The guitar needs no introduction, as it is one of the most sought-after musical instruments for musical fanatics, listeners, and musicians alike. It’s in a world of its own, as it has the ability to create acoustic melodies, from soothing rhythms to hand-banging rock anthems.
But who are the most influential guitarists of all time? We have compiled a list of 28 of the greatest and most famous guitar players, spanning from jazz and folk to hard rock and heavy metal. Read on to learn about them.
1. Brian May (Queen)(Famous Guitar Player)
First on our list is Brian May, one of the founding members of the iconic band Queen. He holds a spot as one of the most influential and well-known guitarists, songwriters, and performers of all time.
Currently, May continues to grace the rock world alongside Adam Lambert and drummer Roger Taylor.
On top of all his talents in shredding the guitar, he has also earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics and has set up multiple animal rights campaigns.
2. Jimi Hendrix
Born Johnny Allen Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix was a legendary electric guitarist and one of the most prominent figures in music history. He got his first acoustic guitar from his father, and soon after, he joined his first musical group, the Velvetones.
Unlike other guitarists who use the barre chord fretting style, Hendrix often preferred to use his thumb to fret the low sixth string root notes. Hendrix was also fond of overdriving amplifiers, helping to develop the guitar amplifier feedback technique.
You can hear Hendrix’s style among his popular hits like “All Along the Watchtower” and “Purple Haze.” Even after his tragic death in 1970, his music still brings together a swirl of rock, blues, and jazz to the music world.
Related: For more like Hendrix, check out our great blues guitar players post here.
3. Jimmy Page (Led Zepplin)
Next on our list is world-renowned guitarist, songwriter, and producer Jimmy Page. He founded one of the most influential rock bands to ever exist: Led Zeppelin.
Page loved creating riffs and often was seen playing the guitar with a cello bow. His music style introduced an early genre of hard rock and electric blues with sparks of folk and acoustics.
He and Led Zeppelin set the stage for many rock-and-roll musicians that came after them. This innovative group would go on to sell over 200 million records and produce ground-shaking hits like “Good Times Bad Times” and “Whole Lotta Love.”
4. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)
Co-founder of the popular rock band Van Halen is Eddie Van Halen himself, leading songwriter and guitarist the group. He was born in the Netherlands, but his family soon moved to Pasadena, California, where he and his brother took music lessons. They soon ditched the classics and turned toward the rock genre.
The brothers created Van Halen band in 1974, and they continued to soar in popularity and release albums with their ensemble hard rock sound well into the 2000s and 2010s.
Eddie Van Halen’s earth-rocking success came with popularizing tapping on the guitar. This involves using both hands on the fretboard, as seen during his instrumental solo on “Eruption.” He even patented a support for the guitar to allow him to tap with the instrument facing upward.
5. Eric Clapton
Number two in Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time, we have Eric Clapton. His music career took off in the 1960s as he strummed his instrument of choice with rock bands Cream, the Bluesbreakers, and the Yardbirds.
He soon left those bands to pursue his true passion for rock and roll with a touch of poetic ballads. He was initially reluctant to go into the spotlight, but his eventual solo career marked him as one of the best guitarists and musicians in the rock genre.
Clapton’s diverse playing style is evident in all his songs, from the rock-and-roll anthem “Layla” to the heart-tugging ballad “Tears in Heaven,” the latter of which is his best-selling single in the US with over 2.8 million sold.
6. Jeff Beck
Grammy award-winning guitarist Jeff Beck had similar styles as fellow guitarists Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, although he never reached their pinnacle of success.
He replaced Clapton as the lead guitarist of the Yardbirds and stayed for two years. His next music venture featured many attempts at forming bands and trios. Later, he found success with the pop-rock album Flash, featuring hit singles “People Get Ready” and “Escape.”
Over the years, Beck continued to take long breaks punctuated with successful collaborations with musicians and a Grammy-winning album, Emotion & Commotion.
7. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Dubbed the Godmother of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the earliest pioneers of gospel rock and planted the seed for many other musicians to come.
Tharpe’s playing style incorporated blues and jazz into her sound. She became the first gospel artist to record at Decca Records, and she also performed beside other jazz singers, despite public disapproval.
Tharpe continued to produce soul music throughout the 1960s and 1970s, coming out with her most famous hit “Strange Things Happening Every Day,” which was deemed as the first rock-and-roll record ever.
8. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) David Gilmour is a renowned songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist for the rock band Pink Floyd. His skill on the guitar positioned him as one of the greats.
Gilmour’s solo career was just as successful as his band’s, with three albums topping the UK charts. He received life achievement awards and had world tours that sold out arenas.
9. Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple)
Not many guitarists can play a riff like Ritchie Blackmore. His energetic guitar riffs and heavy metal rock sound arguably deem him one of the leading rock guitarists ever.
His on-and-off relationship with Rainbow resulted in a reunion with Deep Purple after they had parted, where he produced the iconic hit “Smoke on the Water” and seven albums that went Gold.
He and his Deep Purple bandmates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a tribute to his domination and influence of the rock genre.
10. Alex Lifeson
Aleksandar Živojinović, OC, famously known as Alex Lifeson, is a Canadian musician, guitarist, and record producer. He is also band member of the Canadian rock band Rush.
He received his first guitar at 13, and from there, his interest and talent for music blossomed. His Rush bandmates deemed him as “the Musical Scientist” for his iconic riffs, talent with numerous stringed instruments, and revolutionary chords.
With Rush, Lifeson contributed stellar riffs to their most famous hit “Tom Sawyer” and true rock-and-roll albums Clockwork Angels and Signals.
His instrumental talent led to a third-place spot among Guitar World’s reader poll for best guitarists of all time and gave him a place in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
11. Slash (Guns N’ Roses)
Born Saul Hudson, Slash is one of the most powerfully iconic rock stars in the world. Called the Riff Lord, he is famously known as the lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses in the 1980s and 1990s.
Guns N’ Roses became the anthem for American hard rock, producing the wickedly good hits “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”; the introductory riff of the latter became #1 on Total Guitar‘s 100 Greatest Riffs list. Both songs are still sung today with the same passion and nostalgia as before.
Hudson went on a hiatus from GNR, forming Slash’s Snakepit. He released a couple of bluesy records and made collaborations with Myles Kennedy, another rock musician.
GNR eventually reunited and went on tour again in 2016.
12. Carlos Santana
Carlos Augusto Santana Alves, known professionally as Carlos Santana, is a Mexican-American guitarist and performer known for his early genre-defying work fusing classic rock and Latin American Jazz. His trademark playing style are the trills in his melodies.
He began his musical journey with the violin, picking up the guitar a few years later. He founded the popular band Santana, which made a career-defining performance at Woodstock in 1969.
He and the band made chart-topping albums Abraxas and Santana, both of which made Billboard’s top 10, and Supernatural, a major comeback album in the 1990s, which won Grammys and topped the charts once again.
13. Lita Ford
One can find the definition of a female rock star in Lita Ford. As a guitarist, her style is characterized by belting lyrics, heavy metal chords, and electrifying riffs that challenged the male-dominated genre.
She was a member of the all-female rock band the Runaways, but she also embarked on an equally successful solo career.
Her first album to propel her to success was Lita, with top hits “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Close My Eyes Forever,” featuring rock star Ozzy Osbourne.
Her long run with pop metal brought her to the surface as an influential guitarist, and her rebellious, assertive on-stage presence gave other female musicians an idol to follow.
14. Mark Knopfler
It was not just the Americans and the Brits that produced the world’s greatest guitarists. Out of Scotland came Mark Knopfler, a singer-songwriter and guitarist that blended his Scottish sound with the folk-pop genre.
His early success was attributed to his finger-picking style and genius creations with the band Dire Straits. They produced a best-selling album, Brothers in Arms, among other hit singles like “Sultans of Swing.”
He went on to compose music for soundtracks, including Scottish comedy Local Hero, and played the guitar for musicians like Tina Turner and Bob Dylan, earning him the global recognition and image of one of the greatest to ever string the guitar.
15. Angus & Malcolm Young (AC/DC)
Angus and Malcolm Young are song-writing and guitar-playing siblings, most notable for their American rock band AC/DC. The siblings were known for their electrifying performances and rough riffs that defined the heavy rock genre.
Malcolm was the rhythm guitarist for the group, while Angus was their lead. Their time with AC/DC delivered ground-breaking hits like “Back in Black,” “Highway to Hell,” and “Thunderstruck.”
Although Malcolm has since passed, he and his younger brother’s sound set the rock-and-roll world in motion and gave way to a heavier side of rock music.
16. Gary Moore
With hits like “Parisienne Walkways,” Moore developed a reputation for virtuoso guitar performances. A left-handed man who learned to use the guitar with the right hand, Moore could play any style of music, from aggressive vibrato to melodic tones.
Throughout his career, he stuck with a heavy metal influence but dutifully returned to more bluesy interests, releasing his most successful album ever, Still Got the Blues in 1990.
17. Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)
Next up, we have Billy Gibbons, an American guitarist and songwriter most associated with the blues-rock band ZZ Top, formed in 1969.
ZZ Top released five albums before a three-year split. They eventually reunited, changing their sound to mimic the rise in modern, electronic rock and producing hits like “Legs” and “Give Me All Your Lovin’.”
After a failed album, Gibbons went solo. From there, he contributed successful records with Big Bad Blues (2018) and Hardware (2021), placing him up among the most rockish and grittiest of guitarists.
18. Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band)
The guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman, had a short but brilliant career. He bought his first guitar after he traded in the parts of his motorcycle, and soon after, he and his brother played gigs around Florida.
It would be a few years before Atlantic Records came calling with a contract offer. With Atlantic, the Allman Brothers Band found their sound in the southern blues-rock genre. They released Idlewild South and a double album, all of which hit the top charts and propelled them to the front of Southern rock.
Allman slide guitar playing style is well-known, as well as his improvisation skills. Sadly, he passed away in a motorcycle accident in 1971. He was only 24. For his influence as a guitarist, Rolling Stone ranked him #2 in their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
19. Joe Walsh (The Eagles)
American guitarist Joe Walsh decided on his career at a young age. Inspired by the Beatles, he started playing in a local band in New Jersey. However, he is recognized for his work with the Eagles and Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.
A native of Wichita, Kansas, Walsh formed part of the unlikely trio Joe and the James Gang, who achieved hits with “Funk #49” and “Walk Away,” as well as the golden album James Gang Rides Again (1970).
He impulsively left the band after a creative music crisis. During his solo journey, he created “Rocky Mountain Way,” which showed his guitar prowess. Then in 1975, he joined the Eagles, where he solidified his spot as one of the world’s greatest rock guitarists.
Hotel California is the Eagle’s album where Walsh is first featured. The album topped Billboard‘s Top LP and Tapes chart, and the title track, where Walsh and Don Henley performed a guitar duet, received a Grammy for Record of the Year.
20. Joni Mitchell
Born Roberta Joan Anderson, Joni Mitchell is a Canadian singer-songwriter whose influence in the pop-rock scene established her as the yang to Bob Dylan’s ying.
She started playing wherever she could, leading to the release of her EP Songs to a Seagull, released in 1967, which was the first of hers to sell over a million copies.
Mitchell has described her music as a sound meant to last a lifetime rather than to “grab instantly.” As an artist, Mitchell never confined herself to a single genre. Rather, she experimented with what she felt was right and worth singing.
21. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)
Like many great guitarists, Keith Richards found his way to success with a band that reached the epitome of rock and roll. As a musician and songwriter, he is most notable for his edgy guitar contributions to the Rolling Stones.
His wild image, original sound, and experimentation with outlandish tastes made him an integral part of the Rolling Stones and rock-and-roll legend.
With their commitment to blues and rock, they released hit songs like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Paint It Black,” which took them to new musical heights.
22. Pat Metheny
Our next guitarist is considered one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time. Pat Metheny‘s career has centered around the blending of contemporary, guitar, and Latin jazz.
Born into a musical family, Metheny started playing guitar at just 12 years of age. He soon found himself working with the best jazz musicians of Kansas.
Metheny’s music served as a trailblazing phenomenon that showcased his versatility, originality, and improvisation skills on the strings. Over his career, he has produced three gold albums and been awarded over 20 Grammys as a soloist and with his band, the Pat Metheny Group.
23. Frank Zappa
American musician, composer, and guitarist Frank Zappa was an notable for his free use of jazz, rock, and experimental musical tastes.
Most of his music presented a controversial edge, upsetting many mainstream traditions and calling attention to political and social issues in the US.
For his solo works featuring his passion for jazz and rock, Zappa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
24. Elizabeth Cotten
Before embracing the guitar, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten played the banjo in her early years. As one of the earliest pioneers of folk and blues, Cotten paved the way for generations of guitarists.
When she transitioned to her brother’s guitar, Cotten learned to play left-handed, contributing to a distinctive style.
She abandoned her instrumental talent later in life but returned when her employers discovered her finger-picking style. In 1958, Cotten released her debut album, LP Folksongs and Instrumentals.
Over the decades, she built up a strong following, particularly with her hit song “Freight Train,” second successful album Shake Sugaree, and acclaimed live performances.
25. George Harrison (The Beatles)
Next on our list is George Harrison. He was a British musician and talented lead guitarist with the Beatles, whose iconic impact on music and popular culture in the 1960s and 1970s endures to this day.
Born in Liverpool, Harrison showcased a remarkable talent for writing and played a big role in producing many of the Beatles’ biggest hits. While Beatlemania was sweeping across the world, he and the band created timeless hits like “Hey Jude,” “Penny Lane,” and “All You Need Is Love.”
Throughout his career, Harrison experimented with multiple instruments, from his faithful electric guitar to the sitar, violin, and even the glockenspiel.
After the group broke up, Harrison forged a successful solo career—filled with hits like “My Sweet Lord” and “Got My Mind Set on You”—and formed part of the superband the Traveling Wilburys.
26. Pete Townshend (The Who)
English musician, songwriter, and guitarist Pete Townshend rose to fame with the rock band the Who. Not only that, he made influential appearances in Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.
His onstage performances and signature windmill style made him a popular member of the band. Their music coined hits like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “I Can See For Miles.”
As one of the guitar-playing greats, he also found success in his solo career, releasing popular albums Who Came First (1972) and Psychoderelict (1993).
27. Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac)
Guitarist, rock performer, and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham contributed to the success of the popular band Fleetwood Mac. Through the seventies and eighties, he and the band ruled the rock music scene, releasing chart-topping albums Tusk and Rumours with popular hits like “Dreams” and “Rhiannon.”
Buckingham made off-and-on appearances with Fleetwood Mac until he finally reunited for good in the late 1990s. Despite their continued success, he released many solo projects, including the top-10 hit Law and Order.
Like Jeff Beck earlier in this list, Buckingham did not use a plectrum to play. He preferred to use his fingers and fingernails to pluck at the strings, and then strummed with his middle and ring fingers. He credited this style to Scotty Moore and Chet Atkins, both of who used the pick as well as strummed with their fingers when they played.
28. Steve Howe (Yes)
Lastly, we have Steve Howe, who is a renowned musician and rock guitarist of the sixties and seventies and performed with rock bands Yes, Asia, Tomorrow, and GTR.
He enjoyed particular success with the progressive and popular band Yes, whose number-one hit “Roundabout” spoke largely of their fusion of jazz and rock.
His formation of the rock supergroup Asia brought him even further into the limelight. However, he eventually rejoined Yes on reunion tours while also releasing solo projects.
In 1981, he was added into the Guitar Player Hall of Fame, being the first rock guitar player to be inducted. He was also voted five years in a role Best Overall Guitarist in the magazine.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Guitarists
Most of the guitarists are from varying genres, from folk and pop-rock to classical jazz and heavy metal.
Pioneers like Elizabeth Cotton and heavy metal rockers like Slash and Lita Ford paved the way for the guitar to establish itself as an instrument beloved by all.
Even if you don’t pick up the guitar and start learning its chords, you can appreciate its sound the next time you listen to an AC/DC song!