The 25 Best Rock Guitarists Of All-Time

25. Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine)

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Kevin Nixon/Metal Hammer Magazine via Getty Images
Kevin Nixon/Metal Hammer Magazine via Getty Images

Deeply influenced by heavy metal, Morello took that inspiration, along with his fancy for hip-hop, funk and even some electronica, and created a sound that drove Rage Against the Machine to world-wide success. However, he’s also capable of keeping it mainstream, as was evident by appearing on stage with Bruce Springsteen on several occasions. Morello’s melting-pot guitar sound is also an influence for a new age of musicians.

24. Joe Satriani

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Photo by Xavi Torrent/WireImage/Getty Images
Photo by Xavi Torrent/WireImage/Getty Images

He started as a guitar instructor, lending knowledge and guidance to some of rock’s top guitarists like Steve Vai and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. Satriani has won 15 Grammy Awards and is perhaps the greatest instrumental rock guitarist of all-time. He’s also toured with the likes of Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple, and is a member of super-group Chickenfoot with Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith.

23. Frank Zappa (Frank Zappa)

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Rob Verhorst/Redferns
Rob Verhorst/Redferns

The inspirations seemed endless for Zappa, who incorporated everything from blues to classical stylings into his guitar playing. He could use distortion (“Willie the Pimp”) or go completely epic while still keeping things rather simple (“Inca Roads”). The mark of a true guitar hero, and a treat to see live.

22. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones)

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Graham Wiltshire/Redferns
Graham Wiltshire/Redferns

The Rolling Stones’ ageless wonder isn’t that technically gifted, but his versatility and feel for the instrument is hard to match. Whether it’s rock, blues or country, Richards has pulled it off. He’s responsible for some of rock’s most memorable riffs as featured in “(I Can’t Go No) Satisfaction” and “Start Me Up.” His guitar can be a little raunchy (“Bitch”), too. The legend – and the man – live on.

21. Neil Young (Neil Young)

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Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The Hall of Famer might be best known for his songwriting prowess, unique voice and acoustic presence, but Young can shred electronically. His solos can be downright relentless and really never played the same way twice. Or least that’s the impression left on the ear. “Rockin’ in the Free World” might be a fan favorite, but Young seems at his plugged-in best on 1977’s “Like a Hurricane.”

20. George Harrison (The Beatles)

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Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Never flashy or over the top, the Beatle was simply a solid guitarist. He didn’t bounce around on stage, yet managed to remain a strong presence while staring down at his hands and guitar. From the opening cords of “Day Tripper” to the bluesy “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” off the White Album, Harrison had his own share of influence on rock guitarists that followed.

19. Angus Young (AC/DC)

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Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

In addition to being one of the great rock guitarists, Young is a true showman. From the school-boy outfit to the stage-long duck walk, the AC/DC co-founder literally walks the walk while letting his guitar do the talking. From his classic solo work on “Back in Black” to the bluesy grit of “Whole Lotta Rosie,” Young is a true legend.

18. David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)

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Larry Hulst/Getty Images
Larry Hulst/Getty Images

It’s possible Pink Floyd’s Gilmour is playing somewhere right now. His solos can drag on but never seem to have fans looking at their watches. Like most rock guitar greats, Gilmour harbors a blues influence. He’s technically sound while still keeping the emotion high. The epic, multi-part “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and The Wall highlight, “Comfortably Numb,” rank at the top of Gilmour’s best.

17. Pete Townshend (The Who)

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Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Ebet Roberts/Redferns

There’s more to The Who legend then his windmill-wielding right arm. An intelligent musician, Townshend seems to have a plan for everything he does while on the guitar. He can play with power, but is also known for his brilliant chord work. A song like “I Can’t Explain” seems simple enough, but is a subtle example of Townshend’s talent without trying too hard.

16. Brian May (Queen)

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Rob Verhorst/Redferns
Rob Verhorst/Redferns

One of the most recognizable guitar sounds belongs to the Queen hero. Freddie Mercury was the show-stopper of the group, but May was the musical genius. His playing is often complex, but hooky at the same time. Queen’s music is often steeped in theatrics, but remains straight-forward. Stripped down tracks like “Stone Cold Crazy” and “Keep Yourself Alive” are rock played in their purest form.

15. Randy Rhoads (Quiet Riot/Ozzy Osbourne)

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Fin Costello/Redferns
Fin Costello/Redferns

To this day, rock and heavy metal fans wonder what heights Rhoads could have reached if his life was not taken in a seemingly preventable plane crash in 1982 at age 25. Classically trained on the guitar, Rhoads was a virtuoso of the instrument and taught guitar. Despite co-founding 1980’s pop-metal staple Quiet Riot, the highlight of Rhoads’ short career was with Ozzy Osbourne. His exceptional talent lives on in the popular Osbourne cut “Crazy Train” and equally stellar “Steal Away (The Night).

14. Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)

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Erica Echenberg/Redferns
Erica Echenberg/Redferns

The Black Sabbath legend might not be the best guitarist of all-time, but he’s certainly one of the most important. The master of the riff, Iommi’s work often has a hint of the blues. but in that, heavy, dark way. It’s safe to say his sound influenced a generation of rock and heavy metal guitarists. The 1970 Sabbath smash “Iron Man” is a perfect example of the left-handers’ talent all wrapped up in one gem.

13. Slash (Guns N’ Roses)

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Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

He’ll always be linked with Guns N’ Roses’ staples “Sweet Child O’Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle,” but one Saul Hudson can pretty much do it all. His more melodic work with Axl & Co. on “November Rain” and “Estranged” truly shows his talent and versatility. He’ll also play with anybody who asks and has enjoyed a rather underrated solo career.

12. Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple)

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Hideo Kojima/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Hideo Kojima/Shinko Music/Getty Images

He can be domineering within the confines of a group, but there really is no arguing Blackmore’s talent. The Deep Purple star helped define the hard-rock/heavy-metal guitar sound while also mixing in some blues and raw aggression. His performance on the Deep Purple classic “Highway Star” is the gem of his resume.

11. Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)

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Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

The Dire Straits frontman might not be a household name to millennial rockers, but he should be. Rock fans were first introduced to Knopfler and his non-pick playing talent on the 1978 hit “Sultans of Swing.” It’s quick, clean, bluesy and soulful all at once. Quite versatile, Knopfler’s vocals, especially when in story-telling mode as on “Romeo and Juliet,” meshed well with his playing.

10. Prince (Prince)

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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It’s a wonder why the late superstar wasn’t remembered more for his exemplary guitar playing. A good chunk of his radio hits didn’t feature his work on the strings, but Prince’s playing on “Purple Rain,” is as emotional as it gets – and remains one of pop-rock’s true great moments. Prince also shines on the severely underrated “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.”

9. Stevie Ray Vaughan (Stevie Ray Vaughan)

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Ebet Roberts/Redferns
Ebet Roberts/Redferns

Above anything else, Vaughan was an instrumentalist. It was as if the guitar was an extension of his own body. He played with passion and emotion, often visible through his facial expression. Vaughan defined blues rock at the height of his career, one that was cut short by a fatal helicopter crash in 1990. “Cold Shot” is a gem in his legacy.

8. Carlos Santana (Santana)

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Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

The king of the Latin-influenced, rock sound, Santana is a player first and foremost. He was experimental thanks to a number of influences, most notably jazz and the blues. He fused both, along with some heavy African beats and plenty of soul, to form a sound that was groundbreaking in the late 1960s and into the ’70s. The popular “Black Magic Woman” and “Soul Sacrifice” are two of Santana’s greatest guitar achievements.

7. Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers Band)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A motorcycle crash claimed Allman’s life at age 24, but his legacy as the driving force of the Allman Brothers Band and a highly sought-after studio musician lives on. Allman, who befriended Eric Clapton and played on the Derek and the Dominos classic, “Layla,” was remarkable on the slide guitar and never shied away from an improvisational solo.

6. Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds/Jeff Beck Group)

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Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

One of the three famed guitarists to play for The Yardbirds, Beck can master any type of guitar-playing style and pretty much has done so during his illustrious career. Still playing into his 70s, Beck is known for his exceptional instrumental work. It’s been said that trying to play like Beck is a waste of time because most can’t do it justice. He’s also played with many of the biggest music legends, from Rod Stewart to Stevie Wonder to Mick Jagger to Tina Turner.

5. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen)

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Richard E. Aaron/Redferns
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

A rising star in the late 1970s, Van Halen was the guitar king of the ’80s MTV generation. However, it was his performances on Van Halen’s earlier stuff like “Eruption” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” that introduced hard-rock fans to this innovator. His fingers should be dipped in gold and preserved for guitarists to praise. Many have tried to follow in Eddie’s footsteps, but have any really come close?

4. Chuck Berry (Chuck Berry)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The 24 others included on this list, and pretty much anybody who ever intended to be a serious rock guitarist, can draw some inspiration from this icon. “Rock and Roll Music,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Roll Over Beethoven” are proof that Berry is Rock 101. He turned the music world on to solos, and mixed jazz and blues to form a sound that seemed unearthly in the 1950s. A great showman, Berry is an innovator in every sense of the word.

3. Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds/Cream/Derek and the Dominos/Eric Clapton)

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Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Whether playing with The Yardbirds, Cream, Derek and the Dominos or on his own, the man known as “Slowhand” is a three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Born in England, but schooled on the blues, Clapton has given us timeless gems like “Layla” and popularized Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” He’s considered one of the most influential guitarists of all-time.

2. Jimmy Page (The Yardbirds/Led Zeppelin)

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Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

For as great and innovative a guitarist as Page is, he’s just as respected for his work as a composer. First, with the Yardbirds, then, of course, Led Zeppelin. Some of his best work can be found on Zeppelin’s self-titled 1969 debut. Rock fans were introduced to a sound that was heavy, dark, sometimes fast and usually emotional — all while not being too complex. It’s hard to pick even a handful of examples of Page’s best stuff, because his innovation can be heard throughout Zeppelin’s catalog.

1. Jimi Hendrix (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)

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Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images
Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images

From the standpoint of pure playing, ability and creativity, there is none better than Hendrix. More amazing, the world enjoyed his remarkable talent for only a few short years. However, the legend has served as inspiration on some level to just about any rocker who picked up a guitar after his 1970 death. Whether it was the iconic “Purple Haze” or the beautiful “The Wind Cries Mary,” Hendrix’s innovative style that took blues and jazz guitar playing to another level will never die.