100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks - Rolling Stone
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100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke’s Picks

From Jerry Garcia and Joan Jett to B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stone critic chooses the best and most influential guitarists in rock

Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was a folk and blue-grass obsessive who started playing guitar at 15.

David Redfern/Redferns/Getty

In 2003, I proposed to my editors a special issue devoted to the best and most influential guitarists in rock. They suggested a number – 100 – and the idea of ranking them. I came up with the names, based on my life-long love of the instrument and those who play it. One hundred proved to be too small for the job – my working list of the worthy ran closer to 500 – and the running order was frustrating work. In the end, I looked at it this way: Jimi Hendrix was Number One in every way; the other 99 were all Number Two.

The original inspiration was a celebration of the guitar and how it changed the world – and me. Everyone has their own version of this list. This was mine, in 2003.


Jorma Kaukonen

Jefferson Airplane's and Hot Tuna's Kaukonen is a gifted
fingerpicker and bluesman who developed a raga-inflected style as
the Airplane's folk rock grew increasingly psychedelic. His
acid-rock peak may be "Spare Chaynge," nine minutes of jamming on
After Bathing at Baxter's that grew out of his admiration
for Cream.


Mickey Baker

Baker may have been the busiest session guitarist of the Fifties
— it's his brittle playing that underpins R&B classics
such as Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and the Drifters'
"Money Honey." But it's his million-selling 1956 duet with Sylvia
Vanderpool, "Love Is Strange," that's his crowning achievement.
Those keening licks and hectic chords sound as unearthly today as
they did five decades ago.


Lou Reed

Reed's ramrod stroke makes him one of the all-time great rhythm
players, and he brought a thrilling sense of anarchy to his leads.
With the Velvet Underground, he established a sound that owed as
much to free-jazz maverick Ornette Coleman as to "Louie Louie."


Paul Kossoff

Kossoff's solos for British hard-rock pioneers Free —
particularly in the radio classic "All Right Now" — are
better-known than his name, but he is admired by guitarists for the
economy of his lines and the purity of his tone. He made his
presence felt by what he did not play, and the exquisite way he
sculpted what he did.

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