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Updated on November 23, 2015

Three Basic Criteria

There are a vast number of things that can make a good guitar player. Most of the time however, particularly amongst my peers, who we list in our best guitarist list is mostly subject to opinion. I was recently in a conversation about who I think is the best guitarist, and who would I put in my top 5 list. I found those questions very difficult to answer; so I decided at the time, to give a very opinionated answer based on who I like the most. This led me in my personal time, to think about the criteria for exactly what it is that makes a good guitar player. After thinking about it for a while, I looked at some articles and forums online to come up with just the right criteria for what makes a decent guitarist. Amongst the great number of things that makes a good guitar player, three things stand out almost unanimously among myself, friends, and other writers on the internet: style, innovation, and presentation. For this writing piece, I will give personal examples of famous guitarists I like, that demonstrate these ideas; however, that does not necessarily make them the best at the craft, as that is mostly just opinion.

Jimi Hendrix


First, I'd like to cover style. Style is very important because, many great guitarists can be good at one style but not necessarily another. Granted, versatility is another assisting factor in being a good guitar player; although, many guitarists still tend to enjoy and gravitate more to one or two particular styles even if they are capable of many. With that said, even though versatility is a good thing that guitarists ought to work toward, it is also very important to solidify yourself in a particular style. Solidifying yourself into a particular style of play can assist you in being not just well known, but even perhaps, iconic. To give an example of this, both Jimmy Page from Led Zepplin and Jimi Hendrix, are icons in the guitar world because of their style. Many people around the world, when they hear songs like Stairway to Heaven or Purple Haze the sound is unmistakable. These two became legends because of their style and songwriting ability.

Eddie Van Halen


Innovation, is also another great asset when becoming a good guitar player. To clarify, when I say “innovation,” I don't just mean you have to be the person who came up with the innovation, but you can also be the type of player who uses an innovative technique or style really well. Eddie Van Halen is a world renowned guitar player, not because he invented the “tapping” play style, but because he was really good at it. He took the tap style innovation and made it his own, then did real well at showcasing that talent. He has also been known to use a power drill in combination with his guitar on an occasion or two; creating very interesting sound effects, which has also been done by a couple others, namely Paul Gilbert, while he was with a band called Mr. Big. The lesson here, is that you don't have to be the person who invents something new. Instead take a technique or style of play, and make it your own. Who knows, during this process you may very well come up with something brand new that gets people to notice you.

John Mayer and his live cover of Ain't No Sunshine


Lastly, presentation is very important for your audience. Presenting yourself both on stage and off, is a great way to keep people interested in you, and to see your passion for what you like to do. I personally like to watch John Mayer play. If you watch his live cover of “Ain't No Sunshine,” originally by Bill Withers, you can see his passion for what he does and for the song he is playing; particularly when he reaches his solo, he nearly makes love to his guitar. So, think about your presentation when you perform, or when someone notices you, for it will make you a lot more memorable.

Time and Practice

These are just a few things that a decent number of people evaluate when they pay attention to guitar players, especially to decide if they believe they are good or not. There are also a great many other things that make a good guitar player, but to me the most important thing is time and practice. Hard work and practice go a long way, and no good guitar player got that way without doing just that.


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