Music fans unite! Everyone has their own taste in music and favorite performers, and there have been countless discussions among friends, fans, and critics as to which talents are the best guitarists of all-time. However, despite our many differences, there are always a handful of names that seem to always come up.
And guitarists aren’t just one or the other anymore when it comes to choosing between being an electric guitar player or one who prefers the acoustic. Today, musicians regularly embrace both styles of strumming a six-string, as each one tests different skills and offers a totally different sound.
Being a music fan isn’t just a fun hobby. It’s also good for your brain! A study says groovy music helps improve brain function, and another study found that children who play an instrument have “super connected brains” compared to those who don’t study music. That being said, turn on your favorite tunes and reap the benefits!
With so many gifted performers to choose from, narrowing it down to just five of the greats is quite the daunting task. StudyFinds consulted 10 expert websites to come up with our list of the best guitarists of all time to ever grace the music industry. Tell us who your favorite guitar player is – and why – in the comments below.
The List: Best Guitarists of All Time, According to Music Fans
1. Jimi Hendrix
With a flamboyant style and a sound that blended British rock and roll, American blues, jazz and funk to create something psychedelic and all his own, making his live performances something special to behold. A master soloist, he might always be the best guitarist of all-time. “Jimi Hendrix was the supernova of creativity that the electric guitar had been waiting for. It’s tempting to say that Hendrix was ahead of his time, and yes, it’s true, he was. There’s a stronger case explaining why he was born just at the right time,” states Guitar World.
“In just four years of mainstream success before his untimely passing, Jimi Hendrix changed the guitar world entirely,” notes LedgerNote. “He was one of the first to bring effects and the whammy bar to the guitar world, like fuzz distortion and wah-wah. … His rock and roll influences were early artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley. He created a lot of “firsts” such as the usage of certain effects, the rejection of the barre chord and fretting with his thumb instead.”
“In his early days, Jimmy James, as he was then known, played in rhythm sections, backing artists like Little Richard, B.B. King and Ike and Tina Turner. It isn’t until 1966, when he moved to London and formed the Experience, that Jimi Hendrix was able to cut loose and start getting the attention he deserved for his magnificent guitar work, writes GuitarPlayer. “Hendrix’s complete artistic vision included elements of blues, funk, rock, psychedelia and utter chaos. His frequent use of effects like the wah and Octavia pedal, pioneering studio effects like ‘backward’ guitar and flanging, and use of controlled feedback and the tremolo bar added another dimension to his music.
2. Jimmy Page
Often named as one of rock music’s most passionate and revolutionary guitar performers, his own wide-reaching and eclectic tastes heavily influenced his songwriting and playing style. Finding stardom with Led Zeppelin, he experimented with echo effects and revolutionary techniques in the recording studio. “Of course, there’s no way to have this conversation without mentioning Jimmy Page,” writes Louder. “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.”
An undeniably dark, yet folkloric sound, Page’s guitar captivates multiple generations of fans,” states History 101. “As the lead guitarist for Led Zeppelin, Page wrote music, and in the recording studio, he was known to be a true workhorse, always fine-tuning his guitar to produce the right sound. He’s best known for his work in songs such as ‘Dazed and Confused,’ ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Kashmir.’”
And Rolling Stone writes, “Listening to what Jimmy Page does on guitar can transport you. As a lead player, he always plays the right thing for the right spot – he’s got such remarkable taste. The solo on ‘Heartbreaker’ has such incredible immediacy; he’s teetering on the edge of his technique, and it’s still a showstopper. But you can’t look at just his guitar playing on its own. You have to look at what he did with it in the studio and how he used it in the songs he wrote and produced.”
3. Eric Clapton
This English musician has been changing the way we think about electric blues and rock guitar, and how to seamlessly blend them, since the 1960s. He has influenced a countless number of musicians along the way. “Bluesy British bloke Eric Clapton has been a household name since his recording debut with the Yardbirds in 1963,” writes GuitarPlayer.
“Eric Clapton is one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time,” gushes Music Grotto. “He has been a guitarist in several iconic rock bands, including The Yardbirds, Cream, and Derek and the Dominoes, and has had a prolific solo career as a guitarist and songwriter.
“Clapton is God: that was the belief during his Cream and Derek And The Dominos days, when Eric Clapton was one of the most expressive players around,” states udiscovermusic.
4. David Gilmour
Pink Floyd’s lead guitarist was a pioneer in the use of echo and other effects to develop signature – and often psychedelic – sounds. His guitar solos are legendary for their moodiness and lyricism. “He’s known for his simple but huge riffs and ambient chords, full of blues phrasing, note bends, and plenty of sustain,” states LedgerNote.
“He was a fiery, blues-based soloist in a band that hardly ever played the blues – his sprawling, elegant, relentlessly melodic solos were as bracing a wake-up call as those alarm clocks on The Dark Side of the Moon,” writes Rolling Stone. “But Gilmour was also adept at droning avant-garde improv … and could be an unexpectedly funky rhythm guitarist.”
And Louder states, “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.”
5. Jeff Beck
This British-born guitarist is best known for his time as Eric Clapton’s replacement in The Yardbirds and his genius solo work. He’s a musician of wide-spanning skill and tastes, bridging genres and generations of music fans alike. “Beck is best known for his songs ‘A Day in the Life,’ ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ and ‘Heart Full of Soul,’ and is a true solo artist,” writes History 101. “Beck has been innovative his whole career, combining sounds from all over the world, from Indian to jazz.”
Music Grotto writes, “While many from this era found greater commercial success, Beck turned his focus to innovative instrumentals on the guitar. He has bridged countless genres, from hard rock to jazz to electronica, and incorporated world music into his sounds. His virtuosity has earned him countless praise and acclaim over the years.”
And Guitar World writes, “Yet another genius player to emerge from the Yardbirds to carve out a singular career, Jeff Beck was the guitar player’s guitar hero. He was the player who eschewed the pick, used his Strat’s whammy bar as truly an extension of himself, and spent his career chasing down every dynamic he could find from the instrument.”
You might also be interested in:
- Rolling Stone
- Guitar World
- Musical Instru
- Music Grotto
- History 101
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