The 50 Best Guitarists Of All Time

30. Chuck Berry

Angus Young: "Chuck Berry was never a caring person. He didn’t care whether he was playing his tune, out of tune or someone else’s tune. Whenever he plays guitar, he has a big grin from ear to ear. Everyone always used to rave about Clapton when I was growing up, saying he was a guitar genius and stuff like that. Well, even on a bad night, Chuck Berry was a lot better than Clapton ever will be. 

"Rock music has been around since the days when Chuck Berry put it all together. He combined the blues and the country and rockabilly and put his own poetry on top, and that became rock’n’roll. And it’s been hanging in there. 

"AC/DC’s whole career has been playing rock’n’roll. And I’m sure you still get a lot of people tuning in to bands like us and the Stones. And younger bands will be plugging into it and taking it into the next realm. There’s always going to be another generation that will take it and give it to a new, younger audience. So I think it will just keep going on."

29. Steve Howe

Sir Richard Bishop (Sun City Girls, Rangda): “Steve Howe was the first guitarist I heard whose playing really challenged me. I was 12 years old when I first heard the song Roundabout on the radio. I remember recording it from the radio onto cassette tape and then calling my friends and playing it to them over the telephone. 

"It was a few more years before I started playing guitar but I eventually revisited that song and then started digging through other Yes records. I wanted to learn how to play what he was playing so bad but I could never figure any of it out. He was combining rock, jazz and classical elements, often within the same song. 

"It seemed impossible to me. He inspired me to work harder on the guitar and to not be afraid to explore other possibilities."

28. Rory Gallagher

Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers): "I was 11 years old when I first saw Taste on television, and a lifelong infatuation began. That Christmas I got [Taste’s album] On the Boards, and as soon as I got my first guitar a couple of years later I tried to learn all of it. I still haven’t managed it. It’s hard to express the effect of that first sighting of Rory Gallagher, except to say that I suddenly knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. 

"There’s a ferocity about his playing that few guitar players can equal – a real fire and certainty that leaps out of every record and performance. I’ve never seen or heard a player with such effortless command of the instrument. During gigs he would regularly play and sing along with every note, even though he was improvising. His solos were rarely perfunctory or gratuitous 'look how many notes I can cram into this phrase' affairs. There was always a melodic base to them. They always took the song to another level, adding to the excitement and drama of the thing. 

There’s a ferocity about his playing that few guitar players can equal – a real fire and certainty that leaps out of every record and performance

Jake Burns

"In my own career I was lucky enough to meet and get to know Rory – not terribly well. He was a very shy, self-effacing man. But we would occasionally bump into one another – usually along with the great Gerry McAvoy – at The Venue in London. He was always wonderful company and never made me feel like the ‘fan’ I so obviously was. Stiff Little Fingers were also privileged to have him actually play on one of our records. He recorded a fantastic slide solo on a track Human Shield on our Flags & Emblems album. Cueing in my all-time guitar hero is a memory I will treasure forever. I also opened the case of ‘that’ Stratocaster but didn’t have the nerve to take it out. He later said to me: 'Oh, you should have played it.' Dammit! 

"As a bizarre side note, some years later SLF found ourselves sitting in a hotel bar suitably ‘refreshed’ with Mr Vic Reeves, and were discussing musical influences etcetera. Without prompting, Vic looked straight at me and said: 'You’re easy. You sound just like Rory Gallagher.' I have never been prouder." 

27. Zakk Wylde

Bumbefoot: "I first became aware of Zakk in 1986 when he was with a New Jersey band called Zyris. Then the next thing I knew he was playing with Ozzy, and I thought: “Whoa, good choice.” Just like Zakk, I had been a huge Randy Rhoads fan, so I was very happy that Ozzy picked Zakk for the gig for the band. 

"With that distinctive use of harmonic vibrato on the lower string, when you hear Zakk’s playing you know right away that it’s him. He has had such an immense effect on rock music. Before he came along, every time you saw a blond-haired guitarist kicking a Les Paul’s ass you thought of John Sykes - now you also think of Zakk. 

He has had such an immense effect on rock music.

Bumblefoot

"Besides all of that, with the southern rock of Pride And Glory, the singer-songwriter style of the Book Of Shadows album [1996], and of course what he does with Black Label Society, he’s also very diverse. 

"I met Zakk for the first time when he was a guest on the TV show of a friend of mine. His visit to the studio was supposed to last for three hours but he ended up staying for 14. We wrote a song called Till The End together – there’s footage of it on YouTube. I was texting the GN’R folks, passing on messages. It was great. Besides being a phenomenal musician, I’m happy to say Zakk’s as good-hearted as I expected. I hope that some day we can do it again."

26. Frank Zappa

Dweezil Zappa: "I was never intimidated by my father’s technique. I think most guitar players are just excited to see somebody do something they didn’t think was possible. We’d sit and play together, but what Frank was doing musical. I couldn’t grasp it at a young age – it was too sophisticated for me. He’d show me inversions of chords, and composition devices, moving triads around the neck and stuff. It sounded neat but I didn’t always understand what was happening musically. 

"I did the Zappa Plays Zappa tour because I want to get Frank’s music more into the public eye. I want him to be better understood. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about his music and him as a person. First of all, Frank was really a composer who used a rock band like an orchestra. He could hear stuff in his head and just write it down. I didn’t have a musical background; I was just a guy who learnt things by ear, more a guitar player than a musician. [By studying Frank’s music] I learnt about a lot of things with very impressive names! 

"The first thing I learnt was the incredibly fast passage towards the end of The Black Page. It took me a good five or six months, and I had to totally change my picking technique in order to play this thing. I’d have to play it really slow for hours and hours and hours. I definitely think Frank would enjoy that we [Zappa Plays Zappa] went to such great lengths to get it right."

25. Yngwie Malmsteen

George Lynch (Dokken): "I’d have to say that, growing up as a guitar player in the 60s, 70s and even 80s, every little micro-evolution that came along more often than not had an influence on me. The number of people I didn’t appreciate is probably a much smaller list. And when Eddie Van Halen hit the scene and then Yngwie hit the scene they had a huge impact on me. 

"Yngwie had so much fire, he does have so much fire. And that’s apart from the neo-classical style, which was just mind-blowing for me. I was raised as a blues player and learned my chops in the late 60s, early 70s, The Beatles and stuff, so it was all incredibly new to me. Just the ferocity of it was mesmerising. The ease with which he does it was fascinating too. 

"Even though I have my own guitar school, I’m not really knowledgeable about notations and scales and modes and things like that. It’s virtually impossible for me to pick somebody’s playing part. I know lots of guitar players who do that. We sit down together and they help me. 

Just the ferocity of it was mesmerising.

George Lynch

"Ultimately, guitar-driven 80s music had wound itself to the point of absurdity and inaccessibility. I mean, how many people can actually appreciate that kind of music? It’s just an elitist speed contest. But Yngwie created the trend. 

"It’s interesting to see how relevant or irrelevant people can become. On a pure playing level, players that create music that touches people are always viable. And that’s why he’s still around and a lot of the other guys aren’t."

24. John Petrucci

Herman Li (Dragonforce): "Although Michael Romeo from Symphony X was one of the inspirations behind my guitar playing, Dream Theater are my true prog heroes. I got into them on Images And Words – I thought all the songs on that album were amazing – but Scarred from [1994’s] Awake is my favourite track of theirs. That was from my ‘learning to play guitar’ time so it meant a lot to me. I practised along to that song. It’s not extremely technical but the solo blows you away and it’s got a great melody.

"They say you should never meet your heroes but I’ve met Dream Theater loads of times now. We’ve played festivals together, I got John Petrucci to sign my guitar and I even interviewed him once for a magazine, which was fun! I grew up being inspired by these guys and they’re genuinely nice. Prog is the thinking person’s music so maybe that’s why the musicians are so friendly."

23. Prince

Ben Weinman (The Dillinger Escape Plan): “When I was younger, I saw the persona that the media put out there – the androgynous, 80s pop guy. 

"But when I saw the movie Purple Rain, you really believed that’s who he was; a tormented artist at a piano, being obsessive over notes – not because it has to be perfect in a technical standpoint, but it has to be perfect from an emotional standpoint. I think that’s what was really conveyed in the movie. It was obviously dramatised, but gave me more of a perspective of who he was and wanted to learn more about him as a person. It wasn’t a created pop star.”

He was such a genius; this motherfucker has a pass for anything

Ben Weinman

“I got to see him in 2013 at the Ogden Theatre, a fairly small club in Colorado – one that we’ve played, to put it in perspective. It put me in awe. 

"It was like, ‘This is a unicorn’. The way he played guitar and the emotion in his singing… he was music. Everything music should be was him. He should get a pass on any story you might hear about him. He was such a genius; this motherfucker has a pass for anything. Such a rare unicorn.”

22. Synyster Gates

Conor Marshall (Conjuror): "Synyster gates is a guitar hero to me because he changed the way I see music. Avenged Sevenfold and Metallica are the bands that got me into metal and Syn’s guitar playing is an absolutely huge part of it. 

"His riffs and solos are still some of my favouriteS to this day, and he was teenage Conor’s guitar hero. I learned so much about guitar and guitar technique as well as song writing in general from basically trying to be him. Every music shop I went into, if there was a pinstripe guitar on the wall I was playing it for way too long." 

21. Carlos Santana

Dave Cousins (The Strawbs): "His playing was, and is, extraordinary. I don’t know how he gets that liquid guitar style, which has so defined him. There’s a loping rhythmic feel to what he does, and when you combine that with his ability to solo like nobody else, you have the magic of Carlos Santana. Perhaps his greatest asset is the warmth of his performances. Listen to what he does on record, and this clearly comes through. 

"He created a market, really. He must have been the first guitarist to bring the Latino rhythm and approach into rock and make it work on such a scale. He began something all those years ago, and perhaps it’s the greatest compliment you can pay him that the Latin sound has become such a feature of rock."