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100 Greatest Guitarists

Find out who our panel of top guitarists and other experts picked

Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix

Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix

Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty; Ed Caraeff/Getty

We assembled a panel of top guitarists and other experts to rank their favorites and explain what separates the legends from everyone else. Featuring Keith Richards on Chuck Berry, Carlos Santana on Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty on George Harrison and more.

THE VOTERS: Trey Anastasio, Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), Brian Bell (Weezer), Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket), James Burton, Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains), Gary Clark Jr., Billy Corgan, Steve Cropper, Dave Davies (The Kinks), Anthony DeCurtis (Contributing editor, Rolling Stone), Tom DeLonge (Blink-182), Rick Derringer, Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), Elliot Easton (The Cars), Melissa Etheridge, Don Felder (The Eagles), David Fricke (Senior writer, Rolling Stone), Peter Guralnick (Author), Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Albert Hammond Jr. (The Strokes), Warren Haynes (The Allman Brothers Band), Brian Hiatt (Senior writer, Rolling Stone), David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Lenny Kravitz, Robby Krieger (The Doors), Jon Landau (Manager), Alex Lifeson (Rush), Nils Lofgren (The E Street Band), Mick Mars (Mötley Crüe), Doug Martsch (Built to Spill), J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Brian May, Mike McCready (Pearl Jam), Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Scotty Moore, Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Tom Morello, Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), Brendan O’Brien (Producer), Joe Perry, Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Robbie Robertson, Rich Robinson (The Black Crowes), Carlos Santana, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Marnie Stern, Stephen Stills, Andy Summers, Mick Taylor, Susan Tedeschi, Vieux Farka Touré, Derek Trucks, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Walsh, Nancy Wilson (Heart)

CONTRIBUTORS: David Browne, Patrick Doyle, David Fricke, Will Hermes, Brian Hiatt, Alan Light, Rob Tannenbaum, Douglas Wolk

jeff beck
5

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck has the combination of brilliant technique with personality. It’s like he’s saying, “I’m Jeff Beck. I’m right here. And you can’t ignore me.” Even in the Yardbirds, he had a tone that was melodic but in-your-face – bright, urgent and edgy, but sweet at the same time. You could tell he was a serious player, and he was going for it. He was not holding back.

There is a real artistry to playing with and around a vocalist, answering and pushing him. That’s the beauty of those two records he made with Rod Stewart, 1968’s Truth and 1969’s Beck-Ola. Jeff is not getting in the way, but he’s holding his own. And he stretched the boundaries of the blues. “Beck’s Bolero,” on Truth, is un-bluesy, but still blues-based. One of my favorite tracks is the cover of Howlin’ Wolf‘s “I Ain’t Superstitious,” on Truth. There is a sense of humor – that wah-wah growl. I don’t know if Clapton plays with the same sense of humor, as great as he is. Jeff’s definitely got that.

When he got into his fusion phase, the cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” on Blow by Blow, got me immediately. The tone was so pure and delicate. It’s like there was a vocalist singing, but there was a guitarist making all of the notes. I saw him last year at a casino in San Diego, and the guitar was the voice. You didn’t miss the singer, because the guitar was so lyrical. There is a spirituality and confidence in him, a commitment to being great. After I saw that show, I went home and started practicing. Maybe that’s what I took from him: If you want to be Jeff Beck, do your homework.  By Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers

Key Tracks: “Beck’s Bolero,” “Freeway Jam,” “A Day in the Life,” “I Ain’t Superstitious,” “Heart Full of Soul”

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keith richards
4

Keith Richards

I remember being in junior high school, hearing "Satisfaction" and being freaked out by what it did to me. It's a combination of the riff and the chords moving underneath it. Keith wrote two-and three-note themes that were more powerful than any great solo. He played the vibrato rhythm and the lead guitar in "Gimme Shelter." I don't think anyone has ever created a mood that dark and sinister. There is a clarity between those two guitars that leaves this ominous space for Mick Jagger to sing through. Nobody does alternate tunings better than Keith. I remember playing the chorus to "Beast of Burden." I'm like, "These are the right chords, but they don't sound anything like Keith." He had some cool tuning, a beautiful chord so well-tuned that it sings. That is the core of every great guitar part on a Rolling Stones record. Keith finds the tuning that allows the work – the fretting, muting strings – to get out of the way of what he's feeling.

I went to see Keith with the X-Pensive Winos. In the dressing room, Keith started practicing a Chuck Berry riff. I'd never in my life heard it sound like that. I love Chuck Berry. But this was better. Not technically – there was an emotional content that spoke to me. What Chuck is to Keith, Keith is to me.  By Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band

Key Tracks: "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Gimme Shelter"

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jimmy page
3

Jimmy Page

Listening to what Jimmy Page does on guitar can transport you. As a lead player, he always plays the right thing for the right spot – he's got such remarkable taste. The solo on "Heartbreaker" has such incredible immediacy; he's teetering on the edge of his technique, and it's still a showstopper. But you can't look at just his guitar playing on its own. You have to look at what he did with it in the studio and how he used it in the songs he wrote and produced. Jimmy built this incredible catalog of experience on the Yardbirds and doing session work, so when he did the first Led Zeppelin record, he knew exactly what kind of sounds he wanted to get.

He had this vision of how to transcend the stereotypes of what the guitar can do. If you follow the guitar on "The Song Remains the Same" all the way through, it evolves through so many different changes – louder, quieter, softer, louder again. He was writing the songs, playing them, producing them – I can't think of any other guitar player since Les Paul that can claim that.  By Joe Perry

Key Tracks: "Dazed and Confused," "Heartbreaker," "Kashmir"

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clapton
2

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is basically the only guitar player who influenced me – even though I don’t sound like him. There was a basic simplicity to his playing, his style, his vibe and his sound. He took a Gibson guitar and plugged it into a Marshall, and that was it. The basics. The blues. His solos were melodic and memorable – and that’s what guitar solos should be, part of the song. I could hum them to you.

What I really liked was Cream’s live recordings, because you could hear the three guys playing. If you listen to “I’m So Glad,” on Goodbye, you really hear the three guys go – and Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were a couple of jazz guys, pushing Clapton forward. I once read that Clapton said, “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.” He was just trying to keep up with the other two guys!

After Cream, he changed. When he started doing “I Shot the Sheriff” and this and that, and when he hooked up with Delaney and Bonnie, his whole style changed. Or at least his sound. He focused more on singing than playing. I respect him for everything he’s done and is still doing – but what inspired me, what made me pick up a guitar, was his early stuff. I could play some of those solos now – they’re permanently imprinted in my brain. That blues-based sound is still the core of modern rock guitar.  By Eddie Van Halen

Key Tracks: “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Crossroads,” “White Room”

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jimi hendrix
1

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix exploded our idea of what rock music could be: He manipulated the guitar, the whammy bar, the studio and the stage. On songs like "Machine Gun" or "Voodoo Chile," his instrument is like a divining rod of the turbulent Sixties – you can hear the riots in the streets and napalm bombs dropping in his "Star-Spangled Banner."

His playing was effortless. There's not one minute of his recorded career that feels like he's working hard at it – it feels like it's all flowing through him. The most beautiful song of the Jimi Hendrix canon is "Little Wing." It's just this gorgeous song that, as a guitar player, you can study your whole life and not get down, never get inside it the way that he does. He seamlessly weaves chords and single-note runs together and uses chord voicings that don't appear in any music book. His riffs were a pre-metal funk bulldozer, and his lead lines were an electric LSD trip down to the crossroads, where he pimp-slapped the devil.

There are arguments about who was the first guitar player to use feedback. It doesn't really matter, because Hendrix used it better than anyone; he took what was to become Seventies funk and put it through a Marshall stack, in a way that nobody's done since.

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.  By Tom Morello

Key Tracks: "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady," "The Star-Spangled Banner," "Hey Joe"

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