Best guitarists of all time: The ten most influential in rock and blues.
Who are the best guitarists in history?
Yes, we know that there are many lists that seek to select the best guitarists in the world. However, every instrument enthusiast has his or her favourites and it is impossible to please them all. But we have found that what we can do is to offer good arguments that clarify the selection criteria for the reader.
Also, the guitar is a very popular musical instrument in a myriad of musical genres and mixing them all into one category is not a very smart thing to do. That is why we have selected the best jazz, blues and rock guitarists in history, and we will leave the musicians of other genres for another time. Shall we begin?
The best guitarists in history:
- Jimmy Hendrix
- Eric Clapton
- Jeff Beck
- Chuck Berry
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Joe Satriani
- Steve Vai
- Yngwie Malmsteen
- Eddie Van Halen
- Allan Holdsworth
Some guitarists are not included
There are many famous guitarists who have made important contributions to the electric guitar. Is this enough to be one of the best? Our goal is to be as accurate as possible in our selection. That is why we will not include:
- Michael Angelo Batio: Some will retort that he’s ambidextrous, but what does that matter? There are excellent musicians who play with their feet and others who have no fingers on their hands and play excellently with prostheses. “But Batio is fast,” they will say. What about that? On the web you can find videos of performers who are twenty times faster than Yngwie Malmsteen and are almost unknown.
- John Petrucci: He’s very fast and plays with Dream Theater. However, his compositions are monotonous and he has not created any new technique for the guitar. He’s very popular and an icon of progressive rock, but it’s the band that stands out, not just Petrucci.
- Tom Morello: Many will complain, because Tom is a master of effects or because they are fans of Rage Against the Machine. The truth is that many other famous guitarists are better than Morello at innovating new sounds and creating legendary compositions from those effects.
- B. B. King: “Blasphemy!” some will shout. King’s bendings are good, they have feeling, but they are not the best, nor does he offer remarkable progressions in the blues. Let’s be honest for a moment and think, how many times have we studied the technique and blues of B. B. King? How often do we compose something with your guitar mastery in mind?
The best rock and blues guitarists: selection criteria
A few years ago Rolling Stones magazine published its list of the hundred greatest of all time, but criticism rained down for several reasons: the order, the absence of female guitarists and the fact that there were no defined criteria to justify the presence or absence of this or that performer.
In this opportunity, we will make our best effort to have the best ten of all times in the rock and blues genres. To achieve our objective, we have chosen three criteria that will allow us to choose the musician and justify his or her presence. We seek to be objective and have therefore selected the musicians under consideration:
- Technical contribution:
The performers in our top have been pioneers in the creation of a new way to play the guitar. They are the best of the best. They are the first and without them the guitar would not be what it is today.
- Musical contribution:
The selected musicians have created new musical harmonies. They have left us a legacy of new progressions and ways of conjugating scales. They are born composers and virtuosos.
- Hedonism and philanthropy:
These are people who found in music a way to fully enjoy this life. But in addition, some of them did something to bring that joy and personal enjoyment to others.
The best guitarists in history: The ten most influential rock and blues guitarists:
Jimi Hendrix was a warrior from birth. He was born in 1942 and lived most of his childhood with little resources and no home besides the cheap hotel his parents found at night.
From the age of eight he found his vocation as a guitarist, playing with a broomstick. After that he showed writing skills when he drafted a letter to the school’s social supports to request funding to buy a guitar, which he was denied. Eventually, he went on to become a music giant.
It can be said that consistency was Hendrix’s greatest strength, but also composition, because he enjoyed an extraordinary creativity. This ability allowed him to leave a great historical contribution through his songs and to become what many consider to be the best rock guitarist. Voodoo Child, for example, features one of the best guitar solos ever. Little Wing is another of his great songs.
His ability to compose was the result of great dedication and technical skill with the guitar. He was a consummate hedonist: he lived to enjoy himself and created his songs to make others enjoy themselves as much as he did. For these reasons we consider it to be one of the best in history.
Hendrix was who he wanted to be as a musician, so it is not possible to find weaknesses. Nevertheless, in some of his compositions, a certain monotony can be appreciated. An example of this is All Along The Watchtower, which features exhausting tempos.
- Guitar: Stratocaster was his favorite, the originals, as well as Gibson Les Paul and other occasional guitars.
- Amplifiers: The amplifier models most used by Hendrix were the Fender Twin Reverb and Marshall Super Lead.
- Effects: Vox brand Wah wah, Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, Octave and Uni-Vibe effects.
A contemporary of Hendrix, Clapton first saw the sunlight in 1945. This composer and singer is one of the most important famous guitarists in the history of rock and blues. It can be said that he was privileged because he was always surrounded by music. His grandmother was a pianist, his mother loved the Big Bands of the time and his father was a respected musician in his homeland.
His strengths are creativity, versatility, harmonic and tonal control. All of this is his legacy in music. He made history with Layla, the beautiful cover of Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff and other impressive performances. For these reasons, he’s one of the best guitarists in the world.
They don’t call him Eric “slow-fingered” Clapton for nothing. But who cares if it’s slow?
- Guitar: Stratocaster, Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul Standard, Gibson SG.
- Amplifiers: Vox AC30, Marshall JTM45, Fender Dual Showman, Fender Champ, Fender Vibro Kings.
- Effects: Dallas Rangemaster, Crybaby ReissuedeJim Dunlop, Roland SDE-3000, DBX compressor.
British guitarist, composer and producer born in 1944. He’s considered one of the most versatile and influential famous guitarists of all time. It is clear from his life that he always wanted to form his own band because he hated playing for others.
Jeff Beck is one of those guitarists who plays almost any style of music and his technical mastery is impressive. He’s considered a living role model who inspired musicians such as Van Halen and Satriani.
His style and historical contribution to the Wah Wah effect are a legacy that continues to be a reference for progressive rock bands. For these reasons, he’s one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
It is difficult to find any weakness in Jeff Beck. However, many of the songs are redundant and tiring.
- Guitar: Fender Telecaster, Squier By Fender, Gibson Les Paul.
- Amplifiers: Fender, Marshall, Vox AC30.
- Effects: Wah Wah, Fuzz, Echo, PRo Co RAT distortion.
One night in 1923 in St. Louis Missouri, the world welcomed Chuck Berry. With Chuck, rock and roll was born and that is why he’s recognized as one of the best guitarists in history.
High creative capacity, with an acceptable technical level on the guitar. His legacy is his contributions to rock and roll. Almost all subsequent performers bear Chuck Berry’s imprint in their songs and guitar solos.
His creativity led him to combine country, blues, boogie-woogie, swing, big band and pop to create the genre of rock and roll. His song Johnny B. Goode is possibly the best song in the entire history of this genre.
His style was always centered on rock and roll, so versatility was his greatest weakness.
- Guitar: Gibson ES-335, Gibson Les Paul Custom, Gretsch 6120.
- Amplifiers: Fender Dual Showman Reverb, Fender Vintage Reissue ’65 Twin Reverb Guitar Amp.
- Effects: Basically used the amp distortion effect.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Born in 1954 and a native of Dallas, Texas. This great composer and producer is an undisputed legend and one of the best blues and rock guitarists, renowned for fusing both genres in his music.
Stevie was a solid musician, with marked rock, blues and jazz influences. His technique was impressive, with a mastery of bendings that was unmatched.
The quality of his harmonic progressions and functions were marked by all the musical genres he mastered. This way of playing was crucial because it came at a time when blues rock needed a breath of fresh air. He gave it a new life that still continues to mark the genre. For these reasons, it is one of the best in history.
It is not possible to find weaknesses in his playing, his music is simply not exhausting to listen to.
- Guitar: ’59 Fender Stratocaster.
- Amplifiers: Fender Super Reverb, Fender Twin Reverb, Fender Vibro-Verb.
- Effects: Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-808, Wah-Wah Cry Baby, Univibe Expression, Univox Uni-Vibe.
Joe Satriani was born in New York in 1956. He’s one of the greatest virtuosos of all time.
Many famous guitarists acknowledge that Satriani has mastered all the techniques of the electric guitar. In addition, they claim that it is capable of playing any type of music. No matter the genre, Satriani plays it like it’s the only thing he’s ever done in his entire life.
His legacy is to be the hero of the new generations. He put the instrumental rock guitar at the top and nailed it in everyone’s mind never to be erased. Thanks to his attributes he’s recognized as one of the best guitarists in the world.
We cannot mention any of them.
- Ibanez Guitar customized. In his early days he used a Gibson and the first Fender Esquier.
- Amplifiers: Custom Peavey, Marshall JVM Series JVM410H 100W.
Steven Siro Vai is a New Yorker who came into this world in 1960. He’s a descendant of Italian immigrants and was born with a strong passion for music and all other forms of the arts.
Unprecedented creativity, fully refined technique and academic training of the highest level. Vai is one of the most influential famous guitarists in the formation of the new generation of musicians. Satriani and Vai have taken the instrumental electric guitar to a level no one ever imagined it could reach.
In his production company, today’s most creative performers have found support for their recordings. In addition, through his foundation he has provided free musical instruments and has trained an increasing number of children and young people.
Steve Vai is the most prolific guitarist in terms of recordings and contributions with other artists, as well as the most philanthropic to date. This is why he’s recognized as one of the best in history.
It can be considered a weakness to have such a defined style. This is what is happening with Vai, because he has reached a point where he no longer even explores new musical forms. We are not saying that their compositions are exhausting, as they are dynamic, joyful and passionate, but they do lack some novelty.
- Guitar: Custom Ibanez, some Les Paul and Fender.
- Amplifiers: Carvin Legacy is its flagship, but it also has Boss amps.
Yngwie Malmsteen was born in Stockholm in 1963. He’s recognized as the creator and maximum representative of neoclassical metal.
Creative, with a powerful and lethal swift picking technique. He was able to create rock compositions influenced by baroque and moderately classical styles. This influence was decisive for the creation of neoclassical rock or metal.
His historical and technical contribution is what really makes Malmsteen stand out. Does anyone doubt that he’s one of the best guitarists in history?
We can say that it is the same weakness of Steve Vai. His latest compositions can be perceived as repetitions of the previous ones.
- Guitar: Fender Stratocaster and Ovation Viper.
- Amplifiers: Marshall and nothing else.
- Effects: Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer, Roland eco DC-10, Cry-Baby Dunlop Wah, Roland PK-5 MIDI, Boss OC-2 Octave, Overdrive Pre-Amp DOD250, Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor and a Bob Bradshaw effects rack.
Eddie Van Halen
This Dutch musician was born in 1955. Influenced by his father and brother, he chose to create music from a very young age.
He is one of the great pioneers and promoters of the tapping. Su solo on Erution is considered by many to be the second best solo in history.
He took tapping to a new level and his imprint can be found in almost every solo today.
There is nothing we can reproach him for.
- Guitar: It seems that nothing is special to him. He has used Gibson, Fender, Charvel, Kramer, Peavey, MusicMan or Steinberger.
- Amplifiers: Fender EVH 5150 III, Marshall Plexi 1959SLP.
- Effects: Maestro Echoplex, DigiTech Whammy Boss OC-3 SUPER Octave Dunlop EVH 95, MXR EVH90, MXR EVH 5150, MXR M-234, among others.
In 1946, the world saw the birth of this jazz and rock guitarist who influenced all future generations.
Holdsworth had a technique and style that was a benchmark for Vai, Satriani and many guitar giants today. This impressive musician contributed to the strengthening of jazz fusion and is perhaps the basis for the guitars of this genre.
Another of his contributions was that he urged the abandonment of large production houses, as he considered them abusive. This was very significant because many musicians began to leave these companies to form their own firms. But beyond that,his virtuosity makes him one of the best in the world .
Holdsworth was great and to say he had weaknesses would be lying through his teeth.
- Guitar: Gibson, Fender, Charvel, Jackson, there were no preferences.
- Amplifiers: Fender and Marshall mainly.
- Effects: Delay, Chorus, distortion. No preferred brands.
We know that there are many excellent guitar players in the blues and rock genres, but hardly any have had more influence with their technique and style than those mentioned above. The contribution of the musicians on this list can be found in almost all modern guitarists. Although we must recognize that Hendrix has been the most influential in the style of most of the guitarists mentioned in our list and in almost all modern rock musicians.
New guitarists: honorable mentions
We believe it is important to mention some of the interpreters who are making waves. These musicians have created their own style that is becoming a reference for the new generations.
Bombino de Niger
Excellent musician who has Hendrix’s style and his own in every note.
Manuel Gardner Fernandes
He is a young performer who looks like no one else. It’s just him, with a style that is giving a lot to talk about and imitate. Surely we will know more about him in the future and history will remember him, because he has a lot to give.
Ichika Mo is life, passion, technique and has an impressive style that hardly has any analogues.
Daniele Gottardo has an impressive technique and masters almost any musical genre. He already has a name and is recognized by Steve Vai as his new favorite guitarist.
Don’t think that we have forgotten women. We will soon make our list of the best female guitarists in the world. Many of these guitar players are great, amazing and have left their mark forever on the world of electric guitar. We also recommend you to check our list of the best flamenco guitarists and Takamine guitars.