Home Music Music Lists

The 250 Greatest Guitarists of All Time

Celebrating six-string glory in blues, rock, metal, punk, folk, country, reggae, jazz, flamenco, bossa nova, and much more

250 best guitarists of all time list

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mdou Moctar, Randy Rhoads, Carlos Santana, Wes Montgomery, Yvette Young, Prince, King Sunny Ade, Jimmy Page and Odetta


“MY GUITAR IS not a thing,” Joan Jett once said. “It is an extension of myself. It is who I am.” The guitar is the most universal instrument, the most primal, and the most expressive. Anybody can pick up a little guitar in no time at all, but you can spend a lifetime exploring its possibilities. That’s why thinking about what makes a great guitarist is so much fun.

Rolling Stone published its original list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists in 2011. It was compiled by a panel of musicians, mostly older classic rockers. Our new expanded list was made by the editors and writers of Rolling Stone. This one goes to 250.

Guitar players are often as iconic as the lead singers for the bands they play in. But mythic guitar gods like Jimmy Page, Brian May, and Eddie Van Halen are only one part of the story. We wanted to show the scope of the guitar’s evolution. The earliest entrant on the list (folk music icon Elizabeth Cotten) was born in 1893, the youngest (indie-rock prodigy Lindsey Jordan) was born in 1999. The list has rock, jazz, reggae, country, folk, blues, punk, metal, disco, funk, bossa nova, bachata, Congolese rumba, flamenco, and much more. There are peerless virtuosos like Pat Metheny, Yvette Young, and Steve Vai, as well as primitivists like Johnny Ramone and Poison Ivy of the Cramps. There are huge stars like Prince, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, and behind-the-scenes masters like Memphis soul great Teenie Hodges and smooth-rock assassin Larry Carlton.

Many great guitarists realized their genius as part of a duo, so Kim and Kelley Deal of the Breeders, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, and other symbiotic pairs share an entry. Our only instrumental criteria is that you had to be a six-string player. (All you Balalaika shredders out there, keep at it; maybe next time.)

In making the list, we tended to value heaviness over tastiness, feel over polish, invention over refinement, risk-takers and originators more than technicians. We also tended to give an edge to artists who channeled whatever gifts god gave them into great songs and game-changing albums, not just impressive playing.

As modern blues visionary Gary Clark Jr. put it, “I don’t know if I want to get too far off the path — I don’t want to get lost in the forest — but I like to wander out a bit and adventure.”

CONTRIBUTORS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From Rolling Stone US


Andy Summers

The Police were a new kind of power trio, and Andy Summers was the main reason. Quickly moving away from punk, he recast jazz chords and reggae rhythms as headlong rock & roll. Summers played as sparely as possible, constructing clipped twitches or dubby washes of sound, leaving ample room for Sting and Stewart Copeland. “His tone and style were just absolutely perfect — he left space around everything,” Rush’s Alex Lifeson said. “And he can handle anything from beautiful acoustic playing to jazz to hybrid kinds of stuff.” —D.W.Key Tracks:“Message in a Bottle,” “Every Breath You Take”


Brittany Howard

Since starting out in the garage-roots band Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard’s guitar playing has always been an earthy, fluid, admirably ad-hoc complement to her powerhouse vocals and soulful songwriting. She’s has an elastic sense of rhythm (check out the way her tough, jagged lines bounce off Shakes lead guitarist Heath Fogg on their 2015 song “Don’t Wanna Fight”). Howard took on straight-ahead rock & roll with her side band Thunderbitch, and her 2019 solo album, Jaime, was a stellar showcase for her open-ended musicianship, from the funky James Brown-indebted hopscotching she did on “History Repeats” to the molten fuzz she slathered on “Presence.” —J.D.Key Tracks: “History Repeats,” “Presence”


Robby Krieger

Schooled in flamenco and jazz, Robby Krieger pushed beyond rock at a time when most players were still bound to the blues. In the Doors, he had the improvisatory flair to follow Jim Morrison’s wildest journeys, wrote some of their biggest hits (“Light My Fire”), and picked up the slack in their keyboard-drums-guitar lineup. “Not having a bass player … made me play more bass notes to fill out the bottom,” he said. “Not having a rhythm player also made me play differently, to fill out the sound. I always felt like three players simultaneously.” —A.L.Key Tracks:“Riders on the Storm,” “Roadhouse Blues”


Ricky Wilson

When the B-52s played live, Ricky Wilson often seemed to exist happily in the background amidst the manic exuberance of lead singer Fred Schneider and the beehive hair and campy dance moves of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson. But his mix of downhome chicken scratch, angular post-punk, rockabilly, and surf rock on classics like “52 Girls,” “Strobe Light,” and “Private Idaho” made him one of the most inventive players of the New Wave era. Wilson often used  only four or five strings on his blue Mosrite guitar and odd tunings to get a strange, spartan sound. “I just tune the strings till I hear something I like,” he once said. With his death in 1985, the indie-rock scene lost an unassuming radical. —J.D.Key Tracks: “52 Girls,” “Mesopotamia”


Paul Simon

Paul Simon, the great wordsmith, speaks as vividly through his guitar as his lyrics. Weaned on early doo-wop and rock & roll, Simon got caught up in the folk revival during the mid-Sixties, traveling to England to study the acoustic mastery of Bert Jansch. He has continued absorbing new influences, as on “Dazzling Blue,” off his most recent album,So Beautiful or So What: “All that folk fingerpicking is what I did withSimon and Garfunkel, but [here] it’s on top of this rhythm with Indian musicians playing in 12/8.” In his 80s, he’s still as nimble as ever, as he demonstrated on his 2023 album Seven Psalms.–W.H. Key Tracks:“Dazzling Blue,” “Kathy’s Song”


Leslie West

Leslie West (real name: Leslie Weinstein) first made his mark in mid-Sixties garage rock, with the Vagrants’ meaty cover of Otis Redding‘s “Respect.” By 1969, West was the heavy vengeance in the Cream-like quartet Mountain. On songs like the 1970 hit “Mississippi Queen,” West played roughened blues lines with deceiving facility and an R&B flair, through a black forest of stressed-amp distortion. “The riffs were incredible,” says Dave Davies. “He could play flashy, intricate phrases. But he wasn’t a look-at-me guy. He played with feel.” —D.F.Key Tracks:“Mississippi Queen,” “Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin)”


Edilio Paredes

Now that pop stars Rosalía and the Weeknd have dipped into its mystique for a global hit, it’s hard to believe that bachata was once little known outside its native Dominican Republic. And the man who gavela música del amargueits sonic identity — those pungent, spiraling guitar lines that flutter and accentuate the bitterness of love lost — is Edilio Paredes. A self-taught prodigy, he played a key role in engineering the transition frombolero campesinoto the contemporary bachata that finally won its rightful place as a transcendent Afro-Caribbean genre in the Nineties. Paredes’ discography as a prolific session man from the ‘60s to the ‘80s speaks for itself — butel maestrowas also vindicated through his appearance on the exquisite 2011 albumThe Bachata Legends. —E.L.Key Tracks: “No Me Olvides,” “Bendita Nena”


Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner

The National are a one-of-a-kind rock story, starring a virtuosic twin-guitar duo who happen to be twin brothers. Bryce Dessner has collaborated with legends like Steve Reich, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jonny Greenwood, and Kronos Quartet. Aaron Dessner is Taylor Swift’s guitar wingman on Folklore and Evermore, adding Jerry Garcia-like twang to “Cowboy Like Me”; he really cuts loose on “August” in The Long Pond Studio Sessions. The Dessner brothers can mesh for electric angst (“Terrible Love”) or intimate folk beauty (“I Need My Girl”). They also masterminded the ace 2016 Grateful Dead tribute Day of the Dead, jamming with Bob Weir on “I Know You Rider.” —R.S.Key Tracks: “Mr. November,” “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness”


Lindsey Jordan

Gen Z guitar hero Lindsey Jordan took lessons from fellow 250 Greatest Guitarists list-member Mary Timony, the extraordinarily inventive guitarist in Helium and Wild Flag. When Jordan made her debut as Snail Mail at 18 years old with 2018’s Lush, she seemed to have arrived having fully internalized the entire indie-rock canon. She’s a casual virtuoso and a serious shredder, shifting from strummy tension-builds to glorious, combustible solos, from coolly coiled Liz Phair low-fi to Sonic Youth sprawl. “I like to play really balls out,” she told Rolling Stone in 2018. “That’s what it means to be onstage with integrity.” —J.D.Key Tracks: “Heat Wave,” “Pristine”


Keith Urban

He may not be country’s most virtuoso player or its most traditional, but Keith Urban shines among Nashville cats for his effortless style. His riffs, rhythms, and solos seem to materialize as naturally as thinking and yet somehow always elevate the song. Nothing is overtly flashy; every note makes sense. Both are peak Urban in the studio. But he’s at his best when onstage, delivering guitar heroics that stack up with the greatest of the rock pantheon. No wonder he’s jammed with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Nile Rodgers. “I love that people want to hear the guitar,” Urban told Rolling Stone in 2015, “but I just think about the song … whatever the song seems to want.” —J.H.Key Tracks: “Highway Don’t Care,” “Blue Ain’t Your Color”


Erin Smith

Erin Smith of riot grrrl pioneers Bratmobile got her start playing along to records by Beat Happening, a self-consciously primitive cuddle-core band with a woman on drums. “That was in ’87, and not only did I see women could play music, but I could see that just you could do it yourself,” she told the Museum of Pop Culture. “I could never be [Duran Duran’s] Andy Taylor. And I realized that was OK.” The style she went on to create with singer Allison Wolfe and drummer Molly Neuman combined melodic surf-rock bass lines with slashing garage-rock chords to help make the Bratbmobile’s 1993 debut, Pottymouth, one of the most exciting punk records of the Nineties. —E.G.P.Key Tracks: “Love Thing,” “P.R.D.C.T.”


Duane Eddy

If there was any doubt left in the late 1950s that the guitar — not the saxophone — was rock & roll’s essential lead instrument, Duane Eddy settled the argument: See his 1958 single “Rebel Rouser,” curled with country twang and rippling with tremolo. “Chet Atkins used vibrato in a selective way — Duane Eddy used it to thrash the music,” says the Kinks’ Dave Davies. The impact of Eddy’s hits, like “Forty Miles of Bad Road” and “Peter Gunn,” would soon be heard in surf music and guitarists such as Jeff Beck and George Harrison. —D.F.Key Tracks:“Rebel Rouser,” “Peter Gunn”


Doug Gillard

If Robert Pollard is the off-kilter genius id of Ohio indie-rock institution Guided By Voices, then Doug Gillard is the band’s beating heart. He’s a perfect complement to Pollard, turning his mad wordplay and experimental drones into rock & roll, and doing it at the tireless pace of two or even three GBV albums a year. “I know his usual shapes and drones — or can pretty much decipher what they are if it’s a new shape — and replicate them on the rhythm parts on the records for the most part,” Gillard once said. “But also, I have some freedom to transform them.” —B.E.Key Tracks: “I Am a Tree,” “Mr. Child”


Jennifer Batten

Jennifer Batten came to prominence as the lion-maned guitar hurricane on Michael Jackson’s biggest tours. It’s a gig that required her to play funk, soul, metal, and Eddie Van Halen’s “Beat It” solo every night. On her first solo album, 1992’s Above Below and Beyond, she recorded Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” (two unusual ways) on electric guitar with whammy dives and finger-tapping galore throughout, all with her unique touch. She later took giant steps herself, becoming one of the few guitarists capable of going toe to toe with Jeff Beck, touring and recording with him on some of his most daring albums around the turn of the millennium. —K.G.Key Tracks: “Flight of the Bumblebee,” “Giant Steps (Rock Version)”


Greg Sage

Greg Sage formed his Portland, Oregon, band the Wipers in 1977, blowing past punk orthodoxies before they even existed with his complex, sprawling songs and jagged, miasmically distorted guitar sound. At a time when other bands valued thrashing simplicity, Wipers songs such as “When It’s Over” and “Romeo” felt like pummeling soundscapes. As a result, they galvanized the Pacific Northwestern indie-rock scene. “We learned everything from the Wipers,” said Kurt Cobain, who proudly claimed them as his favorite band. “They were playing a mix of punk and hard rock when nobody cared.” —Z.Y.Key Tracks: “When It’s Over,” “Up Front”


Laura Marling

British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Laura Marling is a subtler kind of virtuoso, employing complex tunings and voicings within her music that sound far simpler than they really are. “I Was an Eagle,” off Marling’s 2013 LP, One I Was an Eagle, sounds dreamy and atmospheric thanks to her use of DADDAD tuning, with her primary influence Joni Mitchell ringing through her catalog via unusual phrasings and atonal flourishes. During the Covid-19 lockdown, Marling shared her guitar insight with fans and followers, offering concise and informative tutorials on Instagram. —B.MKey Tracks: “I Was an Eagle,” “Wild Fire,” “Ghosts”


John McGeoch

Manchester’s John McGeoch announced his presence with the vaulting attack of Magazine’s 1978 debut single, “Shot by Both Sides,” one of U.K. punk-rock’s great anthems, and he quickly went on to invent his own expansive, architectural style on Magazine’s later work and with Public Image Ltd, as well as with Siouxsie and the Banshees. McGeoch earned worshipful praise from Johnny Marr, Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, and others. His mix of slashing rhythm guitar, miasmic flange, and swirling arpeggios made the Banshees’ 1981 album, Juju, the great Eighties goth-guitar album, introducing a moody new language to U.K. rock where atmosphere mattered much more than angst. —J.D.Key Tracks: “Philadelphia,” “Spellbound”



H.E.R. has stayed low-key enough that she still gets to blow minds with each big public appearance like the Grammys or the Super Bowl. H.E.R.’s voice is steeped in classic R&B, and she loves a simmering ballad, but her playing runs the gamut from delicate and fluid accents to Prince-like rock shredding. H.E.R.’s single “Hold On” features her doubling her own vocal melodies with a series of squealing leads, one of her favorite signatures. “I also like to play my guitar like I’m singing,” she told Guitar World. “Sometimes, I like to sing and play my solos at the same time … even harmonizing my voice with my guitar.” In 2021, Fender created a signature Stratocaster model for H.E.R., making her the first Black woman to receive the honor. —J.F.Key Tracks: “Hold On,” “Comfortable”


David Williams

Though he grew up loving jazz, David Williams made his greatest impact on a style of music not known as an instrumentalists’ showcase: Eighties pop. His intentionally spare touches are key to the rhythmic seduction of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back,” and Diana Ross’ “Muscles.” The Vietnam veteran, who also toured with Jackson and Madonna and worked with everyone from Chaka Khan to Kenny Loggins, once described the “secret spice” he added to Top 40 hits: “You don’t need much of it, but the right amount gets the job done.” Williams died of a heart attack in 2009 at 58. —C.S.Key Tracks: “Billie Jean,” “Dirty Diana”


Etta Baker

Etta Baker’s name is synonymous with Piedmont blues, a rolling, ragtime-and-folk-influenced style of playing that originated along the East Coast in the early part of the 20th century. Baker, born to a multi-racial family in North Carolina in 1913 and raised in Virginia, learned guitar from her father and often played dances with her family as a youngster. Her instrumental compositions like “One Dime Blues” that appeared on a 1956 anthology were seismic: Among those listening were Bob Dylan and Taj Mahal, the latter of whom would record an album with Baker before her 2006 death. —J.F.Key Tracks: “One Dime Blues,” “Carolina Breakdown”


Gustavo Cerati

Maybe because he single-handedly transformed the sound of Latin rock with the majesty of his songs, it is easy to forget what an extraordinary guitar player Gustavo Cerati was. In the mid-Eighties, the Argentine singer-songwriter unleashed a pan-American rock en español boom with trio Soda Stereo and anthemic hits like “De Música Ligera.” After disbanding Soda, Cerati fell under the spell of sequencers and samples, but he returned to guitar-god mode with 2006’s Ahí Vamos, a blustery session soaked in ragged electric riffs. Cerati fell into a coma at age 50 and never recovered — but the image of him smiling with pleasure as he ripped into a solo onstage is forever etched in the subconscious of Latin music culture. —E.L.Key Tracks: “Canción Animal,” “La Excepción”


Barbara Lynn

Sixteen-year-old Barbara Lynn had a final warning for her boyfriend, Stank: “If you should lose me/You’ll lose a good thing.” The Beaufort, Texas, native set her words to music, using a right-handed guitar she’d taught herself to play with her left hand. The resulting song, “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” an R&B Number One in 1962, was the first lick in an acclaimed 60-years-and-strummin’ career. Lynn’s mostly self-penned tunes have been covered by the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Robert Plant and sampled by the Beastie Boys and Moby. This speaks to the relatability and creative power of a good woman done wrong. —C.S.Key Tracks: “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” “I’ll Suffer”


Steve Jones

When New York Dolls-turned-Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren gave Steve Jones a white Les Paul Custom that had been played by the Dolls’ Syl Sylvain, the instrument (or a similar model) became Jones’ weapon of choice ever after. Jones’ brutish power chords and flamboyant gutter-glam solos were a perfect mirror for the taunting bile of Johnny Rotten — and a yardstick for every punk-rock noise-maker who followed. His legacy was set with indelible riffs on one record — 1977’s Never Mind the Bollocks… — that inspired guitarists from Slash to Billie Joe Armstrong. It was an attitude as much as a sound. As Jones told a journalist during his days with the Sex Pistols, “Actually, we’re not into music. We’re into chaos.” —W.H.Key Tracks: “God Save the Queen,” “Pretty Vacant”


Glenn Branca

A pillar of of New York’s post-punk No Wave movement, Glenn Branca committed himself to establishing the guitar — often tuned to his trademark “harmonic series” and modified to function in different registers and produce varied tonalities — as a symphonic instrument that could be composed for ensembles sometimes totaling up to 100 players. His droning, heaving Symphony No. 1, recorded in 1981, would feature both Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth in the orchestra. Branca would also release Sonic Youth’s first album on his Neutral label, demonstrating that he also had a talent for spotting other musical revolutionaries. “I’ve got so many ideas about music that I haven’t even begun to work on,” he told Esquire in 2016. “If I lived to 200, I wouldn’t finish my work.” —T.B.Key Tracks: “Light Field (In Consonance),” “Velvets and Pearls”


El Kempner

Long before El Kempner launched Palehound — an indie-powerhouse project that recently opened for boygenius — they were just a seven-year-old child learning to play by strumming their dad’s guitar with a marker cap. Since then, guitar has been the Boston-native’s guiding light: Electrifying riffs elevated by Kempner’s musical dexterity carry vivacious tracks like “The Clutch” off their recent fourth studio album, Eye on the Bat. But what heightens the 29-year-old’s refined skills is their versatility. Kempner is equally at home rocking out on their beloved Stratocaster, doing pretty acoustic fingerpicking, or swirling arpeggios. —M. GeorgiKey Tracks: “The Clutch,” “Independence Day”


Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and Wayne Kramer

Forged in Detroit during the 1960s, the MC5 guitar tandem of Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith worked together like the pistons of a powerful engine. Combining Chuck Berry and early Motown influences with a budding interest in free jazz, the pair could kick their band’s legendarily high-energy jams deep into space while simultaneously keeping one foot in the groove. “If you play with another guitar player long enough, you exhaust everything you know, and then you start playing what you don’t know, and you get into something good,” Kramer told Premier Guitar in 2018. “We just found that we could play syncopated rhythm parts simultaneously, and they would lock in perfectly, or we could solo simultaneously and they’d still lock in.” —D.E.Key Tracks: “Looking at You,” “Poison”


Marv Tarplin

The playing and composing of Atlanta-born and Detroit-raised Marv Tarplin became key to the success of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles almost as soon as the soul crooner hand-picked him to be the group’s guitarist in the 1960s. Tarplin’s versatility fit the demands of Motown, from his driving chords on “Going to a Go-Go” to the sweet 12-string acoustic on “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” His playing around with the chords of Harry Belafonte’s “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” led to him writing the core of the Miracles smash “The Tracks of My Tears.” He continued to work with Robinson after the Miracles split; the delicate filigrees he added to Robinson’s 1979 solo single “Cruisin’” gave that track a timeless feeling that helped propel it to the Billboard Hot 100’s Top Five. —M.J.     Key Tracks: “The Tracks of My Tears,” “Cruisin’”


Joseph Spence

In 1958, musicologists Sam Charters and Ann Danberg Charters were traveling in the Bahamas looking for musicians to record when they came across Joseph Spence playing music so rich they assumed from a distance that they were listening to two guitarists. “He often seemed to be improvising in the bass, the middle strings, and the treble at the same time,” Sam noted in the liner notes to Joseph Spence: The Complete Folkways Recordings 1958. Spence’s pointillistic, sharp-angled fingerpicking on a wide range of music, from blues to spirituals to calypso, would have a huge influence on the folk movement and beyond. The Grateful Dead turned the Spence highlight “We Bid You Goodnight” into a live set-closer, and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds classic “Sloop John B” is indebted to Spence’s version of the song. —J.D.   Key Tracks: “Brownskin Girl,” “Jump in the Line”


Molly Tuttle

Even before they started sweeping awards ceremonies, California-raised, Nashville-based bluegrass innovator Molly Tuttle and her crack band Golden Highway were writing their name into the history of roots music. Her acoustic flatpicking, influenced by everyone from Tony Rice to Joni Mitchell to Clarence White, is rooted in but not bound by tradition. Earlier this year, she became the first bluegrass act to ever score a Best New Artist Grammy nomination — a sign of the sound’s continuing evolution, which Tuttle has played a large part in. “Our generation of bluegrass players are really pushing in some new directions,” Tuttle told Rolling Stone in January. “I feel lucky to be part of this scene that’s breaking down barriers.” —C.M.Key Tracks: ‘Take the Journey,” “El Dorado”


James Blood Ulmer

First playing soul jazz, then as the bee-like foil to free jazz icon Ornette Coleman’s melodic runs, James Blood Ulmer smashed together generations of blues, funk, and jazz guitar into glistening sheets, skronky riffs, and jittery solos. On albums such as Tales of Captain Black and Odyssey, his stinging tone proved a massive influence on the Seventies and Eighties downtown New York experimental scene, touching everyone from Vernon Reid (who produced Ulmer’s excellent 2000s blues records) to no-wave bands like DNA and Mars. As Reid himself put it, “James Blood Ulmer is fully aware, theoretically and idiomatically — he’s just never been constrained by those concerns. He is a rock. He is unapologetically himself. He is the blues. Itself. Not its rules.” —J.G.Key Tracks: “Theme from Captain Black,” “Timeless”


Courtney Barnett

Indie-rock singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett’s ability to shift between intricate, melodic finger-picking to frenetic, garage-rock-inspired solos makes her witty storytelling all the more dynamic. “It sounds like you’re driving across a highway and it’s sunny,” Barnett said to Rolling Stone in 2021 about “Write a List of Things to Look Forward To” from her 2021 album, Things Take Time, Take Time. That’s an accurate encapsulation of the way Barnett’s guitar playing accompanies the lilting, liberating songs she writes. On Lotta Sea Lice, her 2017 collaboration album with Kurt Vile (who is also on this list), the chemistry between the two musicians is dazzling, as their guitars and vocals intertwine spontaneously and seamlessly. —L.L.Key Tracks: “Turning Green,” “Over Everything,” “Pedestrian at Best”


Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing

After seeing what Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple could do with a single guitarist, Judas Priest redefined “heavy” in the mid-Seventies with two: K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton. Rather than split themselves into rhythm and lead guitar duties, like the Rolling Stones and the Kinks had done, Tipton and Downing doubled up the riffs, took turns with cutting solos, and embraced harmony leads on the band’s motorcycle-revving songs. Their mutual give-and-take set the template for Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, and all the great two-guitar bands that followed. As Slayer’s Kerry King has said, “You can almost always tell that if it’s Tipton, it’s super-fucking tasty. If it’s K.K., it’s a more edgy, almost punky kind of vibe, which is a great mix.” —K.G.Key Tracks: “Victim of Changes,” “Breaking the Law,” “The Hellion/Electric Eye”


Lzzy Hale

For her dynamo voice alone, Lzzy Hale is a goddess of hard rock. But she’s also a fierce player, with an aggressively rhythmic slap style that complements Halestorm’s lead guitarist Joe Hottinger. Hale can shred too — check out the way she mimics the vocal melody of “I Miss the Misery” on her instrument — and is so influential to 21st century guitar rock that Gibson chose her as its first female brand ambassador. The company even designed a Hale signature model of its Explorer, which she plays onstage and gifts to her peers, from Demi Lovato to Daniela Villarreal of the Warning. “The people at Gibson keep telling me the demographic that buys the most electric guitars right now are female,” Hale told Rolling Stone. “The wave is coming whether anybody likes it or not.” —J.H.Key Tracks: “I Miss the Misery,” “The Steeple”


Thomas McClary

As one of the first Black students to integrate Florida public schools, Eustis, Florida-born Thomas McClary, whose first instrument was the ukulele, had experience creating his own path. He went to college at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he formed the Commodores with singer Lionel Richie. The group merged funk, soul, gospel, and country in a way that appealed to Black and white listeners, and McClary’s mix of glam grandeur and blues grit on such songs as “Easy” helped shape the sound of Eighties crossover.“I would listen to Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, James Taylor, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young,” he later recalled. “I thought it would be really great to mesh those guys together to have a really raunchy, raw, authentic sound that could be appealing to everybody.” —C.S.Key Tracks: “Easy,” “Brick House”


Steve Hackett

Genesis were a largely unknown art-rock band before guitarist Steve Hackett was hired in 1971, replacing founding member Anthony Phillips. Hackett made an immediate impact when he introduced them to his two-hand tapping technique, which they captured on 1971’s Nursery Crime, years before Eddie Van Halen introduced it to a larger audience. A couple of years later, he laid down an epic, soaring guitar solo on their masterpiece “Firth of Fifth,” one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever to appear on a prog-rock album. He left the group in 1977 to pursue a solo career that continues to this day. “I’m very happy to have freed up guitarists to play dazzling solos,” Hackett said, “and come up with things that would only be dreamt up at one time.” —A.G.Key Tracks: “Horizons,” “Firth of Fifth”


Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile comes across like an easy-breezy slacker dude, but he’s a serious guitarist — and his style, which combines chilled-out drones and intricate yet melodic solos, is rooted in part in his getting a banjo from his parents as a teen after he’d asked for a guitar. “Banjos are in an open tuning, and they’ve got that high drone string,” the Philadelphian told guitar.com in 2018. “It’s not like you’d even think about that when you’re playing as a kid, but I came to really like that ethereal drone.” Over the course of his career, he’s incorporated influences from all over music’s map, synthesizing them into his bed-headed style that’s gently, subtly virtuosic. —M.J.Key Tracks: “Pretty Pimpin,” “Wakin on a Pretty Day”


Keiji Haino

Japanese musician Keiji Haino’s free-form solo performances are squealing, noisy exercises in catharsis where it’s not clear whether he’s playing or actually performing an exorcism on his guitar, and in ensemble settings like the late-Nineties group Aihiyo, whose self-titled debut is beautifully ragged and deeply emotive. He soothes with soft, shimmering chords one moment and shreds his listener’s eardrums with squalls of fuzz the next. “People practice really hard because they want people to check them out,” he told Vice Japan. “And then they say it’s improvisation. That drives me nuts.” —T.B.Key Tracks: “A Shredded Coiled Cable Within This Cable Sincerity Could Not be Contained,” “Why in the Courtesy of the Prey Always Confused With the Courtesy of the Hunters Pt. 1”


Lucy Dacus

For Lucy Dacus, the guitar is as essential an instrument as her voice, whether she’s strumming gentle acoustic chords or unleashing blaring riffs. From her pulsing 2016 standout “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” to her contributions in supergroup boygenius, Dacus’ arrangements are the driving force behind her devastating lyrics. Her skill is showcased best on “Night Shift,” from her excellent 2018 album, Historian, where Dacus shreds a hugely cathartic near minute-long instrumental interlude. Her floating vocals weave in and out of an increasingly distorted wall of sound, driving in her declaration of a final goodbye to an old lover, and by the time the final chord is strummed, it’s clear that she means it. —L.L.Key Tracks: “Night Shift,” “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”


José Feliciano

Thinking of José Feliciano solely as the guy who belts out “Feliz Navidad” during the holiday season would be spectacularly unfair. Born blind, Feliciano became an acoustic guitar virtuoso in his teens. Alternately lyrical and ferocious, his playing is imbued in the boleros and folk songs of his Puerto Rican heritage. His ragged mosaic of styles — rock, jazz, soul, bossa nova — changed the sound of mainstream pop rock in the Sixties. Feliciano’s radical 1968 reinvention of the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” found him vocalizing in Spanish like a salsa sonero, and the guitar pyrotechnics of his “Light My Fire” took the Doors classic into darker, cinematic territory. —E.L.Key Tracks: “Light My Fire,” “Here, There and Everywhere”


Nick Zinner

When New York City’s garage-rock trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs formed in 2000, their aim was to create something “trashy, punky, grimy.” Nick Zinner’s style is all that and more, fusing the dance-punk of ESG, the panache of Van Halen, the violence of Rowland S. Howard, and the grandeur of Johnny Marr into his signature catchy, glittering riffs. Zinner’s guitar work is minimal but holds chasmic emotion, from the longing of “Maps” to the monstrous tension of “Heads Will Roll.” —Z.Y.Key Tracks: “Y Control,” “Maps,” “Gold Lion”


Kaki King

A tireless sonic adventurer, Kaki King takes a Preston Reed-meets-John Cage approach to the acoustic guitar, experimenting with alternate tunings, “treated” instruments, and electronic loops while utilizing finger-style, two-handed tapping and percussive slapping techniques. “I’ll think, ‘Let’s see what happens if I lower this string here and raise that one there,’” she told Premier Guitar in 2011. “When you tune your guitar differently, all of a sudden your fingers and your mind have to be creative again because you’re not relying on shapes and places that sound good or feel familiar. You have to explore the fretboard to find new fingerings and sounds, and that leads to new discoveries.” —D.E.Key Tracks: “Playing With Pink Noise,” “Skimming the Fractured Surface to a Place of Endless Light”


Gary Clark Jr.

Initially pigeonholed as an heir to the crown of Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn, Grammy-winning blues-rock guitarist Gary Clark Jr. has consistently demonstrated a much broader reach in his fiery playing, incorporating elements of soul, funk, grunge, and hip-hop into his records, and collaborating with the disparate likes of Foo Fighters, Alicia Keys, Tech N9ne, and Bun B. “I don’t think that I’m reaching my full potential if I just do what people expect of me,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014. “I love to play, and I love to experiment, and there are a lot more roads to explore. I don’t know if I want to get too far off the path — I don’t want to get lost in the forest — but I like to wander out a bit and adventure.” —D.E.  Key Tracks: “This Land,” “Grinder”


Amadou Bagayoko

The Malian couple Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, who met at an institute for the blind in 1977, broke big performing and recording as Amadou and Mariam when their brightly melodic duets, led rhythmically by Amadou’s jaunty, occasionally skronky leads, crossed over to the rock festival circuit. It makes sense, though: “People are often surprised when we explain how much we were influenced by Western pop music,” Amadou Bagayoko once told an interviewer with a laugh. “I grew up listening to records by Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder … That’s because they were the only records we had in Mali!” —M.M.Key Tracks: “Djanfa,” “Ce N’est Pas Bon”


Justin Broadrick

Justin Broadrick has created his own guitar lexicon between industrial-metal crushers Godflesh, grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, and the psychedelic post-metal band Jesu (among countless other projects). His steamrolling, elastic riffs and spongy textures in Godflesh breathed rare humanity to the band’s mechanical rhythms. In Napalm Death, he helped pioneer the “grinding” sound of grindcore (hyper-fast death metal) by turning up his distortion so high you felt the pulse more than the notes on songs like “Instinct of Survival.” And in Jesu, his psychedelic post-metal guise, he layered miasmas of noise until they created a beautiful shadow world in which his voice echoed. On everything he does, his guitar sighs, groans, and weeps, but nothing else sounds like it. —K.G.Key Tracks: “Like Rats,” “Silver,” “Scum”


Hugh McCracken

East Coast guitarist Hugh McCracken was never a showy soloist but left his tasteful mark on countless classics. That’s his piercing lead on Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen,” his sprinting opening lick on Van Morrison’s ”Brown Eyed Girl,” and his silky acoustic throughout Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” In an unobtrusive but vital way, he also enriched Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” and John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “I’m Losing You.” McCracken was so busy, and so content with studio work, that he turned down Paul McCartney’s offer to join Wings after playing on Ram. —D.B.Key Tracks: “Hey Nineteen,” “Killing Me Softly With His Song”


Eric Johnson

A consummate technician, Austin-born Eric Johnson is the sort of player whose abilities are more appreciated by his peers than by the public at large. “Eric’s so good it’s ridiculous,” raved Steve Morse, while Stevie Ray Vaughan deemed him “one of my favorite guitarists.” “Damn, that guy can play!” was Billy Gibbons’ assessment. A fusion stylist whose approach leaned more rock than jazz, he was a rising star on the mid-Seventies Austin scene but lost career momentum after being sidelined in a contractual dispute. Although his 1990 instrumental album Ah Via Musicom eventually went platinum, he’s mostly known for guitar-centric collaborations such as G3, with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and Eclectic, with Miles Davis guitarist Mike Stern. —J.D.C.Key Tracks: “Cliffs of Dover,” “Benny Man’s Blues”


Lynn Taitt

Lynn Taitt was born in Trinidad but made his mark in Jamaica, basically creating the guitar sound of rocksteady music through his playing on the earliest recordings in that style such as Hopeton Lewis’ “Take It Easy” and Derrick Morgan’s “Tougher Than Tough.” When the king of Jamaican guitar, Ernest Ranglin, left to work in England in 1964, Taitt became the top session man on the island. His work on Desmond Dekker’s “007 (Shanty Town)” is some of the most recognizable guitar in Jamaican music history, and though he was active in the scene for just a few years, leaving for Canada in 1968, his influence and importance were cemented when his student Hux Brown honed Taitt’s playing style to help create the sound of reggae guitar. —M. GoldwasserKey Tracks: “007 (Shanty Town),” “Take It Easy”


Grant Green

Grant Green came out of the hard bop scene to become a soul-jazz pioneer. A Charlie Parker fanatic from St. Louis, he cut his Blue Note debut in 1960, and went on to a stellar five-year run, with the impeccably cool grooves of Idle Moments and The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark. He explored Latin jazz in his 1964 Matador, with Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner. Green died in 1979, only 43, while in New York for a gig at George Benson’s Breezin’ Lounge. But his influence still thrives, especially in hip-hop. His guitar has been sampled on rap classics from A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory to Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d City. —R.S.Key Tracks: “Idle Moments,” “Jean De Fleur,” “On Green Dolphin Street”


Vince Gill

It’s almost unfair — as a pure vocalist, Vince Gill is rightly celebrated as one of country music’s all-time greats. But what’s more, the man is lethal with an electrified Fender in his hands. In addition to the lively chicken picking and twangy bends on singles like 1991’s “Liza Jane,” Gill has paid homage to the California country guitar gods like Don Rich and Roy Nichols on 2013’s Bakersfield. What’s more, Gill has brought his guitar to sessions for countless other artists’ albums — like Miranda Lambert, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Kenny Chesney, Dolly Parton, and Don Henley. Speaking of Henley, Gill’s been a touring member of the Eagles since Glenn Frey’s death in 2017, pulling double duty as a harmony vocalist and guitar slinger extraordinaire. —J.F.Key Tracks: “Liza Jane,” “Oklahoma Borderline”


Garry ‘Diaper Man’ Shider

When asked why he performed onstage wearing little more than an oversized diaper, Parliament/Funkadelic guitarist Garry Shider replied, “God loves babies and fools. I’m both.” Although originally celebrated for putting the -delic in Funkadelic through searing, distortion-fattened leads on jams like “Cosmic Slop,” Shider was also a master rhythm guitarist, as evinced by his insistently funky playing on “One Nation Under a Groove” and “Atomic Dog” (both of which he co-wrote). In addition to playing “Diaper Man” in Parliament/Funkadelic, he was called “Starchild” in Bootsy’s Rubberband, and served as music director for the P-Funk All Stars, while his post-P-Funk career included collaborations with both Paul Schaffer and the Black Crowes. —J.D.C.Key Tracks: “Cosmic Slop,” “One Nation Under a Groove”