My Favorite Guitarists of all Time: With Video (Part One)
Notables NOT included on this list
My favorite guitarists (A--M)
Much like my list of favorite front men, this list is alphabetized, done in two parts and likely missing some noteworthy guitarists. Diamond Darrell and Eric Clapton didn't make this list. Their skill on guitar cannot be argued against, but I don't think Dimebag was all that original and, Clapton as a solo artist is quite boring. I don't find their work all that inspiring. Jimi Hendrix narrowly missed the cut, but he's my number one honorable mention. I do not intend to insult those left off this list but, rather, only to honor those that are. Besides, why do a list like this if you're just going to rehash what's been done before?
These are my favorite guitarists. The list is not definitive... it's only mine. Pragmatically, of course, a little controversy is good for acquiring readers. If you don't like my list, write your own. I'll even link it here, with minimal snarky comments.
I've collected a group of fine axe men from many genres of music, living and dead. There's even a couple of guitarists paired together, since the interplay between one another is part of what affects their greatness.
Hopefully, by the time you're done reading, you'll have discovered some new artists to listen too and enjoyed some nostalgia in the process.
So, without further adieu, may I present my favorite guitarists, volume one
First... how to create Heavy Metal... according to Strongbad
Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders)
I generally scoff at guitarists who feel the need to use more than six strings to get their point across. Most of the time, these characters will purchase a seven or eight string guitar and just rest on the lowest strings. So, when I attended a Circa Survive/Dredg show and saw Animals as Leaders was opening, I was skeptical., I'd heard that guitarist, Tosin Abasi used an eight string guitar. This did not impress me... Until i heard him!
Animals as Leaders are an Instrumental metal band (instrumetal?) and not one note goes to waste. Abaqsi combines everything I look for in a guitarist: creativity, melody, harmony and passion. Instrumental music is extremely tough to pull off well because the nuances of each instrument is that much more important and has to carry the melody without the benefit of a vocalist. Abasi and Animals as Leaders pull this off, and pull it off well. trained at the Atlanta Institute of Music and just twenty nine years old, Abasi is just hitting his stride. His potential is limitless.
Check out the video and see for yourself.
Oz Fox (Stryper)
In an era of excess of faux-guitar virtuosity, Oz Fox takes the cake as the best glam era guitarist. Lesser known due in large part to the fact that Stryper was a Christian band, Oz Fox could hold his own against the CC DeVille's, Mick Mars', George Lynch's, KK Downing's and Warren DeMartini''s of his day. In fact, Fox does it better, chunking up pop based metal riffs, squealing on lightning fast solos that still maintain a level of melodiousness,all while praising Jesus and wearing yellow and black spandex and pounds of Aqua Net.
Oz Fox may be lesser known than his fellow Sunset Strip cohorts, but his skill and creativity leaves the pack behind. We can laugh now at the general cheese factor in glam metal... but it would be a mistake to assume that, at least some of the purveyors of the genre didn't know their way around their instruments.
In the song below, the astute listener will notice a strong Randy Rhodes vibe... and that can only be a good thing.
"The Way" Live at Budokan 1989.
Noel Gallagher (Oasis)
Noel Gallagher is, unfortunately, probably best known for verbal and physical altercations with brother (and Oasis vocalist) Liam Gallagher. Aside from this, he is probably thought of more as a songwriter then he is as a guitar player. While his songwriting is indisputably good and unabashedly British, his guitar work is what impresses me.
As the primary songwriter and occasional vocalist for Bratty British Rockers Oasis, Noel Gallagher is behind such classics as Wonderwall, Champagne Supernova, Live Forever, D'ya Know What I Mean and countless others. What I like about Noel is his understated axe work. At times he reminds me of a less flashy Jimmy Page (check out the solo for the song below and you'll see what I mean. Stairway to Heaven much?) but he's also great at rhythm work, ala John Lennon (who he at times greatly resembles). This is notable especially in Wonderwall, which has a deceptively complex rhythm.
His distinct tone, attitude and look propel this rock god towards the top of the heap of modern British guitarists and he should not be overlooked by the masses.
Stone Gossard, Mike McCready (Pearl Jam)
It is essential to talk about Stone Gossard and Mike McCready together because they compliment each other so well. Gossard, primarily on rhythm and McCready primarily on lead, have been mainstays in the Seattle music scene for nearly three decades the last twenty-three years with Pearl Jam (before that, with Mother love Bone, green River, and Temple of the Dog).
Combining blues, hard rock, grunge and straight ahead rock n roll, the Gossard/McCready duo has brought us such memorable songs as Alive, Even Flow, Dissident, Do the Evolution, and many other classics. Gossard and McCready are unassuming in their prowess, and seem to have little problem taking a back seat to charismatic front man Eddie Vedder.
Like peanut butter and jelly, Gossard and McCready belong together. Check out the song below, a live cut of Even Flow. See how McCready shreds the solo, but also notice how Gosssard holds down the rhythm. They're a perfect compliment and a tremendous duo.
Kirk Hammett (Metallica)
“Just because you know umpteen billion scales, it doesn't mean you have to use them all in a solo.” This quote by Kirk Hammett epitomizes what i like about him. His riffs sounds super complex, but, in reality, he only uses one or two scales. Quite often, his solos are based on the simplest of all scales, The Minor Pentatonic. You see this scale in use in Sanitarium and in Blitzkrieg. He's an example of less is more.
He has a distinct metal sound, combining speed metal, thrash and pop. His riffs and solos are often melodic and usually build to a crescendo on the really really tiny frets and strings.
Even though Metallica hasn't made a quality record in twenty years, Hammett continues to impress, and continues to keep his locks long and curly. Check out the video below for an example of his prowess as both a master of the pop hook and metal shredding.
Buddy Holly (Buddy Holly and the Crickets)
It's unfortunate that, aside from Chuck Berry, most guitarists of the fifties aren't given their props. The Lone Star State's Buddy Holly, commonly referred to as the father of rock n roll, passed away at the incredibly young age of 22 in a plane crash, immortalized in the films La Bamba and The Buddy Holly Story and the song American Pie. Buddy Holly and the Crickets wrote some of the most recognizable its of the early rock n roll era: Oh Boy!, True Love Ways, That'll be the Day, Brown Eyed Handsome Man and Peggy Sue, just to name a few.
Admittedly, the massive amount of work holly left behind (well over one hundred songs recorded at the time of his death) seems relatively simple and archaic now-a-days. But his techniques, from double stopping his guitar solos to bass picking to shuffle rhythms have become staples in rock n roll today and owe their birth to Holly.
It's a shame Holly passed away when he was barely old enough to legally drink. Who knows how many tunes died with him on the day the music died.
Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)
Mark Knopfler is probably best known for his work with rockers Dire Straits, who laid down such hits as Walk of Life, Sultans of Swing and Money for Nothing. He is also responsible for numerous film soundtracks as a solo artist including The Princess Bride and Last Exit to Brooklyn.
Knopler is one of the most respected finger style players in rock n roll and is listed the 27th best guitarist of all time according to Rolling Stone. He is also a lead vocalist, which is extremely rare for a lead guitarist. His solo on Sultans of Swing, recorded when he was just twenty nine years old, is often considered the best guitar solo ever, not only for it's delicious tonality and melodic nature, but also for it's technical prowess.
Knopler is also a renown country and classical guitarist. With his ever present head band, Knopler continues to tour the world and create fantastic tunes even as he approaches his mid 60's.
Kerry Livgren, Rich Williams (Kansas)
Kerry Livrgen and Rich Williams are another duo that simply cannot be separated. Each played off the other impeccably and alternated between lead and rhythm without any drop off in abilities. Each had a distinctive tone, yet blended together like fine guacamole. Glass eyed Williams and born again Christan Livgren helped put arena rock on the map, and they did it with rather non exotic solos and basic chords.
But no note was wasted. Their economy on guitar is what makes them stand out and makes them so memorable and so good.
In an era of long winded guitar solos, soaring vocal harmonies, beards and man perms, Livgren and Williams managed to stand out, creating some of the most memorable classics ever in rock n roll.
Bryan May (Queen)
Another primarily finger picking electric guitarist, Brian May had the unfortunate task of playing behind incomparable frontman Freddie Mercury in the greatest rock n roll band to ever grace the planet. He did it well and is probably the second most recognizable member of Queen.
May's solos are tasteful and melodic (Check out the solos on Killer Queen, Somebody to Love, Bohemian Rhapsody and We Will Rock You as examples) and he is equally adept at rhythm and lead. His distinctive lo-treble tone and unabashed love of the shuffle riff make May one of the most unique guitarists in an era of virtuosos.
Still sporting a long curly mane, May has written a musical based on the music of Queen and continues to be one of the most influential guitarists in the world. He's flashy without being over the top, he's great without being arrogant, and he's melodic without losing any of the edge needed to be a successful rock n roller. Brian May is the complete package, and a true rock n roll legend.
Tom Morello (Audio Slave, Rage Against the Machine)
His ever present baseball cap and absence of a low slung guitar are only the second and third most recognizable traits of Tom Morello.
Morello may be the most unique and distinctive guitarist of this generation, and certainly on this list. When you hear him, you know it's him. His tone is generally on the thin side, but his riffs are always crunchy. His solos are always deceptively simple, yet hard to replicate accurately, and he's always a little funky, but always packs a punch.
Like a Stone, Bombtrack. Bulls on Parade, Cochise... these are just a couple examples of his brilliance.
Whether he's riffing politically with groundbreaking rapcore group Rage Against the Machine or groove rocking with Chris Cornell and his RATM band mates (sans Zach de La Rocha) in Audioslave, Morello brings it, and brings it hard. The song below, from Rage Against the Machine's self titled debut album captures the essence of Morello with perfection.