Most of the iconic rock bands of the past half century would be nothing without their talented guitarist. These legends have delivered the power chords, riffs, and string bending to all your favorite tunes. Take a look through our list of the most iconic guitarists of all time and see if you agree. Naming the top twenty is challenging, but they all have the talent to deserve a spot in the all time greats. Here are the best guitarists of all time ranked.
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20. Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain was an American singer, songwriter, and musician, best known as the guitarist and frontman of the rock band Nirvana. Regarded as a Generation X icon, he is considered to be one of the most iconic and influential rock musicians in the history of alternative music. He committed suicide at the age of 27.
19. Tony Iommi
Teenage Iommi lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers in a factory accident. His ability to not only play the guitar after this accident, but to truly master it, is one of the things that makes Iommi so impressive. Iommi was known for detuning his guitar, making his instrument sound lower and heavier, and created a louder, more diabolical sound that ultimately lead to the beginning of true heavy metal.
Slash, whose birth name is Saul Hudson, has made a name for himself for being one of the best electric guitar soloists. The British-American lead guitarist in Guns N’ Roses helped give the iconic rock band its signature sound. And along with that signature sound, Slash also came with his own signature look. From his iconic top hat, sunglasses, and famous orange Gibson guitar, Slash’s music was not the only thing that was grabbing the attention of rock fans around the world.
17. Robert Johnson
The legendary Robert Johnson is known now to be the master of the blues, specifically Delta style blues. Unfortunately, not that much else is known about Johnson, and the lack of information has sparked a few rumors about his life. Among the most famous is the rumor that he sold his soul to the devil to achieve his musical success.
16. George Harrison
As a lead guitarist for The Beatles, George Harrison had a real natural talent when it came to his instrument. Harrison was known among his friends to be the “quiet Beatle,” but you would not be able to tell by the way he commanded audiences with his music. He was renowned for his embrace of Indian music and culture, and those influences can definitely be heard in his guitar playing. He would go on to have a successful solo career after The Beatles.
15. Pete Townshend
Thanks to Townshend’s help in creating The Who’s unforgettable sound, the band cemented itself in rock history, and even won the record for the world’s loudest concert from the Guinness Book of World Records. Even as a guitarist who was not known for playing many solos, he made a name for himself all on his own.
14. Duane Allman
Of his many talents, perhaps he is most known for being excellent at improvising. His love of improv explains why many of the songs from the Allman Brothers Band suddenly became half an hour long on live albums. But, luckily, no one seems to mind. Unfortunately, Allman passed away at the early age of 24.
13. Brian May
Guitarist Brian May is definitely the only musician on this list who can say he has a degree in astrophysics. The lead guitarist, and, oftentimes, songwriter for the band Queen had an incredible ability to layer multiple guitar parts onto tracks to create unforgettable sounds. He uniquely used a coin as a pick to produce his distinct sound.
12. David Gilmour
As a guitarist, Gilmour pioneered the use of echo and other effects that Pink Floyd is so well known for. While it is true that Gilmour is not the fastest guitar player in the pack, the dreamy, ambient, floating texture in his music gave him an instantly recognizable sound.
11. Keith Richards
Richards is known for writing two and three note tracks that have just as much impact as any of your favorite guitar solos. Take another listen to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the combination of riffs and chords layered within it to get the idea. Richards also mastered the art of alternate and open tunings, and became a legend of his own.
10. Carlos Santana
Any one of this Mexican-born guitarist’s songs can be identified from hearing just one note. Carlos Santana’s instantly-recognizable sound has made him one of the best guitarists in history, and has earned him 10 Grammy Awards and 3 Latin Grammys throughout his career.
9. Chuck Berry
Known for being one of the founders of Rock n Roll music. This innovative artist was known to be a trailblazer, producing guitar riffs like no one had ever done before. His songs were commercially successful, without being pop, and had a swing that made his music easily identifiable.
8. Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck has been referred to at times as the “guitarist’s guitarist” because anyone who knows good guitar knows that Jeff Beck is a master at his craft. Still need more proof? Not only was Beck awarded a Grammy Award for the category of Best Rock Instrumental Performance six different times.
7. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s love for the guitar started when he was only 7 years old. And while his life was tragically cut short from a helicopter crash at age 35, his legacy and the mark he left on the music work continues to live on and inspire guitarists today.
6. BB King
B.B. King was a true soloist. His sophisticated solos were the stuff of legends, as he incorporated his string bending technique that he ultimately became famous for. Overall, his music was always rich and robust, paying homage to a true blues style.
5. Angus Young
The simplistic chords behind rock icon AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and “Highway To Hell” are just proof of how incredibly good Scottish-born Angus Young is at creating iconic guitar riffs. From his almost manic style to his booming power chords, AC/DC’s lead guitarist has landed himself a spot as one of the true guitar greats.
4. Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton has a pretty incredible resume. The guitarist went through a huge range of hit bands, each of which had a psychedelic sound and plenty of wah-wah pedal, including the Yardbirds, Cream, and Derek & The Dominos, before ultimately going solo. It’s no wonder Clapton is regarded to be one of the most influential guitarists of all time.
3. Eddie Van Halen
Van Halen is known to be a master of riffs (think: “Unchained,” “Eruption,” and “Take Your Whiskey Home”), and a genius when it comes to harmonies and textures within his music. Van Halen was also known to hold his guitar pick between his thumb and middle finger, which opened his index finger up for finger tapping.
2. Jimmy Page
As a musician, Jimmy Page can bring an unbelievably diverse set of skills to his guitar playing. He could range from one minute playing gentle English folk music plucked from the countryside, to the next minute delivering shrieking guitar solos. And, might we add, he performs both flawlessly.
1. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix’s hands flew up and down the neck of a guitar at blinding speed. In the studio, he would often ask sound engineers to filter his guitar and make it sound like such abstract things as the ocean, or the wind. He could play the guitar behind his head. He could play the guitar with his teeth. And he did it better than anyone.