Meet the 23 Best Guitarists of All Time

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By Guitar Pick Reviews

Let’s be frank. Who hasn’t dreamed of playing in a sold-out Madison Square Garden at the top of your game? Becoming one of the best guitarists of all time requires a lot of work, dedication, and of course, talent. It’s not just playing the most complex riff or shredding the guitar faster than anyone else. It’s to play the right note at the right time and, above all else, to serve the song.

Here is a list of my personal views of who are the best guitar players in the world. Let’s see how many of them you know, and please share with me in the comments who you think I should add.

The Best Guitarists of All Time

For this list, I gathered the guitarists that I consider the best of all time. I didn’t rank them, and the order in which they appear has no meaning.

The Edge

The Edge was born as David Howell Evans on August 8th, 1961, in Barking, Essex, England. He became famous as U2’s lead guitar player. He comes from a musical family. In fact, his older brother was also with him in the band that later became U2, but left it to join another band.

His playing style is simple and almost atmospheric. He tends to use lush delays and reverbs and a blue (heavy 1.1mm thick) Herdim pick held sideways.

In addition to being the guitarist and solo master of U2, the Edge has worked with artists like B B King (also featured on this list), Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jay-Z, Johnny Cash, Ronnie Wood, Rihana, and Tine Turner.

The Edge, one of the best guitarists of all time and Bono performing live
The Edge (left), one of the best guitarists of all time, and Bono (right) performing live

George Harisson

George Harrison was born on February 25th, 1943, in Liverpool, England. He is most known for being a part of the Beatles, often referred to as the quiet Beatle. He originally auditioned for the Quarrymen, a band started by John Lennon, that later became the Beatles, when he had just turned 15.

Check Berry and Chet Atkins influenced George’s earlier musical style. As years went by, he was deeply influenced by Indian music. In 1966, Ravi Shankar accepted him as his sitar student, a thing that influenced his music style tremendously.

From left to right: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Star, and John Lennon in the cover of the Beatles album: Abbey Road
From left to right: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Star, and John Lennon on the cover of the Beatles album: Abbey Road

Jimi Hendrix 

Jimi was born Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in Seattle. He has gained fame through his extravagant, virtuoso, guitar playing as an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. He was extremely important for guitar music because of the new groundbreaking chords he used. One of the first to use feedback as an effect (screeching noise you get by holding your guitar close to the amplifier). His music can be described as a combination of rock and roll, soul, and psychedelic with blues influences.

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A graffiti of Jimi Hendrix in San Francisco
A graffiti of Jimi Hendrix in San Francisco

Eric Clapton 

British guitarist Eric Patrick Clapton was born on March 30th, 1945. He has become known by playing in bands such as The Yardbirds and Cream. With his rendition of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff he was able to interest the general public in Reggae music. Among else, his best known songs include Layla and Tears in Heaven. One of his most famous albums is Unplugged, on which he only plays acoustic. 

In 2004, Clapton donated his most famous guitar, Blackie, to charity. The guitar was bought for $959,500.

Eric Clapton, one of the best guitarists of all time, performing live in Detroit in October 2022
Eric Clapton, one of the best guitarists of all time, performing live in Detroit in October 2022

Joe Satriani 

Inspired by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Joe started playing guitar at the age of 14. Satriani decided to teach guitar for a number of years. Two of his best known students were no others than Steve Vai and Kirk Hemmet. His professional career took off after Steve Vai became well known. Vai has mentioned him as his biggest inspiration many times. Satriani’s first proper album was Not of This Earth.  

Joe Satriani performs during a concert in Shanghai, China in 2017
Joe Satriani performs during a concert in Shanghai, China in 2017

Eddie van Halen 

Edward Lodewijk van Halen is a Dutch-American guitarist who has become famous for being the guitarist and founder of the rock band Van Halen. Eddie was born January 26th 1955, and is often referred to as “EVH”. He played the guitar solo in Michael Jackson’s Beat It. 

Eddie Van Halen at the New Haven Coliseum

Brian May 

British guitarist Brian May was born July 19th 1947, and is best known as the guitarist of the legendary rock band Queen. Together with Freddie Mercury, they wrote most of the songs for the band. Inspiration mainly came from The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. 

The most famous songs are, among else, We Will Rock You, I Want it All, and Who Wants to Live Forever. 

In addition to being one of the most appreciated guitar players in the world, Brian May also has a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

Brian May, one of the world's most appreciated guitar players, performs in Belarus in 2014
Brian May, one of the world’s most appreciated guitar players, performs in Belarus in 2014

Carlos Santana

American guitarist, Carlos “Devadip” Humberto Santana Barragán, also proves that 1947 was a good year for the guitar world. He became famous with his band, Santana, after playing in Woodstock. His unique style is a special hybrid between rock’n’roll, blues, and Latin jazz. Even though today, hybrids are fairly common, It was very innovative in the late 60 and early 70s.

He is responsible for some of the most famous songs in history, including: One of his best-known songs is Samba Pa Ti, Oye Como Va, and Maria Maria. 

Carlos Santana performing live at the North Sea Jazz music festival
Carlos Santana performing live at the North Sea Jazz music festival

B.B. King 

Riley Ben King was born in Itta Bena on September 16th, 1925. Viewed by many as the greatest blues guitarist of all time. One of his most successful albums is Live at the Regal. His role models and sources of inspiration were artists like Lonnie Johnson, Django Reinhardt, and T-Bone Walker. He developed his talents by singing gospel while going to church.

B. B King, the legendary blues guitarist is considered by many as one of the best guitar players of all time
B. B King, the legendary blues guitarist is considered by many as one of the best guitar players of all time

Mark Knopfler 

Born August 12th, 1949, in Glasgow, Mark Freuder Knopfler reached fame as front man and guitarist of Dire Straits. Their debut album Dire Straits was an instant success, with their biggest hit Sultans of Swing. In 1985 they release the album Brothers in Arms, which set a record in the Dutch Album Top 100 list. Knopfler has also written songs for many different artists. One of the most famous examples is Private Dancer, which he wrote for Tina Turner. 

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Mark Knopfler, one of the best and most recognizable guitarists of all times performs in Prague.
Mark Knopfler, one of the best and most recognizable guitarists of all time performs in Prague.

David Gilmour 

David Jon Gilmour began with Pink Floyd in 1967. A year later, he became the lead guitarist and vocalist when Syd Barrett left the band. In 1985 Gilmour became the frontman after Roger Waters left. Pink Floyd has produced many legendary albums which make the hearts of many guitarists beat faster. The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and The Wall are the best known albums. 

David Gilmour Performing. image credit: jikatu
David Gilmour Performing. image credit: jikatu

Joe Bonamassa 

The blues and rock guitarist Joseph Bonamassa was born in Utica on May 8th, 1977. His father was a guitar trader. This sparked his interest in guitars. Bonamassa was inspired by the music of Eric Clapton at a very young age. At the age of 11, he gave his first concert together with B.B. King. In 2000 he released his first album, A New Day Yesterday.

Joe Bonamassa
Joe Bonamassa

Keith Richards 

The co-founder of The Rolling Stones was born on December 18th, 1943. One of his great inspirations was Elvis Presley. Among else, he wrote Rolling Stones hits such as Satisfaction, Angie, and Paint it Black. Richards made his film debut in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, where he plays the father of Jack Sparrow. Sparrow actor Johnny Depp largely based the character on Richards. 

The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards performs in China in 2014
The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards performs in China in 2014

Slash 

Saul Hudson? Doesn’t ring a bell! Slash? Yes! The British-American lead guitarist of Guns N’ Roses. Born in 1965, Slash was inspired by Cream and Led Zeppelin. In 2010 he released his first solo album, Slash. He also played alongside many famous musicians, such as Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Rihanna, and Blackstreet. Slash also has an extensive line of signature guitar equipment, among else the Marshall AFD100 and multiple guitar pedals. Manufacturers respond to the overwhelming demand among guitarists for the characteristic Slash sound.

Guns N' Roses' Slash is considered by many as one of the best guitarists of all time
Guns N’ Roses’ Slash is considered by many as one of the best guitarists of all time

Chet Atkins 

Chester Burton Atkins was born on June 20th, 1924, in Tennessee. Atkins is viewed as one of the most influential producers and guitarists when it comes to the Nashville sound. He produced records for Elvis Presley, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves, Jerry Reed, and Waylon Jennings.

Chet Atkins

Bruce Springsteen 

Guitarist from Long Branch, New Jersey, was born on September 23rd, 1949. His full name is Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen. The Boss, as called by many, gained fame with his third album, Born to Run. Famous Springsteen songs include Glory Days, I’m on Fire, Born in the U.S.A., Streets of Philadelphia, Dancing in the Dark, and The River. 

34 albums and still counting put a lot of music to Springsteen’s name, and with his mega concerts, tens of thousands of people enjoy his music. On many occasions, his podium is filled with ten or more musicians.

Bruce Springsteen is known for his energetic performances
Bruce Springsteen is known for his energetic performances

Billy Gibbons 

Born in 1949, American singer Billy Gibbons is well known for being the frontman and guitarist of ZZ Top. He began playing guitar after he received a Gibson guitar amp for his thirteenth birthday. In 2015 he released his first solo album, named Perfectamundo.  

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Billy Gibbons
Billy Gibbons

Jeff Beck 

Jeff Beck was born in England in 1944. He took the spot of Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds (predecessor of Led Zeppelin) after the latter left the band. In 1967 Beck formed his own Jeff Beck group, with Rod Stewart as a singer. Even with Stewart present as singer, Beck sang one the first singles, Hi Ho Silver Lining.

Jimmy Page

James Patrick Page (1944) reached fame as guitarist of The Yardbirds. 

In 1968 The Yardbirds broke up and Led Zeppelin was formed. In 2009 a documentary was made about Jimmy Page and that era named It Might Get Loud

Stevie Ray Vaughan

The American blues singer and guitarist from Dallas was inspired by his brother at a young age. Vaughan performed during the Montreux Blues Festival in 1982. There, no other than David Bowie spotted him. Bowie was impressed in such a way that he invited Vaughan to collaborate on his Let’s Dance album. Vaughan recorded his first album in the studio of Jackson Brown, with his band Double Trouble

John Petrucci

John Petrucci is the lead guitarist and a founding member of Dream Theater. He is extremely technical, and even though I’m not a big fan of the genre, I love what he does. He is the only guitar player that has four different signature picks with Dunlop.

John Petrucci is a modern guitar god, and most certainly one of the best guitarists of all time
John Petrucci is a modern guitar god, and most certainly one of the best guitarists of all time

Randy Rhoads 

Randall Williams Rhoads was born on December 6th, 1956. Being a heavy metal guitarist he played with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot. Rhoads was a big influence for the neo-classic metal music. In fact, he studied classic guitar. Bringing the two styles together brought us some masterful music. 

Richie Blackmore 

Richard Hugh Blackmore is an English guitarist and songwriter. He was one of the founders of Deep Purple in 1968. Later bands of Blackmore were Rainbow and Blackmore’s Night. Blackmore started playing the guitar at the age of 11. He got the guitar from his father, with the condition he learned how to properly play it. That’s why he took a year of lessons on the classic guitar. His inspiration was Tommy Steele. Fender has released a signature electric guitar under Blackmore’s name, characterised by the scalloped frets.

Kurt Cobain 

Lead singer and guitarist for Nirvana, Kurt Donald Cobain (February 20th, 1967). Their debut album was released in 1989, named Bleach. After releasing their second album, Nevermind, in 1991 they reached fame with the hit Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Many think that Cubain is considered one of the best guitarists of all time because of his death, but I think his playing style served the songs he released very well, without being flashy, and I appreciate him for that.

Kurt Cobain of the front cover of the Rolling Stone magazing in Germany
Kurt Cobain of the front cover of the Rolling Stone magazine in Germany

Finishing Thoughts

There are obviously tons of talented guitar players everywhere, and here I only included the players that I consider the best guitarists of all time.

What would you change in my list? Post your thoughts in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Meet the 23 Best Guitarists of All Time”

  1. Johnny Hiland! I can’t believe he’s always ignored on all these best guitar players lists. Just listen to Bluesberry Jam and Call Me the Breeze

    Reply

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