The 50 Best Guitarists Of All Time

10. Ritchie Blackmore

Phil Collen (Def Leppard): "The first gig I ever went to was Deep Purple – during their Machine Head period – at Brixton Sundown, now known as the Academy. They played Highway Star and it blew me away. And that’s when I decided to start playing guitar. Ritchie Blackmore was a huge influence because he was flashy. Even now when you listen back to him you can hear what a great player he is. I love really flashy lead guitar playing, and Blackmore’s technique is great – it’s aggressive. I don’t really care about finger picking, and acoustic doesn’t satisfy me. It’s electric, screaming, loud rock that I love. Ritchie came up and jammed with us at the Marquee when I was in Girl. 

He can take liberties – he’s Ritchie Blackmore.

Phil Collen

"To be honest I think he was more interested in my girlfriend, which was fine by me [laughs]. It was great. As far as what he’s doing now, I honestly respect him, especially if you’ve been such a pioneer. The fact that he’s still playing and is passionate about something is great, even though it’s a bit wonky and weird. He can take liberties – he’s Ritchie Blackmore. 

"Nowadays you don’t see any guitar heroes of the same calibre. There are some great players out there but it doesn’t mean anything; it doesn’t cross over like Hendrix, Blackmore, Page or Beck. There’s not many that still have that drive. We’ve just played with Billy Idol, and Steve Stevens still has that fire. That’s rare. Normally you get someone that’s really good and the music’s crap. When you get someone like Blackmore – when he hit a chord it was like being punched in the face."

9. Slash

Duff McKagan (Guns N' Roses): "Slash has remained an innovator and high-water mark for what modern rock’n’roll guitar playing should be and is. I have seen how hard he works at his craft, and he is not just good by chance. The dude just flat-out works hard. Make no mistake, he was given a gift, but he has moulded the gift and has never taken it for granted."

“It was obvious, even on the acoustic guitar he played that first night [when the pair first hooked up in Hollyewood], that Slash was a special player. I was absolutely stunned by the raw, emotive power he so easily tapped. Slash was already in a league of his own and watching him play guitar was a ‘holy shit’ moment."

Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge): "He’s such a character guitar player: you can tell within one measure, ‘that’s Slash’. There’s no question. That’s a real gift, because a lot of players might be really great technically, or they might have a great emotional thing, but Slash has all that. He’s a great technician, he’s got an amazing ear, and his feel and emotion really resonate with me personally. 

"But he’s also got that sound, and he developed that sound at a really young age. That’s the thing that’s fascinating. For me, as a singer, it took me a long time to find myself as an artist. When you listen to Appetite For Destruction, he found who he was by the time he was in his early twenties. That’s pretty impressive."

8. Alex Lifeson

Dr Stuart Clark (Astronomer): "Deep Purple gave me colour, excitement, classical influences and long songs that were improvisational. But I wanted longer songs, to go big. Then I found Rush, through Exit… Stage Left. This was rock, but not like I’d ever heard it. 

"Alex Lifeson is a god – I remember watching this on video and thinking: ‘One day I’m going have a guitar like that and I’m going to know how to play it.’ I never knew rock music could uplift, astound and move you in that way. It took me to Planet Rush. The addiction started, and I’ve now seen them over 50 times.

"I never knew rock music could astound in this way. I went to Planet Rush."

7. Brian May

Steve Vai: "I don’t think enough is really said about the brilliance of Brian May’s guitar playing, in the sense that it’s overshadowed by the greatness of the music itself. The Queen II album was one of those pivotal moments that just nailed me to the wall. I was a little kid, and being a guitar player and hearing Brian… 

"He’s probably one of the top identifiable guitar players, even more so than Jeff Beck and Page and Clapton. They’re all so identifiable but Brian May had such a tone in his head and in his fingers, it speaks volumes. He is a genius. The way that he can perfectly and seamlessly orchestrate guitars? His contribution to orchestrated guitars is unprecedented. There was nothing like it. To me it was like when Edward Van Halen came along and just reshaped the sound of electric guitar. That’s what I heard in Brian May’s playing. It’s something that’s inherent in the brain of the guitar player. 

"I remember working with Frank Zappa for the first time. I had just moved out to Los Angeles, nobody knew me, I was just this little kid, 21 years old. I went to the Rainbow Bar & Grill and Brian May was there. I couldn’t believe it – that Brian May was standing there. And I mustered up every little bit of courage and went up to him and said: “Brian May, oh my god, it’s really you. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done. I play guitar, I’m here in town with Frank Zappa.” He said: “Oh, really? Why don’t you come down to our rehearsal?” 

His contribution to orchestrated guitars is unprecedented.

Steve Vai

"I went down and he brought me up on the stage and he let me play the guitar – the guitar that he built with his dad. I couldn’t even believe that I was touching this instrument! He was so kind and so warm, and for who? This kid, you know? And I played his guitar and it sounded like Steve Vai. Then when he played it it sounded just like Brian May. It was very apparent to me that his tone is in his fingers and his head. 

"He’s a class act from head to toe and it shows in his playing. I can listen to any player and pantomime their sound, but I can’t do Brian May. He’s just walking on higher ground."

6. Stevie Ray Vaughan

Joanne Shaw Taylor: "Stevie Ray Vaughan was the gateway artist for me and for so many of my generation, in the same way that Eric Clapton was for an earlier generation. He made the blues slightly more commercial and easier to relate to for me as a teenager. 

"What he did made me appreciate other blues artists as well. For example, after listening to Stevie, I was able to understand somebody like T-Bone Walker much more. As a teenage girl growing up in England I couldn’t really relate to T-Bone Walker, but Stevie just whacked the whole thing up into a package that I could get into. And it wasn’t just T-Bone – Stevie also opened up the way for me to understand BB King and Albert Collins as well." 

5. Eric Clapton

Edward Van Halen: "Clapton was it. I knew every note he played. Mammoth – me, Alex [Van Halen] and a bass player we knew – were the junior Cream. 

"Being limited gear-wise forced me to find my own voice on the guitar. That’s why Eric Clapton’s live jams with Cream were such an influence on me. Back in ’68 he was pretty much just using natural distortion on those live tracks on Wheels Of Fire and Goodbye. I had no money and couldn’t afford a fuzz box or a wah-wah or a ring modulator, or whatever Hendrix had in his whole rig. I just plugged straight into an amp and turned it up to 11. So in order to get a different or unique sound, I had to learn to squeeze it out of the strings with just my fingers. 

"I never had a guitar lesson in my life, except from listening to Eric Clapton records."

4. David Gilmour

Steve Rothery (Marillion): "Of the players who’ve influenced me and whose work I love, Steve Hackett and David Gilmour stand out, and another of my all-time favourites would be Jeff Beck. Of his whole generation, Beck’s the only one for me who’s never lost the fire. You see him play now and he’s still had the same passion and energy he’s always had. 

"All my favourite players have the sort of emotional aspect to their playing that Gilmour specialises in: long, sustaining, melodic lines. It’s down to playing what the song requires and no more, basically. If somebody’s playing fast for a reason, that’s great, but mindless shredding has never really done much for me.  

It’s not just about soloing, either, it’s about what and how you play throughout the song.

Steve Rothery

"A lot of what Gilmour does is about feel and emotion and atmosphere. It’s about that ability that he has to put something into a song that lifts it and sort of augments the meaning, that adds to it in a way that you can hear it many, many times and still get that emotion. It’s not just about soloing, either, it’s about what and how you play throughout the song. And David Gilmour is one of the masters of that."

3. Eddie Van Halen

Ritchie Kotzen (Poison, Mr Big, Winery Dogs): "This is kinda embarrassing but the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen was on the Beat It solo. It was on the radio and I heard him playing that solo and I was like, man, that’s unbelievable, who is this guitar player? I asked around and found out it was Eddie Van Halen. Then I ended up getting some Van Halen records and from there I just really wanted to play like him. 

"I remember seeing Van Halen in magazines, but I didn’t know what their music sounded like, and then after hearing Beat It I got really into them. He didn’t sound like any other guitar player. At the time I was really into Ozzy and Sabbath and that sort of thing, but when I heard that guitar solo it just didn’t sound like anyone else. It sounded so unique to me – the tone, everything, but it was more about the way that he played the notes. 

This is kinda embarrassing but the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen was on the Beat It solo

Richie Kotzen

"Everyone talks about Van Halen’s sound, but it really has to do with his timing, his rhythm style and his phrasing. It’s more about that to me than the amp or whatever guitar he’s using. 

"The first time I saw Eddie play I had the best possible seats, because we had the same guitar tech. So on one of his tours I was in this little room under the stage where he goes to change guitars or do whatever. So I was in this little service room where all his guitars are and his tech is in there tuning stuff. So I was sitting in there watching the show. It was pretty incredible and I couldn’t believe it. Wow. Seeing Van Halen for the first time and I was there. Totally crazy."

2. Jimmy Page

Bruce Kulick (Kiss, Grand Funk Railroad): "All of my really big inspirations come from that period. Clapton, of course, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck. 

"Of course, there’s no way to have this conversation without mentioning Jimmy Page. Jimmy wasn’t just a genius in the way he played, he was a genius in how he recorded too. Sometimes he would play a little crazy, a little out-of-the-box, but he was just incredible. It was no surprise to me that he was such an amazing session player even before Led Zeppelin. Led Zep was a great place for him to show off his guitar talent, because he got to play electric and acoustic and even some jazzy riffs. What a creative force, and what a perfect band to showcase it. Every player in that band was world class, and the songs were amazing. Timeless, too. They’ll be around forever. 

Led Zeppelin were very influential to Kiss.

Bruce Kulick

"I met Jimmy Page twice years ago; this was during my Kiss years, probably around 1985. Jimmy was by himself in this club, drinking, and I got an autograph from him. It just looked like scribbling, so I threw it away. Years later I realised it was his signature. A week later I saw him at the same club, and this time he was sober, dressed great, and he remembered me from the week before. He was aware of Kiss, and I told him we sometimes played Whole Lotta Love at soundchecks. Led Zeppelin were very influential to Kiss. In fact they used to play Led Zep before Kiss came on. Jimmy was really polite and just a real gentleman about it all." 

1. Jimi Hendrix

Joe Satriani: "The first thing that really flipped me out was hearing The Wind Cries Mary on the radio. 

"Before then I was a drummer and I started from watching The Stones and The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. 

"That’s was what probably got me going, looking at George Harrison. But as soon as I heard Hendrix that was it. What makes him great is his choice of notes. That’s a simple way of putting it. That’s so important. What he chose to play is what we chose to love. But he also had some other curious qualities. Whenever I listen to him, it sounds like he just learnt how to play, but he went from zero right to the top.

What he chose to play is what we chose to love.

Joe Satriani

"So when you hear Machine Gun from Live At The Fillmore you have no idea what’s going to happen in the next few minutes, you’re totally unprepared. With Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) you can’t believe how perfect a performance it is and it’s just a blues thing in E [laughs].On 1983 he doesn’t even sound like himself, I don’t know what’s going on there. It’s just a beautiful composition; he becomes the song, that’s very important. All great players play according to the music they are playing, it’s not like it’s a self-promotion vehicle. 

"Unfortunately the 70s were a hellish period for many great players, if you look at Hendrix’s comrades it was a rough road. But look at someone like Jeff Beck; he just gets better and better. I saw him a month go in Oakland and I was just in tears standing at the side of the stage listening to him playing Where Were You. Nowadays as a guitarist you want to celebrate what you’ve been able to play, which goes back to quoting other great players, but you also feel a responsibility not to copy those people. In my mind when I’m playing my heroes are sitting on my shoulders."


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