic guitar riffs in music history. As guitarists, we would be poorer without his contributions in songs like Gimme Shelter and Satisfaction.
Richards was a master at producing instantly memorable riffs and chord progressions. He played both lead and rhythm guitar and put the blues in rock’n’roll. His playing was unpretentious and melodic and always served to enhance the song.
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10. Jeff Beck
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In their own way, each of the three Yardbirds has made their impression on guitar history. Along with Clapton and Page, Jeff Beck has been an innovator on the guitar. He is a stylish lead guitarist that produces unique sounds whether he is playing hard rock, blues rock or electronica.
He enhances his impeccable finger technique with a unique sense of how to use vibrato to produce the best sound. Although he hasn’t achieved the mainstream success of a Hendrix or Clapton many guitarists often consider him a great of equal measure.
11. Angus Young
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His presence on stage is iconic and unmistakably rock’n’roll. His guitar riffs and solos have been ringing out of stereos and concert arenas for many years. The co-founder and lead guitarist of AC/DC is one of the legends of rock.
When Angus Young is performing he is energy personified. He is one of the great guitarists of rock and over the years he has produced some of the most iconic sounding guitar lines of all time.
If you are a fan of AC/DC you will no doubt be familiar with his schoolboy uniform and his manic stage presence. Although he doesn’t regard himself as a soloist, Alice in Chains‘ Jerry Cantrell called him “the absolute god of blues-rock guitar.”(Rolling Stone)
He has a unique talent to make his riffs sound both melodic and powerful!
12. Roy Buchanan
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Roy Buchanan was a pioneer of the blues telecaster sound. In popular culture, he may be less prevalent than the likes of Angus Young or Jeff Beck but his sound had a significant influence on many blues guitarists that came after him.
Despite never becoming a superstar he is considered by many to be one of the best guitar players of all time. Top guitar players like David Gilmour and Jerry Garcia have been influenced by Buchanan’s playing.
He often played a 1953 Fender Telecaster that he nicknamed “Nancy.” You would be surprised how many great guitarists have nicknames for their guitars!
Over the years he experimented with a variety of playing techniques to form a tone that will be familiar to many avid guitar enthusiasts.
13. Robin Trower
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Robin Trower is an English rock guitarist who gained success as an integral part of Procul Harum in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Trower is a player that is able to produce incredible power and emotion by bending a few strings on his Fender Stratocaster.
During adolescence, Trower began to listen and explore the records of blues guitar legends like B.B King, and the rest is history. Nowadays he is regarded as one of the great guitarists and is celebrated for his signature strat sound.
He wrote some fascinating music for the guitar and continues to be an influence on rock guitarists today.
14. Rory Gallagher
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Rory Gallagher was an Irish multi-instrumentalist known for his non-stop touring and fiery guitar playing.
He won’t often rank high on a list of best guitar players but he performed consistently on the international stage for many years. His slide work and heavy blues riffs sound as good today as they did in the 70s.
He is one of the top guitar players to come from Ireland and helped pave the way for Irish rock musicians to break into international markets.
Unfortunately, he was taken from the world too soon and deserved to carry on rocking for many more years.
15. Duane Allman
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Founder and leader of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman is an all-time guitar great. His distinctive and precise slide guitar playing is iconic.
Many of the best guitarists today owe Duane Allman plenty for the manner in which he and Clapton took guitar music to the next level. He will often feature on the list of best guitar players of all time because of the unique way he approached tone and rhythm.
Unfortunately, like many of the great guitarists, he died tragically. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on today through the records on which he played and the influence of his sound of many modern guitarists.
16. David Gilmour
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The Pink Floyd guitarist and vocalist created some of the most groundbreaking and iconic sounds in the history of progressive rock.
In 2019 his signature guitar, ‘The Black Strat’ sold at auction for just under $4 million. His guitar riffs and licks have formed the foundation for many of the greatest progressive rock sounds.
Many of the best guitarists today have been influenced by the way Gilmour was able to create atmosphere and tension in his playing. His elaborate and punchy chordal textures that featured in so many legendary songs make him one of the best guitar players of all time.
17. Ritchie Blackmore
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Another rock legend. Ritchie Blackmore, virtuosic guitarist and songwriter from Deep Purple, is a great guitarist who made his name with classically influenced guitar solos and rich hard rock riffs.
Blackmore is a founding member of Deep Purple and made his name as hard rock/heavy metal guitarist but also delved into other genres of music in his extended solo career.
His guitar playing resists strict categorization. He was one of the first top guitar players to effectively fuse metal and classical sounds. There are many slick guitar licks and riffs that you can learn from Blackmore’s playing with Deep Purple and the heavy metal band Rainbow.
18. Toni Iommi
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Toni Iommi is a founding member and the lead guitarist of Black Sabbath.
The best guitarists today who dabble in heavy metal riffs, power chords, and crushing sounds all owe a debt of gratitude to the great Toni Iommi. He pioneered many distinctive heavy metal sounds and wrote some of the most memorable guitar riffs of all time.
Ozzy Osbourne dubbed him the ‘master of the metal riff’ for a reason! If you need some metal education you should definitely listen to his work on Electric Funeral and Into the Void.
For nearly five decades he has maintained incredible skill and power and is still one of the most badass, best guitarists today.
19. John McLaughlin
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John Mclaughlin’s guitar playing is a step away from some of the heavier artists on this list. He is a pioneer of Jazz fusion having featured on Miles Davis’ seminal Bitches Brew album and continues to add to his legacy as one of the best guitar players of all time with virtuosic guitar playing.
Over his long career, he has been awarded multiple “Guitarist of the Year” awards from magazines like Guitar Player and Downbeat. The comfort with which McLaughlin can coax soothing melodies and complex chords is astounding.
If you are a fan of Jazz fusion you should definitely dig into some of John McLaughlin’s discography. His forays into Indian classical, flamenco, and blues music have helped to expand the horizons of many pure jazz and rock listeners.
20. Frank Zappa
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Frank Zappa was a guitarist and a musician who produced the strange and wonderful every time he plugged in. He was never afraid to tread uncharted territory when it came to guitar playing.
Zappa was a fierce proponent of free-form improvisation and nonconformity. As with many other great guitarists, he let his music do the talking but didn’t shy away from offering his two cents through his bizarre and cutting satire.
As a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, his guitar skills are often underrated. In his early music you can hear a significant blues influence but as time went on his solos began to grow becoming more esoteric and abstract.
There are many places in Frank Zappa’s discography where new listeners can jump in. We recommend starting with We’re Only In It For The Money or Apostrophe (‘). Zappa is probably the weirdest and most inventive musician on this list!
21. Adam Jones
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Adam Jones is the celebrated guitarist of the American rock band Tool. As well as his tremendous guitar playing Jones is also known for his visual art and often directs Tool’s music videos.
He is a guitarist known for his rhythmic playing and fits perfectly into the full sound of Tool. His solid timing allows him to lean into heavier rock and grunge elements.
His sound may not be as iconic as some of the other guitarists on this list but he has a defined tone that exemplifies his years of excellent guitar playing.
Of course, there are a hundred other great guitarists that could have made this list. Guitar playing continues to evolve and new guitarists are building on the work of legends. It is worth listing a few honorable mentions who have also pushed guitar playing to the limit throughout history.
- Chuck Berry
- Nile Rodgers
- Jonny Greenwood
- George Harrison
- Eddie Van Halen
- Brian May
If you have somehow gone through life having not heard one of these guitarists we implore you to give them a listen!
The Best Guitar Players of All Time
Hopefully, we have given you a good idea of some of the best and most badass guitar players throughout history. If you are a beginner we would recommend having a listen to all of the guitarist’s work. There is a fair bit of variety in the list so one of the musicians should align with your taste.
It is always great to listen and learn from the best. Grouping them together in a list shows how the guitar has evolved over the years. The best guitarists have always been at the bleeding edge forcing the guitar to make new sounds and sing new melodies.
Whether you are looking to copy some killer guitar solos or shred some complex chord progressions you can learn something from each guitarist on the list. We hope their music encourages you to strive to improve your playing and broaden your musical horizons.
Who is your favorite guitar player of all time?
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