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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

willie nelson
77

Willie Nelson

Like his conversational singing, Willie Nelson's guitar playing is deceptively laidback, playfully offbeat and instantly recognizable. Amazingly, Nelson has been playing the same Martin M-20 classical guitar, nicknamed Trigger, since 1969; it has defined his sound, a nylon-stabbing mix of country, blues and Django Reinhardt's gypsy jazz. Though the guitar now has a large gaping hole, Nelson still plays it nightly. "I have come to believe we were fated for each other," he said. "The two of us even look alike. We are both pretty battered and bruised."

Key Tracks: "Whiskey River," "Night Life"

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robbie krieger
76

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."

Key Tracks: "Riders on the Storm," "Roadhouse Blues"

joni mitchell
75

Joni Mitchell

The strongest thing I did for Joni as a producer on Song to a Seagull, from 1968, was keep everybody else off of that record. She was a folkie who had learned to play what they call an indicated arrangement, where you are like a band in the way you approach a chord and string the melody along. She was so new and fresh with how she approached it. It's the reason I fell in love with her music. She was a fantastic rhythm player and growing so fast. She had mastered the idea that she could tune the guitar any way she wanted, to get other inversions of the chords. I was doing that too, but she went further. I understood her joy in using bigger tools later – jazz bands, orchestra. But the stuff she did that was basically her, like 1971's Blue, was her strongest stuff. Match her and Bob Dylan up as poets, and they are in the same ballpark. But she was a much more sophisticated musician.  By David Crosby

Key Tracks: "I Had a King," "Nathan La Franeer," "Night in the City," "Coyote," "A Case of You"

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