Who will make number one?...
Picked by Gigwise staff, here’s our 50 favourite guitarists of all time…
50. Angus Young of AC/DC - There are few more exhilarating sights in music than Angus Young tearing across the stage with a manic glint in his eye and a guitar in his hands. The Australian is famed for his ridiculous school uniform stage clothes, pretending to have fits while playing and general madcap behaviour. But his antics and simplistic style mask a more than competent musician. (wenn)
49. Mick Ronson – No, no, no, no. Not that twerp who adds saxophone farts to well known indie hits in order to flog a soulless covers album that goes by the name of Mark, but David Bowie’s guitarist. Not only did Ronson contribute some iconic riffs to the rock chameleon’s most seminal albums, but he went on to forge a solo career – albeit one that produced great guitar work but dubious quality songs.
48. Elliott Smith - The moody yet dreamy sound of the late Elliott Smith’s guitar earned him a cult following, and complimented his mythical and confessional compositions. He finally gained recognition when his songs ‘Miss Misery’ and The Beatles cover ‘Because’ appeared in films Good Will Hunting and American Beauty.
47. Graham Coxon of Blur – The fact that Blur lost their edge when Coxon left and soon decided to call it a day altogether is perhaps testament to the guitarist’s central role in the band. Coxon could do the emotive (‘Tender’) or the vivacious (‘Song 2’) with equal aplomb. His solo stuff ain’t bad either. (wenn)
46. Adam Jones of Tool – He’s an enigmatic member of a highly enigmatic band, yet there’s nothing inconspicuous about Adam Jone’s musical muscle. His guitar lines have weight, grace and plenty of atmospheric menace. (wenn)
45. Neil Young – One of contemporary music’s greatest songwriters and composers, such is his pedigree it’s easy to forget that he’s a formidably brilliant guitar player. He has been for decades and his legacy is set to continue in years to come. (wenn)
44. Omar Rodriguez Lopez – Whether it be through the abrasive thrashings of his previous band At The Drive-In or the epic prog cacophonies of The Mars Volta, there’s little doubting Rodriguez-Lopez’s guitar playing brilliance. What sounds good on record though, becomes positively electrifying in the live arena.
43. Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine - Although usually labelled shoegazers, we’re certain My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields was merely gazing at his guitar all that time, wondering where he was finding that dreary but dreamy tone. His inventive manipulation of noise and deforming of expected sounds give him a different perspective to other guitarists.
42. Nick Drake – He died at an unjustly young age, but Nick Drake’s legacy lives on through his three albums and numerous rarities that have surfaced in recent years. One of his great talents was to use his velvety voice as an instrument, perfectly balanced against his intricate, heart-rending guitar work.
41. Mick Thomson of Slipknot – Whether you love them or loathe them, behind those gimmicky masks, Slipknot is brimful of competent musicians - and guitarist Mick Thomson is perhaps the pick of the bunch. His capacity to hammer out devastatingly brutal riffs is very much the heartbeat of Slipknot. (pr photos)
40. Prince - Before he gave away albums in terrible newspapers, the diminutive extrovert
was one of pop’s original superstars. His music incorporated genres as diverse as pop, R&B, funk, jazz and new wave, while all were complimented by guitar playing as distinctive as it is extravagant. (pr photos)
39. Adrian Smith of Iron Maiden - For a lead guitarist in a heavy rock band, Adrian Smith takes a measured approach to his playing. Unlike many, his solos are usually planned, composed and in time with the melody, hardly ever drifting into pretentiousness. With the dual – and now three-pronged – guitar assault of Iron Maiden, he is an underrated performer. (pr photos)
38. Thurston Moore / Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth - The founders of Sonic Youth are known for their embracing of different methods and alteration of usual sounds. Constantly hunting for ways to make new use of their guitars, the pair are a finely tuned twin attack that have always managed to make guitar music sound radical and fresh. (wenn)
37. Marty Friedman of Megadeath - This ferocious guitarist claimed his former band Megadeth were not aggressive enough. His individual, unconventional, up-stroking style has won him many plaudits. Nowadays he is a big star in Japan, leaving those wimps in Megadeth to carry on without him.
36. Joey Santiago of The Pixies - The mainly mild-mannered Pixies man could erupt on stage, smashing amps and breaking strings with his teeth. But generally, he went about the task of structuring The Pixies coarse sound with some inspired playing, typically with an angular but powerful vibe. (pr photos)
35. Frank Zappa – Jimi Hendrix said Zappa was the greatest improvisational guitarist he had ever heard, and who are we to argue? He introduced Hendrix to the Wah Wah Peddle, and was a huge influence. Although his musical expertise stretched into many different areas, it is his talent on guitar that stands out among his 75 – yes, 75 - albums.
34. The Edge of U2 – The Irish supergroup are the target of incessant venom from the cooler-than-thou brigade, but strip away the gripes about Bono’s ever inflating ego and beneath it you’ll see that The Edge is actually quite an extraordinary musician. Not only this but more guitarists than you’d think plagiarise his sound. (wenn)
33. Bo Diddley – Often referred to as ‘The Originator’ and for a very good reason. The man is often credited with bridging the gap between blues and rock music and for that reason alone he deserves a place on our list. Plus his trademark rectangular guitar is pretty damn cool too. (wenn)
32. Johnny Ramone of The Ramones – Not the most accomplished musician on the poll, but the energy and sheer drive of Johnny Ramone’s playing inspired a whole new generation to pick up the guitar. Johnny, real name John Cummings, provided the frenetic, fiery sound that characterised his band’s punk ethics. His style was as simple as it was effective, repetitive as it was refreshing.
31. Brian May of Queen - They may often be cheesy, but Queen wrote scores of memorable pop songs, all driven by Brian May’s potent, full guitar sound. He designed his own guitar in order to get exactly the noise he wanted, and also has a doctorate in astrophysics. Not just a big hairdo and corny riffs, then. (pr photos)
30. George Harrison of The Beatles - The music that reshaped pop music forever was shaped by George Harrison, the originator of The Beatles distinctive sound. Cliff Richard recently called Harrison’s guitar work “out of tune, unforgivable,” and “fairly horrific.”
Obviously, this proves it is tuneful, unforgettable and fantastic, plus Richard is an old fool. (wenn)
29. Jack White of The White Stripes - He makes up for the lack of a bassist and a limited drummer by playing guitar with such verve and flair that a huge, blues-tinged sound fills any setting he performs in. The White Stripes’ songs are driven by the phenomenal, backwards looking but forward sounding rock he coaxes from his instrument. (pic: Shirlaine Forrest)
28. Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest - The metal hero didn’t even start playing guitar until he was out of his teens, but has continually progressed and is viewed by many to be improving
with age. The trademark sparring guitars of Tipton and fellow Judas Priest member K.K. Downing have become increasingly complex, with Tipton introducing classical elements into heavy metal. (wenn)
27. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead - Whether he’s beating the hell out of his instrument on the raw exaltation of ‘The Bends’, drawing ghostly paranoia on ‘Kid A’ or composing an Oscar- worthy soundtrack for ‘There Will Be Blood,’ Greenwood is a musical force of nature. Whatever any modern guitarist tries to do, he has probably already done it, but better. (wenn)
26. Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen - The incredibly huge-selling hard rock band was the vehicle for Eddie Van Halen to deliver countless solos, with ‘Eruption’ the most praised. He
popularised the ‘tapping’ technique and brought rock music to a new audience with his work with Michael Jackson on ‘Beat It.’ (wenn)
25. Johnny Marr of The Smiths/Modest Mouse - The immediacy of melodies in The Smiths hides the immense complexity of Johnny Marr’s guitar playing. Paired with Morrissey’s singing, Marr’s intense, elusive playing helped return guitar music to the forefront of music. Idolised by today’s musicians, he has recently been involved with cult heroes The Cribs and even became a member of Modest Mouse. (wenn)
24. Carlos Santana - Sadly, most people born since 1980 think instantly of his trashy collaboration with Matchbox 20’s singer on huge hit ‘Smooth.’ Forget that, Carlos Santana is a multitalented guitarist who mingled his blues style with a multitude of genres to create a personal, Latin sound full of originality and dexterity. (wenn)
23. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana – As a three piece, Nirvana managed to consistently serve up a life-affirming, abrasive noise. At the core of this was Kurt Cobain – his tortured emotionally wrought vocals perfectly complementing his tense, deft and brilliant guitar work. A true legend. (pr photos)
22. Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine / Audioslave - Rage Against The Machine’s politically-conscious rabble-rouser gave the band the musical edginess to compliment their message. He attended Harvard University, and is a very considered player despite the chaos he creates. Effects and trickery characterise this technically sound guitarist. (wenn)
21. Slash (Saul Hudson) of Guns n Roses and Velvet Revolver - The man has more rumoured deaths than most bands have hit records. With Guns N’ Roses he was renowned for solos of astonishing length and vitality, in songs like ‘November Rain’ and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine,’ Since their split, he has rebuilt his career with Velvet Revolver. The standards of guitar work have been maintained, but with the hell-raising toned down slightly. (wenn)
20. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath - He deserves his place in the list purely for managing to put up with Ozzy Osbourne, and for staying in Black Sabbath throughout the band’s existence. But this pales into insignificance when you consider he lost the tips of his fingers in an accident, but still manages to play the colossal riff from ‘Paranoid.’ (wenn)
19. Matt Bellamy of Muse - The little man from Teignmouth makes a lot of noise. As frontman of Muse, his falsetto vocals are only incidental compared with the supernatural sound he produces with his custom guitars. Although his obsession with conspiracy theories may put off some, there is no arguing with festival-slaying riffs like ‘Knights of Cydonia’, ‘New Born’ and ‘Plug In Baby’. (pic: Shirlaine Forrest)
18. Ry Cooder – The mysterious American guitarist once accused Keith Richards of ripping him off. He is well-known for his superb slide guitar playing, and session work with the likes of Captain Beefheart. But he is most renowned for a series of collaborations with The Rolling Stones, and his exploratory expeditions into roots music.
17. Pete Townshend of The Who - Every time you see somebody smashing up their equipment, Pete Townshend springs to mind. The main songwriter of The Who is loved for his windmilling live style as much as his penning of tracks like ‘My Generation’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ The band are still touring and recording, with Townshend now partially deaf from exposure to his own deafening artistry. (wenn)
16. Steve Vai - He is a little different. He has played a 20-minute electric guitar solo backed by the 100-piece Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra in Japan. He was taught to play by Joe Satriani. He toured with Frank Zappa for numerous years, but finds time to produce eclectic albums of quirky solo material. He is rather good, really. (wenn)
15. Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd - As an integral part of a daring, experimental act (he calls himself ‘the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd’ these days) Dave Gilmour was responsible for some outlandish and soaring guitar work. Whether or not popularising prog- rock was a good thing is debatable, but solos like that on ‘Comfortably Numb’ certainly are. (PR Photos)
14. Kerry King of Slayer - The snake-loving, tattoo-toting Slayer and Megadeth man plays fast, hard and loud. There is no time to bother with inconsequential things like melody when
you can simply thrash the hell out of your guitar and prowl about the stage. If you like that kind of thing, there’s nobody better. (wenn)
13. Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead - The band’s psychedelic take on rock music was mainly distinguished by Garcia’s diverse and distinctive solos. Constantly improvising and altering songs, every Grateful Dead performance would be different, because of the joy
Garcia took in experimenting with the hard but soulful sound he produced. (pr photos)
12. Jeff Beck - The English guitarist rivals his fellow Yardbirds Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, who he replaced in the band. He was an early architect of the distorted electric guitar sound, which rose to prominence after his popularising of the method. He is noted for his volatile temperament, plus his rejection of picks in favour of his beaten-up fingernails. (wenn)
11. Joe Satriani - When Mick Jagger toured solo, Joe Satriani was the man the Rolling Stones frontman wanted as his lead guitarist. He has since brought out his own successful guitar series, and is recognised as a superior instructor. His 1986 album ‘Not Of This Earth’ breathed creativity into an atmosphere polluted with saccharine music. (wenn)
10. Stevie Ray Vaughan - A pioneering blues guitarist, he was noted for his heavy, but warm sound. He played with David Bowie on numerous albums and occasions, and was a mainstay of the band Double Trouble. Jimi Hendrix was a big influence, and Vaughan often covered him; the quality of these renditions shows the calibre of his skill. (pr photos)
9. Chuck Berry - One of music's most impersonated and lauded artists, Chuck Berry is synonymous with guitar music. The Beatles were among those to borrow/steal from the controversial writer of hits like Johnny B. Goode and Rollover Beethoven. He was at the roots of rock and roll and remains at its heart. (wenn)
Robert Johnson - Whether or not he sold his soul to Satan, Robert Johnson certainly played guitar with devilish audacity. The bluesman left behind a catalogue of songs of such power and mystery that he has influenced everyone from The White Stripes to The Rolling Stones. The otherworldly sound that resonates from tracks like ‘Love In Vain’ and ‘Stones In My Passway’ is the work of an extraordinary player.
7. Howard Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band - Although his career was tragically cut short by a fatal motorcycle accident, Allman had already secured his place among the finest guitarists in history. With The Allman Brothers Band, he was at the forefront of Southern rock, but is equally noted for his session work with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Eric Clapton.
6. Eric Clapton - Nicknamed ‘Slowhand’, he seems to have known, influenced or erformed with every important guitarist of the last 40 years. Through his solo work, the blues of The Yardbirds, the experimental rock of Cream, and the universally- praised ‘Layla’, he has garnered the reputation as a peerless guitarist. (wenn)
5. Kirk Hammett of Metallica - Providing the core of Metallica’s hard-rocking sound, Kirk Hammett is another who prefers blown up riffs to understatement, but has the ability to pull them off. He does enjoy playing about with his pedals a little more than a sane person should, but can be forgiven for producing the monstrous noise of ‘Enter Sandman’ amongst others. (wenn)
4. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones - At least 200 years old and still outplaying most of today’s guitarists, Keith Richards invented every axeman cliché without realising. He brought an affection for rhythm and blues into mainstream rock with his meaty style and pronounced riffs, and still has time to fall out of trees and slag off Amy Winehouse. (pr photos)
3. BB King - The legendary bluesman is the master of improvisation, hardly ever planning what to play but consistently thrilling crowds in every continent. His groundbreaking R&B sound has influenced many, and with thousands of concerts under his belt, he is as hard-working as he is talented. (wenn)
2. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin - The enormous success of Led Zeppellin’s reunion gig in London displays the continuing admiration of Jimmy Page’s guitar playing, an obsession which began back in the 1960s. His prodigious style on songs such as ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Black Dog’ is the backbone behind one of the most explosive sounds in music. He is also extremely versatile, and often plays 12-string guitars and solos using a cello bow. (wenn)
1. Jimi Hendrix - Steeped in rock and roll mythology, the undisputable fact remains that Hendrix revolutionised guitar music with his flamboyant, experimental style. He popularised the use of distortion, reworked classic tracks into seminal psychedelic pieces and created blistering epics of his own. His virtuoso live shows are deserving of their legendary status. (pr photos)
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