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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.”

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From Rolling Stone US


Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry didn’t just invent rock & roll guitar — he perfected it. You can hear it all in his intro to his 1956 classic “Johnny B. Goode,” as he kicks off the song with an 18-second six-string manifesto, for the definitive guitar-hero anthem. He figured out how to mix the blues and country music he loved, fusing boogie-woogie and hillbilly twang into his own original style of high-speed electric flash. In other words, rock & roll. Every tradition of American music is somewhere in Chuck Berry’s guitar. As his disciple Keith Richards said, “Chuck is the granddaddy of us all.”He was a St. Louis hairdresser when he cut his revolutionary 1955 debut hit, “Maybellene,” for Chess Records. He always said he wrote “Maybellene” to copy a country classic, Bob Wills’ “Ida Red.” But he created something new, and it set the world on fire. He defined rock & roll with a barrage of genius hits: “Roll Over Beethoven,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Little Queenie,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” His riffs begat the Beatles and Stones, Hendrix and Zeppelin, the Velvets and the Clash. Berry was railroaded into prison in the early 1960s, where he wrote the bitterly ironic “Promised Land.” But by the Woodstock era, he was celebrating his new hippie fanbase with the great 1970 stoner choogle “Tulane.”“There’s nothing new under the sun,” Berry insisted in the 1987 film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll. On his guitar playing, he said, “It’s just a washboard of time passing.” There couldn’t be a more poetic summary of Chuck Berry’s achievements. —R.S.Key Tracks: “Maybellene,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”


Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix lighting his Fender Stratocaster on fire at Monterey Pop is one of the most iconic images in rock history. He was a showman who played with his teeth or behind his back. But underneath all the theatrics is the true master of the instrument. His career may have lasted eight years, but musicians spend a lifetime studying his dazzling technique and improvisational genius. Hendrix sang, but he chose to make his guitar the leading voice. He popularized the use of feedback, invented his own fusion of blues and psychedelia, and influenced the development of rock, metal, funk, and much more. Hendrix was eloquent not only in his playing, but the way he spoke about playing. “The wah-wah pedal is great because it doesn’t have any notes,” he told Rolling Stone in 1968. “Nothing but hitting it straight up using the vibrato and then the drums come through and that there feels like … not depression, but that loneliness and that frustration and the yearning for something. Like something is reaching out.” In an era when music was still largely racially segregated, the emergence of Hendrix — a Black artist who left white crowds gaping in awe — was a seismic event that obliterated cultural barriers. And decades after his death, his audience just keeps getting bigger. “Jimi Hendrix exploded our idea of what rock music could be,” Tom Morello said. “It’s impossible to think of what Jimi would be doing now; he seemed like a pretty mercurial character. Would he be an elder statesman of rock? Would he be Sir Jimi Hendrix? Or would he be doing some residency off the Vegas Strip? The good news is his legacy is assured as the greatest guitar player of all time.” —A.M.Key Tracks: “Purple Haze,” “Voodoo Child,” “Little Wing,” “The Star-Spangled Banner”