Hey– I’m going off the beaten path here a little this week. It’s time to talk about my favorite guitar players…
A major part of becoming a good musician is listening to the greats. The importance of actively listening to music cannot be overstated. I’m talking about really focusing on what you are listening to. There is no substitute for this practice. In general, musicians should try to listen to as much music as possible. As guitar players, great guitarists are a great place to start this listening exercise. Although it is challenging to narrow this group to only ten, this list will be a great starting point. Here are the then guitar players you should know and listen to.
Nobody has had more influence on the electric guitar than Jimi Hendrix. He pushed the boundaries of the instrument with the extensive use of guitar pedals, distortion, wah wah, and stereophonic phasing. And he was arguably the only one doing this at the time and with that level of musicality. Though widely imitated, his vocabulary, blues feel and overall ferocity as a player remain unparalleled. He recorded masterpieces such as Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland. Legions of guitar players have been heavily influenced by Hendrix, and rightly so.
Eddie Van Halen
Listening to Van Halen will have either one of two effects. You might be severely inspired to practice hard and become better. Or… you will slowly put down the guitar and be demoralized. Not since Hendrix had a player sounded so explosive and in-control at the same time. Eddie Van Halen’s use of double hand tapping, harmonics, and just sheer technical prowess and musicality are a thing to marvel at. Check out Van Halen. It features “Eruption”, considered one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
Segovia took the classical guitar and made it a legitimate concert instrument. A virtuoso, Andres Segovia also thought many students, some of whom became world-class guitarists themselves. Besides putting the classical guitar on par with other orchestra instruments, Segovia also contributed to the modern romantic repertoire. He did this mainly through transcriptions of baroque music pieces.
Paul Reed Smith once said: “In the 80s, you could not give away a Les Paul. Nobody wanted them. Then Slash burst into the scene and the rest is history”. Slash is considered one of the best guitar players ever. His riff and solos have become legendary for exhibiting a great deal of sensibility, melodic sense, and power. Many have tried to recreate his tone, particularly as it was recorded in Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction. His solos on “November Rain” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” are perhaps among the most transcribed in the past 30 years.
He could make one note reach the bleachers in any arena, as no other player could. B.B. King’s feel and touch remain widely revered to this day. The undisputed King of the blues, B.B. King had a career that lasted over 60 years. His vibrato and bending are legendary and heavily imitated today. With almost 50 albums released, he was one of the most prolific guitar players ever. Check out the album B.B. King Live in Cook County Jail for some of the best blues playing you’ll ever hear.
A renowned studio musician before stardom, Jimmy Page founded arguably the greatest rock band in history: Led Zeppelin. A master at the instrument, Page also had an uncanny ability to come up with some of the greatest riffs in all of Rock N’ Roll. Before Led Zeppelin, he was part of The Yardbirds. Jimmy Page has been inducted into the Rock N’ Roll hall of fame twice (as a member of the two legendary bands). Check out Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin IV.
Perhaps the most technically proficient guitar player ever. Alan Holdsworth had an advanced understanding of music, theory, chords, and scales. His extremely polished legato playing style combined with his use of very advanced chords and scales to make him arguably the best guitar player in recent memory. Holdsworth’s playing was so incredible and advanced that he makes major shredders feel like they’re just learning the minor pentatonic scale. Check out Secrets and Live in Japan 1984.
One of the greatest blues players to emerge from England. Besides a prolific and extremely successful solo career, Eric Clapton was also part of legendary band The Yardbirds and the ultimate power trio: Cream. Aside from being a fantastic guitar player, Clapton is also renowned for his songwriting ability and output. He is also the only individual to be inducted three separate times at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
With a massive tone and incredible feel, Stevie Ray Vaughan is recognized as one of the greatest bluesmen ever. Heavily influenced by Hendrix, Vaughan was able to create his own unique style of playing that would in turn influence generations. He became a Blues staple in the 1980s and worked with several other great blues guitar players, including B.B. King. Check out his debut Texas Flood and the follow up Couldn’t Stand the Weather.
A prodigy, Pat Metheny is regarded as one of Jazz’ greatest guitar players. But his reach goes far beyond that. He has worked with legends such as Joni Mitchell and Antonio Carlos Jobim. A true master of the instrument, Metheny combines an extremely developed technique and knowledge of the instrument with soaring melodies and eloquence in the guitar. Check out Bright Size Life and One Quiet Night.
Wrapping it all up
It’s very challenging putting together a list of just 10 great guitar players. Do yourself a favor and go listen to these and many more. See what you like, what you gravitate towards. Explore, listen more, read about them and better yet… transcribe their work. Regardless of your level, you can do this. If you cannot learn a full solo yet, perhaps you can start with just a lick or the melody to one of their songs. Whatever your level may be, listen and listen hard.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned and…