The 20 Greatest Guitarists of All Time

Another Non-Definitive List

Of course music is subjective so we all have our own opinions of who is the greatest guitar player. And since guitar dominated R&B and rock songs have been in the charts for almost a century now, there are clearly many great players to choose from.

best all time guitar players

It is not an easy question when you consider acoustic, electric, lead, rhythm, soloing, and different styles of playing.

Who really is the greatest guitarist of all time?

For the list below we chose the best in their genre based on several factors, sometimes because of technique and others due to their ability to utilize the guitar in songwriting.

The guitar is a very versatile instrument which means the greatest players will vary quite a bit.

Obviously some big names will be missed, but that's ok, as you clearly know they are incredible guitarists.

Les Paul

You will almost always see Les Paul on a list of great guitarists as he was a player and an innovator.

He literally helped create the idea of the solid-body electric guitar, and even if you are not a fan of his jazz and blues, guitarists owe him a nod for his experiments and recording techniques.

Les Paul was influenced by the great artist Django Reinhardt and it is obvious in his playing.

His entire career is filled with the biggest names and deservedly so as he had mastered the guitar in and out.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix had a lot of experience playing with great musicians like James Brown and Ike Turner, however he wasn't musically literate.

He is the best example of a guitarist that had little formal training but was still brilliant at his craft.

While the blues rock he played was very common his use of effects and other techniques set him above the rest, many guitar players often rate him as the best, with good reason!

Robert Fripp

In the world of progressive rock, Robert Fripp of King Crimson is one of the greatest prog guitarists!

He is also an inspiration to all guitar players because he started out with no musical skill and rhythmic abilities, he practiced through tone deafness and other issues.

It is no surprise he has developed his own guitar tunings and crosspicking techniques as he has approached music in his own unique way.

Robert Fripp can still be found across several social media platforms teaching guitar, and his lessons always provide a new perspective.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is another pioneer as a singer, musician, and guitarist.

She was one of the first to use distortion on her gospel inspired music that led to the creation of the electric guitar blues genre.

Her guitar technique is so great it seems to have a hypnotizing effect on the listener.

It is no wonder she influenced everyone like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, Eric Clapton, and so many more later famous guitar players.

Carl Perkins

There were many great rockabilly guitar players, but Carl Perkins leads the way with his technique and songwriting.

The biggest rockabilly hits like "Blue Suede Shoes" were written by Carl, and the rest of his hits were all covered by The Beatles.

He used a mix of palm muting, arpeggios, string bends, and chromatic blues notes to get his signature style, and his music is filled with extended jazz chords.

Just learning a few of his songs will walk you through many great guitar techniques.

Eddie Van Halen

Of course Eddie Van Halen will make almost any list of great guitarists, and he was inspired by other amazing musicians like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.

For those who are fans of technical ability on the guitar, Eddie, and those he influenced are at the top of their field.

His guitar shredding paved the way for much of the 80s metal and later hard rock sound he helped innovate.

Maybelle Carter

The guitar initially had a hard time competing with other instruments in the days before amplification, and players like "Mother" Maybelle Carter created specific picking styles to help make the guitar a lead instrument.

She used what was called the "Carter scratch' to make her playing stand out between bass plucks and treble hits.

If you are a fan of old or new country music, the style likely wouldn't sound the way it does without the influence of Maybelle Carter.

Peter Tosh

When discussing the guitar greats of reggae music, Bob Marley is normally going to be the artist mentioned. And rightfully so as he was a great player and brilliant songwriter!

But Bob and all the Wailers learned to play guitar and other instruments thanks to Peter Tosh.

He taught himself guitar and his early styles morphed from more upbeat ska to the later rocksteady and even slower reggae rhythms.

And like many of the guitar greats on this list he was also a heavy influence on society and politics, he had both messages and music for his audience.

Jack White

There are a few different alternative and indie artists to choose from when it comes to great guitar playing, and Jack White is one of the more influential artists.

Like a lot of indie rock, his music at times is simple, despite that some of it is very memorable and catchy.

His musical abilities go beyond just playing the guitar as he is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter.

Like many self-taught musicians, he is not only a "Jack" of all trades but also a master of many!

Norma Tanega

Being a great guitarist is not just about shredding or playing difficult licks, and Norman Tanega showed this in her style of folk and traditional music.

Her music would likely be lost to history if not for the film and TV show What We Do in the Shadows bringing her to a new audience.

If you watch her strumming and plucking you can see the style is influenced by her Filipino and Central American heritage.

She mixed that traditional guitar playing with Greenwich Village folk bass licks to create unique and memorable songs.

Steve Vai

Steve Vai was trained by fellow great guitar players Frank Zappa and Joe Satriani, all three were considered virtuosos at their instrument.

Not only is Steve a great musician he has spent much of his life teaching his incredible techniques to new players.

The only thing better than being a great guitarist is training a whole new generation of musicians to carry the torch!


There are many great funk and soul guitarists to choose from, but Prince is one of the most technically proficient.

He was a master of virtuoso soloing and even simple staccato funk rhythms; he knew the guitar inside and out.

And along with being an amazing guitar player he was also an accomplished songwriter and arranger.

In the 80's mostly heavy metal and hard rockers were known for their guitar skills, far too many overlooked the genius of Prince and his playing style.

Bonnie Raitt

There are many great slide guitarists and one of the most well-known was Bonnie Raitt.

Like other blues guitar players she wasn't a super-fast player or technically brilliant, but like B.B. King and Eric Clapton, she had a knack for putting a lot of emotion behind each note she played.

And her musical talents went beyond guitar as she is a great songwriter and singer.

Johnny Thunders

Punk guitar playing does not get the same respect as some other genres, a lot of it is simply aggressive and fast strumming on power chords.

While there are a few great punk guitarists that lead the pack, like Johnny Ramone and Mick Jones, Johnny Thunders early work in the glam rock band New York Dolls really helped pave the way for the signature punk sound.

If your favorite style of music happens to be punk or similar aggressive styles, you should pay close attention to the power chords and added blues riffs of Johnny Thunder.

Yngwie Malmsteen

One of the most popular metal guitarists ever is Yngwie Malmsteen, and he can even be considered a great classical player.

Those lightning speed riffs and solos are mostly just classical music played with lots of distortion, he even helped invent a subgenre of music called neoclassical.

He is one of the many guitarists that helped inspire the term math rock, as his playing is so technically amazing that some feel it lacks emotion.

Regardless of whether you like full speed ahead heavy metal there is no doubting the virtuosity of Yngwie Malmsteen and his influence.

Frank Gambale

The fusion rock genre is a mixture of rock, blues, jazz, and many other styles, it is known for its complexity and sophistication.

There are many great fusion guitarists and one of the most influential was Frank Gambale.

And like other influencers he is not just an amazing guitar player, he is a one of the best teachers, as his knowledge of composing and harmonies is incredible.

If you are looking for advanced studies in guitar then Frank Gambale's lessons and music will be one of the best places to start!

Frank is a pioneer of sweep picking technique.

Eddie Lang

One of the greatest composers of all time was Hoagy Carmichael and in one of his last songs he has a line that goes "when Eddie Lang plays his golden guitar."

In the early 20th century Eddie Lang was like the jazz version of Eddie Van Halen.

He played in the days before electric guitar became popular and became an early adopter of the instrument. He recorded songs in jazz, blues, classical, and really any style that he could.

Merle Travis

Early country music was heavily influenced by folk and bluegrass, and as it grew it started taking riffs and techniques from pop and rock.

As the country genre evolved one of the most influential guitarists became Merle Travis, who helped invent the famous Travis-picking style that mixed in a ragtime feel and became the backbone of modern country.

Not only was he great at combining all these different genres, but he was also an accomplished songwriter and singer.

Carlos Santana

Santana started his guitar playing during the psychedelic rock era, but his style also combines blues, jazz, and Latin rhythms.

He inhabits that rare space of a musician that has both technical brilliance and provides a wide range of emotions in his playing.

His guitar playing is so unique that it is always identifiable, something about his technique and style always lets the listener know!

Even Prince once said he preferred Santana over Hendrix, as the former played "prettier."

Chuck Berry

If you took the blues guitar greats like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and T-Bone Walker and added a heavy rock backbeat, you would get Chuck Berry.

He was one of the ultimate rock and roll influencers and essentially a creator of that genre.

His riffs became synonymous with 50's R&B and rock and they influenced an entire generation of artists, especially The Beatles! He wasn't technically magnificent on the guitar, but his song and riff writing abilities sealed his place in music history.

Almost every guitar student will learn a Chuck Berry riff when they start playing, as they are the gold standard of guitar.

Of course there are so many other great guitarists out there, you could easily make a list of 100's of them!

The deeper down the music rabbit hole you go, the more you find the names of musicians both famous and obscure.

And if you look long enough you will find they all had a hand in influencing each other in various ways, there really is no definitive person at the very top.

The guitar is a versatile instrument and some players are great at lead solos while others are masters of rhythm. If you study the artists on this list and other greats you will find some of the best music and guitar teachers there are!

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