Eddie Van Halen – Born to a Dutch family with an affinity for classical music, Eddie himself strongly preferred hard rock, where he established a highly influential name as nothing short of a legend on the guitar, together with the band Van Halen. Around the late 1970s and the start of the 1980s, Van Halen was among the biggest and most known bands on the entire planet, and Eddie Van Halen became well known for his solos, instantly recognized by his fans. It’s curious to note that his most famous solo was actually not part of his performance with Van Halen, but when he was playing the guitar for Beat It by Michael Jackson.
Slash – There’s a lot to be said about Slash in terms of influencing guitar fans and players. He’s one of the most recognizable icons in the world of rock, not just in terms of playing style but appearance as well. Donning his top hat atop his long black hair, he played in a way that makes many people refer to him as the absolute best guitarist from the last two decades. His best known work is for Guns ‘n’ Roses.
Chuck Berry – We can’t really omit Chuck Berry when we’re talking about legends in rock and roll. Even if you weren’t born during his era, you can still probably recognize his work in the intro of Johnny B. Goode – not necessarily associate it with Chuck’s name, but you’ll still recognize the piece when you hear it.
Jimmy Page – One of the greatest icons of rock ever, a sheer legend on the guitar, Jimmy Page began his career with the Yardbirds. The group was home to three incredibly popular and successful legends on the guitar, namely Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck – all of them played lead guitar, and even though Clapton left the band before Page and Beck joined it, all three have managed to carve their name in the band’s history. The New Yardbirds evolved into something even greater and better known, Led Zeppelin – the final step before truly taking over the world.
Stevie Ray Vaughn – It should be noted that not all of the greatest icons on the guitar were involved with rock and roll, and many can say that the legend of blues should be ranked higher on the list of top greatest guitarists of all time. Rock and roll fans mourned his tragic death in a helicopter accident deeply, and many of them still do – but we’ll always have his legendary works like Pride and Joy, and Texas Flood, to keep the memory of him alive and well.
B. B. King – Yet another legendary name in blues, B. B. King has left his footsteps in all the genres you can think of. He began his career in 1946, and he’s still pulling some great shows even today, more than 60 years later! He’s released and worked on more songs than we can possibly list here, but some of his best known works include “Woke Up This Morning,” “Ten Long Years” as well as “Whole Lotta Love.” And really, no matter what type of music you prefer, you just have to sit down and enjoy the sounds of B. B. King sometime.
Eric Clapton – A guitarist present on pretty much everyone’s top 10 list, and with a well-deserved spot there. He played lead for bands like The Yardbirds as well as Cream – and Clapton proved that he was able to play any style with great skill and grace. He performed “Layla” with Derek and the Dominoes, and it’s considered his signature hit.
Duane Allman – Another tragic story of a great star that was taken away from us by a tragic accident, Duane Allman’s expertise with the guitar is still remembered today, earning him a well-deserved spot around the top of this list. He founded The Allman Brothers Band and played lead guitar for them – and his great skills in improvising as well as his bottleneck style made him an eternal legend in rock and roll.
Robert Johnson – Even though he only lived to the age of 27, the incredible musical legend of Robert Johnson still prevails today. He was known as The Grandfather of Rock and Roll, and his style has directly influenced the playing styles of many other legends of his time, including Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.
Jimi Hendrix – Nobody probably questioned who would take the top spot in this list. There’s just something about the guitar that lends towards a short lifespan, as Jimi Hendrix passed away in 1970 under circumstances that are yet to be cleared up perfectly. He was just 27 at the time, but he had already pioneered the technique of guitar feedback (by using overdriven amps), and he had released huge hits like “Purple Haze” and “Fire” which still get featured on the radio quite often. The others on this list are good guitarists too and they deserve their credit for that – but Jimi Hendrix still prevailed over everyone you could possibly name.
What’s so unique about Jimi’s style was that he used to play lead and rhythm guitar simultaneously all the time, and he still managed to do a better job at both of those than most people do with just one of the two. “Little Wing” is a common favorite, though you can just as easily pick up any random song by him to hear what the guitar is truly capable of.
Some names that didn’t make it to a special place in this list but still deserve a mention include Mark Knopfler, who proved that it was possible to make a memorable guitar sound without overusing various effects, Keith Richards who was well known for his ability to turn a rhythm part into something thrilling, and The Edge who might not have been a soloist but on the other hand he knew exactly what a song needed to make it perfect and complete. Les Paul also deserves a mention for being one of the greatest of our generation, with technique and skills far surpassing those of the majority of his peers.