Great Guitar Players
I created this page mostly with my younger guitar students in mind. It’s completely subjective, just a list of guitarists who are historically important, and who I happen to like. Each list is in alphabetical order by last name. They are categorized into Rock, Jazz/Blues, and Acoustic.
Note, the players’ names are linked to their Wikipedia pages so that you can learn some more about them if you wish. I also recommend just going down the YouTube rabbit hole and checking out other stuff by these players, and also the other video suggestions that YouTube provides. In some cases, I listed an album or two as recommended listening. You would not be making a mistake if you were to just go ahead and buy these albums.
Great Rock Guitarists
Founding member of the Allman Brothers, died in a tragic accident in 1971. He’s known in particular for his virtuosity with slide guitar, and almost single-handedly brought slide guitar from the world of blues into the world of rock and roll. He also made a very famous appearance with Eric Clapton in the band Derek And The Dominos, on the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, and especially on the original recording of the song “Layla.”
Here’s a vid of the Allman Brothers playing “Whippin’ Post”. Duane is the guy with the stringy hair and long-sleeve t-shirt.
Recommended Listening: The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East and Derek and the Dominos Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Recommended Listening: The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East and Derek and the Dominos Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Brains behind the band Phish. Known for long, extended improvisations as well as avant-garde instrumental compositions. Trey is a technical and creative master of the instrument.
Here’s a good video of Phish playing their song “Divided Sky,” perhaps my favorite Phish song, and tune that often features some of Trey’s finest shredding. I highly recommend checking out the other videos from the Clifford Ball (just search for them on YT). Peak Phish.
Recommended listening: Phish A Picture of Nectar and Junta.
Best-known for helping to pioneer rock/jazz fusion in the 1970′s, but his contributions date all the way back to the Yardbirds (with Eric Clapton) in the 1960′s. His quirky sound is instantly recognizable; he gets sounds out of the guitar that I’ve never heard anywhere else.
Here’s a vid of Jeff Beck playing one of his groundbreaking tunes from the 1975 album Wired, “Led Boots.” Just watch the way this guy plays guitar–there’s nobody else on the planet who plays like that.
Recommended Listening: Jeff Beck, Wired and Blow By Blow.
One of the most influential blues-rock guitarists, particularly his work with the band Cream, and also Derek and the Dominos. His prolific career has spanned more than half a century at this point, and he continues to stay true to his roots and play some great guitar.
Here’s a sweet video of Eric Clapton’s band Cream, circa 1968. This is what you get when Englishmen take a lot of psychedelics…Clapton sounds badass on the wah pedal.
And there isn’t much video out there of Derek & The Dominos, but this one is great (although it does not feature Duane Allman, as their first album did).
Recommended listening: Derek and the Dominos Layla, and Cream Disraeli Gears.
Founding member of the Grateful Dead, known for long, extended improvisations. Strong roots in American roots styles–blues, country, and jazz. An incredibly passionate and creative musician, and a virtual walking encyclopedia of American music.
Here’s a vid of the Dead playing one of their classic multi-song “suites,” Help on the Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower, in 1976.
Recommended listening: Grateful Dead Europe ’72.
Lead guitarist of the band Pink Floyd. His solos are unforgettable–a master of phrasing and expressiveness, and further proof that you don’t have to be a technical wizard to be a great guitar player.
My favorite solo of Gilmour’s is on the song “Comfortably Numb,” especially the first solo that comes in around 2:30. This is a live version, but he stays quite faithful to the original. You can also see how epic and badass a Pink Floyd concert can be.
Recommended listening: Pink Floyd The Wall.
Later-day member of the Allman Brothers, as well as Gov’t Mule and many other projects. Master of slide guitar and Southern blues-rock styles. One of the busiest musicans on the planet right now, and from what I understand, an incredibly nice guy.
Here’s a vid of Warren playing one of his best-known songs, “Soulshine.” The younger guitarist (with blond hair) is Derek Trucks (see below).animation_speed=”0.1″ animation_offset=”” class=”” id=””][fusion_text]
Probably the most influential rock guitarist ever. A visionary–took the instrument to whole new levels, blowing the possibilities wide open for the rest of us. Virtually EVERY rock guitarist out there owes something to Jimi (even if they don’t know it or won’t admit it).
Though the video quality isn’t that great, this is one of Jimi’s most famous guitar solos, on the song “Machine Gun.” This version appeared on the album Band Of Gypsies. Check out “the note”–the one that he holds for about five minutes at the beginning of the guitar solo (it starts shortly after the 4:00 mark). And also take note of the sound effects he gets out of his guitar at the end–airplanes, machine guns, helicopters, even crying babies. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
Recommended listening: Jimi Hendrix Axis: Bold as Love.
Guitarist and composer for Led Zeppelin. A master of the extended, fast and furious guitar solo, but also known for incredibly diverse and complex compositions and densely layered studio production. He doesn’t know it, but Jimmy Page practically taught me how to play the guitar when I was a teenager.
I used to have religious experiences while listening to this version of “Dazed And Confused” from the Led Zeppelin movie The Song Remains The Same.
Recommended listening: Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti.
The first guitarist to merge a Latino influence with rock and roll. Carlos has very distinctive tone and phrasing, and is still a very influential player to this day.
Here’s a killer vid of Santana playing “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock. This is the performance that first put him on the map.
Recommended listening: Santana Abraxas.
Derek Trucks is in his 30’s, but he has been “on the scene” since he was a teenager. Some consider him to be Duane Allman (see above) reincarnated. He has certainly taken slide guitar to a whole new level, and since he’s still only in his early 30’s, we can still look forward to a lot of good music from him. Currently on tour with his wife, Susan Tedeschi, in the Tedeschi-Trucks Band.
Here’s one of my favorite songs by the Tedeschi-Trucks band, Midnight In Harlem.
Eddie Van Halen
Lead guitar player for the band Van Halen, Eddie was the original shredder. His jaw-dropping chops and monster tone set the standard for a whole decade’s worth of hair bands in the 80′s. He virtually wrote the book on the technique of finger-tapping on the fretboard–he did not invent the technique, but he definitely brought it to the world on a massive scale.
For full-on shred city, there’s nothing that tops Eddie’s solo on “Eruption.”
Recommended listening: Van Halen Van Halen.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
SRV was one of the great modern-day blues guitarists. His masterful chops and HUGE tone are imitated by countless players today. Every solo he played was a virtual clinic in blues guitar. He died very tragically at a young age in a helicopter crash after a concert in Wisconsin, after having recently gotten clean from a nasty drug and alcohol problem.
Some of SRV’s finest blues playing here, on the song “Texas Flood”.
Recommended listening: SRV Texas Flood.
Hard to know what to say about FZ…interesting that he is the last one on the rock portion of this list. If you’ve checked everyone else out, Zappa will take you to places you never even imagined. Careful, though, he’s not for the faint of heart (listener discretion advised!).
Zappa vids tend to get pulled from YouTube pretty quickly, but we’ll try. Here’s a live version of “Black Napkins” (there’s a backing track for this one here at HCG).
I should also mention that Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil is an INCREDIBLE guitar player, and works very hard at keeping his dad’s music alive with his project called Zappa Plays Zappa. While we’re at it, perhaps you should check out this video of Dweezil going head to head with Steve Vai. Hold on to your hat.
Recommended listening: Frank Zappa Apostrophe and Overnight Sensation.
Great Jazz & Blues Guitarists
Tuck is simply an amazing jazz guitar player. A master at playing melody, chords, and bass all at the same time–practically a one-man band. He is perhaps best known for his duo, Tuck And Patti, and his solo album Reckless Precision is groundbreaking. He also has a great website for us guitar geeks, called Tuck’s Corner. Highly recommended–I have never seen a more detailed analysis of picking techniques.
It’s not the greatest-quality video, but you have GOT to check out Tuck’s take on Stevie Wonder’s song “I Wish.”
Recommended listening: Tuck Andress Reckless Precision
A great player who is difficult to categorize. Usually categorized as a jazz player, he really blends a strong helping of country/folk/bluegrass in his music. Known for his restraint and use of space–I once heard someone say that he plays guitar the way Miles Davis played the trumpet. One of my favorite players, period. And he’s originally from Denver, so he comes through town at least a couple times a year.
Frisell did an album of John Lennon/Beatles covers a few years back. Here’s a nice rendition of In My Life and Strawberry Fields.
Another favorite blues player. Very influential to people like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Over 80 years old, and he still puts on the best live blues concert you will ever see.
Watch Buddy crush this version of “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues.”
My absolute favorite blues guitar player. His delicate touch, melodic sense, and phrasing are as good as it gets. BB died in 2015, having lived over 90 years, and toured until his last year of life. His famous guitar, Lucille, was a Gibson ES-335. A beautiful musician all the way around with a heart full of love and gratitude, and I feel lucky to have seen him in concert many times.
Here’s a vid of BB doing “Sweet Little Angel.” I did a transcription of one of his solos on this song.
Recommended listening: B.B. King Live at the Regal.
I think Julian Lage is officially the youngest player on my list, and might quite possibly be my current favorite guitarist. Just an unbelievable guitarist who never sacrifices beauty for the sake of showing off. I’m particularly struck by the way he seems to play every note with so much intention.
I’m a particular fan of the trio he plays with recently. Here’s his rendition of “Nocturne.”
A virtual living legend if there ever was one, who breaks new ground with every new project that he touches. Particularly known for his work with Shakti and also the Mahavishnu Orchestra, in which he explored the sounds of Eastern music in his blend of jazz fusion. He has 40 years of great music behind him, and he continues to put out great music at every turn that defies categorization. My personal favorite material of McLaughlin’s is the John McLauglhin Trio, where JM played an acoustic guitar, with Trilok Gurtu on percussion and Kai Eckhardt (who more recently played with Fareed Haque in Garaj Mahal) on bass.
Here’s a vid of that trio…check it out, they’re amazing.
Another virtual living legend. His work with Jaco Pastorius (at the tender age of 20) is considered groundbreaking, and he is today considered one of the most influential jazz players. I love the way he includes a good helping of folk/Americana sounds into his music. I’m not sure if I have ever seen a musician whose music pours out of him so fluidly. A perfectly direct connection from his mind to his guitar.
Here’s a vid of one of my favorite Metheny songs, “Bright Size Life.” Just watch this guy’s fingers do the talkin’.
To me, the ultimate in the classic jazz guitar sound. Wes is one of the innovators in bringing the horn-style lines into guitar playing in jazz. An unusual aspect of his playing is that he didn’t use a pick–he just used his right thumb, in order to somewhat mimic the sound of a horn. He was able to alternate pick with the edge of his thumb. He also perfected the technique of using parallel octaves in his solos. He is one of the most influential–arguably THE most influential–jazz guitar players in history.
Wes’ version of John Coltrane’s “Impressions” has always been a favorite of mine.
A pioneer in jazz guitar–most of his work was recorded in the 1930′s and 1940’s. A whole genre of guitar playing, called “gypsy jazz,” is still played to this day, and Django is considered the original master. Scary thing is, he lost use of part of his hand in a childhood accident, and only had two fingers to use on the fretboard. Stunning.
Because his music was so long ago, there’s very little good video of him. But there’s some cool stuff out there, like this one.
If you drew a line from jazz to rock, Scofield would fall a little closer to rock than most jazz players, but he is a jazz master as well. An alumnus of the Miles Davis band in the 70′s. A great player to check out if you want an introduction to jazz. Some of my favorite Scofield material is when he played with the acid jazz trio Medeski, Martin, and Wood. I happened to meet Sco at the airport one morning in Baltimore, and had a great conversation with him–one of the highlights of my touring life.
Here’s the title track to the first album Scofield released with MMW, “A Go-Go.”
A favorite jazz player of mine, another alumnus of the University of Miles Davis. Mind-blowing chops and a beautiful sense of melody. He plays frequently in small clubs in Manhattan.
Lots of good video of Stern out there. Check out this one w/ Dennis Chambers on drums.
Great Acoustic Guitarists
One of the best guitarists in the bluegrass scene today (arguably THE best). A technical master of the instrument, particularly adept at cross-picking, a style that is based on a banjo roll, and creates a very full, ringing sound.
I love Grier’s version of “The Red-Haired Boy.” In 7/4 time, if you were wondering.
Hedges revolutionized the acoustic guitar world with his unorthodox techniques like playing over the neck, fretboard tapping, using the guitar as a percussion instrument, etc. Sadly, Hedges died in a car accident in 1999. But his albums Breakfast in the Field and Aerial Boundaries were groundbreaking when they came out in the 80′s.
Hedges pulls out all the stops in this version of his song “Aerial Boundaries.”
One of the masters of bluegrass guitar–few people can even touch his chops or his melodic sense. He is also well known for being at the cutting edge of the “newgrass” movement, where bluegrass musicians began to incorporate non-traditional sounds into the music.
Here’s a great version of Tony playing the Gordon Lightfoot song “Cold On The Shoulder.”
A “granddaddy” of bluegrass and folk guitar. If you want to learn to play bluegrass, start with Doc and you’ll be just fine. Doc passed away in May, 2012 at the ripe old age of 89. But he left behind well over half a century of great music, and has influenced countless musicians. I’m happy to have gotten to see him play a couple of times.
Here’s Doc playing one of the tunes he made famous, Deep River Blues.
Honestly I’m less familiar with Clarence than I should be, but I am well aware of his historical importance to flatpicking. I see him as a direct inspiration to David Grier (see above). His crosspicking and hybrid picking are stunning. He is also known for his electric playing (actually played with The Byrds on a couple albums), and he is partially responsible for the invention of the “B-Bender,” which helped his Telecaster sound like a pedal steel guitar.
This video of Clarence playing “I Am A Pilgrim” and “Soldier’s Joy” is almost hard to watch, it’s so good.