Okay, so this article might end up being a wee bit subjective. After all, when talking about the greatest guitar players of all time, everyone has their own thoughts and preferences. But, there are some guitar players who just stand out above the rest, and there is no denying their immense talent. Today we are going to take a look at six of the absolute greatest rock and roll guitar players of all time, including lead and rhythm players.
What Makes Someone a Great Guitar Player?
There are many schools of thought on this subject. While many would say that years of practice and dedication is what it takes to be a great guitar player, there are others who would go by the actual music these musicians create. Everyone has their preferences, and their own definitions as to what makes someone a truly great guitar player.
Some people think that unless a musician has years of music theory study under their belt, they can’t possibly be a great guitar player. Others would highly disagree with this, seeing as how some of the greats have never even had a guitar lesson in their lives, and they learned on their own.
6 All-Time Great Guitar Players
Now we are going to get into the real nitty-gritty, and talk about five of the best guitar players who have ever graced this planet. Obviously, this is subjective, and you may think that others deserve to be in this list. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough room to talk about all of them in one article, so we are narrowing it down to six amazing musicians. We are not putting these into any particular order, they are simply among the very long list of the best guitar players in the world.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
If you are a fan of blues music, chances are you are also a fan of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan. Here is a man who led the way in the blues rock revival of the 80’s, and someone who has influenced countless other musicians. Vaughan always gave credit to Lonnie Mack for his own guitar style, because he also had a very unique style that none could match.
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top once gifted “Main”, one of his custom guitars, to Vaughan, who was well-known for using customized, heavy strings that were tuned down one half step. He preferred guitars with asymmetrical necks, and was a master of blues guitar. He began playing at the tender age of 7, and dropped out of high school to pursue a career in music.
Eddie Van Halen
You can’t have a list of great guitar players without mentioning Eddie Van Halen, who left us far too soon. Known for his butterfly tapping technique, Van Halen credited his style to Jimmy Page. He has also stated that Eric Clapton was one of his main influences. Van Halen not only led the band of the same name, but has also been featured on work by many other popular artists, including Michael Jackson.
Van Halen did not read music. In fact, he never learned how to do this at all. He is also known for being an inventor, and held numerous patents for several devices, including one that would allow people to play the guitar just like they would play a piano. Like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Van Halen credited Jimmy Page as being one of his biggest influences. His solos are still considered to be among the greatest, likely due to his tapping technique.
No list of great guitar players is ever complete without mentioning Jimi Hendrix. He may only have seen mainstream success for four years before his untimely death, but he will be remembered as one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived. Jimi was the first to take advantage of the whammy bar, as well as wah-wah and distortion effects. He was well-known for his love of Fender Stratocasters, and his main influences included Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.
Hendrix is well-known for being the first guitar player to try many different techniques, including the above-mentioned effects, as well as not using barre chords and instead using his thumb for the bass notes. He as also a left-handed player. Seeing as how there weren’t many left-handed guitars available during his time, he was known for using right-handed guitars that he played upside down and strung for left-handed playing.
While Pete Townshend of The Who isn’t known for shredding riffs, he is known as one of the best rhythm guitar players in the world. Townshend has made huge contributions to the world of rock and roll and R&B music. He has one of the most amazing strumming techniques the world has ever seen, which can be heard in pretty much every Who song ever recorded.
Also a gifted songwriter, Townshend is well-known for having the gift to understand that it only takes one big chord to create a hook for any great song. Think about “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. As soon as you hear that first chord, you know what is coming. Townshend definitely has a place in the list of the best guitarists in the world, and he has shown us all that rhythm guitar can be just as amazing as lead guitar.
One of the absolute best guitarists who has ever lived, bar none, is Jimmy Page. He is well known for his blues-rock fusion style, as well as some pretty incredible riffs. He is an innovative guitar player who laid the foundations for heavy metal. Jimmy loved to play around with the blues and exotic sounds, combining them to make his own signature sound that stands out among all other guitar players, even to this day. He also used traditional English folk roots to create “Stairway to Heaven”.
Page dominated the music scene throughout the 1970’s, and his talent is undisputed. He has left an impression that will last for many decades to come, and continues to be an influence for many beginners and up-and-coming musicians. His music will live on for generations, and Page will always be considered a pioneer of many different styles that fit into the rock and roll genre.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Not only has he mastered the art of rhythm guitar, he is also one of the world’s best lead guitar players. He got his start playing in UK pubs, and paid his dues while working his way up at being one of the most influential guitar players of all time.
Knopfler is well known for the lengthy and incredible soloing on from “Sultans of Swing”. Just a side note, this song was the first to hit number one on the charts in two different decades, the recorded version in the 1970’s and a live version in the 1980’s. Knopfler has a very interesting style, and has been quoted as saying, “My idea of heaven is a place where the Tyne meets the Delta, where folk music meets the blues”.
There you have it, six of the absolute best guitar players in the history of rock and roll. Obviously, there are many others who also fall into the same categories as these musicians, and they are all deserving of the same accolades.