The 50 Best Guitarists Of All Time

40. Duane Allman

Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke): “If I was putting my favourite guitar solos in order then Duane Allman's on Wilson Pickett's version of Hey Jude would probably be at number one. This was the moment that historians say southern rock’n’roll music started. In that type of music at the time, that r’n’b and soul music nothing like that had ever been heard in a song before. 

"Out of nowhere here came this out of control moment. It was this funky, laid back music and all of a sudden here was this wild guitar player. That solo was a huge moment. He played licks in that solo that he continued to play throughout the rest of his career, it was like they belonged to him.”

39. Paul Kossoff

Paul Mahon (The Answer): "The man for me is the late Paul Kossoff. Mainly because he showed how it was possible to play a few notes, and say so much more than another guitarist would do by putting in a lot. 

"For me, what makes him great is that so often he knew instinctively when not to play. You listen to his best work with Free, and it’s all about the space he created. It’s what helped to give the band their sound and style. In fact Kossoff is one of the few guitarists I can think of who defined his own signature by deliberately doing so little. Most of the time, you know a guitarist because of the way the played. With this man it’s what he left out. 

Everything he did was for the good of the band

Paul Mahon

"I first heard him on Free’s All Right Now, which is a classic, obviously. When I was about six it was used for a TV ad [Wrigley’s gum], and I was so struck by the song that I went out and got a copy. The solo is just amazing. And it was the first one I ever learnt. I have to say that this still remains my favourite Paul Kossoff moment, although what he does on Oh I Wept is almost as powerful and emotional. Here it’s not so much the solo, as the way he uses the rhythm part to complement Paul Rodgers’s voice. 

"Perhaps that’s the best thing about Kossoff. Not only was he a stunning player in his own right, but also everything he did was for the good of the band, never to show off his own skill."

38. Keith Richards

Steven Van Zandt (Bruce Springsteen’s E Street): "The British invasion of 1964 to 1966 turned us Americans on to our own rock’n’roll pioneers and blues players. Keith Richards I grew up on. Richards and Brian Jones were a great combination. 

"Keith’s lead on the Stones’ versions of Chuck Berry songs helped reinvent the guitar for the Valhalla of Beck, Clapton and Jimmy Page. I always felt you go through that muso phase and stay there or get out. I went out the other end. I didn’t want to be a virtuoso for a minute. So I came full circle to the fact that the guitar solo must serve the song – that’s more important." 

37. Billy Gibbons

Keith Nelson (Buckcherry): "Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top has the tone and the taste, and his playing always has this tenacity. He’s really just one of the last examples, in our lifetime, of someone who has a true connection to the old blues players. I think a lot of that’s been lost. When I think about his playing, he’s one of the few guys that, no matter who he plays with, as soon as he starts to play you know who it is. 

He’s really just one of the last examples, in our lifetime, of someone who has a true connection to the old blues players

Keith Nekson

"I was visiting my cousin in Florida, and he tried to get me to go hunting armadillos with baseball bats. I think I was 13 years old at the time. We pulled into this gas station, and he went in and bought one beer. He had an eight-track player in his car, and he was playing ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres album. That was the first time I heard ZZ Top, and it really made an impression on me. I still listen to that album to this day. I didn’t pick up a guitar until a few years later, but that was definitely one of the inspirations. 

Sometimes you meet your idols and they’re assholes and you wish you never met them. That’s not the case with Billy Gibbons.

Keith Nelson

"Billy really influenced my slide playing. He just does so many things so well. I really dig his voice, too. It’s got this lazy, laidback thing. You just can’t teach that to somebody. He just had this real cool texture that you don’t see any more. I’m happy to say I’ve had more than a few conversations with Billy over the years. 

"He’s one of the few people who haven’t ruined my perception of them after meeting them. Sometimes you meet your idols and they’re assholes and you wish you never met them. That’s not the case with Billy Gibbons. He’s been incredible and gracious and a lot of fun to be around."

36. Joe Bonamassa

Leslie West (Mountain): "I had Joe marked out as a name to watch from an early age. I know because I played with him when he was younger. Joe was 25, I think, when I appeared on a Warren Haynes song called If Heartaches Were Nickels on his debut solo album, A New Day Yesterday [2000]. Tom Dowd, of Cream fame, was producing the album and invited Gregg Allman and I to be on it – I sang a verse, Joe sang a verse and Gregg sang the chorus.

"I thought that Joe was an incredible player and I told him so, but I also gave him a bit of advice. He played so many notes that I said he should divide by two. He sounded like a 45-year-old blues guy when he was barely in his twenties. Joe later mentioned that in an interview, so I guess he took it on board. 

He played so many notes that I said he should divide by two

Leslie West

"Joe was a great kid and I saw a lot of potential in him. He had played with BB King at the age of 12, and at 14 I’m told they called him Superjoe. He spent many years playing club after club and has developed a unique sound. He plays much faster than I do, but his style is based on melody. I’m not a shredder and neither is Joe, but he can play like that if he wants to. And he has such great tone. 

"I heard that when Joe played at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Eric Clapton got up and jammed with him. If you want proof that he’s on the way up, look no further. I still follow Joe’s career and have enjoyed his recent albums, but I still have a strong connection with that song we recorded together with Tom Dowd." 

35. Mick Taylor

Slash (Guns N' Roses):  "Mick Taylor had the biggest influence on me without me even knowing it. My favourite Stones records were Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. Those three were major to me cos I was exposed to those records as a kid when they first came out. Mick Taylor played on a couple of those records and went on for a couple more. As I got older and started playing guitar I always gravitated to his sort of style. 

"People always mention Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and Angus Young – all the obvious ones – but there’s guys like Mick Taylor and Joe Walsh that were as important. Mick Taylor had this really cool, round-toned bluesy sort of thing that I thought was really effective. Great rock guitar. 

It’s about how the notes are placed and how you approach them


"One of the greatest Mick Taylor solos is Can’t You Hear Me Knocking? It’s the kind of stuff that’s almost like old Eric Clapton – it’s very simple stuff, but it’s about how the notes are placed and how you approach them. One of the things that the new guard of guitarists always forget about is this simplistic and very effective guitar playing that speaks to you, instead of just always two-hand tapping." 

34. Dave Mustaine

James Monteith (TesseracT): "For me and many guitarists who discovered metal in the 90s, Dave Mustaine is one of the most influential and vital players of that time. In terms of riff writing and song construction, Dave has a certain inventiveness that was very fresh, and everything was presented with a level of precision and attention to detail far greater than most metal players then. 

"The same could be said for his lead work, Dave is a very melodic player and he has written countless hooks on the guitar. He is definitely a player who continually raises the bar and has played a key role in the the evolution of metal music and guitar playing overall."

33. James Hetfield

Jerry Cantrell (Alice In Chains): "In 2006 me and Sean [Kinney, Alice In Chains drummer] got together with James Hetfield and Robert Trujillo [Metallica bassist] to do this benefit show in Los Angeles. James actually asked to sing [AIC’s] Them Bones and Would? and I was thinking: “Right on!” So we did those two songs, and then we did [Metallica’s] Nothing Else Matters. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. 

He’s all about the music; all about the fun and the celebration and the connection with the fans

Jerry Cantrell

"As a guitarist, I come from the Malcolm Young [AC/DC] school of rock, which is about rhythm and songwriting. If you talk to anybody, I’m not really known as a virtuoso soloist. Where it’s at for me is rhythm, tone, feel and arrangement. I think James comes from that school too. What makes James such a great frontman is his physical presence. Nobody else commands the same kind of respect and attention without it being self-seeking or egocentric. He’s all about the music; all about the fun and the celebration and the connection with the fans. And that to me is really inspiring. Especially because he’s done this for so long, and he’s been at the top of his game for so long, and he continues to search for a deeper meaning. 

"I can’t wait to see what he does next. He took an underground thing and took it worldwide. Metallica is a huge thing for me and for any hard rock or metal band. Will he go down in history as a rock icon? He already has. He’s the godfather, man."

32. Pete Townshend

Ace Frehley: "Pete Townshend taught me how to play rhythm guitar – Pete and Keith Richards. That’s where I got all my chord work from. I think Pete Townshend is a wizard when it comes to chord work. He can play the same chord in, like, 20 different positions – doing inversions, suspensions… Just listen to Tommy. I’m a huge fan. 

"Pete has a great right hand as well as a left hand. I emulate a lot of his rhythm. When somebody talks about ‘Who’s the best rock chord guy?’, the first that comes to mind is Pete Townshend. It’s not just power chords… it’s hard to describe. When I listen to Who songs – I hear it now, I didn’t hear it as much then – Townshend used to layer acoustics under the electrics a lot. I got that from Pete, I do that a lot on my tracks. Even on some of my heavy rock tracks sometimes there will be an acoustic tucked under, just to give it more fullness, but you don’t really hear the acoustic. 

Pete Townshend taught me how to play rhythm guitar

Ace Frehley

"A song that The Who did that is more obscure, a great picking song that Pete did, was Tattoo. I mean, Pinball Wizard is great. My Generation is a brilliant song – a lot of people aren’t aware that he’s playing that on the second fret, and to get that sound he’s lifting the barre and gets the open string. I Can See for Miles – that’s a great opening power chord. It’s hard to say what’s a favorite, but My Generation is a killer fucking song. It inspired a lot of people. His rhythm work was just amazing. 

"The first time I saw The Who was the same day I saw Cream for the first time. It was a Murray The K show in Manhattan. I was cutting school and me and a friend snuck into the show and got down in front. It was The Who’s first New York show. I think the headliner was Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels. And then I went to see another Who show on the same tour, with a good friend of mine from the Bronx who I grew up with, Peppy Castro. He was in a band called the Blues Magoos, who had a big hit with We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet

"I was at the Filmore East the day Martin Luther King got shot. The Who weren’t going to play because they were worried about riots. I believe they ended up doing a short show. Ironically, down the road, I was talking about it and Paul Stanley said he was there too, but we didn’t know each other at the time." 

31. Kirk Hammett

Joe Satriani (Metallica): “Kirk was a great student. He was very eager to learn. His fingers moved great – and he had great taste in guitar players like Michael Schenker and Uli John Roth. He was completely musical.

“He’d been in Exodus, but all of a sudden got in this band, Metallica, and he disappeared for a few months then came back with a copy of Kill ’Em All. Thrash metal songs had brand new chord progressions that had nothing to do with blues, Zeppelin or the Beatles.

“Kirk would come in and say, ‘Check out this new song I have to solo over – what key is this in?’ Often the song wasn’t in just one key. I had to teach him to decipher the song’s tonality, to understand the musical possibilities, and how to make his own decisions on what to play.”

“As the Metallica records pile up you can hear Kirk working in more exotic scales, but every now and again he’ll still play a solo that sits on top of the riff – the one from Sad But True, echoes the early Kirk Hammett.

“Even after all these years his finger tone’s still the same. He burst on to the scene with that sound and throughout Metallica’s musical journey his solos come up big, thick and full of energy.”  


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