The World’s Most Iconic Guitarists: Who Is The Best?

Published on 04/30/2021
ADVERTISEMENT

Regardless of the guitar brand and models, various techniques such as power chords to finger-tapping and shredding. It’s a bit difficult to choose one guitar wizard over another. In fact, this very discussion has led to many heated arguments regarding who is better than the other. The electric guitar has only been around for a few decades, but the amazing guitar gods of the ‘80s have definitely advanced it in a way that none of us could even imagine. Considering everything they have done for the art of electric guitar, we made a list containing some of the most amazing guitarists the world has ever known. Can you spot your favorite guitarist on this list?

Here Are The World's Greatest Guitarists

Here Are The World’s Greatest Guitarists

Robert Fripp

Robert Fripp is mostly known for being one of the founding members of the influential English progressive rock band named “King Crimson.” One of the notable things that he has done for the electric guitar is his innovation called “new standard tuning,” in which the strings are tuned in 5ths with the two highest strings tuned a minor 3rd apart.  He paid his dues by spending decades working as a session guitarist, setting tracks for notable musicians such as David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and Blondie, even though he gradually rose to stardom in his own right.

Robert Fripp

Robert Fripp

John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin of Doncaster, England, is a key figure in the development of “fusion” music. He won the Grammy Award for Best Improvised Jazz Solo in 2018. John also had an impressive list of artists with whom he had collaborated at one point or another. And, while being on this list is hardly a reason to rub shoulders with rock royalty, there aren’t many guitarists who can claim to have shared the stage with Miles Davis. McLaughlin actually played on Miles’ most famous album, Bitches Brew.

John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin

Steve Morse

Steve Morse is the founder of the Dixie Dregs and the lead guitarist for Deep Purple since 1994. Morse was born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan. In 1986, Steve Morse joined the famous rock band Kansas as the lead guitarist. The albums Power and In The Spirit of Things were released while he was a member of the band. Although he is now a member of the Flying Colors supergroup, Morse claims that when he was with Deep Purple, his bandmates forced him to ride in a separate vehicle because he would constantly play guitar as they went from gig to gig.

Steve Morse

Steve Morse

Peter Green

Peter Green was a co-founder of Fleetwood Mac and was born in London, England. Mr. John Mayall, the British blues godfather, hired him in 1965, a man who found more than a few guitarists on this list, and his career took off. In reality, the guitarist in John Mayall’s band who was replaced by Peter Green was none other than Eric Clapton, who, as you might expect, was further down the list.

Peter Green

Peter Green

Robin Trower

Trower grew up in the Essex town of Southend-on-Sea. He was regarded as one of the best guitar players of his time due to his Jimi Hendrix-like skills and alleged ability to bend notes better than any other player alive. However, when he was a member of the famous group Procol Harum in the 1960s, his guitar playing became even more popular. The album Bridge of Sighs, released in 1974, is widely regarded as Trower’s pinnacle achievement. In the 1980s, Trower formed a band with Jack Bruce, the bassist for Cream.

Robin Trower

Robin Trower

Tom Morello

Tom Morello was born and raised in Libertyville, Illinois. Before becoming a rock god, he attended Harvard University and received a BA in Social Studies. In the 1990s, Morello met Zack de la Rocha. Rage Against the Machine, one of the most successful and influential rock bands of the 1990s, was formed by them. Rage Against the Machine performed outside the Staples Center Convention Center in Los Angeles in 2000, which was hosting the Democratic National Convention. As the show progressed, the audience became increasingly enraged and violent, eventually resorting to throwing rocks at one point.

Tom Morello

Tom Morello

Paul Gilbert

Gilbert was born and raised in Carbondale, Illinois. In fast guitar playing, he is best known for his speed and stylistic versatility. Gilbert was tapped to fill in as a guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, the legendary metal monster when he was just 15 years old in the early 1980s. At the time, Ozzy’s manager and producer were adamant about not bringing in a child to play guitar for a man who had previously led Black Sabbath. It wasn’t over, though, until Ozzy’s producer heard Gilbert perform. Gilbert relocated across the country and joined the band soon after. Most of the guitarists in this list can’t play the same way Gilbert does.

Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert

Malcolm Young

Malcolm Young was born in Sydney, Australia, and at the age of 20, he and his brother Angus co-founded Australia’s biggest rock band, AC/DC. Malcolm continued to play rhythm guitar while Angus took the lead. According to legend, they chose the name AC/DC after seeing the letters on the top of their older sister Margaret’s sewing machine. Malcolm and his band were touring Europe with Black Sabbath by the late 1970s. It was said that they didn’t get along with Black Sabbath very well. According to one story, when things got heated, Sabbath guitarist Geezer Butler pulled out a knife on Malcolm.

Malcolm Young

Malcolm Young

George Harrison

Another great artist who died ahead of his time. This founding member of the Beatles died in 2001 at the age of 58 from throat cancer, which he attributed to years of smoking. Harrison was the first Billboard Century Award winner in 1992. It marked Harrison’s “critical role in laying the groundwork for the modern concept of world music.”

George Harrison

George Harrison

Michael Schenker

Born in the small town of Sarstedt, West Germany, in January 1955 was legendary guitarist Michael Schenker. He was named “a legendary figure in the history of metal guitar.” The German guitarist was also a founding member of the Scorpions, a rock band. In the mid-’70s, he and his brother, Rudolf Schenker, formed the UFO band. Overall, Schenker has left and rejoined the UFO band at least three times and has written a song after each reunion.

Michael Schenker

Michael Schenker

Duane Allman

Howard Duane Allman was the founder and leader of the Allman Brothers Band, a band that allowed him to play with his brother, Gregg Allman. Duane was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash that smashed his internal organs. He was only 24 years old when he died. He was well-known for his expressive slide guitar playing and improvisational ability on the instrument. “Live at the Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers is widely regarded as one of the best live rock albums ever recorded.

Duane Allman

Duane Allman

Paul Kossoff

Paul Kossoff was a guitarist who was in high demand because of his uncanny timing and complex ability to solo. He was also a member of the famous band “Free.” Unfortunately, Kossoff began using drugs when he was 15 years old. He died of a pulmonary embolism on a flight from Los Angeles to New York on March 19, 1976. He was only 25 years old when he passed away.

Paul Kossoff

Paul Kossoff

Keith Richards

“The co-founder of the Rolling Stones, along with his partner Mick Jagger, is Keith Richards, arguably the best rhythm player in history, and one-half of the “Glimmer Twins.” In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine referred to Richards as the creator of “rock’s greatest single body of riffs” on guitar. Richards was also the inspiration for Johnny Depp’s character, Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. This is what sets him apart from everyone else you’ve met.

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

Billy Gibbons

Billy Gibbons, 70, is the lead guitarist and lead singer of ZZ Top if his beard didn’t give it away. Early in his career, Gibbons founded The Moving Sidewalks, which served as an opening act for The Jimi Hendrix Experience, allowing him to become close friends with Jimi. Billy Gibbons’ genius is no doubt responsible for ZZ Top’s Texas blues boogie sound, which is now selling out concerts all over the world.

Billy Gibbons

Billy Gibbons

Joe Bonamassa

Here’s why Joe is on this list. Joe Bonamassa famously opened for B.B. King when he was just 12 years old. B.B. King said that when he first started playing, the audience fell silent for a moment as they realized it was the child who was making those sounds. However, once the truth was revealed, the audience went insane, and Bonamassa has been performing in front of large crowds ever since.

Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa

Mick Taylor

Mick Taylor, another product of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers school of producing rock guitar gods, was the blues virtuoso Mayhall had been looking for. Taylor continued to perform with The Rolling Stones until 1974, demonstrating that he was a mix of Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. Slash, the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, has stated that Taylor had the most influence on him as an artist.

Mick Taylor

Mick Taylor

Dave Mustaine

Dave Mustaine was Metallica’s first lead guitarist. He was born in the city of La Mesa, California. Mustaine was fired from Metallica on April 11, 1983, due to his alcoholism, substance addiction, violence, and feuds with founding members James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. Despite this, he was able to achieve great success in his career as a result of the band he founded, “Megadeth.” He is known in his band for both singing and playing fast, amazing lead lines. Isn’t it incredible?!

Dave Mustaine

Dave Mustaine

James Hetfield

Speaking of James Hetfield, here he is! Hetfield is a guitar monster who hails from Downey, California. Hetfield is credited with inventing the sound of’ “speed metal,” as well as instilling in the music industry an unrivaled sense of rage. Hetfield went to rehab for substance abuse in 2001. He’s been residing in Vail, Colorado, since then.

James Hetfield

James Hetfield

Pete Townshend

Townshend co-founded The Who, one of the most influential rock bands of all time. He wrote in his biography about growing up in London shortly after WWII, “I wasn’t trying to play beautiful music. I was confronting my audience with the awful, visceral sound of what we all knew was the single absolute of our frail existence—one day an airplane would carry the bomb that would destroy us all in a flash. It could happen at any time.”

Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend

Kirk Hammett

Kirk Hammett was only 16 years old when Metallica recruited him to be a replacement for Dave Mustaine, Metallica’s previous guitarist. After frontman James Hetfield approached Hammett, his parents put him on a plane to New York to meet with the band. When the kid walked into the venue, the band was not impressed, but when he nailed the solo for the hit “Seek and Destroy,” they hired him on the spot.

Kirk Hammett

Kirk Hammett

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry was a pioneer of Rock and Roll, born in 1926. He died at the age of 90 in 2017. “Berry contributed three things to rock music: an irresistible swagger, a focus on the guitar riff as the primary melodic element, and an emphasis on songwriting as storytelling.” Joe Lynch wrote. There is no doubt that today’s rock music would not be what it is today if it weren’t for Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

Steve Howe

Howe is the lead guitarist for the progressive rock band Yes. After leaving The Velvet Underground, Howe was the lead guitarist on Lou Reed’s first solo album, further cementing his reputation. Howe had a successful solo career after leaving Yes. He was enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Steve Howe

Steve Howe

Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher was a blues and rock star who was born in Ireland. His albums have sold more than 30 million copies around the world. Gallagher died tragically on June 14, 1995, at the age of 47, from a failing liver caused by alcohol, narcotics, and an MRSA infection. Because of how well he plays the blues, he has influenced a lot of blues guitarists.

Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher

Zakk Wylde

Zakk Wylde began his musical career as a member and lead guitarist of the small band Stone Henge. He eventually auditioned for and was hired as Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist, a position he held for a long time. He’s also a member of the Black Label Society heavy metal band, where he sings lead. Wylde is well-known due to his undeniable stage presence. Ozzy used to say that it was difficult to have the crowd’s attention to him whenever Wylde was on stage.

Zakk Wylde

Zakk Wylde

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa, who died of lung cancer in 1993, was a master of nonconforming free-form improvisation. Zappa was a prolific artist, releasing more than 60 albums with his band, Mothers of Invention, and as a solo artist. Zappa is a self-taught guitarist who is regarded as one of the most influential guitarists of the new era. In his later years, Zappa led orchestras and recorded jazz and classical music albums.

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa

Yngwie Malmsteen

Lars Johan Yngve Lannerbäck, better known as Yngwie Malmsteen, was born in 1963 and rose to fame in the 1980s for his neoclassical metal style. With 20 studio albums under his belt, Yngwie Malmsteen remains one of the most prolific artists working today. In 2018, he signed with Mascot Records and is showing no signs of slowing down!

Yngwie Malmsteen

Yngwie Malmsteen

John Petrucci

John Petrucci, who was born in 1967, is best known for his work with Dream Theater, of which he was a founding member. Every “Top Guitarist” essay and post in magazines and on the internet includes Petrucci’s name. He is best known for his ability to incorporate classical and jazz phrasings into rock chord progressions, resulting in a sound that is unlike anything else in the rock world today.

John Petrucci

John Petrucci

Prince

You might not think of the late musician Prince as a shredder, but his guitar playing could make anyone’s jaw drop. Prince was known for his ability to master a variety of musical styles, including disco, punk, R&B, new wave, soul, pop, and psychedelic. Prince is one of the best-selling musicians of all time, with more than 130 million albums sold by his adoring fans.

Prince

Prince

Synyster Gates

Synyster Gates is the lead guitarist for the band Avenged Sevenfold. Total Guitar named him the Best Metal Guitarist in the World in 2016 and 2017. He’s a big jazz fan, and Django Reinhardt, the legendary gypsy guitarist, is one of his biggest influences. He also mentions Danny Elfman, the frontman for Oingo Boingo, as someone he admires. His brother-in-law, M. Shadow, is the lead singer of Avenged Sevenfold.

Synyster Gates

Synyster Gates

Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana was born in the Mexican state of Jalisco. He walked onto the Woodstock stage, virtually unknown, and blew the audience away. His band Santana rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, pioneering a fusion of rock and roll and Latin American jazz. He won a Grammy, a Billboard Century Award, and numerous other accolades.

Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana

Angus Young

Angus Young is another member of AC/DC. His active appearances, schoolboy-uniform outfits, and take on Chuck Berry’s duckwalk have made him famous. Young is 65 years old, and his playing style is heavily influenced by blues, power chords, and Scottish folk music. His ability to play one-handed arpeggios is well-known in his solos!

Angus Young

Angus Young

Dimebag Darrell

Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell has never had formal guitar lessons, but his style of playing is legendary. He made use of the major third in his riffs and leads, adding dissonance to his minor key tonalities. He also had unbelievable picking ability but preferred legato phrasing personally. On December 8, 2004, during a Damageplan concert at the Alrosa nightclub in Ohio, something terrible happened. A deranged fan jumped onto the stage during the first set and shot Dimebag Darrell several times. The guitar legend was pronounced dead on the scene. He was only 38 years old when he died.

Dimebag Darrell

Dimebag Darrell

B.B. King

B.B. King, who was born in 1925, was the first to introduce a sophisticated guitar solo style to the world. He pioneered new techniques for electric blues by using string bending and vibrato. B.B. (short for Blues Boy) was the undisputed “King” of the blues guitar. He was a lifetime friend of the blues and one of the greats of all time. King died in 2015 while sleeping at the age of 89.

B.B. King

B.B. King

Mark Knopfler

Mark Knopfler’s younger brother, David Knopfler, is a co-founder of the rock band Dire Straits. He is a four-time Grammy winner, a three-time University of Music Honorary Doctor of Music, and a finger-style guitarist. Sultans of Swing is an absolute masterwork of guitar showmanship from Dire Strait’s first album.

Mark Knopfler

Mark Knopfler

Randy Rhoads

Randy Rhoads, who played with Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne, was a major influence on neoclassical metal. He is credited as an influence by hundreds of well-known guitarists. He died tragically in 1982 while on tour with Ozzy Osbourne at the age of 25. A few members of the band, including Rhoads, were flying in a single-engine plane when it collided with the top of the tour bus, spiraled out of control, and killed everyone on board.

Randy Rhoads

Randy Rhoads

Gary Moore

Gary Moore, another former member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, has been dubbed a true virtuoso. He had success in several bands and as a solo artist. He had eleven solo Top 40 hits in the UK as a recording artist. In 1993, he collaborated on an album with former Cream members Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Moore died of a heart attack in his sleep in 2011 at the age of 58.

Gary Moore

Gary Moore

Tony Iommi

Tony Iommi is a founding member of Black Sabbath. He changed his playing style after an accident in a factory where he worked as a teenager. He lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand. He went on to become one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time.

Tony Iommi

Tony Iommi

Joe Satriani

Did you know that Joe Satriani has been nominated for a Grammy 15 times? Satriani made a living as a guitar instructor before becoming a rock god, even teaching a young guitarist named Steve Vai at one point. His breakout album, Surfing With the Alien, which features the iconic illustration of Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer on the cover, cemented his reputation as one of the best instrumental rock guitarists of all time.

Joe Satriani

Joe Satriani

Jeff Beck

It’s difficult to argue with guitarists who played with The Yardbirds. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page all used to be members of the Yardbirds. Jeff Beck is a true guitar genius whose work spans blues rock, hard rock, and electronica, among other genres. He is now 75 years old and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s been seen playing with Johnny Depp at live shows recently.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Steve Vai

Steve Vai was born in Carls Place, New York, in 1960. He began his music career at the age of 18 by transcribing a complicated Frank Zappa song on notebook paper and submitting it to the artist. After reading the page, Zappa mailed a plane to Vai, who flew a few to Los Angeles and joined the band. Vai is another virtuoso who has been described as a very individualistic player.

Steve Vai

Steve Vai

Ritchie Blackmore

Ritchie Blackmore is a co-founder of Deep Purple and a highly accomplished guitarist and composer. Single guitar notes are hard-punched, combining his free-flowing jamming style with softer, almost pipe organ sounds to create a sound that hasn’t been duplicated. He is renowned for his fantastic riffs and classically inspired solos, and he is now 75 years old.

Ritchie Blackmore

Ritchie Blackmore

Slash

Slash is Guns N’ Roses’ lead guitarist. He has received critical acclaim for his guitar playing since he began his career in 1981. He shared the stage with some of the world’s best guitarists, including Lenny Kravitz, who described him as probably the best guitarist he’d ever played with.  Slash later went on to form Velvet Revolver, a supergroup band.

Slash

Slash

Alex Lifeson

Alex Lifeson is the guitarist for Rush, a progressive rock band from Canada. He plays the mandola, bouzouki, and mandolin, as well as electric and acoustic instruments. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Lifeson, who is now 67, enjoys being a painter, a restaurant owner, and a licensed pilot.

Alex Lifeson

Alex Lifeson

Brian May

Brian Might also is the lead guitarist and one of the founding members of the legendary band, Queen. May is known for his soaring guitar solos and ability to combine rock and roll and classical music styles. Regardless of which band he’s in at the time, his distinct voice is instantly recognizable. Queen as a band was put on hold for almost a decade after Freddie Mercury’s death. On the other hand, Brian May has resurfaced since then, bringing Queen back to the forefront of rock once more.

Brian May

Brian May

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Vaughan was a key figure in the revival of the blues in the 1980s. David Bowie, who chose Vaughan to play guitar on his new album Lets Dance in the mid-’80s, recalled his lightning-fast fingerpicking. Vaughn was an instant hit, and opening acts included The Stray Cats and Eric Clapton. He died in a helicopter accident in 1990, at the age of 35. He is still remembered as a legendary guitar player.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is God. -Or at least that’s what the graffiti scrawled on London houses once declared. Eric Clapton, a member of The Yardbirds, Cream, Derek and The Dominos, is the first three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Clapton has won 18 Grammy Awards and has sold over 100 million albums worldwide.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

David Gilmour

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour is no doubt an important member of the band. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Pink Floyd took their transformative sound from their roots as a blues/folk band and turned it into an acid rock genre that no other band could match. The albums Dark Side of the Moon, and The Wall, still sell millions of copies each year as new fans of the band emerge.

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

Eddie Van Halen

The founder of hard rock band Van Halen is an absolute beast on the guitar. Edward Van Halen and his brother Alex were discovered by Gene Simmons of Kiss and went on to form one of the most successful rock bands of all time, fronted by David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. Van Halen was voted number one on Guitar World magazine’s list of the greatest guitarists of all time in 2012. Unfortunately, he passed away on October 6, 2020.

Eddie Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen

Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page is the founder of the rock band Led Zeppelin. But guess what, though? He was in The Yardbirds too (as were Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck). As a twenty-year-old in the 1960s, he was among the most sought-after session guitarists in Britain. Now 77, Page was inducted twice into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Page

Jimmy Page

ADVERTISEMENT