It is ludicrous that Clapton has not yet been listed here - I understand many think he's overrated or just don't care for his very specifically Blues-based playing, but it is impossible to over estimate his influence and sheer depth of playing when he's 'on'. As much as Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Elvis, and The Beatles there is a clear demarcation in popular music of before and after Eric Clapton.
Considering where music was when they began playing and shmooshing together their significance (influence, etc), creativity, and simply mastery of the instrument, my list would be ~
1. Eric Clapton 2. Stevie Ray Vaughan 3. Blind Willie McTell 4. Carlos Santana 5. Jimi Hendrix
(with gigantic honorable mentions to Johnny Winter, Pete Townsend, Jeff Beck, Brian Setzer, Duane Allman, Kim Simmonds, Steve Marriott, Steve Cropper, Albert King, Dick Dale, Scotty Moore, George Harrison, James Burton, Freddie King, B.B.King, etc.
. . . this whole song (below) is exceptionally powerful, but listen to Clapton's solo, his sound and the choices he makes - I dare you (whoever) to listen to this and not come back here and edit your list.
First would have to be Hendrix. Then comes Tom Morello. The things he's done with a guitar are amazing. Slash, of course, would have to go on this list. VanHalen is an obvious choice. And although I can't say that I'm a huge fan of his music, Santana is a superior artist
Just to expand the options (not that I would replace any of the top vote getters here -- all top contenders!) I'd make my list be: 1. Ritchie Blackmore 2. David Gilmour 3. The Edge 4. Richard Thompson 5. Kurt Cobain
Just finished listening to a string of Greatful Dead classics with tears in my eyes. I am the Deadesthead. Jerry said once that he hoped to learn to play guitar before he died! He had the temerity to be humble....
It's too subjective. There's also a multitude of criteria to consider. I can pretty much guarantee any pop musicians would not be on my list, however. I have yet to hear a phenomenal musician in either the pop or alt....