The Best Electric Guitarists Ever

From Cropped Out 2010
From Cropped Out 2010 | Source

It is easier to choose favorite electric guitar players than listing the very best. So much goes into being the best electric guitar player that most of us are not equipped artistically or even musically to decide in the most objective terms. The latest list offered by the Rolling Stone mag is a good example. There will always be the few obscure players that some "chooser" with a higher than mighty attitude or "official" credentials who will throw the name into the mighty ring in order to confuse us or impress us, but rarely to teach us anything. So, for the sake of impossibly no argument, I am listing my favorite guitarists of all-time and there can be no disputing my list as it is purely subjective, as are most things if admitted to honestly.

I did not have to think hard or long in making my list. My only trouble was limiting the list to, say, my top ten. The best I can muster is a best top sixteen for the simple reason that every one on this list needs at the very least an honorable mention.

16. Tom Verlaine

A recent listen to the vinyl record of Television's Marquee Moon reminded me how much I could have liked Tom Verlaine if I had listened to him more. I am too much "old school", and during the period in my life when Television was in its heyday I was busy in an alcoholic construction-builder-man haze. But Verlaine was damn good, and even though little listened to by me, he is one of my favorite guitarists of all-time.


15. Jimmy Page

I had a bedroom in the basement of our contemporary brick house in northern Michigan back in high school during the late sixties and early seventies. I would be prone on my back, listening to Led Zeppelin, often. The lead guitar work of Jimmy Page would transfer me to places outside myself whether stoned or sober. Of course, much of Jimmy Page's success with me was because of the rest of the band, the whole package, which is the case in many of my selections the further you go down, or up, this list.


14. Alvin Lee

I do not know for the likes of me how I could have left Alvin Lee off my original list of fifteen. But I did. There is no excuse. He was amazing in every way. Many days and nights Ten Years After wowed me into the haze I was always coveting. I do not listen to them much anymore, but when I do I remember being there, in the clouds, somewhere far away from Kansas.


13. Pete Townshend

Never one of my favorite people, Pete Townshend could undoubtedly play the hell out of a guitar. He was also a gifted songwriter. Recently on the TV I watched a documentary of the Who, Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who, and was impressed with Pete's lack of confidence early on when it came to composing his own songs. It seems Pete was surprised as we were with the quality and quantity of his production. But again, PT was blessed with having Keith Moon on drums, John Entwistle on bass, and finally the man, Roger Daltrey, who found his voice and persona with the rock opera Tommy, and none too soon. I have been spinning my vinyl version of the old compilation album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy the last few days and it is a remarkable piece of work. The last vinyl album I bought of The Who was Who's Next and that was a great place to stop.


12. B.B. King

Though I only owned one B.B. King album in my life, I got good play out of it. There is no denying the power in the guitar "Lucille" and the man behind it.


11. Jimi Hendrix

I have made the ultimate sin by listing the world's greatest guitar player at number eleven. I love Jimi Hendrix, but his music does not endure for me. There is no draw to listen to it. It is perhaps too unsettling for me. A tragedy, on most days, I do not care to visit.


10. Robbie Robertson

Again, it is the complete package of The Band behind him, the songwriting of several of the members, the lack of a voice for Robbie himself except in times of autobiographical information. But if you watch the film, The Last Waltz, it will be obvious what a talent on the guitar Robbie was. Especially note the solos with Eric Clapton when Robbie holds his own against one of the recognized masters of the lead guitar. Amazing stuff.


9. Ry Cooder

No list of "greatest guitarists" should be missing the name Ry Cooder. And adding him to a "favorite" list is not too hard to do. He is a virtuoso on the slide guitar or bottleneck. He has soul like the voice of Van Morrison. Cooder was a huge influence in my life, asking me to search for the soul in everything.


8. John Lennon

It helped that he had Paul and George, but John Lennon on his very own was still a force, and continues to be one even today. His guitar work is haunting and hard, earthy and full of note.


7. Mark Kozelek

Earlier of Red House Painters, then a solo act as Mark Kozelek, and currently in the guise of Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek is a guitar player of importance. He has taken lately to the classical guitar, but he has shown his prowess on the electric as well as folk guitars. He is a gifted songwriter, whose haunting voice and lyrics are acquired tastes, but once initiated, never to be equaled by any other on the planet. His guitar playing is the one constant, though always changing, symphony behind his fluid voice.


6. Roger McGuinn

Again, it didn't hurt to have The Byrds behind him. But Roger McGuinn makes me feel good when I listen to him play guitar and sing. And that is worth a lot to me. He is a national treasure. I saw him and The Byrds live in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan back near 1971 with their new lineup around the time of the Untitled album, which is still my favorite The Byrds album of all-time.


5. Jerry Garcia

It does not matter if it is Jerry alone or with somebody like The Grateful Dead, the guy could flat out play the guitar. I could sit and listen just to plain old Jerry Garcia play and be quite happy. I love to drift away, and Garcia does it to me fine.


4. David Gilmour

I think it must have been around 1972 when three of us just happened to be staying with a friend of somebody's who knew somebody in either Denver or Colorado Springs. We were staying at a dorm room at a seminary that was right next to a college campus. The three of us were walking through the campus one afternoon and noticed in front of a small theater that Pink Floyd would be playing there that very night. We had no drugs, but couldn't miss a Pink Floyd concert for any reason. So we three paid a very small price and entered a very small, but nice theater, took almost any seat we wanted, and listened soberly to a concert by one of our favorite bands at the time. It was amazing. I remember Roger Waters and David Gilmour the most from that time, and even bought a solo album by Gilmour a few years later. He was really something, and almost the very best at taking me where I wanted to be.


3. Neil Young

I wouldn't imagine Neil would be on too many lists for greatest guitar player, but he does it for me. There is really nothing to say. You are either in or you are out regarding Neil Young. I am obviously all the way in.


2. Duane Allman

It feels like I discovered Duane almost about the time he died. I know that is not true, but it feels that way. I never saw him play, though I did see The Allman Brothers in concert shortly thereafter. Allman was an amazing talent and his solos are among the best I have ever listened to.


1. Eric Clapton

Nobody better or a more favorite of mine than Eric Clapton. It does not matter if he is playing the blues or writing his own pop tunes, he is the best. Even as he ages he still plays great. It is nice his voice is getting better too. Not too long ago I watched Cream during their farewell tour at Albert Hall. I then watched their reunion, the documentary that accompanied it, and was amazed at how talented the band still is together. There is nothing Eric Clapton cannot do. He is God.

This is what I am talking about.

Televsion - "Marquee Moon"

Comments 3 comments

Theeyeballkid profile image

Theeyeballkid 4 years ago

Great list Mewlhouse and good to see some guitar appreciation for Mr Neil Young. The man is often overlooked by guitar officionados because he isn't playing 100 notes per second like a lot of technically good guitarists. But what he lacks in speed he makes up for and then some in tone. Nobody has been able to get a sound out of a guitar that comes close to that beautiful distorted mess that is Neil and Crazy Horse. Nice shout on Tom Verlaine as well. Voting up, great hub.

mewlhouse profile image

mewlhouse 4 years ago from Louisville Author

Thank you. I forgot to list Leo Kottke, but that is understandable as he is certainly, for the most part anyway, an acoustic guitar player. So I guess he doesn't count.

arizonataylor profile image

arizonataylor 4 years ago from Arizona

I've seen several of the guitarists on your list:

Pete Townshend

Neil Young

Eric Clapton

Pete Townshend had a tone that is not present on his albums, a tone only captured live. His performances are far, far beyond any I've seen from any other guitarist. He is, in my book, the best.

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