My favorite guitarists

"Ar" wants to know who they are.  When I was young I studied guitar for seven years (multiple styles), so it's an area I've long had an interest in.  I was never very good but I learned a lot about it.  Here goes:

Classical: Segovia, Eduardo Fernandez.  I enjoy the transcriptions of Yamashita and Larry Coryell's covers of Stravinsky, though he isn't usually considered a classical guitarist.

Jazz: Django Reinhardt, Joe Pass's Virtuoso album, Wes Montgomery live (no strings), and George van Eps.  Charlie Christian deserves a mention.  Today, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and the guy who plays for Trio Saudade.  There are plenty of others, including Jim Hall and John McLaughlin.

John Fahey-Leo Kottke: They deserve their own category and indeed they dominate it.  For Kottke try 6 and 12-String Guitar Music, and then his 1981 Guitar Music.  For Fahey try the 1959-1977 Greatest Hits collection.  This is some of my favorite music.

Electric blues: Muddy Waters, Robert Cray (live), Johnny Winter (live only).  Amadou of Amadou and Miriam.  The player from Orchestra Baobab.  Does Lonnie Mack count here?

Acoustic blues: Reverand Gary Davis, Son House and many others.  Jorma Kaukonen also.  Bob Dylan is much underrated in this area.  Can Richard Thompson go here?  d'Gary, from Madagascar, is one of the greatest and most original guitarists that few people have heard of.  Bola Sete too, from Brazil.

Bluegrass: Clarence White and also Doc Watson.

Rock: Jimmy Page, Brian May, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, of course Jimi Hendrix as #1.  van Halen and his ilk never much impressed me.

Les Paul deserves mention but he straddles a few of these categories, as does Chet Atkins.  Hawaiian guitar deserves its own post.  Dick Dale.  The Carnatic slide guitar players, including Bhattacharya.  Roger McGuinn.  The Zairean tradition, including Franco.  Neil Young has his moments, as does Thurston Moore.

Eric Clapton was impressive for a while but overall I wish to be contrarian and leave him off.  Who am I forgetting?  Duane Allman?

In general guitar is an instrument which works relatively well on YouTube.  Most of the names above can be found there.


Always glad to see Kottke getting props--for his talent, still underappreciated. My takes: Steve Cropper, Alex de Grassi, Tommy Emmanuel.

You almost forgot Duane Allman. May I suggest Mike Bloomfield?

No Roy Buchanan? Agree with Pass and Montgomery, but surprised you would not then include Herb Ellis.


Check out Tony Rice for bluegrass.

Rock: David Gilmour

Bluegrass (and Klezmer): Andy Statman

Bluegrass: Tony Rice!

Thanks Tyler! No Vishwa Mohan Bhatt ?

Mark Knopfler. Sultans of Swing is still the best guitar solo of all time.

Needs more Zappa.

Look for the documentary "Rock Prophecies" about rock and roll photographer Robert Knight. Knight has been photographing bands and especially rock guitarists since the late 1960s. In the film Knight says Jeff Beck is the guitarist that the other guitar gods think of as the best. More recently Knight has been looking for the next hot guitarist, so the film isn't just about guys that did their "best work 35 or more years ago."

Second for Jerry. Walter Becker? (for "My Old School" alone).

What about Jim Thomas from the Mermen? surf guitar might need its own catetgory

Link Wray? (being from Maryland and all)

Bill Kirchen who played the lead on Commander Cody's cover of "Hot Rod Lincoln."

Some of my favorites:

Electric Blues
Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddie King, Junior Kimbrough, Hound Dog Taylor, Henry Vestine of Canned Heat, Elmore James, Hubert Sumlin, Magic Sam, Jimmy Dawkins, Johnny Winter, Peter Green

Acoustic Blues
Lightnin Hopkins, Bukka White, John Lee Hooker, Robert Belfour, and I suppose Robert Johnson but the lore clouds judgement and Son House is great too but I don't know if I could isolate his guitar from his voice

I agree with the David Gilmour for rock. Some other guys left out are Mark Knopler and I love the Mick Taylor years of the Rolling Stones

You put in Van Epps and forgot Lenny Breau. I dunno.

John Fogerty should make the list for "Blue Moon Swamp" alone.

for fahey, skip the greatest hits nonsense and jump right into fare forward voyagers (soldier's choice)

avant-garde guitarist worth mentioning:

derek bailey, fred frith, masayuki takayanagi, keiji haino, both of the bishop brothers (though this mention is partly for bass work), taku sugimoto

Stevie Ray Vaughn!

Also, bluegrass deserves its own category: Doc Watson, Clarence White, Tony Rice.

For rock, John Petrucci definitely merits consideration.

What about John Williams?

Mark Knopfler, of course.
I never listened to Phil Keaggy much, but I gather he's well thought of and Wiki says he "has frequently been listed as one of the world's top-3 "fingerstyle" as well as "fingerpicking" guitarists by Guitar Player Magazine readers' polls." YMMV.

Randy Rhoads deserves a mention in any list of greats.

Again, Danny Gatton for could've, would've, should've.

Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

Alex is right about Kevin Shields, sorry!

I can't believe that Robert Fripp isn't on the rock list. Moreover I think Adrian Belew is one of the best guitar players period. As for versatility I'm surprised no one mentioned Steve Morse, formerly of the Dixie Dregs and now of Deep Purple. He's far more tasteful than Lifeson. One to watch is Keith Emerson's guitarist Marc Bonilla, a real scorcher.

Hearty second on Richard Thompson - both acoustic and electric he's brilliant. Also a great songwriter. And I'm seeing him tomorrow!

Jazz -- Eddie Lang
Rock -- Frank Zappa
Jazz-ish BossaNova-ish -- Luiz Bonfa
Jazz, fusionish -- John Mclaughlin

Otherwise, an excellent list. The inclusion of the dude from Baobab is a good call.
If anything probably more African artists should be on there but that's just a speculation because there's a lot of music I don't know.

A couple of my favorites not yet mentioned: Alan Holdsworth, Adrian Belew, Lowell George, and Chris Whitley.

It's always good to focus on guitar favorites since the instrument seems to attract an unusually high number of players with extreme technical ability to musical sense ratios. I think I can explain the low ratios, but why are there so many Art Tatums on guitar?

Nobody else veered off in the Flamenco or World Music direction, so I've gotta mention Jesse Cook and Ottmar Leibert. These guys are simply jaw-dropping.

Within the rock genre, I've gotta give a nod to Yngwie Malmsteem for the way he infuses metal guitar with a stiff dose of classical music. And no mention of Joe Satriani? Over-the-top sometimes, sure, but sheesh, he can craft some incredible music!

One thing I've kinda picky about is the context, not just quality. Steve Vai, for example, wows me with his masterful playing, yet his compositions leave me completely cold and disinterested. Doesn't really matter so much that the guy is a virtuoso player if his songs have no hook or connection with me.

Good on Frank Conte for adding Steve Morse, though I certainly disagree with the Lifeson comparison. Morse is terrific and can play in a couple of styles too.

Acoustic Blues:

Eric Bibb - beautiful blues roots guitar

I'm curious of what you think of John Mayer's live playing? 'Try!' and 'Where the Light Is' are both great albums, imho. I especially like his cover of Tom Petty's Free Fallin' on the latter.

Agree re Dylan acoustic, especially the two cover albums; World Gone Wrong and Good As I Been to You.
For Rock: Jeff Beck, Richard Thompson, Chuck Prophet
And in the country category, Buddy Miller

As a fan of John Fahey, you should check out Jim O'Rourke's "Bad Timing".

Bill Frisell is a personal favorite, but he has been mentioned.

And since you can't talk about guitarists without at least one such absolutist statement, I will say that Sonny Sharrock is without a doubt THE most underrated guitarist EVER!

What, no metal guitarists?? One of my all-time favorites has to be Dimebag Darrell-one of the most important hard rock guitarists of the last 20 twenty years. To that list you have to add Zakk Wylde (Ozzy, Black Label Society) and Kerry King and Jeff Haneman (Slayer). Phenomenal guitarists who helped pioneer an entire genre.

There are so many amazing new guitarists out there now making fantastic music - Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan), Brent Hinds (Mastodon), Alexei Laiho (Children of Bodom), Emil Werstler (Daath) - the list is endless. These are people that have taken enormous leaps in making new and creative sounds from the guitar in ways that go far beyond just blazing speed.

However, if you are like my wife and metal stresses you probably wouldn't enjoy it.


Another vote for Jack White. The best.

Norman Blake. Good heavens, man, how could you list the finest guitarists and not include the incredible Norman Blake? You mentioned Doc Watson, his son Merle belongs on this list as well.

J J Cale and Chris Spedding for economy of play, Chet Atkins, Roy Buchanan and Larry Coryell for sheer technical wizardry, and Jeff Beck for mercurial genius.

But seriously, every flat picking acoustic guitarist of any note has the highest respect for Norman Blake.

Wilco Johnson, the anti-lead guitarist.

No votes yet for Slash?

no one in the history of music has written more good riffs than tony iommi

Adding myself to the +Jack White votes. Also, Ry Cooder!

Gained a bit of respect for The Edge after seeing "It Might Get Loud," though the purist in me wouldn't necessarily add him to this list.

Acoustic flat pickers Tommy Emmanuel & David Grier

Brian May is definitely underrated. Jimmy Page isn't that special as far as I can tell. I'd say John Petrucci (of Dream Theater) and, because writing creative riffs is often far harder than writing a good solo, Michael Akerfeldt of Opeth. There are more excellent riffs in one Opeth song than there are on most whole albums.

Stevie Ray Vaughan!

Ralph Towner? Check out "Blue Sun" (solo) or "Ecotopia" (By Oregon)

Okay. One more that I love whom I can't find. Ernie Isley. Listen to the Isley Brothers do "That Lady".

Keith Richards is one of the greatest (maybe THE greatest) rock rhythm guitarists. He has laid down literally hundreds of iconic, tasty licks. He's not as flashy as the fast-fingered lead guitar heros, but he plays with more subtlety and musicianship, and way, way more soul and mojo.

Pat Martino 'nuf said

Marc Ribot certainly belongs on any list of avant-garde guitarists, perhaps ahead of Baily and Frisell.

Ugh, Rodrigo not Ricardo.

Chris Smither, acoustic blues

Oops, didn't realize there were several pages of comments.

Graham Coxon

Very, very surprised Stevie Ray Vaughan has received only one mention. I would most certainly place him as the #2 guitarist of all time, right in between Hendrix (obviously) and Reinhardt.

You forget the sub-category of "prog rock" where Steve Howe (Yes) and Terry Kath (Chicago) loom large. Incredible talents who are often overlooked.

Give Harvey Reid a try ...

No Thurston Moore or Lee Renaldo?

Sungha Jung - there's a wealth of his songs in Youtube. Child prodigy with an outstanding finger picking style.

Somebody mentioned Paco de Lucia. I'd second that and add Tomatito. Flamenco must be one of the most important categories here: it's hard to beat in terms of either technical virtuosity or improvisational imagination.

You are missing Jeff Beck, Bill Frisell and Ry Cooder

Aren't we forgetting Dave Matthews??

Aren't we forgetting Dave Matthews??

George Harrison had to be doing something right.

"Aren't we forgetting Dave Matthews??"

We're trying, really we are.

Obviously nobody on this list has even HEARD of Egberto Gismonti, certainly one of the finest guitarists in the world, and certainly in the same league as McLaughlin or Paco de Lucia. After a 14 years hiatus he's just in the past week put out a new recording too.

And for those who haven't heard of him, he's a classically-trained Brazilian composer/musician who plays both piano and guitar, the latter in 10 and 14 string versions.

All these comments remind me of the opening scene in Mike Judge's Extract, in which a young women steals a guitar by getting all the guitar geeks in the store stirred up and talking about Pat Metheny, "the Jake E. Lee of fusion".

Hey, how come no one mentioned Jake E. Lee?

Neil Young FTW.

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