100 Greatest Guitarists
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
Best known for the gargantuan riff at the heart of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," Ritchie Blackmore helped define heavy-metal guitar by mixing intricate classical composition with raw-knuckled blues rock. "I found the blues too limiting, and classical was too disciplined," he said. "I was always stuck in a musical no man's land." Blackmore made waves on 1972's Machine Head; his solos on the boogie rocker "Highway Star" and "Lazy" remain models of metal pyrotechnics. He looked back toward early European music with his next band, Rainbow – even learning cello to write 1976's stomping "Stargazer" – and now explores Renaissance-style fingerpicking with Blackmore's Night. But it's his Deep Purple work that influenced a generation of handbangers. "Blackmore epitomized this fascination I had with the bare essence of rock & roll, this element of danger," says Metallica's Lars Ulrich. "Deep Purple, in their finest moments, were more unpredictable than Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin."
Key Tracks: "Smoke on the Water," "Highway Star," "Speed King"
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water'
Muddy was there at the beginning, in the Delta, actually sitting at the feet of Charley Patton and Son House. He was a kid when those guys were in their prime. Then he electrified it. There was a physicality in the way he played the guitar – percussive, like a drum. When he plays slide, it's not on the high strings. It's lower, guttural, and it sounds like he's about to rip the strings off.
I was already a Muddy fan – the Muddy of Chess Records – when I heard his Library of Congress recordings, captured by Alan Lomax in 1941 and 1942. They caught Muddy so young, when he was a complete unknown, maybe self-conscious and shy, listening back to his voice for the first time. There is something vulnerable about it, but also fully formed. For slide players in the Delta, it was a call-and-response thing with themselves. The slide would take the other voice, like a female voice in a choir. Muddy carried it right on through to Chicago.
There are "Muddy licks" – riffs he would play over turnarounds that were unique to him. You can hear some Muddy licks in Hendrix's playing. Later on, as Muddy got older, he played guitar less and less. But when he did jump in, you knew it. He had Buddy Guy and Jimmy Rogers in his bands. But when you played with Muddy, you didn't play what he did, because that shit was covered. By Derek Trucks
Key Tracks: "Rollin' Stone," "Mannish Boy"
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Muddy Waters
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Muddy Waters
• Muddy Waters: 1915-1983
Radiohead are the consummate 21st-century rock band, and in Jonny Greenwood, they have one of the 21st century's defining guitarists: an effects-loving wizard whose endlessly mutable style has powered the band's restless travels – from the interstellar pomp of "The Tourist" to the misty shimmer of "Reckoner." Like the Edge, only farther out in the art-rock stratosphere, Greenwood is a guitar hero with little apparent connection to the blues and little interest in soloing. He's been known to attack the strings with a violin bow, and plays so maniacally that at times he's had to wear a brace on his arm. It was Greenwood's gnashing noise blasts that marked Radiohead as more than just another mopey band on 1992's "Creep" – an early indicator of his crucial role in pushing his band forward. "I've admired him for a long time," says Rush's guitarist Alex Lifeson. "The way he weaves his parts through the melody of a song is really exceptional – just amazing."
Key Tracks: "Creep," "Paranoid Android," "My Iron Lung"
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Radiohead
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Radiohead's 'Kid A'
"He's a musical genius," Neil Young once said of Stephen Stills, his bandmate and co-lead guitarist in Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Stills is one of rock's most underrated guitarists, possibly because of his well-established reputation as a singer-songwriter. Off and on for more than four decades, he has challenged and complemented Young's feral breaks with a Latin-and country-inflected chime, and as his soaring solos at the recent Buffalo Springfield reunion shows have illustrated, Stills has never lost his fervor for adventurous shredding. Such was his pull as a musician that he got both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix (a close friend of Stills') to make guest appearances on Stills' 1970 self-titled solo debut – the only album in rock history to feature both guitar giants. "I like all of every aspect of performing," Stills has said. "But I really enjoy the hell out of just getting up there and burning on my guitar."
Key Tracks: "Bluebird," "Carry On," "Go Back Home"
• Track by Track: Crosby, Stills & Nash on their Self-Titled Debut
• Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Enchant London Audience in 1970
Most people who play the blues are very conservative. They stay a certain way. Jerry Garcia was painting outside the frame. He played blues but mixed it with bluegrass and Ravi Shankar. He had country and Spanish in there. There was a lot of Chet Atkins in him – going up and down the frets. But you could always hear a theme in his playing. It's like putting beads on a string, instead of throwing them around a room. Jerry had a tremendous sense of purpose. When you take a solo, decide what to say, get there and give it to the next guy. That's how Jerry worked in the Dead. Jerry was the sun of the Grateful Dead – the music they played was like planets orbiting around him. He wasn't a superficial guy at all. It was a lot of fun to play with him, because he was very accommodating. He'd go up and down; I'd go left and right. And I could tell he enjoyed it, because the Dead always invited me back. By Carlos Santana
Key Tracks: "Dark Star," "Sugaree," "Casey Jones"
• Jerry Garcia: The Rolling Stone Interview
• Video: Previously Unseen Jerry Garcia Interview Footage from 1974 Movie
When Link Wray released the thrilling, ominous "Rumble" in 1958, it became one of the only instrumentals ever to be banned from radio play – for fear that it might incite gang violence. By stabbing his amplifier's speaker cone with a pencil, Wray created the distorted, overdriven sound that would reverberate through metal, punk and grunge. Wray, who proudly claimed Shawnee Indian ancestry and lost a lung to tuberculosis, was the archetypal leather-clad badass, and his song titles alone – "Slinky," "The Black Widow" – convey the force and menace of his playing. "He was fucking insane," said the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. "I would listen to 'Some Kinda Nut,' over and over. It sounded like he was strangling the guitar – like it was screaming for help." When Wray died in 2005, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen both performed "Rumble" onstage in tribute. "If it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,'" said Pete Townshend, "I would have never picked up a guitar."
Key Tracks: "Rumble," "Jack the Ripper," "Raw-Hide"
• Guitarist Link Wray Dies
Mark Knopfler's first big guitar-hero moment – the fleet, gloriously melodic solo on Dire Straits' 1978 hit "Sultans of Swing" – came at a time when punk seemed to be rendering the idea of a guitar hero obsolete. And yet Knopfler built a reputation as an intensely creative virtuoso (not to mention an ace songwriter), showing remarkable command over a range of tones and textures – from the gnarly distortion on hit single "Money for Nothing" to the stinging precision of "Tunnel of Love." One key to Knopfler's signature style: playing without a pick. "Playing with your fingers," he has said, "has something to do with immediacy and soul." Knopfler's versatility made him much in demand for projects with artists including Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, who first called on Knopfler for 1979's Slow Train Coming. "He's one of the great players around," said Knopfler's hero-turned-collaborator, the late country legend Chet Atkins. "He doesn't think that, but he is."
Key Tracks: "Sultans of Swing," "Romeo and Juliet"
• The 100 Best Albums of the Eighties: Dire Straits' 'Making Movies'
"I love Hubert Sumlin," Jimmy Page has said. "He always played the right thing at the right time." During more than two decades playing alongside Howlin' Wolf, Sumlin always seemed to have an almost telepathic connection to the legendary blues singer, augmenting Wolf's ferocious cries with angular, slashing guitar lines and perfectly placed riffs on such immortal songs as "Wang Dang Doodle," "Back Door Man" and "Killing Floor." Sumlin made such an impact, in fact, that Wolf's greatest rival, Muddy Waters, even hired him away for a stint in 1956. Sumlin, who passed away in 2011 at age 80, played until the end, sometimes turning up onstage in the company of such acolytes as the Rolling Stones, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers. "You try to tell a story, tell it right, you live the story," Sumlin once said of his hugely influential guitar style. "It may be a little faster or a little classier, but it comes down to you playin' the blues or you ain't."
Key Tracks: "Smokestack Lightning," "Spoonful," "Killing Floor"
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Howlin' Wolf's 'Smokestack Lightning"
"He didn't get a chance to expand the mission of his soul, but those few albums he played on – those are enough," says Carlos Santana, referring to Mike Bloomfield's death in 1981, of a drug overdose at age 37, and the key recordings Bloomfield left behind. Bloomfield helped Bob Dylan go electric with his work on Highway 61 Revisited (those are Bloomfield's skyward spirals on "Like a Rolling Stone") and two albums with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, including 1966's raga-blues monster, East-West. (Check out Bloomfield's winding, epic solo on the title track.) A native of Chicago, Bloomfield studied the local electric-blues legends like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf up close while he was growing up, and he packed those lessons into a piercing clean-treble tone and solos that took off with fluid, modal-jazz ecstasy. "Michael always sounded like a salmon going against the current," Santana says. "He comes from B.B. King. But he went somewhere else."
Key Tracks:"East-West," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Groovin' Is Easy"
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited'
It was an exhilarating collaboration – Mick Ronson's terse phrasing and skewering distortion igniting David Bowie's sexually blurred confrontation, during the latter's king-glam role as Ziggy Stardust in the early Seventies. "Mick was the perfect foil for the Ziggy character," Bowie said. "We were every bit as good as Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash… the personification of that rock & roll dualism." The historic partnership actually predated Ziggy Stardust, hitting its first peak in the long, metallic furor of Bowie's 1970 recording "The Width of a Circle." Ronson's blues-with-flair style was also a vital component on sessions for Lou Reed, John Mellencamp and Morrissey, and during his second great partnership, in the late Seventies and early Eighties, with ex-Mott the Hoople singer Ian Hunter. "I want people to say, 'Wow, isn't that great, and isn't it simple?'" Ronson, who died in 1993, once said. "If you get sort of fancy and cluttered, you're just baffling people with science."
Key Tracks: "The Width of a Circle," "Suffragette City"
Tom Morello re-imagined rock guitar for the post-hip-hop world in the 1990s with Rage Against the Machine. Leaning heavily on his effects pedals, he created a new sonic vocabulary – the replicated turntable scratches on "Bulls on Parade," the funky laser blasts on "Killing in the Name" and the divebomber attack on "Fistful of Steel." Morello's blend of gizmos, pyrotechnic solos and thunderous chords is equal parts the Stooges and Public Enemy: "The Bomb Squad were hugely influential to me as a guitarist," Morello said, referring to the hip-hop crew's noiseloving production unit. "I was basically the DJ in Rage." After stepping back from guitar theatrics in the past five years with his lefty-folk alias, the Nightwatchman, Morello turned up the volume once again on his most recent album, World Wide Rebel Songs. "I figured I can play guitar like that," he told Rolling Stone earlier this year, "so I should."
Key Tracks: "Guerrilla Radio," "Killing in the Name"
• Video: Tom Morello Rocks as the Night Watchman
• Frostbite and Freedom: Tom Morello on the Battle of Madison
Peter Buck has called Steve Cropper "probably my favorite guitarist of all time. You can't think of a time when he really ripped off a hot solo, but he just plays perfectly." Cropper has been the secret ingredient in some of the greatest rock and soul songs: As a teenager, he had his first hit ("Last Night") with the Mar-Keys; he went on to spend most of the Sixties in Booker T. and the MGs, the Stax Records house band that played on hits by Carla Thomas, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. Since then, his spare, soulful playing has appeared on records by dozens of rock and R&B artists, including a stint in the Blues Brothers' band. Think of the introduction to Sam and Dave's "Soul Man," the explosive bent notes in Booker T.'s "Green Onions" or the filigreed guitar fills in Redding's "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" – they all bear Cropper's signature sound, the quintessence of soul guitar. "I don't care about being center stage," says Cropper. "I'm a band member, always been a band member."
Key Tracks: "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," "Green Onions," "Soul Man"
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Otis Reddings' '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay'
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Sam and Dave's 'Soul Man'
A lot had already been said about the guitar by the time the Edge picked it up. His secret is that he taught himself to play – that's why he's so unique. He's got such an innovative mind: Every U2 album that I've been involved with had a new sound from the Edge. There's not a lot of strumming in his playing; he's very much a servant to the melody. He focuses on the interplay between his guitar and Bono's vocals. The Edge is a scientist, and a poet by night; he's always got a little rig at home. He'll take home a Larry Mullen drumbeat, then come back into the studio the next morning and say, "Bono, I have one for you" – and present "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," with a simple jank-a-jank Dublin/Bo Diddley riff that spearheads the entire direction of the song. He's dedicated to note-taking. He and his guitar tech, Dallas Schoo, document every detail of his sound – what pedals, what pickup he used – anything that he thinks he might use. There's a breakdown about two-thirds of the way through "Mysterious Ways," before the song goes into symphonics, that, for me, is up there with the greatest James Brown guitar parts or one of the greatest horn lines played by Tower of Power. It's not really a riff – it's a moment. It brings me to tears whenever I hear it. By Daniel Lanois
Key Tracks: "I Will Follow," "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "The Fly"
• Video: The Edge on Writing New Songs
• U2 Revisit 'Achtung Baby' and Question Their Future
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: U2
"I was in awe sometimes listening to Mick Taylor," Keith Richards wrote in his memoir. "Everything was there in his playing – the melodic touch, a beautiful sustain and a way of reading a song." Taylor was only 20 when the Rolling Stones recruited him from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers as the replacement for Brian Jones in 1969. His impact, on masterworks such as Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers, was immediate. The down-and-dirty slide on "Love in Vain"; the jaw-dropping precision on "All Down the Line" (where his playing brilliantly mimics the sound of a harmonica); the extended, Latin-jazz-inflected coda on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" – it's no accident that Taylor's stint coincided with the Stones' most consistently great recordings. "He was a very fluent, melodic player… and it gave me something to follow, to bang off," Mick Jagger said of Taylor, who left the band in 1974. "Some people think that's the best version of the band that existed."
Key Tracks: "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," "All Down the Line"
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Rolling Stones' 'Exile on Main Street'
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Rolling Stones' 'Sticky Fingers'
Randy Rhoads' career was far too short – he died in a plane accident in 1982, at the age of 25 – but his precise, architectural, hyperspeed solos on Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and "Mr. Crowley" helped set the template for metal-guitar soloing for years to follow. "I practiced eight hours a day because of him," Tom Morello has said, calling Rhoads "the greatest hard-rock/heavy-metal guitar player of all time." Rhoads had co-founded Quiet Riot as a teenager, and joined Ozzy's Blizzard of Ozz band in 1979 after a few years of working as a guitar teacher; according to legend, Rhoads would continue to take guitar lessons himself in different cities when he was on tour with Ozzy. By the time he recorded his final album, Ozzy's Diary of a Madman, Rhoads was getting deeper into classical music, and even exploring jazz. He "was reaching deep into himself as a guitar player," Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe said. "That was really the next step right there."
Key Tracks: "Crazy Train," "Mr. Crowley," "Diary of a Madman"
John Lee Hooker
"I don't play a lot of fancy guitar," John Lee Hooker once said. "I don't want to play it. The kind of guitar I want to play is mean, mean licks." Hooker's style couldn't be defined as urban or country blues – it was something entirely his own, mysterious and funky and hypnotic. On monumental classics like "Boogie Chillen" – a Number One R&B hit in 1949 – "Boom Boom" and "Crawlin' King Snake," he perfected a droning, stomping groove, often in idiosyncratic time signatures and locked on one chord, with an ageless power. "He was a throwback even in his own time," Keith Richards said. "Even Muddy Waters was sophisticated next to him." Hooker was a critical figure in the Sixties blues boom; his boogie became the basis for much of ZZ Top's early sound; his songs were covered by everyone from the Doors to Bruce Springsteen; and then, well after turning 70, he won four Grammys in the 1990s. "When I was a child," said Carlos Santana, "he was the first circus I wanted to run away with."
Key Tracks: "Boogie Chillen," "BoomBoom," "I'm in the Mood"
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: John Lee Hooker
• John Lee Hooker Dies
The late Curtis Mayfield was one of American soul's finest singers, songwriters and producers. He was also a quietly influential guitarist whose gently fluid melodies and fills, running through records like the Impressions' "Gypsy Woman," left a deep impact on Jimi Hendrix, especially in his psychedelic balladry. "In the Sixties, every guitar player wanted to play like Curtis," George Clinton affirmed. Mayfield went on to reinvent his playing for a solo career in the Seventies, building his new music around the flickering funk rhythms and spare, gestural, wah-wah-inflected lead parts heard on his Superfly soundtrack and hits like "Move On Up." His liquid chord sequences were difficult for other musicians to imitate, in part because Mayfield played almost exclusively in an open F-sharp tuning. "Being self-taught, I never changed it," he said. "It used to make me proud because no matter how good a guitarist was, when he grabbed my ax he couldn't play it."
Key Tracks: "Gypsy Woman," "Move On Up," "Freddie's Dead"
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Curtis Mayfield
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Curtis Mayfield
He played arguably the greatest power-ballad guitar solo in history ("Purple Rain"), and his solo on an all-star performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" during George Harrison's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2004 had jaws on the floor. But he can also bring the nasty funk like Jimmy Nolen and Nile Rodgers (listen to the groove magic of "Kiss") or shred like the fiercest metalhead ("When Doves Cry"). Sometimes his hottest playing simply functions as background – see "Gett Off" and "Dance On." Prince gets a lot of Hendrix comparisons, but he sees it differently: "If they really listened to my stuff, they'd hear more of a Santana influence than Jimi Hendrix," he once told Rolling Stone. "Hendrix played more blues, Santana played prettier." To Miles Davis, who collaborated with the Purple One toward the end of his life, Prince was a combination of "James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye… and Charlie Chaplin. How can you miss with that?"
Key Tracks: "Purple Rain," "Kiss," "When Doves Cry"
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Prince
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Prince
• Prince Reclaims His Crown
Billy Gibbons was a guitarist to be reckoned with long before he grew that epic beard. In early 1968, his psychedelic garage band, the Moving Sidewalks, opened four Texas shows for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. According to local acidrock lore, Hendrix was so impressed by Gibbons' facility and firepower that he gave the young guitarist a pink Stratocaster as a gift. Gibbons has since glibly described what he plays with his four-decade-old trio, ZZ Top, as "spankin' the plank." But from the muscular boogie of "La Grange" and the gnarly offbeat shuffle of "Jesus Left Chicago" to the synthlined glide of Eighties hits "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man," Gibbons' guitar work has been religiously true, in its thunderbolt attack and melodic concision, to his Texas forebears (Freddy King, Albert Collins) and the electric-Delta charge of Muddy Waters. "You can definitely make someone wiggle in their seat a little bit," Gibson says of his solos, "if you know where you're heading with it and end up there."
Key Tracks: "Jesus Left Chicago," "La Grange"
• Slash, Billy Gibbons Jam for Les Paul at Rock Hall's American Masters Concert
• ZZ Top Get Whacked
• Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2004: ZZ Top
Ry Cooder once likened his playing – a sublime amalgam of American folk and blues, Hawaiian slack-key guitar, the Tex-Mex zest of conjunto and the regal sensuality of Afro-Cuban son – as "some kind of steam device gone out of control." Cooder's life on guitar has been distinguished by a rare mix of archaic fundamentals and exploratory passion, from his emergence as a teenage blues phenomenon with Taj Mahal and Captain Beefheart in the mid-Sixties to his roots-and-noir film soundtracks and central role in the birth and success of the 1996 Havana supersession Buena Vista Social Club. As a sideman, Cooder has brought true grit and emotional nuance to classic albums by Randy Newman, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. Cooder is also a soulful preservationist, keeping vital pasts alive and dynamic in the modern world. A good example: the night Bob Dylan showed up at Cooder's house asking for a lesson on how to play guitar like the bluesman Sleepy John Estes.
Key Tracks: "Memo From Turner," "Boomer's Story"
• Ry Cooder to Complete California Trilogy with Album, Novella
Mississippi-born singer-guitarist Elmore James had one immortal lick: the staccato-and-downhill slide riff in his 1951 adaptation of Robert Johnson's "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom." "But it was a great lick," says slide guitarist Derek Trucks. "There was something unleashed in his playing, that acoustic guitar with the electric pickup. When he's singing, you hear his voice through the electric pickup." James also scored with sizzling variations of that lick in "Shake Your Moneymaker" and "Stranger Blues," which became blues-boom standards following his death in 1963. James' tone inspired a generation of guitarists: "I practiced 12 hours a day, every day, until my fingers were bleeding, trying to get the same sound as Elmore James got," Robbie Robertson said. "Then somebody told me that he plays with a slide." Trucks particularly loves James' solo in a 1960 version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'": "It's real simple, but every note is in the right spot – funky and nasty. Say 'Play that Elmore lick,' and everybody knows what to do."
Key Tracks: "Dust My Broom," "The Sky Is Crying"
On July 5th, 1954, Elvis Presley, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black messed around with a hopped-up version of Arthur Crudup's "That's All Right" during a break in a session at Sun Records in Memphis. The guitar would never be the same: Moore's concise, aggressive runs mixed country picking and blues phrasing into a new instrumental language. The playing was so forceful that it's easy to forget there was no drummer. If Moore had done nothing but the 18 Sun recordings – including "Mystery Train" and "Good Rockin' Tonight" – his place in history would be assured. But he continued to play with Elvis, contributing the scorching solos to "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Hound Dog." And when Elvis wanted to get back to his roots on the 1968 "comeback special," he summoned Moore, for the sound that helped change the role of the guitar in pop music. "Everyone else wanted to be Elvis," Keith Richards said. "I wanted to be Scotty."
Key Tracks: "That's All Right," "Mystery Train," "Heartbreak Hotel"
• Q&A: Scotty Moore Keeps On Rocking
The father of punk-rock guitar and a huge influence on riff-driven modern metal, Johnny Ramone is one of the instrument's great anti-heroes. John Cummings made his name with an inexpensive Mosrite guitar, on which he hammered out high-speed downstroked barre chords in a slashing, minimalist style that appropriately became known as "buzzsaw." A pure rhythm engine, Ramone almost never played a solo, but his playing had the headlong surge of an oncoming subway train. In an era when "heavy" was synonymous with "slow," the primitive, metronomic swing of his riffs on "Blitzkrieg Bop" and "Judy Is a Punk" and the trampoline-pop grind of "Rockaway Beach" showed you could speed things up without losing an ounce of power (somewhat surprisingly, his own guitar hero was Jimmy Page). "Johnny was the first guitar player I ever saw play like he was really mad," testified Henry Rollins. "And I was like, 'Damn. That's cool.'"
Key Tracks: "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Judy Is a Punk," "Rockaway Beach"
• Johnny Ramone Stays Tough
• Johnny Ramone Talks Joey, Ramones Reissues
• Johnny's Last Stand
"It's the mother of riffs," says guitarist Johnny Marr: the "Bo Diddley beat," introduced by the Chicago guitarist born Ellas Otha Bates, a.k.a. Diddley. Driven by his tremoloed guitar, songs such as "Mona" and "Bo Diddley" unleashed a superpowered version of a West African groove that was handed down by slaves; after Diddley, the riff would be hijacked by everyone from Buddy Holly to the Rolling Stones (who covered "Mona" in 1964), and, later, garage rockers and punks, who responded to its raw simplicity. (The Clash made the connection formal when they brought him on tour in 1979; the Smiths built "How Soon Is Now?" around the riff.) "Anybody who picked up the guitar could do it," says Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. "If you could keep a beat, you could play Bo Diddley." "His style was outrageous," Keith Richards said; it suggested "that the kind of music we loved didn't just come from Mississippi. It was coming from somewhere else."
Key Tracks: "Bo Diddley," "Road Runner," "Who Do You Love?"
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Bo Diddley
• Bo Diddley: The Rolling Stone Interview
• Bo Diddley Dead at 79
Probably the only guitarist to get a degree in astrophysics, Queen's lead guitarist (and frequent songwriter) is a brainy adventurer who's always seeking new effects. An early goal of his was "to be the first to put proper three-part [guitar] harmonies onto a record" – like the orchestrated squeals of his solo in "Killer Queen." Brian May layered dozens of guitar parts onto individual tracks, building palatial walls of sound. Appropriately, even his instrument sprang from his imagination: His main guitar, the Red Special, a.k.a. the Old Lady, is a homemade wonder, constructed by May and his father in the early Sixties out of components including wood from a fireplace (he has been known to play it with a sixpence coin rather than a pick). It's yielded everything from the pirouetting, trebly solo in "Bohemian Rhapsody" to the proto-metal riffing of "Stone Cold Crazy." "I can listen to any player and pantomime their sound," Steve Vai said, "but I can't do Brian May. He's just walking on higher ground."
Key Tracks: "Keep Yourself Alive," "Brighton Rock"
• Queen Rock You Like Never Before
I remember the first time I heard Black Sabbath. My older brother got their album Master of Reality from a kid who lived next door, and we'd been passing it around like it was crack. We were playing it with the lights down and a candle burning, when my dad burst into the room. He was like, "What is this shit?" Then he broke the record right in front of us. But the music had just struck me like lightning. I truly enter the Iommi-sphere every time I put a guitar on. Tony is a metal pioneer, but there's a real finesse to his playing; it's not all that fast. His phrasing has such a classic vibe, and I draw a lot of inspiration from Tony's trilling.
I injured myself at a Black Sabbath reunion concert in 1999. During "Snowblind," we were all holding each other, and then we fell over and I hit a chair and broke my ribs. I was like, "Fuck, it hurts so bad, but I don't want to leave. I have to keep watching Tony play!" By Brent Hinds of Mastodon
Key Tracks: "Iron Man," "Sabbra Cadabra," "Children of the Grave"
• Tony Iommi's Journey Through Heaven and Hell
• Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath and the Art of the Non-Denial Denial
"I don't regard myself as a soloist," AC/DC's lead guitarist has said of his manic style. "It's a color; I put it in for excitement." Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell called him "the absolute god of blues-rock guitar." The approach that Angus Young and his rhythm-guitar-playing brother, Malcolm, developed in AC/DC's early years – high-speed pentatonic runs over thunderous power-chord licks – became a hard-rock tradition, and millions of guitarists the world over have his "Back in Black" and "Highway to Hell" licks imprinted on their brains. "Malcolm and Angus have done more with three chords than any other human being," said Slash. Angus Young's onstage persona –l schoolboy outfits, duckwalking like a pint-size Chuck Berry – is as colorful as his playing. "He's like Clark fucking Kent!" AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson told Rolling Stone in 2008. "He goes into a phone booth and comes out as the 14-year-old imp, ready to rock!"
Key Tracks: "Highway to Hell," "Bad Boy Boogie"
• AC/DC and the Gospel of Rock & Roll
Buddy Guy got used to people calling his guitar style a bunch of noise – from his family back in rural Louisiana, who chased him out of the house for making a racket, to Chess Records heads Phil and Leonard Chess, who, he says, "wouldn't let me get loose like I wanted" on sessions with Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter. But as a new generation of rockers discovered the blues, Guy's fretwork became a major influence on titans from Jimi Hendrix to Jimmy Page. Guy's flamboyant playing – huge bends, prominent distortion, frenetic licks – on such classics as "Stone Crazy" and "First Time I Met the Blues," and his collaborations with the late harp master Junior Wells, raised the standard for six-string fury. His showmanship, complete with midsolo strolls through the audience, remains electrifying at age 75. "He was for me what Elvis was probably like for other people," said Eric Clapton at Guy's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2005. "My course was set, and he was my pilot."
Key Tracks: "Stone Crazy," "First Time I Met the Blues"
• Damn Right, He's Buddy Guy
• Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2005: Buddy Guy
"When I was learning how to play guitar, I was obsessed with that album," Phish's Trey Anastasio said in 2005 of Frank Zappa's 1981 collection of intricate and blistering solos, Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar. "Every boundary that was possible on the guitar," Anastasio said, "was examined by him in ways that other people didn't." As the absolute boss of his bands, including the legendary lineups of the Mothers of Invention, Zappa fused doo-wop, urban blues, big-band jazz and orchestral modernism with an iron hand. As a guitarist, he drew from all of those sources, then improvised with a furious and genuine delight. His soloing on "Willie the Pimp," on 1969's Hot Rats, is an extended studio party of greasy distortion, chomping wah-wah and agitatedblues slaloms. In concert, Zappa would "walk around, doing his thing, conducting," Anastasio recalled. But when he picked up his guitar for a solo, "he was completely in communion with his instrument… It just became soul music."
Key Tracks: "Willie the Pimp," "In-a-Gadda-Stravinsky"
As a record executive and producer in the Sixties, Chet Atkins invented the popwise "Nashville sound" that rescued country music from a commercial slump. As a guitarist, he was even more inventive, mastering country, jazz and classical styles and perfecting the ability to play chords and melody simultaneously, thanks to his distinctive thumb-and-three-finger picking style. "A lot of it was trial and error," Atkins told Rolling Stone in 1976. "I just had a damn guitar in my hands 16 hours a day, and I experimented all the time." Atkins could be laid-back and restrained (as heard on iconic recordings like Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart," Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" and several of the Everly Brothers' early hits). But his own instrumental-heavy solo albums are an endless bag of guitar tricks, mixing harmonics, arpeggios and pure notes with a brilliantly clear tone. "I think he influenced everybody who picked up a guitar," said Duane Eddy.
Key Tracks: "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Wake Up Little Susie"
• Chet Atkins Dies
Mexican-born Carlos Santana had just finished high school in San Francisco, in 1965, when the city's music scene exploded, exposing him to a wealth of revelations – electric blues, African rhythms and modern jazz; guitar mentors such as Jerry Garcia and Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green – that became key strands in the Latin-rhythm psychedelia of his namesake band. Santana's crystalline tone and clean arcing sustain make him the rare instrumentalist who can be identified in just one note. As for his bold, exploratory style, he gives partial credit to his acid intake. "You cannot take LSD and not find your voice," he claims, "because there is nowhere to hide. You're not going to sound plastic or cute." The welcoming force of Santana's sound makes him an ideal collaborator – his superstar-laden 1999 album, Supernatural, won nine Grammys – and enduring inspiration. Prince called him a bigger influence than Jimi Hendrix: "Santana played prettier."
Key Tracks: "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va," "Soul Sacrifice"
The Epic Life of Carlos Santana
The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Carlos Santana
James Burton's trademark "chicken pickin'" style – bright, crisp and concise –l is one of the most unique sounds in country music, and a huge influence on rock guitar as well. Burton got his start when he was 14, writing "Susie Q," for Dale Hawkins, and became a teenage star when he joined Ricky Nelson's band in 1957. With Nelson, Burton created his distinct technique: He used a fingerpick and a flatpick, and replaced the four highest strings on his Telecaster with banjo strings, so that his guitar snapped, popped and stuttered. "I never bought a Ricky Nelson record," Keith Richards said. "I bought a James Burton record." In the late Sixties and Seventies, he convened Elvis' TCB band and became a go-to guy on country-minded records by Joni Mitchell and Gram Parsons, and still tours today. "He was just a mysterious guy: 'Who is this guy and why is he on all these records I like?'" says Joe Walsh. "His technique was allimportant."
Key Tracks: "Hello Mary Lou,""Susie Q," "Believe What You Say"
Les Paul is best known as the genius who invented the solid-body guitar that bears his name. But he was just as imaginative as a player. "He made the very best guitar sounds of the 1950s," said Brian Wilson. "There's nobody that came close." A long string of hits in the Forties and Fifties (on his own and with his wife, singerguitarist Mary Ford) established his signature style: elegant, clean-toned, fleet-fingered improvisations on current pop standards. Paul created a groundbreaking series of technical innovations, including multilayered studio overdubs and varispeed tape playback, to achieve sounds nobody had ever come up with – check out the insect-swarm solo on his 1948 recording of "Lover." Until shortly before Paul's 2009 death at age 94, he was still playing weekly gigs at a New York jazz club, with adoring metalheads in the audience. In Richie Sambora's words, "He had all of the licks, and when you heard it, it sounded like it came from outer space."
Key Tracks: "How High the Moon," "Vaya Con Dios," "Tiger Rag"
• Les Paul: The Guitar Great's Life in Photos
• Les Paul: 1915-2009
• Les Paul Remembered: Guitar Greats on their True Hero
If I was ever going to teach a master class to young guitarists, the first thing I would play them is the first minute of Neil Young's original "Down by the River" solo. It's one note, but it's so melodic, and it just snarls with attitude and anger. It's like he desperately wants to connect. Neil's playing is like an open tube from his heart right to the audience. In the Nineties, we played a festival with Crazy Horse. At the end of "Like a Hurricane," Neil went into this feedback solo that was more like a sonic impressionist painting. He was about six feet back from the microphone, singing so you could just hear him over the colorful waves of hurricanelike sound.
I think about that moment a lot when I'm playing. Traditional concepts of rhythm and keys are great, but music is like a giant ocean. It's a big, furious place, and there are a lot of trenches that haven't been explored. Neil is still blazing a trail for people who are younger than him, reminding us you can break artistic ground. By Trey Anastasio
Key Tracks: "Down by the River," "Mr. Soul"
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Neil Young
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Neil Young
Literally raised in the Allman Brothers family, Derek Trucks – the nephew of Allmans drummer Butch Trucks – started playing slide guitar at age nine and was touring by 12. But Trucks' precociousness was charged with an explorer's fever. When he stepped into the late Duane Allman's slide-guitar spot in the Allman Brothers Band in 1999, at age 20, Derek's soloing exploded in thrilling directions, managing to incorporate Delta blues, hard-bop jazz, the vocal ecstasies of Southern black gospel, and Indian-raga modality and rhythms.
"He's got infinitely more sounds than I have," John Mayer concedes admiringly. In addition to touring regularly with the Allman Brothers, Trucks now co-leads the Tedeschi Trucks Band, a swinging 11-piece beast in the Delaney and Bonnie tradition, along with his wife, singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi. "He's like a bottomless pit," said Eric Clapton, who took Trucks on tour as a sideman in 2006 and 2007. "His thing is very deep."
Key Tracks: "Joyful Noise," "Whipping Post" (One Way Out version)
In Memory of Duane Allman: Derek Trucks' Allman Brothers Playlist
Derek Trucks Q&A: Guitar Hero on Jamming with Legends and Covering Dylan
In a 1985 interview, Eric Clapton cited Freddy King's 1961 B side "I Love the Woman" as "the first time I heard that electric lead-guitar style, with the bent notes… [it] started me on my path." Clapton shared his love of King with fellow British guitar heroes Peter Green, Jeff Beck and Mick Taylor, all of whom were profoundly influenced by King's sharpened-treble tone and curt melodic hooks on iconic singles such as "The Stumble," "I'm Tore Down" and "Someday, After Awhile." Nicknamed "The Texas Cannonball" for his imposing build and incendiary live shows, King had a unique guitar attack. "Steel on steel is an unforgettable sound," says Derek Trucks, referring to King's use of metal banjo picks. "But it's gotta be in the right hands. The way he used it – man, you were going to hear that guitar." Trucks can still hear King's huge impact on Clapton. "When I played with Eric," Trucks said recently, "there were times when he would take solos and I would get that Freddy vibe."
Key Tracks: "Hide Away," "Have You Ever Loved a Woman," "The Stumble"
As a producer and songwriter, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour is drawn to floating, dreamy textures, but when he picks up his black Stratocaster to play a solo, an entirely different sensibility takes over: "I wanted a bright, powerful lead guitar tone that would basically rip your face off," he says. He was a fiery, blues-based soloist in a band that hardly ever played the blues – his sprawling, elegant, relentlessly melodic solos were as bracing a wake-up call as those alarm clocks on The Dark Side of the Moon. But Gilmour was also adept at droning avant-garde improv, as seen in Floyd's Live at Pompeii days, and could be an unexpectedly funky rhythm guitarist, from the slinky riff to "Have a Cigar" to the Chic-like flourishes on "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2." His pioneering use of echo and other effects – initially inspired by original Floyd guitarist Syd Barrett – culminated with his precision use of delay on "Run Like Hell," which directly anticipates the Edge's signature sound.
Key Tracks: "Comfortably Numb," "Shine on You Crazy Diamond"
• Inside Pink Floyd: Rolling Stone's 1987 Cover Story
• Photos: The Dark Side of Pink Floyd
• Video: 30 Years of Pink Floyd in 17 Minutes
When Rolling Stone reporter Jon Landau asked Albert King in 1968 who his guitar influences were, King replied, "Nobody. Everything I do is wrong." A pioneer of electric blues, King (who was left-handed) played a right-handed 1959 Gibson Flying V upside down, with the bass strings unconventionally facing the floor. He used an indecipherable secret tuning, hitting notes with his thumb. The six-foot-four, 300-pound King was able to bend notes farther and more powerfully than almost any other guitarist, and his records influenced a generation: Eric Clapton lifted the "Strange Brew" solo from King, and Duane Allman turned the melody of King's "As the Years Go Passing By" into the main riff of "Layla." Jimi Hendrix was star-struck when his hero opened for him at the Fillmore in 1967. "I taught [Hendrix] a lesson about the blues," said King. "I could have easily played his songs, but he couldn't play mine."
Key Tracks: "Born Under a Bad Sign," "As the Years Go Passing By"
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Albert King's 'Born Under a Bad Sign'
Stevie Ray Vaughan
In the early eighties, MTV was on the rise, and blues guitar was miles away from music's mainstream. But Texas' Stevie Ray Vaughan demanded your attention. He had absorbed the styles of just about every great blues guitarist – plus Jimi Hendrix and a lot of jazz and rockabilly – and his monster tone, casual virtuosity and impeccable sense of swing could make a blues shuffle like "Pride and Joy" hit as hard as metal. Vaughan was recognized as a peer by the likes of B.B. King and Eric Clapton, and despite his 1990 death in a helicopter crash, he's still inspiring multiple generations of guitarists, from Pearl Jam's Mike McCready to John Mayer and rising young star Gary Clark Jr. "Stevie was one of the reasons I wanted a Stratocaster – his tone, which I've never been able to get down, was just so big and bold and bright at the same time," says Clark. "If you listen to his records and watch his videos, you can tell he's just giving you everything he had. His passion is overwhelming."
Key Tracks: "Love Struck Baby," "Cold Shot," "Look at Little Sister"
George Harrison and I were once in a car and the Beatles song "You Can't Do That" came on, with that great riff in the beginning on the 12-string. He goes, "I came up with that." And I said, "Really? How?" He said, "I was just standing there and thought, 'I've got to do something!' " That pretty much sums him up. He just had a way of getting right to the business, of finding the right thing to play. That was part of that Beatles magic – they all seemed to find the right thing to play.
George knew every obscure Elvis solo; his initial influences were rockabilly – Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, Chet Atkins, Scotty Moore – but he always added something to it. Even going way back, I used to just swoon over that solo in "I Saw Her Standing There." You just can't imagine anything else there. He had that knack. And how many Rickenbacker 12-strings did that guy sell? That was a whole new sound too – Roger McGuinn got the idea from George, and then Roger took it to his own place with the Byrds.
When he moved over to the slide guitar later in the Beatles' career, it was a really beautiful thing to hear him play that. He once said to me, "I think modern guitar players are forgetting about pitch," and that was something he really cared about. He was very in tune when he played, the slide was very precise, and just a beautiful vibrato on it. It really sounded like a voice, like a very distinct, signature voice that came out of him. Just listen to those records. They're so immaculate, so inventive. He was a guy who could just add so much. By Tom Petty
Key Tracks: "I Saw Her Standing There," "Something"
• Photos: The Private Life of George Harrison
• George Harrison Gets Back: Rolling Stone's 1987 Cover Story
• George Harrison: 1943-2001
Pete Townshend doesn't play many solos, which might be why so many people don’t realize just how good he really is. But he's so important to rock – he’s a visionary musician who really lit the whole thing up. His rhythm-guitar playing is extremely exciting and aggressive – he's a savage player, in a way. He has a wonderful, fluid physicality with the guitar that you don't see often, and his playing is very much a reflection of who he is as a person – a very intense guy. He's like the original punk, the first one to destroy a guitar onstage – a breathtaking statement at that point in time. But he's also a very articulate, literate person. He listens to a lot of jazz, and he told me that's what he'd really like to be doing. On "Substitute" you can hear the influence of Miles Davis' modal approach in the way his chords move against the open D string. He was using feedback early, which I think was influenced by European avant-garde music like Stockhausen – an art-school thing. The big ringing chords he used in the Who were so musically smart when you consider how busy the drumming and bass playing were in that band – it could have gotten chaotic if not for him. He more or less invented the power chord, and you can hear a sort of pre-Zeppelin thing in the Who's Sixties work. So much of this stuff came from him. By Andy Summers
Key Tracks: "My Generation," "I Can See for Miles," "Summertime Blues"
• The Rolling Stone Interview: Pete Townshend
• The Who: Last Time Around
I grew up playing slide guitar in church, and the whole idea was to imitate the human voice: After the old lady or the preacher stopped singing, we had to carry on the melody of the song just like they had sung it. Just in those terms, Duane Allman took it to a whole other level. He was so much more precise than anybody who'd ever come before. When I first heard those old-school Allman Brothers records, it was strange to me because the sound was so similar to what I had grown up listening to.
Listen to "Layla" – especially when it goes into that outro. Duane is sliding all over that melody. I used to put that on "repeat" when I would go to bed. All of us guitar players sit and practice, but that's one of those records where you want to put the guitar down and just listen.
Eric Clapton told me he knew working with Duane was going to take guitar music to a whole new place; they had a vision, and they got there. Clapton said he was really nervous about two guys playing guitar, but Duane was the coolest cat – he'd say, "Let's just get down!"
Duane died young, and it's just one of those things. You could tell he was going to get 50 times better. But God works it out like that, and that’s the legacy he left behind. In my iPod is everything Duane recorded. I listen to Allmans tunes every other day. By Robert Randolph
Key Tracks: "Statesboro Blues," "Whipping Post," "Blue Sky"
• Remembering Duane Allman
• The Allman Brothers Story
Eddie Van Halen
When I was 11, I was at my guitar teacher’s place, and he put on “Eruption.” It sounded like it came from another planet. I was just learning basic chords, stuff like AC/DC and Deep Purple; “Eruption” really didn’t make sense to me, but it was glorious, like hearing Mozart for the first time.
Eddie is a master of riffs: “Unchained,” “Take Your Whiskey Home,” the beginning of “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love.” He gets sounds that aren’t necessarily guitar sounds – a lot of harmonics, textures that happen just because of how he picks. There’s a part in “Unchained” where it sounds like there’s another instrument in the riff.
A lot of it is in his hands: the way he holds his pick between his thumb and middle finger, which opens things up for his finger-tapping. (When I found out he played that way, I tried it myself, but it was too weird.) But underneath that, Eddie has soul. It’s like Hendrix – you can play the things he’s written, but there’s an X factor that you can’t get.
Eddie still has it. I saw Van Halen on their reunion tour two years ago, and the second he came out, I felt that same thing I did when I was a kid. When you see a master, you know it. By Mike McCready of Pearl Jam
Key Tracks: “Eruption,” “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love,” “Hot for Teacher”
• See Eddie Van Halen in his Glory Days
• Eddie Van Halen on Rocking Sober, Avoiding Beef and the Future of Van Halen
When I saw Chuck Berry in “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” as a teenager, what struck me was how he was playing against the grain with a bunch of jazz guys. They were brilliant – guys like Jo Jones on drums and Jack Teagarden on trombone – but they had that jazz attitude cats put on sometimes: “Ooh… this rock & roll…” With “Sweet Little Sixteen,” Chuck took them all by storm and played against their animosity. To me, that’s blues. That’s the attitude and the guts it takes. That’s what I wanted to be, except I was white.
I listened to every lick he played and picked it up. Chuck got it from T-Bone Walker, and I got it from Chuck, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and B.B. King. We’re all part of this family that goes back thousands of years. Really, we’re all passing it on.
Chuck was playing a slightly heated-up version of Chicago blues, that guitar boogie – which all the cats were playing – but he took it up to another level. He was slightly younger than the older blues guys, and his songs were more commercial without just being pop, which is a hard thing to do. Chuck had the swing. There’s rock, but it’s the roll that counts. And Chuck had an incredible band on those early records: Willie Dixon on bass, Johnnie Johnson on piano, Ebby Hardy or Freddy Below on drums. They understood what he was about and just swung with it. It don’t get any better than that.
He’s not the easiest guy in the world to get along with, which was always a bit of a disappointment for me – because that cat wrote songs that had so much sense of humor and so much intelligence. The old son of a bitch just turned 85. I wish him a happy birthday, and I wish I could just pop around and say, “Hey, Chuck, let’s have a drink together or something.” But he ain’t that kind of cat. By Keith Richards
Key Tracks: “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven”
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Chuck Berry
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Chuck Berry
• Video: Chuck Berry Rocks Blueberry Hill
B.B.‘s influences were set at an early stage. Being from Indianola, Mississippi, he goes back far enough to remember the sound of field hollers and the cornerstone blues figures, like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson. The single-note phrasing of T-Bone Walker was another thing. You can hear those influences in the choice of melodies that he not only sings vocally but lets his guitar sing instrumentally.
He plays in shortened bursts, with a richness and robust delivery. And there is a technical dexterity, a cleanly delivered phrasing. This was sophisticated soloing. It’s so identifiable, so clear, it could be written out. John Lee Hooker – his stuff was too difficult to write out. But B.B. was a genuine soloist.
There are two things he does that I was desperate to learn. He originated this one cut-to-the-bone phrase where he hits two notes, then jumps to another string and slides up to a note. I can do it in my sleep now. And there’s this twoor three-note thing, where he bends the last note. Both figures never fail to get you moving in your seat – or out of your seat. It’s that powerful.
There was a turning point, around the time of [1965’s] Live at the Regal, when his sound took on a personality that is untampered with today – this roundish tone, where the front pickup is out of phase with the rear pickup. And B.B. still plays a Gibson amplifier that is long out of production. His sound comes from that combination. It’s just B.B. By Billy Gibbons
Key Tracks: “3 O’Clock Blues,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Sweet Little Angel”
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: B.B. King
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: B.B. King’s ‘Live at the Regal’
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”
• Jeff Beck on his Legendary Unreleased 1970 Motown Album
• Jeff Beck’s Essential Bootlegs
• Jeff Beck Opens Up About Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Gigs with Clapton, Jeff Beck Group Reunion
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"
• Keith Richards in 1981: The Rolling Stone Interview
• Keith Richards in 1988: The Rolling Stone Interview
• Keith Richards in 2002: The Rolling Stone Interview
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"
• Q&A: Jimmy Page
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Led Zeppelin
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”
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Eric Clapton
• Photos: Crossroads 2010
• Eric Clapton on Revisiting ‘Layla,’ Sobriety and Reflecting on his Life
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"
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Jimi Hendrix
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Jimi Hendrix Experience's 'Electric Ladyland'
• Video: An Alternate Take of Jimi Hendrix's 1967 'Love or Confusion'