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The Greatest Guitarists Of The Last Fifty Years

One hundred of the greatest guitarists of the last half century based on technique, innovation, originality, influence, style, and musical legacy.

Johnny Ramone - Influencing not only punk but hordes of metal acts, Johnny Ramone's down-stroked "buzzsaw" combined speed, grit, and attitude into a wondrous new package. Few people since have ever played such jovial riffs while seeming so pissed off at their guitar.
99 The Rolling Stones
Exile on Main Street

Keith Richards - One of the few players on Earth that can successfully pull off nonchalance, Keef offered a darker, moodier counterpoint to many of his peers, adding a taste for blues and early rock to strong pop sensibilities with just enough room for Mick to do his thing.
98In Flames

Jesper Stromblad - In Flames' Jesper Stromblad founded the band as a side project, but it would go on to take a life of its own with his playing defining melodic death metal's "Gothenburg sound" with just the right balance of aggression and melodicism. Combining percussive metal riffing with fluid melodies inspired by both classical and his native folk music, Stromblad set In Flames apart early with memorable licks, smart phrasing, and an inventive spirit. From his beautiful acoustic work to the mesmerizing solos, he remains a large benchmark for and influence on modern melodic metal.
97Wishbone Ash

Ted Turner - Bringing together the best of the '60s and '70s, Ted Turner embellished Andy Powell's adept songwriting with folk, blues, jazz, and rock mastery. Utilizing incredible phrasing and passion on leads and solos, Turner livened up Wishbone Ash's classic era with huge presence and style and a whole lot of soul.

Paul Masvidal - Combining a love of jazz and death metal, Paul Masvidal formed Cynic while still in high school with drummer friend Sean Reinart. Between Cynic and his touring and recording with Death, Masvidal has brought a highly unique and technical approach to the genre with interesting rhythms, odd time signatures, and shredding modal solos.
95Thin Lizzy
Black Rose: A Rock Legend

Gary Moore - Bringing the heart and soul of the blues into the theatrical playing of hard rock as few have been able, Gary Moore has been a huge influence on a multitude of today's most respected and accomplished players. His roaring leads and thunderous, heartfelt soloing is absolutely riveting, whether in his brief work with Thin Lizzy or his extensive solo work.
94The Who
Who's Next

Pete Townsend - Pete Townsend did a lot to set the stage for the major classic rock bands of the '70s with his physical rhythms and pioneering of strong power chords (and breaking instruments onstage). Just as intelligent as passionate, Townsend could give a fill out the empty space left for him by his capable counterparts in the rhythm section without crowding them or overwhelming the music with too much flash.
93Deathspell Omega

Hasjarl - Deathspell Omega's mysterious Hasjarl delivers sonic chaos in it's most evil form with swirling vortices of blackened tremolo riffing, crawling anti-melodies, and dissonant, mathy grooves. His creativity and dynamism with his own impressive skill sets him far apart from his contemporaries, even employing the occasional breakdown to unsettling effect.
92Mike Bloomfield
Super Session

Mike Bloomfield - Mike Bloomfield was initially inspired by early blues legends but would end up sounding very far removed from any of them, incorporating some modal jazz and psychedelic grit before it become almost ubiquitous. He wasn't afforded the opportunity to produce a huge catalogue of work before dying of a drug overdose in 1981, but he certainly left his mark on the scene and heaps of other players.
Ride the Lightning

James Hetfield - Metallica's James Hetfield is generally more known for being the voice of the band rather than its guitar anchor, but Hetfield took percussive thrash playing and made it much more artful than it had ever been or has been since. With everyone else in the scene trying to be faster, heavier, he drew from his multitude of influences to create a wide range of unique material. No other players were chiseling out the ominous "Call of Ktulu" or the thoughtful "To Live Is to Die" while keeping a knack for massive thrashing riffs in their back pockets (see "Creeping Death").
90Neil Young
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere

Neil Young - Through a great tone and certain intangibles, Neil Young impresses on the guitar with style far outweighing technique. Between crunchy distorted lines and humble acoustic picking, Young adds a very human feel to his playing while always trying to push his own boundaries.

John Sykes - From Thin Lizzy to Tygers of Pan Tang to Whitesnake, few have left a bigger imprint on rock guitar than John Sykes. Really embodying the '80s, he played big, loud, and flashy with some crunching tone. The skillful way Sykes toys with sustain, vibrato, and harmonics sets him far apart from many of his peers and the legions of copycats.
88Albert King
Born Under a Bad Sign

Albert King - Albert King is a blues elder statesman but perhaps one its best kept secrets, except to many of the greats that his work has inspired. He could bend notes like nobody's business and create some truly passionate melodies with fellow luminaries like Eric Clapton and Duane Allman even "borrowing" from his illustrious canon.
87Joe Satriani
Surfing with the Alien

Joe Satriani - Growing up being taught jazz guitar before teaching some very well-known players like Steve Vai, Metallica's Kirk Hammett, and Primus and Possessed's Larry LaLonde, Joe Satriani is a supreme technician on the instrument with a mastery of virtually every technique. His wizardry with tapping, whammy bar effects, sweeping, alternate picking, and legato achieved through hammer-ons and pull-offs has allowed him to write and compose some of the most interesting and technical instrumental music of the last quarter century.
Taken by Force

Uli Jon Roth - Uli Jon Roth started his career mostly making use of blues scales in his solos but would later progress to incorporate more advanced compositional elements and scales from European classical music. This eventually would dominate his playing style, as he showcased brilliantly clean and intricate guitar runs with the Scorpions and in his solo efforts, becoming perhaps the biggest influence on the neoclassical surge in hard rock and heavy metal guitar playing in the '80s.
85St. Vincent
Strange Mercy

Annie Clark - Playing with acts like Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, the extreme dynamism in Annie Clark's playing should come as little surprise, even given her often whimsical solo work. Clark really has a strong grasp over how to effectively create a wide range of sonic templates with the instrument and a superb feel for what to use and where.

Michael Schenker - The German Michael Schenker boasts a blues-rooted rock style offering both strong rhythms and melodies. His playing is the jumping point for practically every heavy metal and hard rock guitarist in the late '70s and throughout the '80s. And his ultra-slick solos, packed with crisp bends and unique voicings, are some of the best from any era.
Marquee Moon

Tom Verlaine - Marquee Moon - With a style nestled somewhere in between Keith Richards and Jerry Garcia, Tom Verlaine took slinky, bluesy playing and stretched it out into something spacey and voluptuous. His band Television marked a turning point in punk attitude and deft melodicism.
82Iron Maiden

Adrian Smith - Adrian Smith brought a melodic, highly intelligent approach to Iron Maiden's early, more raw sound. He found a great niche being able to play off of and around Dave Murray as a very adept counterpoint. His memorable leads and stylish deliveries helped to set Maiden apart from the fold during the heyday of the British metal invasion. Smith wisely abandoned ship before the group entered their weakest era in the '90s only to return and help the group get back on track.
81Cocteau Twins

Robin Guthrie - A forerunner in extremely lush and ethereal guitar work, Robin Guthrie's work in This Mortal Coil and Cocteau Twins set the stage for numerous alternative and shoegaze bands to follow. His knack for layering textures to hypnotic effect still goes virtually unrivaled.
80Link Wray
Link Wray

Link Wray - Link Wray had his 1958 banger "Rumble" banned from the airwaves in fear that it might incite gang brawls and riots. That speaks exactly to what Wray brought to rock throughout his career: tension and intensity. Pioneering tremolo and distortion in ways few could have fathomed at the time, he offered a somewhat heavier alternative to his rockabilly and surf rock peers. Wray would later go on to turn country blues on its head, too, with beautifully subtle and introspective playing.
Never Turn Your Back on a Friend

Tony Bourge - Budgie's Tony Bourge is a fairly unknown gem in rock but easily one of its strongest guitar practitioners, lashing out with intense proto-punk/metal riffing and serving up tender acoustic moments with equal effectiveness. Finding a raw energy and charisma few of his peers can claim to share, Bourge tears through songs with scintillating riffs and smoldering solos while gracefully wrapping his tight playing around his fellow ensemble.
78PJ Harvey
Rid of Me

PJ Harvey - Often deriving intensity through minimalism but also possessing the ability to explode into frenzy at any given moment, PJ Harvey has a carnal approach to the guitar few can match. She often makes the guitar roar with sheer ferocity and commands attention with her heavily distorted slide parts.
77Ry Cooder
Paradise and Lunch

Ry Cooder - Ry Cooder has strong fundamentals in folk and blues that he went on to combine with influences from all across the world, acting as a pivotal asset to Taj Mahal and Captain Beefheart. He can be seen adding soulful slides and bends to flavorful rhythms with great flare and grace.
76Judas Priest
Sad Wings of Destiny

K.K. Downing - K.K. Downing's lifelong tenure in Judas Priest has yielded countless examples of stellar guitar heroics. Crafting superb melodies accentuated by the theatrical in the form of pinch harmonics and dive bombs and countered by the aggressive and rhythmic, Downing's style greatly shaped the duality in the course of metal from the onset, as did his fugue-like dueling with companion Glenn Tipton.
75B.B. King
Live at the Regal

B.B. King - Growing up with the blues in rural Mississippi, B.B. King brought it to life and to the masses with his electric guitar. His vibrant tone is unmistakable, much like his short bursts of desperately bent notes that cry out so sharply against his own robust voice. King plays in such a way that's easy to notate, easy to play out, but almost impossible to copy.
74Celtic Frost
Morbid Tales

Tom G. Warrior - A legend and a pioneer of extreme metal, Tom G. Warrior blended the dark, the heavy, and the aggressive with filthy riffs, unholy feedback, and fiery solos with both Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. His ability to make even simple parts ooze with grim and sinister energy has been taken to heart by practically everyone involved in the early death and black metal scenes. Boldly asking the world if it was morbid, no one has any doubts as to whether or not Tom Warrior is.
A Night at the Opera

Brian May - Brian May was just what Queen needed to accentuate Freddie Mercury's vocal acrobatics, a diverse and inventive player with a style very much his own. May crafts tight, intricate rhythms and melodic flurries with remarkably bright tone whether he's throwing down some metallic funk-infused groove or an infectious neo-rockabilly/honky tonk jam like "Tie Your Mother Down".
Hotel California

Joe Walsh - Beginning as a bluesy rock player with a few good guitar theatrics, Joe Walsh really cemented his legacy in the Eagles, balancing Don Henley's relaxed pop style with a bit of his own hard rock bite. Aside from the obvious guitar harmonies employed, he also brought to the table great sets of memorable licks to really liven each track up. Walsh's playing proved fluid and intelligent with serious style.
Maggot Brain

Eddie Hazel - Funky. Groovy. Heavy. Eddie Hazel was all those things and much more. Really, his band's name pretty much says it all. Hazel was the ultimate mash-up of funk and psychedelic playing, offering spaced-out jamming with impeccable flare and attitude.
70Big Black

Steve Albini - Before going on to produce a wide array of excellent albums, Steve Albini was tearing it up in both Big Black and Rapeman, making a whole lot of raucous noise with his instrument. Albini showcased a heavy metallic sheen over his punk defiance to bring forth playing equally aggressive and abrasive.
69Sonic Youth

Thurston Moore - Thurston Moore's unique approach to the guitar is what happens when you take a devoted Deadhead and show him punk and post-punk. Always prone to experimentation, Moore took the noisy and drone-y and made it dark and moody. His sonic tinkerings, ramblings, and explosions set the stage for the rest of Sonic Youth's alt-punk ensemble playing.
68Morbid Angel

Trey Azagthoth - Hard to say whether Trey Azagthoth's guitar chops descended more from Satan or Mozart, but one thing's for sure; few have the devastating speed and precision of his six-stringed assault. Definitively shaping the early death metal sound, particularly out of America, Azagthoth's simultaneously dexterous and crushing riffing with super-charged solos fueled by wah, whammy, and tapping place him among the best and most influential in the genre.
67Joy Division
Unknown Pleasures

Bernard Sumner - Joy Division's Bernard Sumner built the framework for guitar playing in early post-punk. Switching from moody jangle to pulsing bits of noise, Sumner's playing set Joy Division deftly apart from its contemporaries, setting a high benchmark for technique and creativity before relegating his services more to the background as the band evolved into New Order.
OK Computer

Johnny Greenwood - Starting out fueling Radiohead's grunge-tinged Pablo Honey before journeying through twenty-first century art-rock experimentation and shoegazy guitar backdrops, Jonny Greenwood has proven himself as one of the more forward-thinking players of his generation. With plenty of effects pedals and a no-holds-barred approach, Greenwood weaves his various textures and tones through his melodic and rhythmic counterparts with great skill and vision.
65 Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield - Curtis Mayfield was a self-taught funk prodigy, creating infectious rhythms and sick grooves with his fluid, wah-induced lead work. His time in the Impressions established him as guitar champion of R&B while his solo contributions to the film Superfly pretty much set the bar on funk.
64David Bowie
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust...

Mick Ronson - Mick Ronson was the man behind the men, so to speak, playing with David Bowie during his golden era before going on to write and play for artists including Lou Reed, Morrissey, Elton John, John Mellencamp, and Bob Dylan. Possessing a great knack for melody and arrangements, his simple but engaging playing style, firmly rooted in blues, has been an invaluable cornerstone for countless artists employing him and the countless more he's inspired and influenced.
63Sunn O)))
Black One

Stephen O'Malley - Responsible for making the guitar sound like a bellowing death rattle, Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley has taken his instrument to a dark and terrible place never before tread. SOMA serves up ominous atmosphere and smothering intensity in heaps with his unprecedented tone and ingenious use of effects. Constantly releasing material in various side- projects and collaborations, he's already amassed a very impressive and largely groundbreaking body of wO)))rk.
62Pat Metheny
Bright Size Life

Pat Metheny - Pat Metheny grew up loving jazz at a very young age and quickly became a prodigy on the guitar, even landing a teaching assistantship at Berklee College by age twenty. He continued to rapidly develop a unique style and offered a lot to the genre, including original twelve-string tunings. Metheny's often dreamy and serene playing can border on minimalist at times, but his vibrant tone and discerningly etched out runs make him a champion of jazz in many of its forms.
61The Beatles

George Harrison - Few guitarists have progressed or evolved as much over their careers as George Harrison. He started out bringing his strong rockabilly foundation into the Beatles' own pop sound before spotlighting his prowess with forays into psychedelic, acoustic, and slide playing and was also primarily responsible for the surge in Indian raga-influenced music in the '60s. Much like the rest of his band, George simply knew just what to play, when to play it, and how to play it.
60Steve Vai
Passion and Warfare

Steve Vai - Steve Vai is the ultimate in axe devotees. He possesses advanced knowledge in sight-reading and transcription as well as music theory in addition to being able to do pretty much anything on guitar. Touring with Zappa's band and playing for the likes of Alcatraz, David Lee Roth, and Whitesnake have all gained him varying degrees of notoriety but quite as much as his own solo work in which he pushes the limits of his instrument with lyrical delivery and technical wizardry. His intense speed and wide range of unique techniques involving vibrato, harmonics, and everything in between set him on a high plane of virtuosity.
59Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell - One of folk's consummate players, Joni Mitchell offers sharp rhythms, delicate melodies, and thoughtful arrangements on guitar. Always playing with tunings, she could do whatever she set out to on the instrument and make it personal and unique.
58Al di Meola
Elegant Gypsy

Al di Meola - Al di Meola wields a great mastery over flamenco and jazz fusion and is a major dual threat on acoustic and electric guitar. He's able to deliver tasteful scalar runs at lightning speed on both incarnations of the instrument along with superb bent solos and gorgeous Mediterranean acoustic arrangements. Often combining his talents with fellow luminaries like Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Paco de Lucia, di Meola's extensive career offers no shortage of brilliant performances and groundbreaking work.
Selling England by the Pound

Steve Hackett - Finding the wherewithal to switch at will from folk minstrel to hard rocker, Steve Hackett drove Genesis in their prime, mixing the studious with the energetic and theatrical for a prog rock synergy of epic proportions. His smartly composed leads and dramatic solos practically leap from the speakers, including on his impressive solo outings. Bringing revelations in harmonics and tapping, Hackett has shaped the approach taken to guitar by many, including some of its own masters.
Surfer Rosa

Joey Santiago - Joey Santiago brings together a plethora of influences as broad as flamenco and rockabilly and warps them into a visionary alt rock amalgamation of feedback and distortion. His forceful, pensive guitar experimentations bring mountains of character into the Pixies' recordings while leaving ample space for his bandmates to be equally erratic. Borrowing from the great book of stage antics written by rock gods like Hendrix and Townsend, Santiago has also been known to beat the shit out of his amps and break guitar strings with his teeth.
Close to the Edge

Steve Howe - Forging an epic and dynamic sound from jazz, classical, psychedelic, flamenco, and other influences, Steve Howe's playing in Yes is like a winding journey, full of exciting twists and turns met with soulful execution. Offering everything from noodly melodic runs to blissful acoustic serenades to majestic lap steel slides, Howe paints vivid imagery into his playing that transports listeners across worlds unlike so many artists attempting to recreate such magic.
54Ozzy Osbourne
Blizzard of Ozz

Randy Rhoads - Randy Rhoads could shred and solo, but what set him apart from the pack was dazzling style. The ability to change gears at the drop of a hat and adding nuance to almost flashy playing made his short legacy with Ozzy really memorable. Always with a hunger to improve, Rhoads found himself diving deeper into classical and jazz before his untimely death in a plane crash.
53Fairport Convention
Liege & Lief

Richard Thompson - Giving Britain its own distinct folk-rock voice in Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson melded together English, Scottish, and Celtic folk and pairs them with his own electric and acoustic fervor. His solo work and that recorded with his former wife, Linda, is especially heartfelt and endearing, with its subtle and stripped-down arrangements.
52Yngwie Malmsteen
Rising Force

Yngwie Malmsteen - The '80s metal version of Paganini, Yngwie electrifies classical music with his undeniably pompous rock swagger. His speed and precision on the instrument is virtually unrivaled, mutilating the fret board with crisp scales and arpeggios. Malmsteen's slick melodic runs put through a keen metallic filter are still the jumping point for practically all of power metal.
51The Pentangle
Sweet Child

Bert Jansch - Bert Jansch wholly embodied the balance between the technicality and earnest of folk guitar. Dreamy, peaceful, and beautiful, his Scottish folk stylings on acoustic heavily influenced Jimmy Page, Neil Young, and countless other guitarists across multiple genres.
50 Adrian Belew
Lone Rhinos

Adrian Belew - Thrust into a world of more formally trained musicians by managing to score a touring role with Frank Zappa's band, Adrian Belew was treated to a crash course in music theory after finding much success in teaching himself to play guitar. After brief stints with Zappa and David Bowie, Belew joined prog rock titans King Crimson in the '80s while also putting out heaps of solo material. Very much an experimental guitarist, Belew is widely known for being able mimic a large range of sounds and noises through various electronic effects and unorthodox techniques.
Youth of America

Greg Sage - Noisy, energetic, and still very melodic, Greg Sage's playing takes the dark atmosphere of post-punk and the raw tension of traditional punk and mashes them together into something truly memorable. Sage not only shows noticeably more skill in his playing than the vast majority of his peers but also a true gift for conveying the most human of themes through his heavily distorted jangle.
48Laura Marling
A Creature I Don't Know

Laura Marling - Starting out young playing with Noah and the Whale, Laura Marling developed quickly as a guitarist, singer, and songwriter before going solo. Her own music readily shifts from whimsy to ethereal to dark with her skillful playing leading the way. If Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell had spawned a daughter, chances are she would sound like Laura Marling, who takes intimacy and intricacy and fuses them brilliantly. Traces of bluegrass, blues, and jazz can be made out in her on English folk style as she continues to give the new folk scene a schooling in musicianship.
47Johnny Winter
Second Winter

Johnny Winter - The albino bluesman Johnny Winter turbocharged the blues with lots of speed and finesse in the '70s. Sliding and shredding all over the place, he beefs up electric blues to another level with his impressive chops chiseled out in a hard rock tone. Texas blues never sounded so ferocious.
46Dick Dale
Surfer's Choice

Dick Dale - Reverb never sounded so cool as when Dick Dale took rockabilly and morphed into something new and exciting. Working with a very percussive approach to playing and intricate arrangements, Dale spawned surf rock with his lush tremolo and stylish staccato strumming. His phrasing choices and nuanced touches to many of his riffs make his work really interesting and enjoyable to listen to.
45Dream Theater
Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory

John Petrucci - Some call it virtuosity, some wankery, but John Petrucci's skill on the guitar is undeniable. The Berklee grad plays with lightning speed and precision with plenty of ear for dynamics. Though his playing is often criticized as "needlessly athletic", it's safe to say he can turn on the emotion when moment calls, as the breathtakingly diverse soloing on "Best of Times" will clearly attest to.
44My Bloody Valentine

Kevin Shields - Sometimes the guitar is at its best when it sounds nothing like a guitar, and when Kevin Shields plays, it sounds like a dream. Shields delicately extracts such rich flavor from his guitar with the various pedals and techniques that he employs, making him and My Bloody Valentine the subjects of constant imitation.
43Rory Gallagher
Irish Tour '74

Rory Gallagher - Nothing like an Irishman to heighten Chicago and Delta blues, but that's exactly what Rory Gallagher did in his long and hard-fought career. He taught himself to play a multitude of instruments including bass, mandolin, banjo, sitar, and alto sax but really left his mark on the guitar, blazing brilliant slide playing and swinging blues rhythms.
42Wes Montgomery
Full House

Wes Montgomery - Playing jazz without any of the sterility that so often plagues the genre, Wes Montgomery injected just the right amount of soul and groove and into his highly intelligent bop style. Even his forays into poppier territory boast immensely stylish craftsmanship. Montgomery's integration of vibrato and other techniques, along with his engaging runs, established a high bar for how to effectively employ the electric guitar in modern jazz.

Jaari Maenpaa - Taking thrash, power metal, melodeath, black metal, and Scandinavian folk and tossing them on a blender with just a dash of rocket fuel and crank basically sums up the style of the Finnish prodigy Jaari Maenpaa. His brief tenure in folk metal act Ensiferum found him delivering some of the most intricate and gratifying melodies in the genre. Now, his solo project, Wintersun, showcases an even further progressed Maenpaa with hyper-fast, hyper-melodic sweeps and runs laced through his own tightly woven rhythms. His nickname should be "The Janitor," because Jaari absolutely sets the bar on sweeping.
40Husker Du
New Day Rising

Bob Mould - Bob Mould brought an almost deconstructive approach to the punk energy and nuanced pop of Husker Du. His noisy, psyched-out distortion brings copious amounts of texture and atmosphere to his band's upbeat and sometimes moody numbers. Mould was even capable of working in a little jazzy hardcore improv from time to time, like on Zen Arcade's epic closer, "Reoccurring Dreams".
From Wisdom to Hate

Luc Lemay - Playing technical death metal is almost always a circle jerk of speed and technique, but that certainly isn't the entire case with Gorguts or its founding guitarist, Luc Lemay. Employing wild time signatures and tightly knit riffing, the Canadian Lemay can expertly imbue gripping energy into his highly skillful playing by intuitively changing up tempos and adding flourishes of crushing dynamics ranging from palm-muting to harmonics.
38Michio Kurihara
Sunset Notes

Michio Kurihara - Something of a modern day Hendrix, there's few people still pressing the limits of what the electric guitar can do and be in recorded music quite like Michio Kurihara. He manages to brilliantly oscillate between brutally assaulting and making sweet love to his instrument. The Japanese madman dishes out fuzzed-out psychedelic licks, extravagantly noisy shredding
37The Smiths
The Queen Is Dead

Johnny Marr - The Queen Is Dead - The ultimate counterpart to Morrissey's depressive baritone, Johnny Marr's bright and charming playing in the Smiths is always spot on, traversing a wide array of techniques and deliveries. Never too flashy, Marr always delivers understated rhythm playing with plenty style and feel, whether it be lush arpeggios or the unmistakable flange of "How Soon Is Now?".
Close to a World Below

Robert Vigna - Robert Vigna is largely responsible for taking death metal to a new level of brutality and complexity with his relentlessly fast, chaotically evil riffs in Immolation. Incorporating intricate and dissonant elements with more classic genre dynamics, much like his New York brethren in Incantation, Vigna wields the ability to intelligently craft music that is bludgeoning and atmospheric while often retaining an immediately gratifying groove.
Earth 2

Dylan Carlson - Psychedelic minimalist Dylan Carlson evolved a dingy grunge sound and crushing sludge aesthetic into something much more organic and all his own with band Earth, simultaneously pioneering and perfecting drone metal as it's known today. His striking balance of tone and effects to achieve a truly otherworldly musical experience is essentially the benchmark for the hordes of emulators and imitators in the scene today.
Double Nickels on the Dime

d boon - Injecting a huge array of influences into his own noisy, groovy punk canon, Boon takes minute or two-long tracks and runs all over them with his trebly fervor. His distinctive approach has been paramount in shaping pretty much every alternative and punk-influenced act to come after the mighty Minutemen.
Under the Sign of the Black Mark

Quorthon - Heavy, gritty, and atmospheric, Quorthon's playing was everything extreme metal guitar should be before there was anything to compare it to. Taking fast thrash riffing with just a dash of punk and upping the evil-factor, he elevated Bathory to a class of its own. A healthy dose of dynamic riff-structuring and brilliantly frenetic solos showed that he was far from a one- trick-pony, even in the early days before switching gears and pioneering Viking metal with an even stronger sense of epicism and driving, Scandinavian folk-inspired melodies.
32Dinosaur Jr
You're Living All Over Me

J Mascis - Wielding a drugged-out style piecing together remnants of punk and distorted alternative, Dino Jr.'s J Mascis knows just how to run the gamut from thunderous to introspective and make it look easy. Always keeping it loud, Mascis never fails to deliver superb, driving licks with a very sincere and often hypnotic soloing style.

King Buzzo - Anyone dabbling in grunge, sludge, doom, stoner, and drone is permanently indebted to Melvins guitarist Buzz Osborne. He started out covering classic rock and heavy metal before discovering hardcore punk. Taking that intensity and energy and slowing it way down, Buzzo helped the band pioneer uncharted territory with his signature feedback- drenched churn that's still often imitated but rarely duplicated.
Rust in Peace

Marty Friedman - In the case of Megadeth, Dave Mustaine sets up the musical "alley- oop," but Marty Friedman really drives in the rock with his ferociously stylish leads and solos. He takes a few notes from classical and prog to weave together searing melodic runs punctuated with precise technical flourishes. Also creating stellar harmonization with Jason Becker in Cacophony even before Megadeath, Friedman always serves to highlight other talented players with his own very capable chops.
29Nick Drake
Pink Moon

Nick Drake - Few have made the guitar sound as serene and contemplative as Nick Drake. Fusing buzzing rhythms with ethereal melodies to birth some otherworldly aura, Drake's minor- heavy folk musings stand as some of the most unique and evocative in the genre. Never short on style or personality, he could add just the right amount of flare to a piece without weighing it down or making it impersonal in the slightest.
Autumn Aurora

Roman Saenko - Very few people have approached black metal guitar with quite the vision or skill of Drudkh's Roman Saenko. He delivers incredibly gratifying and mesmerizing tremolo riffing worked around traditional blues chords and those of his own Ukraine's early folk music, and then strings them together with a magnificent sense of dynamics. The icing on the cake is Saenko breathing life into highly emotive solos while still noodling loosely like a Kerry King, only with none of the seeming randomness.
27The Allman Brothers Band
Eat a Peach

Duane Allman - Duane Allman's entire career is basically giving a master lesson on slide guitar. The injection of soul and feeling he delivers with each slide, each bend is entirely palpable, giving the instrument a powerful vocal presence few can come close to matching. Duane was fortunate enough to always be surrounded with exceptional players, and he was able to supplement and complement them brilliantly.
26Stevie Ray Vaughan
Texas Flood

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Equal parts Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan knew just how to take the good time fun of '50s rock and rockabilly and mesh it so tightly with blues feeling and impeccable tone. His boogie and shuffle could get an audience dancing on the edge of its seats while playing immense leads to have them on the very edge of those seats. Hats off to David Bowie for sharing Texas' best kept secret with the world.
Live I

Keiji Haino - Perhaps the king of post-psychedelic improv and the distortion-laden wall of noise that has become so heavily associated with Japan over the last few decades, Keiji Haino remains one of the most strikingly inventive musicians to pick up a guitar. His aural whirlwind manages to capture the thoughts and imaginations of listeners the way few players can. Haino's solo and collaborative efforts continue to push his playing new and interesting heights, exploring vast arrays of untapped textures and motifs in the sonic universe.
24Children of Bodom
Something Wild

Alexi Laiho - Alexi Laiho is the culmination of many of the greatest rock and metal players to come before him (Malmsteen, Rhoads, Sykes, etc.). His early work with Children of Bodom sees the brilliant melodicism of neoclassical and Scandinavian folk music combined with the roaring flair of '80s rock and metal. Even though Laiho has taken a bit of a coasting approach to his playing, he's already proven his aptitude at putting together riffs and solos that manage to be engaging, fun, and technical all at once.

Allan Holdsworth - Allan Holdsworth holds a claim as one of jazz fusion's greatest technicians and one of the most underappreciated figures in the guitar world. Influenced largely more by saxophonists than other guitarists, Holdsworth plays with very clean and precise legato fluidity. His typically blazing fast runs are highly scalar but often very unique as a result of being self-taught.
Electric Tears

Buckethead - Both a virtuoso and an innovator, the secretive Buckethead really only needs to speak through his music. Constantly pouring out material and trying new things with all manners of effects, gadgets, and techniques, he always manages to maintain a surprisingly human element to his playing, grafting his own parts together in a sort of deranged compositional manner. From delay to distortion, the range of sounds and emotions Buckethead can bring to life on guitar is truly impressive.

Carlos Santana - Carlos Santana is largely the best of Latin jazz, electric blues, and African rhythms. His playing is a thing of beauty, reaching within himself and projecting though clear tone and bright sustain. The technicality and groove of his influences was only heightened with a small dose of psychedelic, thanks to experimentation with drugs and a strong mentor in Jerry Garcia.
De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas

Euronymous - Essentially the father of Scandinavian black metal guitar playing, the late Euronymous of Mayhem took metal to a place more evil and more filthy than it had ever been while somehow managing to make it artful and intelligent in the vein of some of Europe's darker classical composers. He took supremely grim melodies and chords and transformed them into massive walls of atmosphere with intense tremolo riffing and necrotic solos, all while retaining some semblance of headbang-able groove.
Disraeli Gears

Eric Clapton - Starting out with the Yardbirds playing the kind of mellow psychedelic pop/rock now synonymous with the '60s, Eric Clapton was able to really expand upon his deep love of the blues with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers where he quickly gained recognition as one of the best in the style, carving out huge runs with his signature Les Paul and Marshall combo. With Cream, he found two very skilled and diverse players to push his chops even further, building upon jazz, African, and R&B frameworks with his own psyche-blues hybrid. Paired up with Duane Allman's slide in Derek and the Dominos, Clapton stepped up to evolve his playing once again with a certain amount of both restraint and passion.
Boris at Last - Feedbacker

Wata - Constantly expressionless on stage, Wata's guitar playing is anything but. The undisputed queen of noise guitar has proven she can play just about any style to brilliant effect, weaving through and bending genres without breaking a sweat. She may lull you delicately with some shoegaze or dream pop meandering before smashing your face with sludge heaviness, melting it with mind-bending shredding, and leaving what's left of your jaw on the floor with noisy yet passionate solos.
17Jeff Beck
Blow by Blow

Jeff Beck - A surgeon with a Strat whammy, Jeff Beck gives off a real sense of craftsmanship when he picks up a guitar. His playing exudes undeniable personality and can be in-your-face while also be extremely delicate and nuanced. Perhaps most of all, Beck carries the ability to skillfully intertwine himself with a vocalist to create a dynamic interplay and discourse.
16John Fahey
The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death

John Fahey - John Fahey fuses a highly technical acoustic folk style with so much blues passion that it's hard to really miss vocal accompaniment with his music. The way he weaves serene melodies through such tight rhythms is really unparalleled, creating great wonderment and extraordinary beauty with just his ten fingers. Ten very, very capable fingers.
15Deep Purple
Machine Head

Ritchie Blackmore - Ritchie Blackmore's greatest asset was being able to skillfully navigate from slow, unyielding riffs to blistering arpeggios to perfectly bent solos and everywhere in between. From the bluesy, psychedelic jams of Deep Purple to his hard rock shred-fest with Dio and co. in Rainbow, Blackmore set the bar high for the innumerable rock and heavy metal guitarists following in his footsteps.
14King Crimson
In the Court of the Crimson King

Robert Fripp - Leave it to Robert Fripp to always question how the guitar is supposed to be played, utilizing all kinds of odd tunings and time signatures. Brilliantly rhythmic in his playing with King Crimson and boldly experimental with his ambient efforts alongside Brian Eno, Fripp combines the best of technical skill with groundbreaking innovation to remain one of the best at his craft.
Ghost Reveries

Mikael Akerfeldt - A rather wondrous culmination of many diverse influences, few can quite match the depth of emotion and atmosphere of Mikael Akerfeldt's distinctive lead-playing. These leads further accentuate already unique riffing strung together with unique and often unorthodox chord and melody progressions. From rhythmic death metal assaults to dark and ethereal acoustic reveries, Mikael has established himself as not only a premier metal guitarist but one of the greatest in any genre.
12Buddy Guy
A Man & the Blues

Buddy Guy - Buddy Guy is single-handedly responsible for ushering in a wave of blues infected with pure rock defiance. Monster bends, heavy distortion, and frenzied runs along with supreme showmanship make Guy a pure treat to watch and listen to. His playing is so full of tension and release, it's hard not to be locked in to his every inclination.

Chuck Schuldiner - Helping to nail down and expand the death metal sound in the '80s previously fleshed out by Possessed, Chuck Schuldiner in Death paved the way for the countless acts to follow with an aggressive, down-tuned fury. However, Schuldiner really left his mark melding the extreme riffing he'd helped to establish with increasingly progressive and jazz-oriented playing. He left behind a wealth of music and a legacy as one of metal's greatest visionaries and musicians before dying of brain cancer in 2001.
10Mahavishnu Orchestra
Birds of Fire

John McLaughlin - John McLaughlin would have achieved legend status just by helping Miles Davis to father jazz fusion with Bitches Brew and other Davis records but would go on to further break molds and smash barriers in his own project, Mahavishnu Orchestra, combining jazz mastery with traditional Indian music, flamenco, R&B, and psychedelic rock. McLaughlin's vast body of work displays great diversity and fluid speed with incomparable feel and style.
9Frank Zappa
Hot Rats

Frank Zappa - Though known for being a satirist, Zappa's chops on guitar are no laughing matter. His vast knowledge of theory combined with effortless style make him one of the best to pick up the instrument. Complex compositions and arrangements didn't stop him from being full of soul and feeling, sometimes just getting downright filthy with his solos. Soaking up influences from all across time and space, Zappa could emulate and often surpass just about anyone at their own game.
8Black Sabbath
Master of Reality

Tony Iommi - When it comes to the guitar, Tony Iommi invented heavy. And, even today, very few artists match him in that regard. His playing on the early Sabbath records just seeps from the speakers in such dark and sinister fashion, thanks to brilliant phrasing and a soul-sundering tone. He balances this toward the end of the Ozzy era with striking ballad work and ground-breaking experimental and psychedelic performances before really finding himself again in the '80s with supreme finesse and heavy metal dazzle. Few musicians in the world can claim to have such unique presence in their playing the way that Tony Iommi can, and his legacy continues to inspire and metal musicians and fans today.
Purple Rain

Prince - You name it; Prince can play it. He's an undisputed master of funk that can still shred with the fiercest metal axe-men and leave jaws on the floor with his passionate and precise soloing. One of the best things about him is his vision, knowing when, where, and how to play certain parts. A lot of his best and most complex lines, after all, are used most effectively layered in the background.

Andy Latimer
5Pink Floyd
Wish You Were Here

David Gilmour - Pink Floyd's David Gilmour has proven time and time again just what a depth of atmosphere and emotion is in his playing. As much an architect and painter as a musician, Gilmour sculpts and paints with his instrument these dreamy sonic impressions that engage and stick with the listener like nothing else. He achieved this by pioneering certain effects with such precision and command while delivering a unique sincerity with his bright solo tone and masterful phrasing. Gilmour's days in Floyd have shown slinky funk licks, sprawling stretches of psychedelia, life-affirming blues crescendos, and everything in between, establishing him as a true master of his craft with intangible feel and style.
A Farewell to Kings

Alex Lifeson - Alex Lifeson is a man always evolving, always expanding his massive stylistic repertoire. He started his illustrious career in Rush with hard rock-minded heaviness and groove before expanding to psychedelic, jazz, classical, and folk-fueled progressive rock virtuosity. Lifeson would open the '80s moving into the then blossoming sound of new-wave and post-punk mixed with pure pop melodicism and, in many ways, spearheading a popular movement to incorporate reggae, Caribbean, Latin, and African music into increasingly intricate pop and rock arrangements. Lately, he's come full circle, rocking out as hard as ever but still keeping the flawless technique and innovation that's made him a joy to listen to for almost four decades now.
3Jimi Hendrix
Are You Experienced

Jimi Hendrix - The electric gypsy known as Jimi Hendrix changed rock forever with an approach to the guitar far more cathartic than calculated. Seemingly in total communion with his instrument, he could morph a simple song into a full on Marshall stack religious experience. He took funk and blues and made them so gratifyingly heavy, coupling chords with single-note strings in phrasings and voicings completely unheard of at the time. It becomes increasingly easy for passing generations to write Hendrix off as "overrated," but the recorded evidence still shines in his favor. Beyond the truly excellent studio albums are the live cuts, video footage, collaborations, and more that nail down and sustain his legacy for those curious enough to catch a glimpse for themselves of just how good James Marshall Hendrix really was.
2Van Halen
Van Halen

Eddie Van Halen - A true innovator in every sense of the word, no guitarist has redefined how to play the instrument quite like Eddie Van Halen. While he may not have invented the tapping he widely popularized, he used it to such effect and with such skill, he may as well have. Holding his pick between his thumb and middle finger has allowed him to seamlessly transition back and forth from picking to tapping. Added to a mastery of harmonics, volume swells, vibrato, and tremolo picking, all wrapped in a monster tone, EVH sports the biggest bag of tricks in the game. Eddie nothing but dazzles with the intricacy and diversity he can put into a single riff. Raised playing classical, taught jazz from his father, and growing up obsessed with Clapton's bluesy style, it's easy to see why he has such huge range and depth in his playing.
1Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin II

Jimmy Page - Led Zeppelin II - Simultaneously one of the greatest folk and blues guitarists, Jimmy Page has taken both styles to new heights, interweaving them with true rock grit and seemingly effortless style and finesse. Early Led Zeppelin is many things, but best of all, it's Jimmy Page deftly navigating through and masterfully commanding the mystique of folk, the emotion of blues, the technicality of jazz, and the unmitigated fun of rock and roll. Even influencing what would become punk riffing with the raucous down-stroking of Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown", Page has inspired such a wide range of musicians and music, both directly and indirectly.
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