Top 100 Guitarists

Patrick Goggins
15 min readNov 21, 2023

HOLLYWOOD, FL — Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the top 100 guitarists is a slap in the face to anyone who’s ever bent a string. It has more to do with promoting their favorite artists than it does with actual guitar merit. John Lennon? Paul Simon? Really? Yes, they were great songwriters, but they’d barely cut it on any given Saturday at the Guitar Center.

No, guitar playing is both art and science. The preponderance of expensive gear is vital to the sound, but it means nothing without the feel of the fingers. In the hands of a master, the guitar can transcend electromagnetics.

And yes, lists suck. This list will piss off just about everyone who reads it. But as they say, if you don’t like it, write your own. So here it is, my top 100 guitarists.

1 Jimi Hendrix

b. 11/27/1942, Seattle, WA

d. 9/18/1970, Kensington, London (age 27)

The greatest.

2 Stevie Ray Vaughan

b. 10/3/1954, Dallas, TX

d. 8/30/1990, East Troy, WI (age 35)

If Jimi had a brother.

3 Jerry Garcia

b. 8/1/1942, San Francisco, CA

d. 8/9/1995, Forest Knolls, CA (age 53)

Describes himself as lazy, then writes twelve-minute, three-part suites.

4 Edward Van Halen

b. 1/26/1955, Nijmegen, Netherlands

d. 10/6/2020, Santa Monica, CA (age 65)

“Eruption” was an outtake from him practicing.

5 Jimmy Page

b. 1/9/1944, Heston, London

d. (age 79)

The wizard on the Misty Mountain.

6 Duane Allman / Dickey Betts

The sum is greater than the addends, #1. Duane:

b. 11/20/1946, Nashville TN

d. 11/1/1971, Macon GA (age 24)

Betcha didn’t know he played slide on “Layla.” Oh, you did?

Dickey:

b. 12/12/1943, West Palm Beach, FL

d. (age 79)

Duane used to say that Dickey was the good one. He was Ginger to Duane’s Fred, doing everything Duane did, four steps below.

7 Prince

b. 6/7/1958, Minneapolis, MN

d. 4/21/2016, Chanhassen, MN (age 58)

Purple cosmonaut, he gave it all.

8 Chet Atkins

b. 6/20/1924, Luttrell, TN

d. 6/30/2001, Nashville, TN (age 77)

Asthma made him sleep in a straight-backed chair, so he’d fall asleep every night with his guitar on his lap.

9 Mark Knopfler

b. 8/12/1949, Glasgow, Scotland

d. (age 67)

That growl in “Brothers in Arms” is the best guitar sound ever.

10 Richard Thompson

b. 4/3/1949, Notting Hill Gate, London

d. (age 74)

Can make a guitar cry.

11 Carlos Santana

b. 7/20/1947, Autlan, Mexico

d. (age 76)

Mystic man.

12 Steve Howe

b. 4/8/1947, Holloway, UK

d. (age 76)

The starship trooper.

13 Clarence White

b. 6/7/1944, Lewiston, ME

d. 7/14/1973, Palmdale, CA (age 29)

Session player, picker, probably taught Roger McGuinn everything he knows. Hugely under-rated.

14 Robert Fripp

b. 5/16/1946, Wimborne Minster, Dorset

d. (age 77)

The guitarist equivalent of a Porsche Carrera GT Edo.

15 Scotty Moore

b. 12/27/1931, Gadsen, TN

d. 6/28/2016, Nashville, TN (age 84)

There would be no Elvis without him.

16 Roy Clark

b. 4/15/1933, Meherrin, VA

d. 11/15/2018, Tulsa, OK (age 85)

Crackers can shred too.

17 Frank Zappa

b. 12/21/1940, Baltimore, MD

d. 12/4/1993, Los Angeles, CA (age 52)

Free-ranging wild man, floating in the air.

18 Trey Anastasio

b. 9/30/1964, Fort Worth, TX

d. (age 59)

When there are no rules, there are no limits.

19 Brian Setzer

b. 4/10/1959, Massapequa, NY

d. (age 64)

A cartoon who’s actually better than his heroes.

20 James Burton

b. 8/21/1939, Dubberly, LA

d. (age 84)

Elvis’ side-man, session man, the Telecaster king of twang.

21 Adrian Belew

b. 12/23/1949, Covington, KY

d. (age 73)

Psycho-magician who’s played with everyone yet somehow has managed to stay under the radar.

22 David Gilmour

b. 3/6/1946, Cambridge, UK

d. (age 77)

Clean, economical delivery gives him a big punch.

23 Jeff Beck

b. 6/24/1944, Wallington, London

d. 1/10/2023, Riverhall, Wadhurst, East Sussex (age 78)

Was probably the kid who always skipped class, and got As anyway.

24 Albert King

b. 4/25/1923, Indianola MS

d. 12/21/1992, Memphis TN (age 69)

The first of the Three Kings.

25 Neil Young

b. 11/12/1945, Toronto, Canada

d. (age 78)

Chaos, the father of flannel, taking overdrive to its outer limits.

26 Buddy Guy

b. 7/30/1936, Lettsworth LA

d. (age 87)

Jimi and Stevie both bowed to him.

27 Derek Trucks

b. 6/8/1979, Jacksonville, FL

d. (age 44)

Jacksonville, the second generation.

28 Brian May

b. 7/19/1947, Hampton, Middlesex

d. (age 76)

The secret of his sound is a stack of AC30s and a sixpence coin…and of course the Red Special.

29 Lindsey Buckingham

b. 10/3/1949, Palo Alto, CA

d. (age 74)

Pop’s mad scientist. Plays with his fingers and a Rick Turner.

30 Danny Gatton

b. 9/4/1945, Washington, D.C.

d. 10/4/1994, Newberg, MD (age 49)

This favorite son of D.C. is the most underappreciated guitarist on the list. Why do Telecaster guys’ stories almost always seem to end badly?

31 Bo Diddley

b. 12/30/1928, McComb, MS

d. 6/2/2008, Archer, FL (age 79)

The sound of happiness.

32 Tom Morello

b. 5/30/1964, Harlem, NY

d. (age 59)

Born in Harlem, went to Harvard. He makes his Frankenstein “Arm The Homeless” guitar sound like the cockpit of an alien spaceship.

33 Duane Eddy

b. 4/26/1938, Corning, NY

d. (age 85)

Made playing the guitar cool.

34 B.B. King

b. 9/16/1925, Berclair, MS

d. 5/14/2015, Las Vegas, NV (age 89)

He once rushed back into a club in Twist, Arkansas to retrieve his guitar. The club had been set on fire by two men fighting over a woman. He named the guitar Lucille as a reminder not to fight over women or run into burning buildings.

35 Steve Cropper

b. 10/21/1941, Dora MO

d. (age 74)

There’s fever in the funk house.

36 Pete Townshend

b. 5/19/1945, Chiswick, London

d. (age 78)

Les Paul? Check. Hiwatt stack? Check. Sad eyes set for chaos and destruction. Go.

37 George Harrison

b. 2/25/1943, Liverpool, England

d. 11/29/2001, Los Angeles, CA (age 58)

Peaked early, but changed the game.

38 Elmore James

b. 1/27/1918, Richland, MS

d. 5/24/1963, Chicago,IL (age 45)

King of the Slide Guitar.

39 Django Reinhardt

b. ?

d. 5/16/1953, Fontainebleu, France

Gypsy heart. The last two fingers of his left hand were paralyzed in a fire. Everything you hear is from his index and middle finger.

40 Andres Segovia

b. 2/21/1893, Linares, Spain

d. 6/2/1987, Madrid, Spain (age 94)

That antique chair at your grandparent’s house you were afraid to sit on.

41 Ry Cooder

b. 3/15/1947, Los Angeles, CA

d. (age 76)

Steel and wood, spirit and sweat.

42 Billy Gibbons

b. 12/16/1949, Houston, TX

d. (age 73)

Texas blues with sunglasses. Plays 7 gauge strings!

43 Keith Richards / Ron Wood

The sum is greater than the addends, #2: Keith:

b. 12/18/1943, Dartford, England

d. never (age 72)

Number one in our hearts, it was always about the music. My hero.

Ronnie:

b. 6/1/1947, Hillingdon, Uxbridge

d. (age 69)

The yin to Keith’s yang.

44 Muddy Waters

b. 4/4/1915, Issaquena County, MS

d. 4/30/1983, Westmont, IL (age 68)

From the Stovall Plantation to the South Side of Chicago, his story is the story of the black man in America. We owe his maternal uncle Joe Grant a debt of gratitude. Grant bought Muddy’s first electric guitar. When Muddy plugged in, the black man learned how to get loud and be heard. Without Muddy there would be no MLK.

45 Chuck Berry

b. 10/18/1926, St. Louis, MO

d. 3/18/2017, Wentzville, MO (age 90)

Made the 1, 4, 5 what it is today. Made the ES 335 and the Fender Twin the classic rig.

46 John Lee Hooker

b. 8/22/1917, Tutweiler, MS

d. 6/21/2001, Los Altos, CA (age 83)

Stoned swamp boogie.

47 Bonnie Raitt

b. 11/8/1949, Burbank, CA

d. (age 74)

The sweetest slide smells like fresh cotton sheets.

48 Lowell George

b. 4/13/1945, Hollywood, CA

d. 6/29/1979, Arlington, VA (age 34)

Swamp-infected boogie groove slide monster, with enough sustain to hold a note for years.

49 Johnny Winter

b. 2/23/1944, Beaumont, TX

d. 7/16/2014, Zurich, Switzerland (age 70)

The ghost zombie of the blues.

50 Link Wray

b. 5/2/1929, Dunn, NC

d. 11/5/2005, Copenhagen, Denmark (age 76)

Hot blood cool licks.

51 Albert Collins

b. 10/1/1932, Leona, TX

d. 11/24/1993, Las Vegas, NV (age 61)

Fire hot and ice cool.

52 Ted Nugent

b. 12/13/1948, Redford, MI

d. (age 74)

Riding feedback on a wave of hyperactive attention deficit order.

53 Alex Lifeson

b. 8/27/1953, Fernie, B.C.

d. (age 70)

The light box you made with tin foil and Plexiglas back in middle school. His birth name is Alexandar Sivojinovich.

54 Mike Campbell

b. 2/1/1950, Jacksonville, FL

d. (age 73)

Like a gleaming new T-bird, minimalism proves less is more.

55 Peter Buck

b. 12/6/1956, Berkeley, CA

d. (age 67)

A Packard phaeton covered with Kudzu.

56 Johnny Marr

b. 10/31/1963, Ardwick, Manchester

d. (age 60)

A sonic bruise.

57 Roger McGuinn

b. 7/13/1942, Chicago, IL

d. (age 81)

Take a twelve string Rickenbacker, add lots and lots of compression, and magic happens.

58 John Frusciante

b. 3/5/1970, Queens, NY

d. (age 53)

Psychedelic funkster.

59 T-Bone Walker

b. 5/28/1910, Linden, TX

d. 3/16/1975, Los Angeles, CA (age 64)

Big city sound with a country soul.

60 Otis Rush

b. 4/29/1934, Philadelphia, MS

d. 6/29/2018, Chicago, IL (age 84)

Think smoky blues club with a hangover and a bad attitude.

61 Joe Walsh

b. 11/20/1947, Wichita, KS

d. (age 76)

The Eagles’ Neil Young, bad boy with drop-d tuning.

62 Mike Bloomfield

b. 7/28/1943, Chicago, IL

d. 2/15/1981, San Francisco, CA (age 37)

The Jew with ‘tude, the Tele on Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

63 Nels Cline

b. 1/4/1956, Los Angeles, CA

d. (age 67)

His gas and Tweedy’s oil make the Wilco engine roar.

64 Rory Gallagher

b. 3/2/1948, Ballyshannon, Ireland

d. 6/14/1995, London, England (age 47)

An Irishman who could play circles around a certain, un-named Englishman.

65 Dick Dale

b. 5/4/1937, Boston, MA

d. 3/16/2019, Loma Linda, CA (age 81)

A walking, (barely) breathing 1949 Ford Woody.

66 Vernon Reid

b. 8/22/1958, London, England

d. (age 65)

If LSD could play guitar, this is what it would sound like.

67 Joe Satriani

b. 7/15/1956, Westbury, NY

d. (age 67)

Shred on, fast and precise.

68 Slash

b. 7/23/1965, Hampstead, London

d. (age 58)

Like puddin’, sweet sweet puddin’.

69 Jimi Fiano

b. (?)

d. (age ?)

South Florida living legend.

70 Joe Bonamassa

b. 5/8/1977, New Hartford, NY

d. (age 46)

Opened for B.B. King at the age of 12, emulates Britrockers.

71 Curtis Mayfield

b. 6/3/1942, Chicago, IL

d. 12/26/1999, Roswell, GA (age 57)

The genius of cool.

72 Robby Krieger

b. 1/8/1946, Los Angeles, CA

d. (age 77)

Rider of the cosmic wave.

73 Glen Campbell

b. 4/22/1936, Delight, AR

d. 8/8/2017, Nashville, TN (age 81)

Session guy who deserved the big time, everyone’s best friend.

74 Al DiMieola

b. 7/22/1954, Jersey City, NJ

d. (age 69)

Fast can be cool. Made it okay to have potted plants onstage.

75 Peter Frampton

b. 4/22/1950, Bromley, London

d. (age 73)

Dancing through a field of daisies, happy happy happy.

76 Robert Johnson

b. 5/8/1911, Hazelhurst, MS

d. 8/16/1938, Greenwood, MS (age 27)

The godhead, where blues and rock n roll are consubstantial. Unschooled, unpolished, and unhindered. Founder of the 27 club.

77 Tom Scholz

b. 3/10/1947, Ottowa Hills, OH

d. (age 76)

It’s all about the sound. His is like a jet engine on crack.

78 GE Smith

b. 1/27/1952, Stroudsburg, PA

d. (age 71)

Musical director, played with everyone from Dylan to Hall & Oates. Was married to Gilda Radner. Known for his rictus smile, but he’s actually a laid-back surfer dude type.

79 Hubert Sumlin

b. 11/16/1931, Greenwood, MS

d. 12/4/2011, Wayne, NJ (age 80)

Howlin’ Wolf’s go-to guy, the father of Chicago Blues.

80 The Edge

b. 8/8/1961, Barking, Essex

d. (age 62)

So many pedals the guitar almost plays itself, but the sonic wall is as big as it is mean.

81 Ali Farka Toure

b. 10/31/1939, Timbuktu, Mali

d. 3/7/2006, Balako, Mali (age 67)

The Mali magician.

82 Robert Cray

b. 8/1/1953, Columbus, GA

d. (age 70)

Blues with a nice haircut.

83 Freddy King

b. 9/3/1934, Gilmer, TX

d. 12/28/1976, Dallas, TX (age 42)

Hard charging groove-master.

84 John McLaughlin

b. 3/29/1927, Doncaster, West Riding

d. (age 89)

The Gene Kelly of guitarists.

85 Mike McCready / Stone Gossard

The sum is greater than the addends, #3: McCready:

b. 4/5/1966, Pensacola, FL

d. (age 57)

Anger and flannel keeps Pearl Jam perennially relevant. Pt. 1

Gossard:

b. 7/20/1966, Seattle, WA

d. (age 57)

Anger and flannel keeps Pearl Jam perennially relevant. Pt. 2

86 Paco De Lucia

b. 12/21/1947, Algeciras, Spain

d. 2/25/2014, Playa de Carmen, Mexico (age 66)

The flamenco fly.

87 Warren Haynes

b. 4/6/1960, Asheville, NC

d. (age 63)

Post-garage Southern chum bucket.

88 Eddie Hazel

b. 4/10/1950, Brooklyn, NY

d.12/23/1992, Plainfield, NJ (age 42)

Space maggot, trippin’ all over the place.

89 Angus Young

b. 3/31/1955, Glasgow, Scotland

d. (age 68)

Post-apocalyptic schoolboy’s revenge.

90 Joe Perry

b. 9/10/1950, Lawrence, MS

d. (age 73)

Keith’s cool and Ronnie’s licks.

91 Gary Clark, Jr.

b. 2/15/1984, Austin, TX

d. (age 39)

This son of Austin sharpened up at Antone’s, where SRV got his chops.

92 Jesse Ed Davis

b. 9/21/1944, Norman, OK

d. 6/22/1988 Venice, CA (age 43)

First Nation with the killer slide.

93 Roy Buchanan

b. 9/23/1939, Ozark, AR

d. 8/14/1988, Fairfax, VA (age 48)

Telecaster guys are sui generis. Here is the master, straight outta Arkansas. Played with Ronnie Hawkins and taught Robbie Robertson everything he knows.

94 Pat Metheny

b. 8/12/1954, Lee’s Summit, MO

d. (age 69)

Slick sound stylings and super string songs.

95 Lee Ritenour

b. 1/11/1952. Los Angeles, CA

d (age 71 years)

Makes the impossible look easy.

96 Carl Perkins

b. 4/9/1932, Tiptonville, TN

d. 1/19/1998, Jackson, TN (age 65)

The King of Rockabilly is still the favorite son of Tiptonville, Tennessee.

97 George Benson

b. 3/22/1943, Pittsburgh, PA

d. (age 81)

Mellow man with the cleanest sound this side of Antarctica.

98 Tommy Tedesco

b. 7/3/1930 Niagra Falls, NY

d. 11/10/1997 Los Angeles, CA

Scion of the Wrecking Crew. The most recorded guitarist in history.

99 Wes Montgomery

b. 3/6/1923, Indianapolis, IN

d. 6/15/1968, Indianapolis, IN (age 45)

Cool jazz stylings makes the ladies crazy.

100Buckethead

b. 5/13/1969, Huntington Beach, CA

d. (age 54)

He has released 264 studio albums. Two hundred and sixty four.

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Patrick Goggins

Lawyer, writer, musician, bon vivant. Born in Flint, Michigan during the Cuban Missile Crisis.