If you are to ask someone who’s the greatest guitarist of all time, you’d probably get different answers.
It’s just that every popular guitarist right now is skillful in his/her own way.
They just have different genres, flavors, techniques, and styles that made them excel in their respective fields.
Nonetheless, if you look around or listen to people’s answers intently, you’d probably get some names twice or thrice.
So, we tried to narrow them down and identify who are the ten most skillful guitarists of all time. Here’s what we found.
Top 10 Most Skilled Guitarists
1. Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen is the guitarist, keyboardist, and main songwriter of the band Van Halen.
Eddie was accustomed to playing his guitar without the support of a bass guitarist. Because of this, he developed a one-of-a-kind technique that involves placing the guitar pick between his middle fingers.
This allowed him to gain a wider picking range, hitting multiple strings at once.
Additionally, he also lets his wrist “float” over the bridge, and with every downstroke, he hits an average of two to three notes with each string by using hammer-ons, pull-offs, open strings, and other picking techniques.
To sum it up, Eddie has a wider picking range, hits multiple strings with every downstroke, plays multiple notes with every string.
Combine all of that with his unbelievably fast picking and fretting fingers, and you get one of the most skillful guitarists to ever walk this earth.
2. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Unfortunately, this next guitar legend died at the young age of 35 years old.
Nonetheless, he was still able to garner multiple awards and nominations.
This includes six Grammys, ten Austin Music Awards, five W.C. Handy Awards, a double-platinum album Texas Flood, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What helped SVR achieve stardom was his versatility in playing the guitar.
He had the ability to play subtly, slowly, loudly, or aggressively. He also played country, rock and roll, blues, jazz, and sometimes a mixture of all of them.
When you see him play, it’s like the guitar is a part of him.
There was even a time when he played live, broke a string, kept playing, adlibbed the rest of his guitar solo, waited for the pause, and switched guitars without missing a beat.
3. B.B. King
It’s difficult to answer who the greatest guitarist of all time is, but if you were to ask us who’s the greatest blues guitarist, there’s one name that always comes to mind; B.B. King.
He is perhaps one of the most expressive guitarists out there, aside from also being an exceptional singer and songwriter.
His intricate riffs combined with breathtaking vibratos seem like, pardon the lack of a better term, he’s making love to the guitar.
He also stood out among the other blues players because of his note choices.
Most blues guitarists use the pentatonic scale as passing notes. However, B.B. King uses the notes on the pentatonic scale as if they were part of the main act. This really catches the attention of the listeners as his guitar, Lucille, cries out every note. Thus, earning him the title “King of Blues.”
4. Tom Morello
Before modern guitarists started using a dozen pedals for their effects, Tom Morello was already there, doing anything and everything possible to his guitar.
If you’re not aware, Morello is the lead guitarist and co-founder of Rage Against the Machine, which then switched to Audioslave after the former’s disbandment.
Morello didn’t use a dozen effects pedals.
Instead, he used simple tools and techniques like scratching the strings with his palm, switching the toggle between treble and bass, and a lot more.
This allows him to make crunchy, heavy sounds while also making his guitar seem like a DJ’s turntable.
Slash is a really charismatic and flashy guitarist at times, which sometimes takes the spotlight off of his skills.
Then again, you didn’t think Guns N’ Roses would reach the popularity they have today if it’s all about appearances, right?
His timing, combined with his tone, vibrato, and phrasing skills, make it look like playing the guitar should be effortless.
Additionally, Slash seems to have mastered the exact time of when he should play the instrument and when he shouldn’t. That’s what made him an integral part of the band.
In fact, when Slash left Guns N’ Roses in 1996, the band started to deteriorate in terms of musical quality.
6. Eric Clapton
We’re here to tell you that being skillful in the guitar is not always about speed.
Eric Clapton is proof of that.
Believe it or not, Clapton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times! It was once as a member of Cream, once as a member of The Yardbirds, and once as a solo artist.
He’s a prolific singer and songwriter and has exemplary skills in playing blues vibratos with perfect form and phrasing. He can play multiple genres, and he also has a good command of both the acoustic and the electric guitar.
In fact, he’s so good at what he does that The Rolling Stones and The Beatles considered him to be part of their respective bands.
7. Tommy Emmanuel
When we talk about the most skillful guitarists of all time, we shouldn’t focus merely on electric guitarists.
Moving over to the acoustic department, we have Tommy Emmanuel, arguably the best acoustic guitarist alive today.
He started playing the acoustic guitar at an early age of four, and from then on, he developed his skills by playing numerous songs from different genres.
He’s very famous for his fingerpicking skills, and he can make the acoustic guitar sound like a whole orchestra.
8. Keith Richards
When we talk about guitar skills, we almost always assume that it’s about fast fretting and picking, making loud and heavy noises.
However, “guitar skills” is an extremely broad topic. With that, let’s talk about Keith Richards, the rhythm guitarist of The Rolling Stones.
What makes Richards a skillful guitarist is his way of composing riffs.
Despite the riffs and note progressions of The Stones’ songs being relatively easy, Richards knows how to cement them into people’s hearts and minds.
His compositions are so unique that they make the band stand out. Nonetheless, he is also just as skillful in actually playing the guitar.
On top of that, he can even make it look so easy.
He’s one of the few guitarists to receive the “Living Legend Award” from the ABC network.
Additionally, Keith Richards is also considered one of the pioneers of the alternative rock genre. It’s just that Richards has a way of expressing deep, dark, and enchanting emotions with his guitar.
9. Jimmy Page
He may not be the greatest guitar player of all time, but we’re certain that Jimmy Page is the 1970s’ greatest rock guitarist.
Some guitarists gain fame because of their overbearing skills that sometimes overshadow the band’s character.
However, Page can fling his guitar solos to the sky while still being grounded in the band’s songs.
If you listen to “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, you’ll know what we mean. His guitar-playing skills do not devour the band’s sound, but without them, the sound is incomplete.
His most famous technique is palm muting the sixth string between multiple notes. His alternate picking is also just as exceptional.
Lastly, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, which is more than enough reason to include him on this list.
10. Jimi Hendrix
Lastly, we have someone who a lot of people will argue is the best guitarist of all time. Of course, that’s difficult to prove.
However, simply hearing his name and instantly recognizing him is proof of this guitarist’s amazing feat.
We’re talking about none other than Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix died at the age of 27, but his legacy will probably live forever.
This left-handed guitarist defied the traditional laws of guitar-playing.
He played lefty on a right-hand guitar by inverting the strings, and he popularized some of the most unusual guitar tricks ever, like playing behind the head or playing with teeth.
However, that’s not purely what made him famous. It’s his distortion effects, wah-wah pedal, and unconventional choice of notes and progressions that propelled him to the top of the music industry.
In fact, there’s not a list of “greatest guitarists” out there that you wouldn’t find Jimi Hendrix.
If that’s not proof enough, the fact that Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, and a thousand more popular guitarists look up to him is a testament to his legacy.
A list of ten is obviously not enough to talk about the world’s most skillful guitarists of all time.
There are dozens more that we failed to mention here.
However, we believe that these people are the ones that really made it to the top.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll see your favorite guitarist on our next list!
Let us know who you think should also be on this list!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.