As soon as you decide to take up the guitar, famous names instantly pop up in your mind.
For each genre, whether you like classical music, folk, rock, hard rock or funk, there’ll always be guitarists figuring amongst the greatest who have helped propel or popularize it.
We can cite, unsorted: Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Django Reinhardt, Slash, Satriani, Jimmy Page, BB King and so many others.
Making a top ten of the best guitarists on the planet is no small matter and according to your tastes and especially to the style of music you listen to you won’t always agree with this ranking. But this top 10 is a helpful basis and influence for those who wish to learn the guitar.
It’s a controversial subject because everyone has his favorite musician(s) and the criteria for deciding which guitarists belong on the pantheon are extremely diverse. For some, it’s necessary to take into account only the technical aspects, for others it’s more a question of emotion, of feeling. Or it’s the velocity of their game, or simply the success met during their lifetime.
In short, they’re many reasons that make it possible to classify a number of renowned guitarists.
A very good guitarist is above all a musician that “plays” music; he isn’t like a high-level athlete (although in some ways the preparation and training hold certain similarities) who must achieve technical prowess.
The criteria of this top 10 best guitarists on the planet focuses on the guitarist’s musicality, that is to say the art and ways to put sounds in a certain order, at the right moment and for the proper length of time, so to express an emotion, a feeling, an idea.
To be an excellent musician is to be able to create for those who listen emotions, chills, an energy that can not be found anywhere else. These guitarists are unanimously praised by guitar teachers.
And who wouldn’t dream of having a guitar lesson given by Jimmy Hendrix.
Skimming over almost a century of music, here are the 10 best guitarists the world ever saw.
This classification is subjective => Leave the common beliefs on guitars behind before reading this article!
Jimmy Hendrix is the best guitarist in history.
Whether you’re looking for feeling or technical skills, Jimi Hendrix is now considered the undisputed guitar master. If life was a video game, he’d be the end boss.
A self-taught genius, experimentalist, incredible soloist, sensational melodist, he practically invented the world of rock and blues, inspiring till today big names as well as the thousands of budding guitarists picking up “Voodoo Child”.
He also brought left-handers to a new dimension by showing them they could master a musical instrument and make it into something amazing. The same way that the “false-footed” boxer Manny Pacquiao achieved incredible things in the ring, a left-handed gifted guitarist like Jimmy Hendrix pushed guitar handling to its highest level.
For those who still wonder how to play guitar when you’re left-handed, go and see how the master does it.
He’s part of the famous Club27, which includes musicians who died at the age of 27 such as Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones.
Nicknamed in all humility “God” by his fans, Eric Clapton is now the most famous rock and blues guitarist still active after nearly 50 years.
He evolves at the borders of rock and blues.
He’s a great soloist and a renowned melodist who can play just about anything.
Eric Clapton, one of the greatest guitar soloist!
Also known as “Slow Hand”, he’s a virtuoso in many registers.
Major titles such as “Cocaine” or “I shot the Sheriff” brought him to a worldwide success allowing him into the pantheon of guitar-heroes of our time.
His talent is highlighted during solos (one thinks of his album “Unplugged” recorded on MTV), in beautiful collaborations with other artists such as Phil Collins or Mick Jones and in his moments in bands (The Yardbirds and The Cream).
He’s also the idol of many students who take guitar lessons.
Founder and leader of the famous Led Zeppelin band, he’s naturally 3rd on the podium of this top 10 of the world’s best guitarists.
Known as “the Wizard”, he’s like no other, playing his famous Gibson with a violin bow, alternating blues and rock registers with delight and natural.
A Guitar god, a myth : Jimmy Page
He wrote with Robert Plant several pieces that entered rock mythology like “Stairway to Heaven” (who didn’t try at least once to play the famous intro or final solo?), “Black Dog”, “Whole Lotta Love” or “Since I’ve been lovin’ you”.
An unmissable guitarist.
With only 29 songs, this genius of the blues guitar made a huge impact on both blues and rock.
Legend has it that he sold his soul to the devil himself against such a talent: while many bluesmen mocked him for his incompetence on the guitar, he would have met a man that took his guitar, tuned it a certain way and played a few notes to show him the path.
A legend worthy of his position in the pantheon of best guitarists.
His death is equally mysterious. It fueled the legend of this extraordinary man but one thing is for sure: even if we have just a few bits from him, the young Robert Johnson suddenly nicknamed “The Genius” revolutionized the world of blues and is recognized by all.
He’s a rock’n’roll pioneer.
Altogether guitarist, singer, composer, he was a real source of inspiration for other artists like Elvis “The King” Priesley.
He revolutionized music by brilliantly combining two different guitar styles yearning to join each other: blues and country.
Chuck Berry playing the guitar
Rock was thus born and it isn’t his most famous piece “Johnny B. Goode” that will have us say it otherwise.
He’s the pioneer of music as we know it today and definitely deserves his place amongst the 10 top guitarists.
Introducing Word Music, he inspired many artists around the world.
Known as “The Pope”, he played from rock to Latin music – a genius guitarist who held the magic formula of skillfully handling rock, blues, samba and percussion and other guitar styles.
The way Santana plays his guitar is instantly recognizable.
Expert in the art making the strings sing, he’s an artist who mastered the art while leaving a great place for discovery. Indeed, far from going for the little ditty, he calls on artists who are far from being “mainstream” and give color to this Mexican musician’s songs.
His success is also due to the messages he conveys: those of peace, compassion, understanding, joy.
Listen to “Europa” or “Smooth” and you’ll immediately recognize the typical lyrical game, characteristic warm and saturated sounds.
His place amongst the top 10 can surprise. However he who was known as “The Lord of the Blues” was an outstanding guitarist who popularized the use of bottleneck.
Muddy Waters, the BottleNeck teacher
His total control over this small accessory and his virtuosity in the blues enabled him to compose the great tracks of blues which became classics ‑ such as “Hoochie Coochie Man” or “Rollin Stone”.
He’s often considered as one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time along with Willie Dixon, Johnny Lee Hooker or BB King.
BB (for Blues Boys) King is the New Orleans blues master. He’s a legend in the guitar history!
Although less technically advanced than Stevie Ray Vaughan, he’s the father of many great hits (“Sweet Little Angel”, “Sweet Sixteen”), performing his songs with a voice rich with emotions and his typical vibrato.
A Groovy Blues guitarist!
Thanks to his inimitable touch giving his guitar a true personality, BB King influenced the great names of the guitar after him like Clapton or Hendrix.
By working from a single note, he can tell a story that reaches the deepest roots of the human soul.
Leader of The Rolling Stones with Mick Jagger, he stays one of the most talented guitarists in the world of rock music.
Also known to be a seducer!
Known as “The Human Riff”, he isn’t distinguished by his virtuosity but by his extreme simplicity. According to him it’s better to have “2 notes that kill rather than worthless virtuosity”.
Lets Rock’n’Roll with the world reknown Keith Richards!
His obsession with sound and his very personal technique of playing a 5-string open tuned guitar (in G) places him amongst the greatest rhythm guitarists of all time.
He wrote and composed rock hits such as “Jumpin Jack Flash”, “Satisfaction” or “Paint it black”.
For many musicians, there’s a before and an after Van Halen.
Why? A single 1’42 piece can change the way we play the guitar – that was “Eruption”.
If you want to learn the electric guitar, he’s obviously the model to follow.
How is it believable that only one man can play this? and yet there’s only him, his 10 fingers and his incredible touch on the neck.
Nicknamed “Superman” one quickly understands why there isn’t one single guitar fan that isn’t speechless before such a piece, such mastery over the instrument and such virtuosity.
All these guitarists quickly understood the different benefits of the guitar.
Many of you are reacted to this article.
As a bonus we’re following your suggestions to enhance our presentation of the world’s best guitarists.
From Robert Plant, Zeppelin, Beck to Elvis: Who are the guitar legends according to you?
Do you agree with the ranking of the 100 best guitarists in the Rolling Stone Magazine?
This guitarist had a decisive influence over Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
From Blues rock to Funk: an electric guitarist!
He was part of the Muddy Waters’ band and signed his first contracts at Chess Records.
Originally from Baton Rouge, he combined traditional roots and great modernism.
He made a huge impression with his funk fracking in Howlin Wolf, Killing Floor and Wang Dang Doodle.
Kirk Lee Hammett has been since 1983 the guitarist and composer of the heavy metal band Metallica.
Exodus was a precursor metal trash band.
In 2003 Hammett ranked 11th on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
In 2009 he ranked number 15 in the book of Joel McIver: 100 greatest guitarists in Metal.
Thomas Baptiste “Tom” Morello (1964) is an American musician, singer-songwriter and political activist. He’s best known for playing for the Rage Against the Machine band, then with Audioslave.
Morello was also a touring musician with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. He’s known for his acoustic solo called The Night Watcher, and Street Sweeper Social Club.
Introducing metal rap, he explored the guitar’s musical potential; in mixology and hip hop.
Robert William Gary Moore was born on April 4, 1952 in Northern Ireland.
He grew up in eastern Belfast and left the family home and his 4 siblings when he was very young.
He then moved to Dublin where he met his personal mentor: Peter Green from Fleetwood Mac.
In the following years he joined Skid Row, then Thin Lizzy in 1974, and finally Colosseum II with whom he played until 1977/78.
After 1979 Gary devoted himself entirely to his solo career, releasing a number of very successful albums, including “Still Got The Blues” (1990), which became one of his fans favorites. He remained active until his early death in February 2011.
It’s hard to put into perspective how Gary Moore changed things with “Still Got The Blues”.
It’s his most popular hit not only because it’s a beautiful song but because his guitar solos feature his melodic blues (Gary Moore’s signature).
Gary Moore has a powerful playing style that every guitarist should study regardless of the style of music they play.
And as @Fabrice correctly explains:
“It’s the perfect combination of feeling, musicality, sense of melody, emotion, perfect technique, note-keeping, with a very wide variety of sounds. But it’s rarely a pure demonstration of technical skills and rapidity, the reserve of power is always underlying and that is even more impressive. Music and Melody always override”.
Saul Hudson aka Slash is one of the most talented guitarists of his generation. He’s part of Guns N ‘Roses – if you don’t know them yet, you’ll quickly discover them in your guitar lesson!
He was nominated in the Times magazine’s top 10 guitarists in 2009, while the Rolling Stone magazine only gave him the 65th place on their top 100 of the greatest guitarists of all time…
To most people he mostly represents the musician who accompanied Michael Jackson with the live guitar solos capable of awaking the dead on tubes like “Give In To Me”, “Black or White” and “Beat It”.
Like all guitarists of his generation, he’s good because he simply does as he wants. Sometimes to the point of annoying the King of Pop himself by extending his solo!
Considered by some to be the greatest “soloist” of all time, Slash is known for his style, his incredible technique and his ability to convey his emotions to the public.
He’s known for his moments of pure inspiration, with, as proof, all the videos of concert that can be found on the internet and the many pieces of music that he recorded in studio.
For those who have fallen behind here are a few hits:
It was obviously deeply missed in this top guitarists ranking!
How not to speak of the brilliant soloist, belonging to the no less brilliant and psychedelic Pink Floyd? The lovers of the English band’s under-drug-influence(s) melodies can only but agree…
By the way, small quiz for fans: was Gilmour part of the band’s origin? So?
Well, no! Pink Floyd was born in 1965 and it took 1968 for the British guitarist-singer to join Roger Waters, Richard White, Nick Mason and Roger Syd Barrett! A true “added value” for the group, since it’s with the arrival of the 14th best guitarist of all time (Rolling Stone, 2011) that the group enters a whole new world.
They went to producing the 3rd most sold album in the word (the world’s best album to many) : The Dark Side of the Moon, that stayed for 17 years and 6 months on the Billboard 200 US, with the famous “Money” (released in 1973)… Only that!
Major rock and alternative rock recordings, – which does not contain Gilmour’s the major contributions – the masterpieces that everyone knows:
Gilmour is widely recognized for many things. For his great rock hits (see above), but not only.
He’s a wonderful singer and a genius soloist whose inspirations take you directly to the bowels (the solos of “Hey You”, “Wish you were here” and “Comfortably numb” are models of the genre) of a Fender touched by grace.
Speaking of Fenders, David Jon Gilmour was also considered as the “Best Fender Guitar Player Ever”, before other legends like Hendrix and Calpton. Enough said.
Even the least connoisseur amongst you will certainly remember Steve Lukather’s powerful and stubborn riff in “Hold the line”. You got it, don’t you? For sure!
Because Steve Lukather is nothing less the Toto’s guitarist – the successful but oh so decried band, which prevailed on radio FM in the 80s. The band’s style was often mocked and called “Rock FM”, as it was more “pop” than “rock” precisely…
Nevertheless Lukather remains one of the most recognized contemporary guitarists! Paradoxical enough in the very closed guitar world, but true… In 2016, the guitarist declared to the French newspaper Sud Ouest, just before giving a concert in Bordeaux:
“Everyone looks down on us, but shit, we sold 40 million records man!”
Even if the Toto label (which still tours around the world) sticks to the skin (which does not bother him too much), the fact remains that Lukather is a true virtuoso, receiving a series of grammy awards or appearing in a series of legendary tubes such as Mickael Jackson’s sacrosanct “Thriller”!
The King of Pop isn’t the only who called him in. Clapton, McCartney, Joe Cocker, Elton John and George Benson also welcomed him in the studio to record their songs!
As a true virtuoso Steve Lukather is able to navigate from heavy metal to jazz fusion, passing by notes of blues and hard rock. This versatility allowed him to make a fantastic solo career besides Toto.
Unlike most guitarists in this disputed classification (you need only to read the comments), Joe Bonamassa is altogether guitarist and singer.
Born in Utica, New York, on May 8, 1977, Bonamassa is a pure bluesman. The laypersons can simply rush to his band Black Country Communion’s songs to realize it.
A rare feeling, developed since he was 4 years old and after a quality musical education, mostly listening to BB King – for which he played the openings very young. BB King didn’t hesitate to pay his tribute to Joe’s talents. When the master says it …
Today Bonamassa is the American blues rock reference. His sometimes “rough” and “rustic” style is always melodious and powerful. His incredible technique is widely acknowledged by all guitarists – both fast and sometimes almost limitless we must admit…
To appreciate his talent (and rock voice) watch a live of “Just got paid”!
Despised during his first shows on TV in 2001, John Mayer was once perceived by a large majority of the public as one of these artists and songwriter who make music for teenagers lacking love.
His first album was quickly forgotten. It’s later as an unconditional blues lover that his career took a completely different turn…
Inspired by his idol Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer obtained a Grammy Award in 2003, as best male performance / pop category, before turning to blues.
After his appearance at the Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004, he was able to showcase his song “City Love” with an incredible blues solo inspired by “Machine Gun” by Jimi Hendrix.
His music mixes technical skills and feeling – with his thumb touching the lowest string to embellish the note – and has nothing to envy to the blues greatest’. For those willing to know more of his talent, go listen to the album “Try” which he recorded alongside the bassist Pino Palladino and the drummer Steve Jordan. To your headphones!
Often considered a purist, Jack White shares his passion for the vintage blues with very few technical effects. Obviously you’re surprised by his presence in this ranking, but it’s thanks to his talent on the guitar that his group, The White Stripes, established itself in Rock Blues (Yes you read well!).
Also pianist and drummer, Jack White is an outstanding musician.
It sounds strange and yet The White Stripes was a blues band. By taking over the music “Stop Breaking Down” by Robert Johnson or “St. James Infirmary Blues “, which is found on the band’s first album, it is the whole history of blues music that is revisited with his classical guitar.
Recognized by the international community after three opus, the Tuareg artist continues to perform in festivals.
Marked by the conflicts in his native land of Agadez in Niger, his strolling in exile and his Tuareg traditions, Bambino is a full-fledged guitarist.
While some might classify him amongst “World Music”, Bambino carries within him the guitar’s holyness which prevents him from being trapped in any musical box.
Forced to flee in 1990 when very young, this Touareg professional guitarist experienced the persecution and oppression of his government that banned string instruments – for him and all the Touareg people – considered as a symbol of resistance.
Despite the loss of certain members of his group (executed), Bombino continues to promote the coexistence and social cohesion in concerts and festivals.
His music, which is based on traditional Tuareg instruments and guitar mastery, oscillates between feelings of sadness and songs of joy.
Heads shuddering, hands spinning on the guitar strings with a dexterity so rare pianists envy them, eyes closed, vibrating to the melodies that carry the artist… Here Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gomez alias Paco de Lucia.
Unanimously considered as one of the greatest at the release of his first studio album, the Andalusian guitarist imprinted the history of flamenco with his phalanxes.
Improving with age (although he’d already won awards at 14), the Southern Spain guitarist contributed to modernize the traditional flamenco while keeping its nobleness.
Influenced by the US – where he often performed throughout his musical career – the artist draws from jazz and various musical currents, producing hits such as “Entre Dos Aguas”.
The Andalusian guitarist’s atypical career is also due to his musical environment, beginning with his father who taught him to play on a six-string guitar alongside his brothers Ramón de Algeciras and Pepe de Lucía, the flamenco singer.
A portrait of his life – in the form of a cinematographic documentary – was made shortly after his death in 2014 however to perceive his genius with the flamenco guitar prefer to go straight for his music.
Today this flamenco virtuoso is a legend. After the official mourning decreed by the Mayor of his hometown Google took possession of the icon and author of “between dos aguas” and “Rio ancho” by transforming him into one of its “Doodles” (created to celebrate particular events of the day).
The guitar is the European version of similar instruments like the bouzouki, the lute, and the ukulele.
They attract girls, calm the nerves, unite men: guitars are the musical instrument par excellence. It can be scrubbed, stroked, pinched or even hit on its crate to produce sounds that will make you laugh, dance, even cry.
Is it something innate?
Is there a certain state of mind to learn to master the guitar?
What do I need to start with to play the guitar?
Take your guitar out of its case, prepare your score and plug your amp: lets discover some technical skills to improve your “guitaristic” performance.
First blockage that prevented many music lovers to try out learning acoustic guitar: solfeggio.
Obviously, it is preferable if you want to embark on a career as a guitarist to understand, read and “speak” music theory, but it isn’t essential.
The important thing for a guitar beginner today is to first learn to read a chord diagram. To know where to place your fingers on the strings and play the chords.
Finding your acoustic guitar is another step towards professionalization and guitar mastery!
Choosing a folk, classical or gypsy guitar, with steel or nylon strings is difficult when you’re still a neophyte musician!
Finding your acoustic guitar must be like the quest for the Holy Grail of Indiana Jones. Rather than making a rash choice take the time for reflection. Like a woman with whom one is about to live under the same roof, you’ll spend long hours facing it in the “strings”.
For this same reason it’s imperative to choose a guitar that resembles you, whose strings embrace the sounds you love and which sound signature wood vibrates in your particular ears.
Become familiar with the guitar
It will happen that one day you need to play another guitar than the one you love, the one with which you built so many melodies.
Don’t panic, willingly accept the guitar and familiarize yourself with it. Just like with new collaborators in your company, learn to listen to this alternative guitar, scratch a few notes, make it speak!
Start by tuning it to prevent it from being of-key, then step by step make it yours, like a musical wedding.
We often forget it but nevertheless it’s the keystone to practicing an instrument!
By reinforcing your musical culture, listening to great solos and music of all genres, you’ll train your ear to broaden the range of what you create, to improve your sense of rhythm and conquer any audience.
Unlike pianists such as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Nina Simone, few artists both sing and play guitar. We can however mention Prince, Matthieu Chedid and Mark Knopfler.
Singing requires a greater and intense investment. When singing, it’s no longer possible to drown your thoughts in your instrument. You now need to raise your head and confront the audience, get out of your musical bubble.
To become a good guitarist put your hands in the ropes like a pastry chef would put his in the dough or as a footballer keeps his head in the ball. If you want to become a good guitarist you have to be able to raise your head, watch the audience and share your emotion.
You should focus both on your notes and on sharing your emotions with the audience.