From Carlos Santana’s spiraling riff in “Black Magic Woman” to the haunting melody painted by Jimmy Page in “Stairway to Heaven”, guitarists have played a central role in crafting the greatest musical compositions known to humankind.
Blues, Punk Rock, Pop, Folk, and Country, there are countless music genres that could not sustain without the artistic contributions of talented guitarists. Let’s take a look at the greatest guitarists of all time, who with their awe-inspiring solos and rhythmic strumming, sculpted some of the greatest musical masterpieces that we all know and love.
40. Tom Morello
A connoisseur of funk metal, heavy metal, and nu metal, Morello reinvented rock guitar during his career with Rage Against The Machine. Morello has a heavy reliance on effects pedals, which has resulted in him pioneering a number of sound effects that were previously never used. This includes the turntable scratches on Bulls on Parade and laser blasts in Killing in the Name.
In addition to his tenures with Rage Against The Machine, Morello also performed in Audioslave as well as under his politically driven alias, The Nightwatchmen. He has also collaborated with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Much of Morello’s style was influenced by the world of Hip Hop, which is strongly evident in his bold use of noisy production throughout his works.
39. Steve Cropper
Widely known as “The Colonel”, Cropper is a soul, R&B, blues and funk guitarist who has collaborated with a whole host of artists including Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. A member of the Stax Records house band, Cropper was the lead guitarist of Booker T. & the M.G.’s, a funk/R&B band credited with revolutionizing the subgenres of Southern Soul and Memphis Soul.
As a teenager, Cropper had his first hit with the Mar-Keys, titled “Last Night”. This paved the way to his mainstream career, when he developed his reputation for being a deeply soulful guitarist. Even to this day, Cropper continues to be featured alongside rock and R&B artists, with one of his more memorable moments being his stint as a member of the Blues Brothers’ Band.
38. Mick Taylor
A rock and blues guitarist, Taylor burst onto the rock and roll scene as the guitarist for John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers before being recruited by the Rolling Stones at the mere age of 20. Widely praised for the way that he could read into a song and determine the best way to incorporate the guitar into it, Taylor had an immediate impact on the band, delivering an impressive slide on “Love in Vain” while perfectly mimicking a harmonica during “All Down the Line”.
While he only played for the Rolling Stones for five years, Taylor was an essential component in some of the band’s peak recordings. As a melodic guitarist, he was stated to often be a source of inspiration for lead vocalist Mick Jagger.
37. John Lee Hooker
A Mississippi native born in 1917, Hooker was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist revered for his hypnotic playing style. Hooker rose in prominence by performing an electric guitar adaption of Delta blues, one of the earliest-known styles of blues music. Not a fan of fancy showboating, Hooker was a straightforward guitarist who was always up for playing “mean, mean licks” as he once explained.
As could be heard in tracks such as “Crawlin’ King Snake”, Hooker was a pro at delivering a rumbling, gutsy groove that pushed the boundaries of blues music. Hooker’s ageless music was an influence on a number of prominent acts such as ZZ Top, while his songs were also covered by the likes of The Doors and Bruce Springsteen.
36. David Gilmour
While the blues may have been one of his early influences, Gilmour grew to become a psychedelic rock star and essential member of English progressive rock band Pink Floyd. While much of the band’s music involves floaty, dreamy textures, Gilmour would provide an emboldened, sprawling solo as soon as his moment in the limelight would come around.
While most of Pink Floyd’s albums were concept albums, whereby a greater meaning was attributed to the tracks when played as a collective, Gilmour’s expressive solos would help ensure that messages could be delivered in individual songs as well. He also has the ability to funky rhythmic guitar work, as could be heard in “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.”
35. Billy Gibbons
Gibbons’ firepower and raw passion was evident since his days performing in psychedelic garage band the Moving Sidewalks. With his talent being recognized from an early age, Gibbons was invited to play alongside his band at four Texas shows for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix was so impressed by Gibbons’ impactful performance that he gifted him a pink Stratocaster.
Since becoming the guitarist and lead singer of ZZ Top, Gibbons’ trademark long beard is not the only thing he has become famous for. With a playing style he calls, “spankin’ the plank”, Gibbons continues to deliver hard-hitting performances for ZZ Top, four decades on from when the group originally formed. Whether it’s the offbeat riffs in “Jesus Left Chicago” or the popping beat in “La Grange”, Gibbons’ passion can never be matched.
34. Ry Cooder
An Americana, roots rock, and Tex-Mex enthusiast, Ry Cooder incorporated a host of genres into his playing style throughout his solo career. As a result, he had the talent to collaborate alongside a variety of household names, not limited to Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Randy Newman. While he may have an appreciation for the fundamentals and history of each genre, he still has the exploratory passion to bring an aura of mystery to his work.
To this day, Cooder has shown an ability to revive notable past musical elements and provide them with relevance in the modern age. An adventurous performer, Cooder has collaborated with traditional musicians from around the world and worked on the soundtracks of a number of films.
33. Curtis Mayfield
Often singing politically driven songs about civil rights, Mayfield was one of the most influential singers, songwriters and guitarists in soul music. A self-taught guitarist, Mayfield took pride in the fact that his style was not easily imitable. While the messages of his songs may have been powerful, Mayfield nevertheless delivered them with fluid melodies and gentle, soulful vocal performances.
During his time as a member of vocal group The Impressions, Mayfield wrote the politically charged “People Get Ready”, a song that Rolling Stone considers to be one of the most influential of all time. In the 1970s, Mayfield embarked on a solo career, where the full extent of his talent on the guitar was showcased. His contributions to music resulted in him being a double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a Grammy Legend Award winner in 1994, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 1995.
32. The Edge
A self-taught guitarist, David Howell Evans made his first major strides while still in high school. Fellow school pupil, Larry Mullen Jr., placed an ad on the school noticeboard seeking musicians to form a band with. In addition to Evans, Paul Hewson (later known as Bono) and Adam Clayton also responded. This band would eventually be known as U2.
Because he taught himself the basics of guitar, The Edge developed a unique style that can instantly be recognized by U2 fans. His use of rhythmic delay effects formed the foundation of U2s distinct sound, while he consistently focuses on the interplay between his guitar work and Bono’s vocals. His creativity is not only expressed in his melodic picking, but also in his compositions- The Edge laid down catchy riffs in tracks such as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”.
31. Duane Allman
One of the greatest ever slide guitarists, Allman’s decision to enter into music came when he and his brother Gregg saw B.B. King perform at a rhythm and blues concert. This led to the brothers forming the bands, Allman Joys and Hour Glass, before Duane decided to work as a session musician. It was during his work on Wilson Pickett’s album, Hey Jude, that Allman’s great potential started to be realized. Eric Clapton, in particular, was taken aback by Allman’s lead break at the end of the track “Hey Jude”.
Upon the formation of the Allman Brothers Band, Allman’s career reached new heights. Not only did he achieve commercial success at the release of the album, At Fillmore East, but his improvisational skills and slide guitar playing would go down in history.
With his iconic hat and revered partnership with fellow guitarist Izzy Stradlin, Slash has been the lead guitarist for hard rock band Guns N’ Roses since the band’s ‘classic’ lineup was confirmed in 1985. While Stradlin may have been the band’s co-founder and a top of the line rhythm guitarist, Slash took the band to new heights with his unreal solos while lead guitarist.
While Stradlin blew away crowds with his killer power chords, Slash blended perfectly with his partner on strings as he became respected for his pyrotechnic solos as exhibited in hits such as “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle”.
With his flamboyant persona, unbelievably wide vocal range, and infusion of funk, soul, and psychedelia into his work, Prince was an icon deserving of his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If that wasn’t enough, his talent with a guitar molded him into an all-around showstopping performer.
Prince’s guitar solo in his hit single, “Purple Rain”, is widely regarded as the greatest power ballad guitar solo in history. Not only was he exceptionally talented, but also diverse, proving that he was able to shred like a heavy metal guitarist while also being able to play melodic tunes not unlike Carlos Santana, who happened to be one of his greatest influences.
28. Johnny Ramone
1974 marked the formation of The Ramones in Forest Hills, Queens, New York City. From that moment on, Johnny Ramone began to build his reputation as the father of punk rock. Unlike many rock stars at the time, Johnny used a cheap Mosrite guitar as his instrument of choice. This decision clearly had no impact on his remarkable playing ability.
Aptly nicknamed “Buzzsaw”, Johnny was famous for slashing out high-speed barre chords in a minimalistic fashion. With performances such as “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Rockaway Beach”, Johnny earned a reputation for looking furious as he performed. While seldomly playing solos, Johnny proved the essentialness of rhythm guitarists in the world of rock n’ roll.
27. Willie NelsonS
While also a major player in the blues and jazz scene, Willie Nelson One was at the forefront of the development of outlaw country, a subgenre of country music that emerged during the 1960s. This came as a response to the restrictions imposed by the conservative Nashville sound subgenre.
At the start of 1969, Nelson began playing a Martin M-20 classical guitar- the instrument he still uses to this day. Affectionately nicknamed “Trigger”, this guitar has helped Nelson to develop his distinct sound; a blend of blues, country, and gypsy jazz. Even with a gaping hole, this guitar is strummed by Nelson on a nightly basis. Not unlike his conversational singing, Nelson’s guitar-playing is offbeat and laidback, making it instantly recognizable to fans.
26. Les Paul
An American Jazz, country, and blues guitarist, Les Paul was known for being an imaginative musician. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Paul released some of his greatest hits, comprised of elegant, clean cut guitar melodies in which he liked to incorporate plenty of licks and trills.
Not only was Paul a fine musician, but he was also a creative designer who developed the solid-body guitars that bear his name. Today, the Gibson Les Paul is one of the most esteemed guitar brands worldwide, celebrated for its versatility and wide usage across multiple genres.
25. Scotty Moore
While Elvis Presley is affectionately known as the “King of Rock and Roll”, it was Scotty Moore who provided the essential backing that made Presley’s sessions at Sun Records in Memphis so successful. With his background in country and blues music, Moore played a critical role in the recording of a multitude of Elvis hits, including “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes”.
Moore was renown for his finger picking style as well as his role in the development of power chording. In fact, it is due to Moore’s forceful playing style that the lack of a drummer in the hit song “Jailhouse Rock” goes largely unnoticed.
24. Chet Atkins
Deservingly nicknamed “The Country Gentleman”, Atkins collaborated with the likes of Owen Bradley and Bob Ferguson to create the country music subgenre known as the Nashville Sound. With his distinctive thumb-and-three-finger picking style, Atkins was famous for being able to play both melody and chords simultaneously.
While a talented solo guitarist, Atkins provided backup to an array of major stars, including Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and Jimmy Reeves. While he showed calm restraint when recording songs such as “Heartbreak Hotel”, Atkins was not afraid to let loose with unexpected tricks in his solo albums.
23. Buddy Guy
Hailing from rural Louisiana, George “Buddy” Guy started his musical career by playing a two-string diddley bow that he made himself. He later upgraded to a Harmony acoustic guitar, with which he continued his journey into Blues music.
His electrifying performances, filled with distortion, bends and wild licks, resonate within tracks such as “Stone Crazy” and “First Time I Met the Blues”, while his stage presence continues to captivate audiences far and wide. This blues legend is also credited with influencing a host of esteemed guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, and John Mayer.
22. Brian May
Probably one of the only guitarists around who has studied astrophysics, May used his intellect to create unique effects that would later be incorporated in his bizarre yet thrilling tracks. May is, after all, the lead guitarist of revolutionary rock band Queen.
While Freddie Mercury was undoubtedly an iconic front man for the band, May exhibited his creative genius by writing hits such as “We Will Rock You”- a song that he wrote particularly to encourage audience participation. Perhaps one of his finest guitar solos was the trebly solo that echoed during “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
21. Angus Young
While he may be the lead guitarist of rock n’ roll band AC/DC, Young does not consider himself to be a solo guitarist. Instead, he chooses to use his skills to add color to AC/DCs gritty, venomous tracks that have been blowing fans’ socks off for years.
Young is renown for his energetic on-stage presence, thunderous power chords, and colorful personality. Throughout his career, Young has dabbled in heavy metal, blues rock, and hard rock, helping his band to produce heavy-hitting tracks such as “Highway to Hell” and “Thunderstruck”.
20. Randy Rhoads
While he may have only lived until the age of 25, Rhoads was one of the most influential guitarists in the heavy metal subgenre of neoclassical metal. In contrast to his stage presence, Randy Rhoads was a devoted student of classical guitar. He decided to incorporate his classical roots into his heavy metal guitar-playing style, thereby forming the basis for a new heavy metal subgenre.
Compared to the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Rhoads was the founder of heavy metal band Quiet Riot, while also finding the time to accompany Ozzy Osbourne on tour.
19. Frank Zappa
Apart from being name dropped in Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”, Frank Zappa is an icon of counterculture and underground rock. In fact, the Beatles’ Paul McCartney cited Zappa as an important influence on their 1967 album, “Sergeant Peppers”.
Zappa established his nonconformist image by experimenting with an array of subgenres, including jazz fusion, orchestral, and even musique concrete. With his heavily involved solos- as featured in works such as “Willie the Pimp”- Zappa was known to push every boundary on a guitar.
18. Carlos Santana
The Mexican-born Santana arrived in San Francisco at a time when musical revelations were hitting the streets. While African rhythms, blues, and jazz continued to rise in popularity, Santana set out to deliver his own twist- bringing his Latin rhythm to the gritty stage of Rock n’ Roll.
Since developing his world-famous trademark, Santana’s style is so distinguished that listeners can identify his music after hearing just a single note. The psychedelic Latin fever that shimmers throughout “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va” has allowed Santana to win 10 Grammy Awards in his lifetime.
17. James Burton
This Rock and Roll Hall of Famer got an early start to his career, touring with Ricky Nelson’s band during his teenage years. It was with Nelson that Burton developed his unique playing style, whereby he would use both a fingerpick and a flat pick and replace the four highest strings on his guitar with banjo strings. The crisp, snapping sound that he would produce was to become known as his “chicken pickin’” style.
Burton greatly impacted both country and rock music with his distinct style and collaborated with a host of stars across genres, including the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, and John Denver. From the get-go, Burton’s style is instantly recognizable in his tracks such as “Hello Mary Lou” and “Believe What You Say”.
16. Tony Iommi
A pioneer of heavy metal, Tony Iommi is renown for the high level of finesse that he incorporates into both his live and studio performances. While heavy metal guitarists are usually expected to furiously hammer out power chords, Iommi is able to exhibit aggression before seamlessly slowing things down a notch and showcasing his classic vibe.
For a colossal five decades, Iommi has been the primary composer and guitarist of heavy metal band Black Sabbath. Some of his finest work includes “Sabbra Cadabra”, “Iron Man”, and “Snowblind”. This heavy metal legend had also performed with the likes of Jethro Tull and Heaven & Hell and has been lauded as the father of heavy metal by the likes of Brian May and Eddie Van Halen.
15. Derek Trucks
Having been raised amongst the members of the Allman Brothers Band, Derek Trucks got an early start to his music career. He began touring at age 12, eventually becoming an official member of the Allman Brothers Band in 1999 at the age of 20. While the late Duane Allman may have left some large shoes to fill, Trucks blew fans away with his mesmerizing solos, which often took unexpected twists and turns while being laced with elements of Southern gospel, Hindustani classical music, blues, and hard-bop jazz.
In 1994, Trucks formed the Derek Trucks Band, with whom he won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. In 2010, hewent on to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band with his wife, Susan Tedeschi. Trucks has received wide praise for his ability, with John Mayer claiming, “He’s got infinitely more sounds than I have”.
14. Bo Diddley
Raised in Chicago, Bo Diddley was one of the leading figures in the evolution of both rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Through his use of a West African rhythm that was handed down by slaves, Bo Diddley created his own signature beat, known as the “Bo Diddley Beat”, that laid out part of the foundation of hip hop, pop, and rock music today.
The “Bo Diddley Beat” would be adopted by a multitude of artists across music genres, from the likes of Buddy Holly to the Rolling Stones. In fact, he has served as an inspiration for artists such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Animals. What is so special about Bo Diddley’s style is that while it is easy to learn to play, it is a distinct style that remains iconic to this day.
13. Neil Young
A multi-instrumentalist who has immersed himself in folk rock, hard rock, country rock, and grunge, Neil Young has enjoyed a prolific career as a solo artist and as a band member. Young is the type of artist who would pour his heart out to whoever is listening every time he picks up a guitar, as was evident in soulful tracks such as “Down by the River”. With his tenor voice and emotive lyrics, Young has become just as famous for his vocal performances as he has for his guitar-playing ability.
In 1995, Young was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his prolific solo career. Of course, his contributions to his band Buffalo Springfield did not go unnoticed, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a second time in 1997 for his band efforts. Young continues to remain musically active at the age of 74, continuing to prove himself as the “Godfather of Grunge”.
12. Albert King
One of the three guitarists known as “King of the Blues” alongside Freddie King and B.B. King, Albert King was a blues guitarist who influenced the styles of the next generation of blues musicians who came after him. His unconventional playing style was most evident during his live performances, when he would play his 1959 Gibson Flying V upside down, with the bass strings facing the floor.
Standing at six-foot-four, this burly guitarist could bend notes further than any other guitarist, thereby contributing to his deep, harrowing tone. While many artists tend to have role models who influence their styles, King once famously explained that he has no guitar influences, stating that “everything I do is wrong”. One of Jimi Hendrix’s heroes, King once stated, “I taught [Hendrix] a lesson about the blues…I could have easily played his songs, but he couldn’t play mine”.
11. Pete Townshend
As a rhythm guitarist, Pete Townshend is not known for playing many solos. It is for this reason that many music fans do not realize the extent of his talent. After all, Townshend has been the lead guitarist and occasional singer for rock band The Who since 1964. Throughout his performances on stage, Townshend has shown an aggressive yet fluid approach to strumming that is not just unique, but reflective of his intense personality.
One of the first acts to start destroying guitars and drums on stage, Townshend and the Who were central to the pop art and mod movements that were prevalent in the 1960s and 70s. Often credited with inventing the power chord, Townshend’s guitar playing brought balance to many of The Who’s songs that were bombarded with chaotic drumming and bass playing.
10. Stevie Ray Vaughn
Born and bred in Texas, Stevie Ray Vaughn was a blues enthusiast, incorporating subgenres such as blues rock, electric blues, and Texas blues into his work. While a blues guitarist to the core, what made Vaughn different from his contemporaries was his incorporation of jazz and rockabilly into his performances.
Vaughn rocked crowds with his hard-hitting hits such as “Pride and Joy” and “Love Struck Baby”. Despite passing away at the young age of 35, Vaughn left a lasting impact on the music industry, influencing the styles of A-list stars such as Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and John Mayer. Even while he was still active on the blues scene, Vaughn was regarded as a peer by fellow legends Eric Clapton and B.B. King.
9. George Harrison
A lover of Indian culture, George Harrison was more than just a rock guitarist- he also played the sitar and incorporated elements of the Indian subgenre into his work. This was just one of the unique aspects that made Harrison such a fascinating individual. Of course, he is most well-known for his role as lead guitarist of The Beatles- a band that is widely regarded as being the most influential in history.
Harrison was a creative genius, managing to create ingenious solos on the spot without preparation. His subtle slide guitar work was also an essential feature of The Beatles’ style, even if sometimes overlooked by the even the most hardcore fans. In addition to his performances, Harrison proved to be a talented songwriter, creating Beatles classics such as “Something” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Of course, his incorporation of Indian subgenres into his work did not go unnoticed, with critics often citing Harrison’s songs as being the most imaginative examples of rock and Indian fusion.
8. B.B. King
Born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, B.B. King was to become one of the most influential Blues guitar players throughout history. Known for his intricate solos, B.B. King introduced the world to a new blues technique that incorporated extensive string bending and a heavy presence of vibrato throughout his sets.
A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, B.B. King was widely regarded as “The King of the Blues”. This seasoned veteran delighted extensive crowds across the United States, performing in an average of 200 concerts each year. In addition to his guitar prowess, King had a lively stage presence and a witty sense of humor, both on and off the stage.
7. Eddie Van Halen
It’s no secret that Van Halen are often credited with bringing widespread popularity to the genre of hard rock- in fact, this is precisely why they are so deserving of their 2007 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the main driving forces of their success is the impeccable work of guitarist Eddie Van Halen
Van Halen’s picking technique delivers a distinct sound of harmonics and full textures that almost sound as if they come from multiple instruments. This, together with the way that he holds the pick between his thumb and middle finger to allow for finger tapping, makes his masterful riffs almost impossible to replicate. Even if one is able to learn his technique, the soul that Van Halen puts into his playing is something that can never be duplicated.
6. Jeff Beck
Having performed with the Yardbirds before forming his own bands, namely the Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert & Appice, Beck has enjoyed a long and illustrious music career. Beck is widely praised for taking daring leaps with his guitar-picking and exhibiting a cheeky personality; a risk that has paid off in heaps. Beck’s distinct sound, with its perfect balance of melody and edginess, continues to delight fans to this day, whether they are listening to one of his 11 studio albums or enjoying one of his live performances.
As could be heard during his collaborations with Rod Stewart, Beck is a self-assured guitarist; he is able to allow vocalists to take center stage while still holding his own in the background. While Beck may be known for his bold performances, he is also no stranger to producing more delicate pieces of music, as could be heard on his cover of Stevie Wonder’s “‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”.
5. Chuck Berry
Often considered “the Father of Rock and Roll”, Chuck Berry was the guitarist that refined rhythm and blues music, thereby laying the foundation for rock and roll music. With songs such as “Maybelline” and “Johnny B. Goode”, Berry helped to establish rock and roll as its own unique genre. This musical pioneer turned showmanship and guitar solos into staple components of the entire rock genre.
Chuck Berry was a daring guitarist who dared to challenge the norms of blues and jazz music. Berry used his heated strumming and on-stage swing to create rock and roll music that was commercially successful, yet still not considered to be pop music- an exceptionally challenging feat to accomplish. By incorporating intelligence and humor into his artwork, Berry was not only a pioneer, but a well-rounded performer.
4. Jimmy Page
Starting his career as a session musician in London, Jimmy Page grew to become an influential guitarist for the Yardbirds before founding English rock band Led Zeppelin, with whom he reached the pinnacle of his career. One of the defining points of Page’s playing style throughout his career is his out-of-the-box, unpredictable progressions. Of course, this included tearing down the stereotypes regarding the limitations of what guitars can do.
Some of his showstopping performances include his solo during the track, “Heartbreaker”, as well as his work on “The Song Remains The Same”, where his guitar goes through constant transitions. Page is not just an innovative guitarist, however, but also an exceptional composer. His previous session performances allowed him to decide exactly what sounds to incorporate in his Led Zeppelin tracks, while his composition, “Stairway to Heaven”, is often regarded as the greatest song in history.
3. Keith Richards
The co-founder and an integral member of The Rolling Stones, Richards is a master of both the lead guitar and rhythm guitar, often interchanging between both roles with his fellow guitarists- a routine that The Rolling Stones are widely applauded for. If this isn’t enough to prove his versatility, Richards also sometimes performs all of the guitar roles on his own, as he did for “Paint It Black”, “Ruby Tuesday”, and “Gimme Shelter”.
While Richards certainly has the ability to perform an outstanding solo, he has a rare talent for writing two and three-note riffs that set the mood for songs. No matter who he collaborates with, Richards is able to ensure that both guitars sound impressive while still leaving enough room for Mick Jagger to sing through.
2. Eric Clapton
The only three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Eric Clapton has enjoyed a prosperous solo career as well as impactful tenures with the Yardbirds and Cream. Clapton is one of the most influential blues and rock musicians to date, with a particular talent for emotive songwriting. One of his most famous songs, “Tears in Heaven”, was influenced by the pain that Clapton felt over the loss of his four-year-old son in 1991. This single pulled on the heartstrings of millions of fans worldwide, with more than 2.8 million copies being sold in the United States alone.
Clapton is particularly talented at performing melodic and memorable riffs that fit right in with the rest of the song. While he may not be one for showboating, his blues-based solos are instantly recognizable, not to mention that he also places particular focus on delivering sincere vocal performances.
1. Jimi Hendrix
A rock guitarist, singer, songwriter, and icon. While he only enjoyed a four-year mainstream career, Hendrix’s influence on Rock and Roll music remains unparalleled. In addition to displaying technical expertise on the guitar, Hendrix set himself apart from other great guitarists by using overridden amplifiers, whammy bars, wah-wah pedals, the Octavia pedal, and the stage itself in order to popularize previously undesirable sounds.
In each of his influential hits such as “Purple Haze”, “Voodoo Chile” and “Machine Gun”, Hendrix’s guitar-playing sounded effortless, as if every note came naturally to him. His use of feedback would soon set the stage for Seventies funk, while the attitude that he dedicated to his work remains impossible to replicate. Hendrix’s seamless fading between notes and choice of chords cannot be found in any chord book; his style is and always will remain distinct, thereby solidifying his status as rock and roll’s greatest icon.