Blues and rock emerged as powerful forces in British music in the 1960s. Almost all of these British guitar players started during that era. The two who didn’t were heavily influenced by those who did.
Rock music and guitar musicianship became what it is today, in part, because of the guitarists we’ve compiled in this list.
1. Eric Clapton
Surrey native Eric Clapton is one of the most admired guitar players in the world. His career started in rock and blues with The Yardbirds in 1963 and has included other groups like Cream before he went solo in 1970.
Clapton is the only performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times. He’s won numerous awards, including 18 Grammy Awards.
He also received a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2004 for his contribution to music.
His 1992 album “Unplugged” still holds the world record for the best-selling live release with over 26 million copies sold worldwide.
Related: For more like Clapton, see our post on who is the best blues guitarist here.
2. Brian May
Brian May is the lead guitarist for the rock supergroup Queen, one of the best-selling groups of all time. He was born in Twickenham, a London suburb in 1947.
He was one of the founding members of Queen in the 1970s and still tours with them today with Adam Lambert as the lead singer in place of the late Freddie Mercury.
May’s guitar skills helped lead Queen to superstardom and earned him a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. He also received a CBE in 2005 for his services to music.
May was an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
3. The Edge
Although he grew up in Ireland, The Edge, whose real name is David Howell Evans, was born in Barking, Essex to Welsh parents.
He began piano and guitar lessons as a child with his love of music eventually leading him to want to be part of a musical group.
He’s been the guitarist for the rock band U2 since its founding in 1976 playing keyboards and guitar with the band and singing backup vocals. He also plays bass guitar on some tracks.
The Edge and U2 have gone on to superstardom. U2 is one of the best-selling rock bands worldwide, with over 22 Grammy Awards so far.
4. Jeff Beck
Born in Sutton, a borough of London, Jeff Beck went from hearing his first electric guitar at age six and trying to build guitars his own guitars to becoming one of the top guitarists in the world.
Beck replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds in 1965 and later formed The Jeff Beck Group with rock singer Rod Stewart.
Beck released several albums and has played for dozens of groups and performers like Bon Jovi and Rod Stewart. He’s been a member of several rock groups, including The Honeydrippers with Robert Plant in the 1980s.
Beck is a two-time inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the recipient of eight Grammy Awards.
Saul Hudson’s mother was a costume and fashion designer who created costumes for artists like David Bowie, and his father designed album covers for musicians like Neil Young.
Those early musical influences and a move to Los Angeles when he was five led Hudson, who would become known as Slash via a childhood nickname, to pick up the guitar.
Born in Stoke-on-Trent, England, Slash rose to fame after joining the band Guns ‘n Roses in 1985 as the lead guitarist. Their debut album became a best-seller, leading to a world tour.
After he left the group in 1996, he went on to form Velvet Revolver and other collaborations, then rejoined Guns ‘n Roses in 2016.
6. Cat Stevens
London-born Cat Stevens, the stage name for Steven Demetre Georgiou, has played everything from folk to rock and even spent several years playing religious music before returning to his roots.
Stevens’ love of The Beatles got him interested in learning to play the guitar at age 15.
He had several international hits between 1966 and 1978, like “Wild World.” He’s also known for writing popular songs recorded by other performers like “The First Cut is the Deepest.”
Stevens, who now performs as Yusuf Islam, earned a Grammy Award nomination for his 2017 folk album. He’s also an inductee in the Songwriters and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
7. Brian Jones
Born in Cheltenham in the southwest of England, the multi-talented Brian Jones started playing music with a clarinet in the school band.
Later, he played slide guitar but went on to play lead guitar in the group he founded in 1962, The Rolling Stones.
Jones intended the group to primarily play blues, but other members took the sound in a rock direction.
While Jones was part of the group, he played lead and rhythm guitar, sitar, and several other instruments.
Jones tragically drowned in less than a month after leaving The Rolling Stones in 1969. The group went on to become one of the world’s most successful rock bands.
8. David Gilmour
Born in Cambridge, England in 1946, David Gilmour loved music as a child and learned to play on a borrowed guitar.
He joined Pink Floyd in 1967 as a guitarist and singer and helped make Pink Floyd one of the world’s most successful musical groups.
Gilmour released several solo albums and produced albums for other talents like Kate Bush. Pink Floyd released a final album in 2014.
Gilmour has won many awards and is an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is also the recipient of a CBE for his contribution to music.
9. Mark Knopfler
Scotland-born Mark Knopfler plays guitar with his right hand even though he’s left-handed.
He rose to fame as the lead guitarist and vocalist of the rock group Dire Straits who went on to become an international hit and one of the UK’s biggest rock bands in 1985.
Knopfler has also composed the soundtracks to many feature films like “The Princess Bride” and “Local Hero.”
He’s won several awards, including Grammy Awards with Dire Straits and as a solo artist performing country music. He received the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his musical contributions.
10. Peter Green
English guitarist Peter Green was born in Bethnal Green, London in 1946 and taught himself to play the guitar at age 11.
He released several solo albums during his career but is most well-known today for being the founder of the supergroup Fleetwood Mac in 1967.
Green wrote several songs, including “Black Magic Woman,” a single Fleetwood Mac released in 1968. Santana recorded another version of the track that became popular two years later.
Green is an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
11. Ritchie Blackmore
Somerset native, Ritchie Blackmore took classical guitar lessons when he was 11. But, he eventually shifted from classical guitar to hard rock and heavy metal.
Blackmore founded the hard rock band Deep Purple in 1968 and the heavy metal band Rainbow in 1975. He achieved success with both bands and his solo career.
He’s a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a founder of Deep Purple.
12. George Harrison
One of the most famous musicians from Liverpool, George Harrison loved music since childhood and wanted to play the guitar.
He was already a skilled player when he met Paul McCartney on the school bus, where they became friends.
Harrison was only 15 years old when he, McCartney, and John Lennon formed what would become the most famous musical group in history, The Beatles.
After The Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison had a successful solo career. He won multiple awards, including an Academy Award and a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) as a member of The Beatles.
13. Jimmy Page
West Londoner and self-taught guitarist Jimmy Page learned to play the guitar at age 12.
He started his career as a session musician before joining The Yardbirds and eventually shooting to rock stardom as the guitarist for Led Zeppelin.
He founded and belonged to several rock groups after Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980.
He’s a two-time inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the recipient of the OBE for his musical contributions.
14. Matt Bellamy
Early musical influences helped another famous guitarist from Cambridge, Matt Bellamy to become a best-selling musician with the rock band Muse.
His father had the first US #1 hit for a British band as the guitarist for The Tornadoes in the 1960s, so it’s no surprise Bellamy was interested in music.
Bellamy plays the piano and guitar. He regularly makes the lists of the best guitar players put out by magazines and music organizations.
He also holds the Guinness World Record for the most guitars smashed on tour in 2010.
15. Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend’s mother was a singer, and his father was a saxophone player, so it was natural for him to become a musician.
Townshend’s claim to fame is as co-founder, guitarist, and singer of The Who, a supergroup that has been internationally popular since the late 1960s.
Townshend was self-taught on the guitar and several other instruments.
He’s also a prolific songwriter who’s written hundreds of songs for The Who, his solo albums, and other projects.
Pete Townshend is an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won several awards, including a Tony Award for the score to the rock opera “The Who’s Tommy.”
Summing Up Our List of the Greatest British Guitarists
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about these musicians who changed the course of rock music and influenced guitarists worldwide.
We’ll be adding to this list soon, so let us know if you think we’ve forgotten any famous British guitar players.