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The Best Famous Guitar Players Ever

Updated on August 19, 2013
Slashes sex change meant that he now had to be careful not to break a nail...
Slashes sex change meant that he now had to be careful not to break a nail...

This is a top ten of who I consider to be the best guitarists of all time. They're not all considered to be some of the greatest, or most amazing musicians, but I feel they have given an invaluable push to the music industry. Some of them will appear in the top ten for most people, some are perhaps a bit more off the wall. I have included guitarists who are more about the song writing than the fantastic performance. Though performance is a big part of what makes a great guitarist, I don't personally feel it is the be all and end all. The best musicians are well rounded performers, writers and musical technicians. Enjoy.

10. Kurt Cobain

Although not usually listed as a great guitarist, Cobain is perhaps the greatest bad guitarist of all time. None of his music was technically brilliant, and his guitar solos are famous for being so simple nearly anyone could play them. Therein lies his brilliance. He managed to gain rock super stardom with music that was so simple, yet also caught the emotion of an entire generation. The fact that it was so simple is part of what makes it so good. His emotional and anti establishment performances also had much mass appeal. His lyrics were also genius. So ambiguous that even he often seemed unsure as to their meaning. This allowed anyone listening to his songs to put their own take on every song. A true great.

The greatest bad guitarist ever
The greatest bad guitarist ever

9. Jack White

Another guitarist whose technical playing ability is not fantastic, White has, however, managed to lift his band The White Stripes to super stardom with very simple guitar work and extremely powerful riffs. His writing ability has much mass appeal and his stage performances are extremely flamboyant and aggressive. His band are perhaps the biggest influence in the garage rock revival of the last decade.

Married? Siblings? Exes? Who knew, or cared...
Married? Siblings? Exes? Who knew, or cared...

8. Kirk Hammet

The lead guitarist from rock supergroup Metallica, Hammet is a lead guitarist in the most traditional sense. Long solos, crunchy riffs and epic instrumentals are a trademark of his work. The album "Black" showed Hammet and Metallica were able to write to a mass audience, and gained Metallica their current status as rock legends. A stage performance par excellence is added to his undeniable writing talent. "Nothing else matters" is one of the greatest instrumental pieces of music of the last 25 years, using no less than six guitar tracks when recorded.

7. Tom Morello

Formerly lead guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, now of Audioslave, Morellos use of blues guitar riffs were the perfect match for the hip hop fusion style of RATM. His guitar pieces are much more traditional than the style of the band implies. His use of effects and ramped up riffs often disguises the traditional simplicity of the original notes. His style has remained similar with audioslave, although this band has a much less aggressive appeal when compared to RATM. Perhaps one of the least well known of this group, Morello's ability should not be underestimated.

After Rage Against The Machine Tom decided to tone it down a bit
After Rage Against The Machine Tom decided to tone it down a bit

6. Jonny Greenwood

Greenwood is the lead guitarist of british megaband Radiohead. He left university before completing his degree to pursue a career with the first incarnation of Radiohead. Greenwood's aggressive guitar style is well known, and his performances are that of a traditional lead guitarist, however greenwood is also a very talented writer and musician. His guitar piece for the single "Creep" is one of the most unusual and provoking pieces in recent rock history, yet this is all due to one bar of it, right before the chorus. For this piece alone, Greenwood deserves a mention, however he consistently produces guitar pieces that defy convention, yet somehow manage to sit well with the ears and have mass appeal. Greenwood is still with Radiohead and has also produced several solo albums.

5. Saul Hudson (Slash)

One time lead guitarist of american rock band Guns 'n' Roses, Slash could be cited as perhaps the most influential guitarists guitarist of the 80's and 90's. The solo for "Sweet Child of Mine" has been murdered countless times by many a budding guitarist. "November Rain" contains one of the greatest guitar pieces of all time. Slash is very much a hero for guitar players, with huge flamboyant solos and long instrumentals. Having left Guns 'n' Roses, he continued to play as a solo artist with Slash's Snakepit, until co-founding supergroup Velvet Revolver, which also included some of the former Guns 'n' Roses members. He has also provided the guitar pieces to several Michael Jackson songs. He is currently pursuing a solo career.

4. Matt Bellamy

Perhaps the most off the wall entry in this list, Bellamy manages to be both a lead guitarist in the traditional sense, as well as performing as lead singer and songwriter for the British alternative band Muse. Although he does the huge solos that are the trademark of any traditional lead player, Bellamy also uses electronica and combines some very unusual styles to create a very unique sound. The stage performances of the band are plainly centered around his emotional and flamboyant playing style. The strangeness in the sound coupled with the mass appeal of the band are testament to the ability of a guitarist who manages to be influential without losing any sense of the playing style that put the band there in the first place.

Matt Bellamy performing on a spaceship somewhere. Probably.
Matt Bellamy performing on a spaceship somewhere. Probably.

3. John Frusciante

This man's success on the big stage can be measured in the success of his band, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Those of you who are old enough will remember the long period they spent in the wilderness after Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik. Then they came back with Californication, their biggest selling album, immediately followed by another classic album, By The Way. It is no coincidence that these albums were all written with John Frusciante. The Chilli's stage presence and cool image contributes a lot to their success, but Frusciante delivered classic songs time and time again. As a writer, the man is a machine, having also produced 17 solo albums. He has left the Chillis and is currently pursuing a solo career.

2.Graham Coxon

The lead guitarist from britpop band Blur, Coxon is famous for recording almost everything himself, barely making any use of session musicians. Although he is one of the least flamboyant in this list, he has consistently produced ground-breaking guitar pieces, an influential part of the commercial success of the band. Coxon has also produced a large volume of solo work, releasing seven solo albums. He is currently still with Blur as well as continuing a solo career.

Avant guarde superstar Guitarist or maths geek? Possibly the only guy who could pull off both.
Avant guarde superstar Guitarist or maths geek? Possibly the only guy who could pull off both.

1. Dave Grohl

Although he started his career as a drummer with the grunge band Nirvana, Grohls unique style, combining aggressive grungie guitar riffs with "feel good" songs, has made the Foo Fighters one of the biggest bands of their generation, even outshining Nirvana. At the Foo Fighters first festival at reading in '97, they were not expected to pull a big crowd, therefore were put on one of the small stages. The tent was overwhelmed with people and several had to be rushed out by emergency services when the crush at the front became unbearable and they passed out. Under Grohl, the Foo Fighters are still one of the biggest bands of the current rock world.

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    • xxtonybxx profile image

      xxtonybxx 6 years ago from wales

      Yeah I purposefully didn't put van Halen in there along with a few other obvious choices, because they are pretty much stand alone guitarists. These guitarists in the list are all the driving forces behind the greatest rock bands of this century. You could also add people such as Jimi Hendrix, but again, he was a solo act.

    • DIGITALL profile image

      DIGITALL 6 years ago

      It's always great to see a list of the top 10 of anything. 'Tho these are some very gifted and talented officiantos of their craft; You still have to dig deeper and find out who was the inspiration behind their drive and ambition to succeed. Who were their teachers that gave them them the spark. That's the real talent and soul of a trully gifted guitar player. You forgot to put Eddie VanHalen on that list. I say this about the ambition to learn because my father-in-law was one of the greatest guitar teachers,arrangers, composers, writers and inspirations to thousands of students that walked thru the halls of The Berklee College of Music in Boston. He was the 1st Chairman of the Guitar Dept. and made it what it has become today. They have turned out quite a number of well known and very famous guitarists over the yrs. I'm not knocking you for your top choices; God knows we all have our opinions, likes and dislikes. But, it's like I said you have to look deeper and into the heart and soul of the person to see the inspiration and the teacher. That's what it all comes down to in my book.

    • xxtonybxx profile image

      xxtonybxx 6 years ago from wales

      Thanks for your comments :). Rebekahelle, I agree with his lyrical ability, but this is purely on guitar and songwriting skill, so I left it out.

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 6 years ago from Tampa Bay

      It's always interesting to read favorites, as I usually am introduced to at least one I don't know. I do like all these guitarists, but am not familiar with Blur enough to know their music. It's interesting what you say about Cobain. I think with his music, it was also his ability to write lyrics that were perfect fit for their style of music.

      Creep remains one of my all time favorite songs. Now I'm off to listen for that piece before the chorus. Ah, yes, that part! Love all of it, great, great song.

      Thanks for writing and sharing.

    • mcrawford76 profile image

      Matthew I Crawford 6 years ago from Greeley, Colorado

      Interesting list.

      I think only 2 of those MIGHT mike my top ten, but to each their own.

    • profile image

      Phoebe Pike 6 years ago

      Very interesting hub. It's hard to narrow a list down to the top ten, but it's always nice to see it done.