The 50 Best Guitarists Of All Time

20. Angus Young

Joe Perry (Aerosmith): "Apart from the usual suspects – Page, Clapton, Beck, Hendrix and Peter Green – one of my favourite guitarists is Angus Young. I first saw him when AC/DC opened up for Aerosmith in the 70s. They played about 25 dates with us. And I was just overwhelmed by his energy; his ability to do his acrobatics without missing a note. He definitely had an influence on me inasmuch as his solos always had a purpose. Instead of using all the traditional tricks, he found a way to get inside those licks and be inventive. My favourite AC/DC song is probably Sin City. 

"For me the essence of a good guitarist is someone who plays what the song calls for. I’ve met a lot of guitarists who just overplay; I was probably like that in the 70s. It’s about listening to the music as whole and then doing what you need to do. Sometimes it’s not even what you play, it’s what you don’t play. Which brings us back to Angus Young."

19. Dimebag Darrell

Sebastian Bach: "When Skid Row were going out for the Slave To The Grind tour, headlining arenas, we wanted the heaviest, coolest band out there to support us. And I was at [Skid Row guitarist] Scotti Hill’s house and he pulls out this Pantera CD and sticks it on. I’d never heard anything like it. It was like ZZ Top meets Slayer. So Pantera were the band we took. 

As a musician he was like Eddie Van Halen was in the late 70s

Sebastian Bach

"Whenever Dimebag came in our dressing room he refused to call me Sebastian, only Bierk, cos that’s my real name. He was like, “Bierk, I want this and this on our rider.” He was just joking and we were all really proud to have him there. Pantera were a great opening act. Dude, you’d better rock with those motherfuckers on before you every night! Dimebag loved music. He loved drinking too, but he wasn’t always ripped. But I remember we got a call once and were told not to come to the hotel because we’d been kicked out. Dimebag was on acid and he’d taken a knife to all the couches in the front lobby! 

"He could get super fucking crazy. As a musician he was like Eddie Van Halen was in the late 70s. He reinvented heavy metal guitar. He got credit in the metal world. But when he died it pissed me off that it wasn’t a main story. I had to play the next night in Madrid in Spain. And we didn’t know if there was some terrorist plot to kill all the rock stars. It was so sad, though. He went too young."

18. B.B. King 

Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top): "My favourite guitarist is BB King. The album Live At The Regal, recorded in 1964, remains a classic. The electricity, the crackling atmosphere… Plus it’s a great sound, recorded with a full band, horns and piano, and a rabid audience thrown in. 

"BB’s distinctive, one-note style, his sustain and attack, that kinda call-and-response thing between the vocals and the solos… He was taken for granted, which means he’s underrated. Obviously he was a maestro entertainer, rather than a blues purist, though he could to that too. He was a former cotton-picker but he remained so self-effacing, plus he had a great sense of humour, lyrically and in life. He had class."

17. Mark Knopfler

Will Smith (Writer: The Thick Of It, VEEP): "Mark Knopfler is just hugely important to me: he got me into Dylan, Lonnie Johnson, Chet Atkins, JJ Cale, Randy Newman… tracing his influences opened up my musical world. This was the uncoolest band for a teenager to like, it was ‘yuppie music’, but I genuinely loved them. 

"And even if I didn’t love them, just saying I did was possibly the most rebellious thing I could have done. Knopfler is a brilliant songwriter, and in my most pretentious phase I would compare his songwriting to the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning – he gives such a deft and quick portrayal of character. 

"I wrote a novel [Mainlander] and it’s full of music. I wanted to quote from Dire Straits’ The Man’s Too Strong but I couldn’t get a response from the manager. I work to music a lot and I wanted it to be part of people’s lives in my writing because in real life it is, and it’s shorthand for a character – say someone pulls up in a car blaring out ZZ Top, you already understand who this person is."

16. Randy Rhoads

Frank Hannon (Tesla): "My interest in Randy has been reinvigorated by my 11-year-old son. He’s been playing Mr Crowley on Guitar Hero and gotten to the Expert level. 

"I was always a big fan of Randy. In 1980 when [Ozzy’s] Blizzard Of Ozz came out, some friends of mine went to see them in Oakland and came back raving, saying: 'Man, we saw this guitarist today and he was better than Eddie Van Halen!' 

"I was already playing guitar and was a big fan of Eddie Van Halen. So we went down the local record store, got the album, and I was infatuated from day one. Randy was doing everything that Van Halen did and more. It was the classical knowledge that he was incorporating into the guitar. The arrangements on Crazy Train and Mr Crowley were unbelievable; he knew exactly what he was doing. I think a lot of the soloing on Van Halen tracks were improvised, which is cool.

Randy was doing everything that Van Halen did and more

Frank Gannon

"Randy took it a step further. His discipline probably came from his mother who taught him at her music school. When I was a kid I would read the guitar magazines and he would always mention that his mother was a big influence. 

"I went to visit the school and I met Randy’s brother Kelli and his mother Dolores, who was called Dee. Dee was also the title of an acoustic song on Blizzard… which was a big influence on me. If you listen to my acoustic solo on Love Song it’s really inspired by that. And I played that for Dee when I met her. She was 93 years old, an amazing lady. I told her how much Randy had influenced me. 

"She loved meeting fans, and told me some stories about Randy. She said that his favourite song was Chattanooga Choo Choo. How he found his first guitar in his father’s closet. And when he was in London recording Diary Of A Madman he would spend all his down-time studying classical music at a university. She just lit up when she talked about Randy. I have a video of that meeting on my website."

15. Gary Moore

Kris Barras: "Gary Moore was my first hero. He was my dad’s favourite and that fed down to me. He was the best guitarist in the world, and my first introduction to the blues. Everything else came after him.

The Loner was my party piece as a kid. I’d play it at school talent shows, or whenever they were stuck for ideas at assembly time. It was probably the first instrumental guitar track that I had ever heard and I remember just being blown away. He plays with so much passion and the guitar melodies are so strong, you don’t need any vocals. The sound too, I loved the big reverb/delay drenched tone when I was a kid.”

14. Tony Iommi

James Hetfield (Metallica): "One of the first things I heard when I was a kid that made me think: 'I wanna get a tennis racket and emulate playing guitar' was Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting by Elton John. That riff is rock, it’s in-yourface for Elton John. Not that I’m his biggest fan, but that made want to play guitar. My older brothers played in bands and there were always acoustics sitting around the house, but until you hear something through an amp, y’know… you really feel it then." 

"As far as being a riff and rhythm guy, my favourite guitarist is Tony Iommi, no doubt about that. He inspired me to want to play heavy, play rhythm and riffs. I admired other rhythm players, like Malcolm Young who’s just back there and holding it down, and Rudy Schenker has a lot of percussiveness in his playing. And something a bit more obscure is Alex Lifeson. People wouldn’t think of him as a rhythm player, but he comes up with some pretty amazing offbeat things. 

He inspired me to want to play heavy, play rhythm and riffs

James Hetfield

"But Iommi’s the main man. He seemed like one of those quiet geniuses. At one time he was the frontman of the band and Ozzy was to one side; the riff was more important than the vocals. It was all in minor, it has that feel. He can go from the heaviest doom riff into a happy mode and it would still sound heavy. We can’t do happy, but Tony can pull it off. My favourite track is Into The Void."

13. Joe Satriani

Chris Impellitteri: "I was first introduced to Joe by my record label president at Relativity records. I was very young and had no idea of who Joe was or how he played guitar. Shortly thereafter I was exposed to his music, specifically Surfing With The Alien. It was innovative, energetic and captivating. 

"I then had the pleasure of seeing Joe play live. He was equally a perfectionist live as he was in the studio. I now continually strive for perfection when playing both live and recording in the studio. I search for the best possible tone, melody, vibe, performance… especially when I am shredding. 

"My favourite track by Joe will always be Satch Boogie because of the intro riff. It’s filled with energy, emotion, and is simply addictive. Ultimately, Satriani has influenced me in a similar manner to Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Al Di Meola and Uli Jon Roth. Joe will always be recognised as one of the great guitar players of the 21st century. I just hope I can join him…

12. Jeff Beck

David Gilmour: "I’m sort of horribly, pathetically fannish about Jeff. Ever since Hi Ho Silver Lining came out, when I was 20-odd, I’ve revered him and his playing. In many ways he just is the best guitar player. He is still, after 40-something years since he came to prominence in the Yardbirds, the only person pushing forward in that way. He’s never retreading old ground, he’s always looking for a new challenge. 

"Jeff’s scarily brilliant. Jeff’s a tightrope walker, I’m not. I like to cover all my bases and make myself secure with a great band of people and the music all rehearsed, and I just walk out there and if I didn’t even play anything it would still sound great. Jeff’s different, he’s out there mining that seam." 

11. Steve Vai

Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, E-Street Band, Prophets Of Rage):     
"Some instrumental guitar players are lost in a muso fog. Steve Vai is not one of them. He’s an artist, one of the greats. To me he’s in the same sort of field as a great jazz player. 

"I first became acquainted with Steve through David Lee Roth’s Eat ’Em And Smile and Public Image Ltd’s Album.

"I love seeing him in a rock band, where he uses his amazing imagination to transform someone else’s music. I’ve certainly learnt from him. The first thing was the work ethic. I started playing guitar very late, when I was 17 years old. I felt really behind, and when I read about Steve’s practise regime it really encouraged me. It also nearly killed me! While doing my college studies I was also practising eight hours a day to amass the kind of technique that I admired in players like him and Randy Rhoads. 

When I read about Steve’s practise regime it really encouraged me. It also nearly killed me!

Tom Morello

"Once, Steve was doing a presentation and speech at the GIT [LA music academy]. He asked me to do it – it was him, me, Steve Lukather, Stanley Jordan, Joe Satriani. I was like: “No, bro, it sounds like it’s gonna be a shred- off!’ But he’s like: “We’re not even gonna play, we’re just gonna discuss our craft’. So I’m like: “Okay, I’ll do it.” 

"A couple of days before the event, he’s like: “Just bring your amp and guitar along in case we have to demonstrate techniques.” I’m like: “Steve! This sounds like a trick!” So of course, I get there for soundcheck and my worst nightmare has come true: it’s basically six of us in a row with our guitars, and it’s gonna be non-stop shredding the whole time." 


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