The 40+ Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Ranked

This article appeared in Notfries and has been published here with permission.

The World’s Leading Guitarists

Who are the greatest guitarists of all time? It’s a question posed for decades, and there’s no single correct answer. That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive list of the top guitarists of all time. From Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton to Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix, we’ve considered the influence, skill, and impact each guitarist had on the music world. So, let’s explore the greatest guitarists of all time without further ado.

45. Bo Diddley

Bo Diddley was a rock and roll singer-songwriter and guitarist known for his unique, rhythmic guitar style and influence on many music genres. He was born in 1928 in Mississippi. Bo started his professional life in music, playing on the streets of Chicago and later on in clubs and bars.

45. Bo Diddley

He was known for his energetic and charismatic stage performances, and his music was characterized by its distinctive rhythmic patterns and syncopated beats. Throughout his career, he released many albums and singles, and his music continues to be celebrated and influential in Rock and Roll.

44. Johnny Ramone

Johnny Ramone, guitarist of the punk rock band The Ramones, wrote and performed songs that reflected his professional life as a musician. His songs such as “Judy Is a Punk” and “Rockaway Beach” are still considered classics of the punk rock genre.

44. Johnny Ramone

These songs are anthems of the punk rock movement about breaking the rules and doing things on their terms. They still testify to the band’s influence and impact on the music scene.

43. Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia, the lead singer and guitarist of the Grateful Dead, wrote and sang about professional life and the challenges of being a musician. He’s well known for his songs “Playing in the Band” and “Deal”. His lyrics have a sense of improvisation and spontaneity, characteristic of the band’s music style.

43. Jerry Garcia

Garcia also sang about the financial struggles of being a musician in songs like “Money Money”. He conveyed the uncertain lifestyle of a musician and the search for purpose in his professional life through his music.

42. Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson is a country singer-songwriter who had a successful career in the music industry. His songs often touch on working life themes and the working class’s struggles, such as in “Working Man Blues”.

42. Willie Nelson

He also wrote a song called “On the Road Again,” which reflects on the life of a touring musician and the joys and hardships that come with it. His lyrics are often simple, heartfelt, relatable, and speak to everyday people’s struggles and triumphs.

41. Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell is a singer-songwriter who has written and performed many songs throughout her career. Some of her songs, such as “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Free Man in Paris”, touch on themes of professional life and the pressures and demands of working in the public eye.

41. Joni Mitchell

Mitchell’s lyrics often explore personal themes such as love and heartbreak. Additionally, many of her songs reflect on the music industry itself, such as the song “For the Roses”, which expresses her struggles and disappointment with the commercialization of her work.

40. Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy is known for his blues guitar skills. He began his career in the 1950s and quickly established himself as a leading figure in the genre. He’s renowned for his powerful guitar playing and passionate vocals and has released several albums throughout his career.

40. Buddy Guy

He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has also given back to the music community by opening Legends, a Chicago blues club, and establishing Buddy Guy’s Blues Foundation to support young musicians.

39. Tom Morello

Tom Morello is a musician, singer, and songwriter famous as the lead guitarist of the bands Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and Prophets of Rage. He’s widely recognized for his unique guitar-playing style, his use of unconventional techniques and effects, and his socially conscious lyrics.

39. Tom Morello

He has released several albums with his bands and has played a significant role in shaping each of their unique sounds. Morello is also known for his collaborations, touring and playing with many other musicians like Bruce Springsteen, and his side projects.

38. Angus Young

Angus Young is a renowned musician and songwriter, best known for his role as the lead guitarist of the iconic rock band AC/DC. He co-founded the band in 1973 at 18 and has been an essential member of the band ever since.

38. Angus Young

He’s renowned for his high-energy stage performances, often characterized by his signature schoolboy outfits and distinctive guitar-playing style. He has written and played many of the band’s hit songs, including “Back in Black” and “Highway to Hell”, which have become rock classics.

37. Brian May

Brian May is known as the lead guitarist of the rock band Queen. He’s recognized for his guitar-playing skills and contributions to the band’s hit songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

37. Brian May

May is known for his unique guitar playing style, in which he uses finger-tapping techniques, and for his use of guitar effects. He has also built his own guitars, the Red Special and the Old Lady, which he created at a young age with his father.

36. Bobby Krieger

Bobby Krieger is a musician, singer, and songwriter best known as the guitarist for the rock band The Doors. He joined the band in 1965 and played a vital role in the band’s sound and success. He’s recognized for his guitar-playing skills and his contribution as a songwriter.

36. Bobby Krieger

Krieger wrote several hit songs for the band, including “Light My Fire”, as well as co-wrote “Riders on the Storm” and “Roadhouse Blues”. Despite the band’s short tenure, Bobby Krieger is considered one of his generation’s most talented guitarists.

35. The Edge

The Edge, also known as David Evans, is famous as the lead guitarist of the band U2. He has been a member of the band since its inception in the 1970s and has played a crucial role in its success.

35. The Edge

He’s renowned for his innovative and distinctive guitar-playing style, characterized by his use of delay effects and his economy of notes. The Edge is famous for his contributions to U2’s hit songs such as “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, “I Will Follow”, “and “The Fly”.

34. Billy Gibbons

Billy Gibbons is the main vocalist and guitarist of the band ZZ Top. He began his career at a young age and became a musical phenomenon. He formed ZZ Top in the 1970s along with Dusty Hill on bass guitar and Frank Beard on drums.

34. Billy Gibbons

The band is known for its mix of blues rock, boogie rock, and hard rock music and has released several hit songs throughout their career, such as “Tush” and “Gimme Your Lovin”, that have become classic rock staples.

33. Scotty Moore

Scotty Moore was an American guitarist and a pioneer of rock and roll music, known for his work with Elvis Presley in the 1950s. He played the guitar for Presley from the beginning of his career until his comeback in 1968.

33. Scotty Moore

His performances on songs like “That’s All Right”, “Mystery Train”, and “Heartbreak Hotel” are considered some of the most iconic moments in rock music history. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and his contributions to music continue to be celebrated.

32. Muddy Waters

McKinley Morganfield, also known by his stage name Muddy Waters, was a seminal blues musician and songwriter born in 1913 in rural Mississippi. He was a pioneer of the electric blues and rock and roll genres, and his music continues to be highly celebrated.

32. Muddy Waters

He began his career in the 1930s and quickly became one of the most influential figures in the blues world. He’s known for his hit songs such as “Rollin’ Stone”, which inspired the band The Rolling Stones to name themselves after it. His music has significantly influenced many musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and The Beatles.

31. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell

Tom Petty, best known as the frontman of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was a highly successful musician, singer, and songwriter. He was also an accomplished guitarist; his music career spanned over 40 years.

31. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell

Mike Campbell, the Heartbreakers’ guitarist, was a key member of the band, and his guitar-playing and songwriting contributions have been essential to the band’s sound. Together with Tom, they co-wrote many of the band’s hit songs and played a vital role in its success.

30. Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore on December 21st, 1940. He’s famous for his work with the band The Mothers of Invention and his solo career, which spanned over 30 years.

30. Frank Zappa

He released more than 60 albums during his career, which featured a wide range of musical styles like rock, Jazz, experimental, and classical music. His songs like “Montana” and “In-a-Gadda-Stravinsky” have become classics in the rock music scene.

29. Neil Young

Neil Young, born in Toronto, Canada, in 1945, is a musician, singer, and songwriter known as “The Godfather of Grunge.” He began his career in the 1960s as a member of the band Buffalo Springfield and later played with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

29. Neil Young

His influence has been felt throughout the years, from the counterculture movement in the 1960s to the emergence of grunge in the 1990s, with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam citing him as an influence.

28. David Gilmour

David Gilmour is a highly respected musician, singer, and songwriter, best known for his role as the lead guitarist and a key member of the iconic rock band Pink Floyd. He joined the band in 1968 and played a significant role in defining the band’s sound, particularly in albums like Dark Side of the Moon.

28. David Gilmour

He has a unique style of guitar playing, characterized by his use of effects and sound production techniques. He has become known for his expressive and powerful guitar solos in songs such as “Comfortably Numb” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”.

27. Joe Perry

Anthony Joseph “Joe” Perry is a musician, songwriter, and the lead guitarist and co-founder of the rock band Aerosmith. He’s renowned for his guitar skills, prominently featured in many of Aerosmith’s hit songs like “Dream On” and “Walk This Way”.

27. Joe Perry

Perry has also released solo albums, collaborated with other musicians, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He tours and performs with Aerosmith and is known for his dynamic and energetic live performances.

26. Slash

Slash is a legendary rock musician, famous for his work as the lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses. He joined the band in the mid-’80s and helped establish them as one of the most successful and popular rock bands, with hit songs such as “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “November Rain” showcasing his guitar skills.

26. Slash

Despite his falling out with the band’s lead singer Axl Rose, they reunited in 2016 and continue to tour and perform together. He has also released several solo albums and collaborated with various other musicians.

25. Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly was a pioneer of rock and roll in the 1950s. He’s famous for his hit songs “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”, which helped to establish his signature sound, characterized by its catchy melodies, upbeat rhythms, and Holly’s distinctive vocal style.

25. Buddy Holly

He began his career in the early ’50s and quickly became well-recognized as one of his time’s most popular and influential musicians. Despite his short career, Holly’s music continues to be celebrated, and his impact on the rock and roll genre continues to be felt today.

24. Dick Dale

Dick Dale, born in Boston on May 4th, 1937, was a pioneering surf rock musician. He developed a unique guitar sound based on Middle Eastern music scales and experimented with reverberation. He’s famous for his hit songs “The Peter Gunn Theme” and “Misirlou”, which helped popularize the surf rock genre.

24. Dick Dale

Dale’s influential guitar playing and energetic live performances earned him the nickname “King of the Surf Guitar.” He continues to be remembered as a pioneering figure in surf rock music.

23. Freddie King

Freddie King was an American blues musician, singer, and songwriter. He was born on September 3rd, 1934, and began his career in the 1950s. He was best known for his song “The Stumble” and his unique rock and blues music blend. He was considered one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar”, along with B.B. King and Albert King.

23. Freddie King

He was a significant influence on the development of blues rock. His guitar style was characterized by his use of powerful lead lines, innovative vibrato, and a strong sense of phrasing.

22. Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain was an American musician, singer, and songwriter whose popularity came from his being the lead vocalist and guitarist of the rock band Nirvana. He was born on February 20th, 1967, and began his career in the late 1980s. He was famous for his unique, gritty sound that combined rock, punk, and folk music elements.

22. Kurt Cobain

He and Nirvana revolutionized music with their new sound, and their songs, such as “All Apologies” and “Heart Shaped Box”, became instant classics and helped popularize the grunge genre. He was also known for his emotionally honest songwriting, which often dealt with pain, isolation, and disillusionment themes.

21. John Lennon

John Lennon was a British musician, vocalist, and lyricist famous for being a part of the Fab Four, The Beatles. He was born on October 9th, 1940, and began his career in the early ’60s. He played the rhythm guitar and was renowned for his skill in composing and writing songs.

21. John Lennon

He penned and co-wrote many of the band’s most famous songs, such as “Help!”, “Day Tripper”, and “Yer Blues”. He also sang and strummed the guitar on many of the band’s tracks. Although his guitar skills aren’t as widely acknowledged as his songwriting abilities, they were integral to the band’s sound.

20. George Harrison

George Harrison was an English musician, singer, and songwriter best known as the lead guitarist of the Beatles. He was born on February 25th, 1943, and began his career in the early ’60s.

20. George Harrison

He wrote classics like “Taxman” and “Here Comes the Sun”, which have become timeless classics. He had a successful solo career and released many albums. His album All Things Must Pass became one of the best-selling triple albums of all time.

19. Albert King

Albert King, also known as “The Velvet Bulldozer,” was born on April 25th, 1923, and began his career in the mid-20th century. He significantly influenced the blues and rock genre, with his guitar style characterized by string bending, vibrato, and a strong sense of phrasing.

19. Albert King

His music is known for its raw energy, and his most famous songs include “Born Under a Bad Sign”, “Crosscut Saw”, and “As the Years Go Passing By”. He’s considered a blues guitar legend, and his influence on music continues to be felt today.

18. Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh is an American musician, singer, and songwriter known for his exceptional guitar playing and contributions to the rock genre. He began his career in the 1970s and is remembered for his work as a member of the Eagles and for his solo career.

18. Joe Walsh

He has written and performed on some of the most iconic songs in rock music, such as “Hotel California”, “Rocky Mountain Way”, and “Funk #49”. He gained popularity for his versatility as a musician and his ability to blend different rock, blues, and country music elements.

17. Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend is an English musician and songwriter, best recognized as the guitarist and principal songwriter of the rock band The Who. He began his career in the 1960s and is known for his unique guitar-playing style, which often features power chords, windmills, and feedback.

17. Pete Townshend

Despite his immense talent, he never played a single solo with the band, but his contributions to the band’s sound and songwriting are undeniable. He co-wrote some of the band’s biggest hits like “My Generation”, “I Can See for Miles”, and the cover of “Summertime Blues”.

16. Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan was an American musician, singer, and songwriter widely regarded as one of the most talented guitarists of his generation. He was born in 1954 and began his career in the ’70s.

16. Stevie Ray Vaughan

His songs, such as “Love Struck Baby”, “Cold Shot”, and “Look at Little Sister”, are considered masterworks of guitar playing and have been covered by many musicians. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music career was cut short due to his untimely passing in 1990, but his legacy and influence on music continue to live on.

15. Tony Iommi

Tony Iommi is a British musician widely considered one of the most influential guitarists in the history of heavy metal music. He’s famous as the lead guitarist, co-founder, and principal songwriter of the band Black Sabbath. He was born in 1948 and began his career in the late 1960s.

15. Tony Iommi

His work with Black Sabbath, which includes songs such as “Iron Man”, “Sabbra Cadabra”, and many more, has been highly acclaimed and has inspired countless musicians and bands in the heavy metal genre.

14. Prince

Prince, born Prince Nelson, was a legendary musician, singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist known for his eclectic and innovative approach to music. He began writing songs at age seven, with his first composition being “Funk Machine” in 1965.

14. Prince

He rose to fame in the ’80s with hit songs such as “Purple Rain”, “Kiss”, and “When Doves Cry”, which have become timeless classics. He was a great musician and was known for playing several instruments, including guitar, piano, and drums. He was a prolific artist, releasing 39 studio albums throughout his career.

13. Sami Raatikainen

Sami Raatikainen is a Finnish guitarist known for his work in the German metal band Necrophagist. He joined the band in 2006 after the departure of Christian Müenzner and has been a crucial part of the band’s sound since then.

13. Sami Raatikainen

He also plays guitar in the band Codeon and performs guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums for his solo project Radiance. He’s known for his exceptional technical skills and ability to blend different elements of metal, progressive metal, and other subgenres.

12. Jimmy Vivino

Jimmy Vivino is an American musician, singer, producer, and music director, best known as the leader of Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band. He was born on January 10th, 1955. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and versatile performer, proficient in guitar, keyboard, and singing.

12. Jimmy Vivino

He has released an album called 13 Live, and his music genre is a blend of rock and roll and jazz. He’s a well-respected musician in the industry and has worked with many artists and bands as a session musician, producer, and music director.

11. Norman Brown

Norman Brown is an American smooth jazz guitarist and singer. He was born on December 18th, 1970. He has released several albums, including After the Storm, Just Chillin’, Celebration, 24/7, and The Very Best of Norman Brown.

11. Norman Brown

With his technical proficiency and soulful approach, he has become a leading figure in the smooth jazz genre. He has won a Grammy award and has collaborated with other jazz musicians.

10. Duane Allman

Duane Allman was a musician and guitarist best known for his work as a lead guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band. He was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1946.

10. Duane Allman

He co-wrote and performed on many of the Allman Brothers Band’s biggest hits, including “Statesboro Blues”, “Whipping Post”, and “Blue Sky”. He passed in 1971. However, his legacy and influence on music continue to live on, and he’s still considered an important figure in the history of Southern rock and blues rock.

9. Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana is a highly acclaimed musician and guitarist known for his fusion of Latin American rhythms and rock and roll music. He rose to fame in the late 1960s with his band, Santana, and is best remembered for his iconic solos in hit songs such as “Black Magic Woman”, “Oye Como Va”, and “Soul Sacrifice”.

9. Carlos Santana

Santana has sold over 100 million records worldwide and continues to tour and perform. His achievements include numerous Grammy awards, and he’s globally acclaimed as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

8. B.B. King

B.B. King was born on September 26th, 1925, in Itta Bena, Mississippi; he was a legendary musician and guitarist known for his soulful and expressive playing style, earning him the title “The King of Blues.” His work ethic was legendary, performing over 342 shows in 1956 alone and an average of 200 shows per year in the ’70s.

8. B.B. King

He’s famous for his songs such as “The Thrill Is Gone”, “3 O’Clock Blues”, and “Sweet Little Angel”. He’s considered a significant influence on the development of blues and rock music. Along with Albert and Freddie King, they made up what was known as the “Three Kings of Blues Guitar.”

7. Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck is a legendary musician and guitarist known for his virtuosic guitar playing and innovative approach to music. Born in Surrey on June 24th, 1944, Beck rose to fame as a part of the Yardbirds, where he co-wrote and performed on songs such as “I Ain’t Superstitious” and “Heart Full of Soul”.

7. Jeff Beck

His contributions to music have been instrumental in defining the sound of blues-rock and heavy metal. He continues to tour and perform well into his 70s, and his influence continues to be felt in the music industry, inspiring many new and upcoming guitar players.

6. Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page is famous for his work as the primary guitarist of the rock band Led Zeppelin. Born in Middlesex, England, on January 9th, 1944, he co-wrote many of the band’s iconic songs, such as “Heartbreaker”, “Dazed and Confused”, and “Kashmir”.

6. Jimmy Page

His contributions to Led Zeppelin earned him numerous honors, like induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. He’s known for his finger-picking style and use of feedback, distortion, and echo effects, which cemented his place as one of the most imitated guitarists in rock history.

5. Keith Richards

Keith Richards is a musician, songwriter, guitarist, and founding member of the Rolling Stones. He was born in Kent, England, on December 18th, 1943. He co-wrote many of the band’s biggest hits, including “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Gimme Shelter”, and “Paint it, Black”.

5. Keith Richards

He is known for his wild lifestyle and has become a cultural icon for his influence on music, fashion, lifestyle, and attitude. His guitar skills and playing style are considered one of the most imitated in rock and roll history.

4. Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry, born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 18th, 1926, was a seminal figure in the early days of rock and roll. He became famous for hit songs such as “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven” in the ’50s and continued to write and record successful music throughout the following decade.

4. Chuck Berry

Berry’s guitar playing was highly innovative, and his performances were known for their energy. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and his song “Johnny B. Goode” is regarded as one of the greatest guitar solos in history.

3. Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen was a legendary musician born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on January 26th, 1955. He’s known for his incredible technical skill and innovative playing style. He was the lead guitarist, co-founder, and principal songwriter of Van Halen, one of the most successful rock bands of the 1970s and ’80s.

3. Eddie Van Halen

He’s famous for tracks such as “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love”, “Eruption”, and “Hot for Teacher”. Eddie Van Halen was known for his finger-tapping technique, powerful solos, and innovative tone. He continues to be an inspiration to many guitar players around the world.

2. Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is a legendary musician born in Surrey, England, on March 30th, 1945. He’s considered one of the greatest guitar players, known for his incredible technical skill and passionate playing style. He’s best known for his songs “Bell Bottom Blues”, “Crossroads”, and “Layla”.

2. Eric Clapton

Throughout his career, Clapton has been a member of several influential bands, including Cream, The Yardbirds, and Derek and the Dominos, and has also released successful solo albums. He has sold over 280 million records worldwide and received 18 Grammy Awards. He continues to record music to this day.

1. Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was a legendary musician born in Seattle, Washington, on November 27th, 1942. He was known for his incredible guitar skills and innovative playing style. He wrote and recorded many iconic songs such as “Foxy Lady”, “Purple Haze”, and his rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

1. Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a powerful and emotive performance demonstrating his musical skill and ability to push boundaries. His powerful performances and incredible talent made him one of the most prominent guitar players.