From Gibson Guitar Versions
Category for the history of rock music genre prog rock, art rock, or rock orchestra, represented by the 10 musicians of the most innovative guitarists of our time. And for the category of genre of rock & roll, blues and hard rock of all time is represented by, among others;
Steve Howe (Yes)
Few guitarists have incorporated as many styles as Steve Howe has. Drawing upon influences that range from Django Reinhart to Barney Kessel to flamenco legend Carlos Montoya, the Yes guitarist used his trusty ES-175 to propel such classics as “Your is No Disgrace” and “Heart of the Sunrise.” His solo composition, “Mood for a Day,” from the Fragile album, showed that classical music could be cool.
Robert Fripp (King Crimson)
Jagged, angular, and sonically adventurous, Robert Fripp’s playing sets a high standard with such early King Crimson classics as “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the two-part opus “Larks Tongue in Aspic.” His work with David Bowie, especially on “Heroes” and Scary Monsters, laid the bedrock for some of the latter’s finest albums.
Martin Barre (Jethro Tull)
Ian Anderson may be the face of Jethro Tull, but the band’s Celtic-inspired folk rock gets most of its energy from Martin Barre’s aggressive six-string work. On songs such as “Bungle in the Jungle” and “Aqualung,” Barre showed a sense of economy and melody that sometimes eluded his prog-rock peers. His solo in “Aqualung” is often cited as one of rock guitar's greatest moments.
Alex Lifeson (Rush)
Characterizes Rush’s best work can be traced to the versatility of Alex Lifeson. A melodic soloist, Lifeson is also capable of subtle rhythm playing that elegantly serves the song at-hand. In the group’s early years, he often used a 1976 ES-355 to craft the band’s ambitious soundscapes.
Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
Though he’s better known for his songwriting and bass skills, Greg Lake used his superb fingerpicking talents to provide ELP with some of its best moments. Acoustic pieces such as “From the Beginning” and “Still …You Turn Me On” have become standards in the prog pantheon. The lesser-known piece “Daddy,” from ELP’s overlooked 1994 album, In the Hot Seat, is nearly as good.
Peter Banks (Yes, Flash)
Before there was Steve Howe, there was Peter Banks. Artistic differences between Banks and singer Jon Anderson prompted Banks’s departure from Yes in 1970, but in his little-known ‘70s band, Flash, Banks used an ES-355 to create several should-have-been prog rock classics. “Lifetime,” from Flash’s In the Can album, is his tour-de-force.
Jan Akkerman (Focus)Had he done nothing more than serve as the driving force on the 1973 hit “Hocus Pocus,” Jan Akkerman’splace in progressive guitar history would be assured. Following his departure from Focus in the mid ‘70s, the Dutch guitarist went on to release several acclaimed solo albums. Readers of Britain’s Melody Makermagazine voted him “Best Guitarist in the World” in 1973.
John Petrucci (Dream Theater)
Prog-metal greats Dream Theater would hardly be the same without the virtuosic six-string work of John Petrucci. Counting Steve Vai, Alex Lifeson, and Steve Howe among his influences, Petrucci is one of prog’s most technically gifted artists. Through the years he’s added emotive qualities to his soaring talents as a shredder.
In addition to bringing an overt blues influence to the genre, David Gilmour is one of progressive rock’s most melodic lead players. While his solos often build to operatic proportions, he’s always kept Pink Floyd’s spaciest excursions tethered to earthbound traditions.
Steve Hackett (Genesis)
Steve Hackett’s work in Genesis tended to fly under the radar. During his ‘70s tenure with the band, however, his subtle six-string work helped shape the group’s art-rock sound. In addition to being a pioneer of two-handed tapping, Hackett was among the first rock artists to view the guitar as an ensemble, symphonic instrument.
10. Pete Townshend (The Who)
The guitar, as an instrument, has never sounded as angry as when played by Pete Townshend. Listen to “Young Man Blues” on Live at Leeds or “The Real Me” on Quadrophenia, and you will hear the sound of a man on the edge, abusing his instrument as the only means of expressing his repressed rage. Punk was born from this. Heavy metal. Hard rock, in all its various forms, can be traced back to the London kid with the big nose windmilling like his life depended on it. The genius of Townshend, though, is that this is just one facet of his playing. I dare you to find a more sincere, emotional solo than the one Pete takes in “Love Reigns O’er Me.” Or hillbilly glee to match “Squeeze Box.” Too iconoclastic to conform to the Mods, too musical to be a true punk, Pete Townshend stands in a category all his own. – Michael Wright
9. Robert Johnson
No guitarist has had a greater impact on modern blues and rock guitar than Robert Johnson. Over the course of just 29 original songs, the “King of the Delta Blues” laid the groundwork for styles further shaped and developed by Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman and countless others. A haunted figure, Johnson led a life shrouded in mystery, with some insisting only a pact with the Devil could account for the seemingly sudden burst of guitar skills that took hold in him in his early 20s. In truth, as those who knew him have said, Johnson worked diligently to perfect the craft that yielded such classics as “Love in Vain,” “Crossroad Blues” and “Sweet Home Chicago.” Keith Richards once described Johnson’s guitar playing as sounding “like Bach.” Clapton calls Johnson’s music “the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice.” – Russell Hall
8. Chet Atkins
One of the founding members and architects of the Nashville Sound, Chet Atkins was unquestionably the greatest and most renowned guitarist country music has ever known. Over the years, Chet released hundreds of remarkable solo recordings displaying his undeniable talent, but it was his work as a session guitarist that may ultimately be the part of his legacy that shines the brightest. Mr. Guitar was one of the most prolific session players in history, and his stunning work can be heard on many of the biggest records of all time, including on countless classics by Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, the Everly Brothers and dozens upon dozens of A-list artists. Chet’s groundbreaking fusion of jazz and country-picking would go on to influence such legendary guitarists as George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Glen Campbell, Jerry Reed, Duane Eddy and countless other big-time artists. Check out the DVD Chet Atkins: Certified Guitar Player to witness to Atkins’ undeniable greatness. – Sean Dooley
7. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)
For countless guitarists around the world, history can easily be divided into two distinct eras: pre-Van Halen and post-Van Halen. And it all started with an explosive instrumental track that clocked in at a brisk 1:42. The blistering pyrotechnics on display in “Eruption,” from the group’s debut album Van Halen, proved an epiphany for millions of aspiring – and accomplished – rock guitarists everywhere. That track alone signaled a seismic shift in the way the instrument would forever be played. Eddie’s performance on “Eruption” is nothing short of mesmerizing. No guitar had ever sounded like that – it was almost hard to believe that it was just one man, one instrument, one take and no overdubs. Eddie’s patented double-handed finger-tapping on the fretboard created an almost symphonic cacophony the likes of which had never been heard before, and rock music would never be the same. Simply put, Eddie Van Halen is easily the most influential (and poorly imitated) guitarist of the last 30 years. – Sean Dooley.
6. Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds, The Jeff Beck Group)
Only the rarest of musicians are capable of celebrating a milestone like a 65th birthday by making one of the their best albums and, sure enough, Beck’s beautifully orchestrated 2010 release Emotion & Commotion recalls the passion and scope of his pivotal 1970s masterpieces, Blow By Blow and Wired. On those albums, with his 1954 Oxblood Les Paul and limitless imagination, Beck ducked his early history as part of the original Holy Trinity of British blues to prove his artistry has no boundaries. Even as a bluesman, Beck was unique. His post-Yardbirds playing with The Jeff Beck Group on their 1968 debut Truth has passages of noisy expressionism that would fit modern discs by Sonic Youth or Muse, despite his gargantuan strength as a melodist. Whether playing as a sideman, headlining small clubs like Ronnie Scott’s or flooring a horde of fellow six-string virtuosos and their fans at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival, Beck is an absolute master — perhaps the absolute master — of modern electric guitar. – Ted Drozdowski.
5. Chuck Berry
4. Eric Clapton (Cream, Derek and the Dominos)
Forget about his far-reaching solo work for a minute. Forget Cream. Forget the Yardbirds. Forget Derek and the Dominos. Forget the beer commercial and “Tears in Heaven.” Forget everything. The main reason kids should still be spray painting “Clapton is God” on city walls is because of that solo on The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” All that came after that was just gravy. The musician nicknamed Slowhand has always had a strong sense of melody and even his dense, improvisational solos never fade without offering substance. He has spent his career swinging between experimentation and tradition while collecting Grammys. He can play deep and soulful. He can play loud and searing. He has been a prolific champion of the blues, paying tribute to idols like B.B. King and Robert Johnson at every opportunity. And after all this time, his spot-on playing still manages to dazzle. – Aidin Vaziri.
3. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)
The undisputed musical leader of The Rolling Stones, Richards is the best rhythm guitarist in history. He’s the rajah of the riff, the overlord of opening tuning and the sultan of “Satisfaction.” Taking cues from Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed, Richards’ genius lies in simplifying a guitar phrase until it’s down to the absolute essentials. His riffs are unfettered. By using an economy of language, they remain unforgettable. Peter Frampton might have made his axe “talk,” but Keef had already been holding conversations with listeners for years. And what’s a better ice-breaker than the opening riff to “Brown Sugar” or “Start Me Up”? Richards also deserves credit for playing well with others. Working in the Stones with Brian Jones, Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood, Richards has employed “the ancient art of weaving,” bringing together the lead and rhythm guitar parts via methods learned from his heroes. And when the Stones tour, Keef’s still up there working his butt off – forever in service of band and song. – Bryan Wawzenek.
2. Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)
1. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix revolutionized guitar playing and rock music – building a rainbow bridge between blues, rock and roll and the psychedelic experiments of the mid-’60s. Never has a guitar player appeared so “at one” with his instrument – his live shows were more out-of-body experiences than performances. His tragically short recording career saw only three studio albums, Are You Experienced? (1967), Axis: Bold as Love (also 1967), and Electric Ladyland (1968). Hendrix’s performance at Woodstock remains a genuine iconic moment in rock and roll history. Jimi Hendrix was only 27 when he died in a London flat. Neil Young said it best when he inducted Jimi into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “Hendrix threw a Molotov cocktail onto rock and roll.” – Andrew Vaughan
Votes for the Top 50 Guitarists of All Time were included from Michael Wright, Bryan Wawzenek, Andrew Vaughan, Sean Dooley, Arlen Roth, Aidin Vaziri, Russell Hall, Ted Drozdowski, Paolo Bassotti, Dave Hunter, Jeff Cease (Black Crowes), James Williamson (Iggy & The Stooges), Steve Mazur (Our Lady Peace), Martin Belmont (Graham Parker & The Rumour) and the Gibson.com Readers Poll.